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This launch edition of Newsstand comes to you courtesy of the letter S - most of the key general/literary independent webzines share the initial.

You can't discuss the zine scene without mentioning Slate, Microsoft's typically formidable offering ( Slate's editor, Michael Kinsley, describes his baby as offering "riveting political, social and cultural commentary - must-reading for anyone with any claim to discernment". For an of its pretensions take a look at Stale ( - an impressive one-off parody, merciless in its attempts to deflate the hated Microsoft.

Slate is a heavyweight production, with almost 30 staff and armies of contributors producing volumes of copy that you wouldn't dream of reading online. There are Word and Acrobat editions of the site designed for downloading and local printing. Not my idea of a webzine - and it will be even less so when (soon) a subscription costs $19.95 per year (though still free to members of the Microsoft Network online service.)

The big-name competition for Slate is Salon, "an interactive magazine of books, arts and ideas", with a staff of 17 bankrolled by Adobe Systems and Apple Computer ( "Inside Salon you'll find not only authors, artists and thinkers, but a kinetic community of readers and kindred spirits eager to thrash out cultural issues," they say. It certainly seems more lively than Slate, and perhaps of wider interest outside the US.

Global network or not, geography matters in periodical publishing, and my guess is that UK readers are more likely to find more modest UK-based zines more interesting. A theoretically important recent arrival is ShiftControl, which in spirit is an independent "quality weekly webzine" even if it is underwritten by The Guardian ( It looks stylishly spare in design, but despite this uses quite a bit of graphic material, including beer ads. What's it about? Search me. Or rather, search the site - don't expect much help from the contents page, which is not so much cryptic as downright confusing.

Spike is also new - "a literary/cultural cyberzine dedicated to the weird, the wired and the wonderful", which so far seems to mean books and their authors, mostly ( spike.htm). It's easy to get to grips with, but much of the content has a faintly desperate, sixth-form show-off flavour.

I'm mystified by the editors' repeated emphasis on "popular culture". I can think of one or two authors more popular than Albert Camus