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Fanzines are fan-produced publications celebrating a particular topic, be it a media-based fandom (Star Trek, Star Wars), a musical act or genre, a celebrity, a sports team, or anything with a fandom following. Fanzines are often produced through non-professional means--that is, hand-bound or stapled photocopies, with limited numbers of copies produced. They help distribute information to fans of a particular topic, provide a way for fans to interact with each other, as well as a forum for fanworks such as poetry, fanart, and fan fiction.

Fanzines were, indeed, the backbone of the pre-Internet fan fiction community for many decades and have continued to play an important role long after the Internet became a vital part of that community. Even so, the internet has replaced fanzines to a large extent in many fandoms and is no longer the primary forum for sharing such information and fanworks today as it is so much easier and faster for these things to be distributed on-line and reach a wider audience.


Historical definitions

The following definition is from the science fiction fandom and dates to November 2003:

An amateur SF publication (often shortened to zine) sometimes including stories, con reports, book reviews, articles of fanni sh interest, and almost always LoCs. [1]

The following definition is from the science fiction fandom and dates to August 3, 2008:

Zine - Short for magazine, the prefix usually determining just what kind of magazine is being designated: prozine, fanzine, etc. [2]

The following definition dates to June 2, 2009:

1. Fanzine. This is one of the most successful terms coined by SF fans, and has gone from referring specifically to amateur periodicals relating (however vaguely) to science fiction and fantasy, to periodicals for fans of just about anything you care to name. The term has been around since at least 1940 in SF fandom, and since at least the 1960s in general use. (The earliest clear citation I’ve found for a non-SF usage is from 1968, which is almost certainly too late.) [3]

The following definition dates to June 2, 2009:

3. Which leads me to zine, the other big success story. Zine was originally just a synonym of fanzine, but sometime in the late Twentieth Century, it was adopted to describe amateur publications of all sorts, not just those limited to one fandom or another, and an entire subculture has grown up around the publication of these zines. Zine can also be used as a suffix, to denote a particular type of zine (such as newszine, a zine that publishes primarily news, or mimeozine, a zine that is produced with a mimeograph machine). SF fans used the suffix profligately, and most coinages have stayed within fanspeak, but a few of the -zine words have seeped into wider zine culture as well, notably perzine (short for personalzine, a zine published by a single person, and often containing personal, journal-like content) and crudzine (a cruddy zine). [4]

Types of fanzines

There are numerous types of fanzines which have been produced through the years. Some of these include:

Adzines: (aka Zine Listings) This type of fanzine contains advertisements for other fanzines, conventions, fanclubs and sales of fannish merchandise.

Fan fiction zines: The most common type of 'zine in media fandom, these zines are primarily made up of fan fiction with related artistic content.

Newslettters: This type of 'zine includes primarily news, reviews, and other information specific to a fandom. Many fan clubs produce newsletters for its members.

Letterzines: Letterzines, primarily popular in pre-internet fandom, were a way for fans to discuss matters related to their fandom. Episode and season commentary were common in letterzines, and sometimes intense discussions and arguments could take place over months of letters published back and forth.

Reviewzines: This type of fanzine reviewed other fanzines. This was a helpful service as 'zines cost money and most fans cannot buy everything out on the market.

Most of the above types of fanzines were sold on subscription basis, except for fan-fiction fanzines. These were generally only sold individually as editions were produced, although some publishers in the past would accept pre-orders and deposits to help defray printing costs and determine the size of a print run necessary.

Science fiction fanzines

Science fiction fandom may have produced the first fanzines ever, beginning in 1930 with The Comet, published by the Science Correspondence Club in Chicago. Russ Chauvenet coined the term "fanzine" in October 1940 and in 1955 Worldcon began giving a Hugo Award for the Best Fanzine. Science fiction fanzines were generally traded for LOCs, although in the 1960s and 1970s more semi-professional science fiction fanzines began to appear such as Locus. Sold instead of traded, some of these contained original fiction along with letters and discussion.

Fan fiction fanzines


The main reason to publish a fan fiction fanzine was to provide a cost-effective means of providing the most fanfiction to the greatest number of people at the least cost. In fact, because of legal concerns, it was standard practice that the price of a fanzine should be just high enough to cover basic costs, including:

  • Back-and-forth mailing of drafts and pre-publishing copies to contributors
  • Actual publishing costs
  • Contributors copies to those who submitted at least a minimum amount of material (typically 5 pages of fiction or poetry, or several pieces of art
  • In some cases, it was also considered acceptible to recoup certain expenses of advertising zines in adzines, and convention costs to sell fanzines at events such as Media West Con.

Controversy would often surround publishers who were believed to be charging excessively and making a profit off of their fanzines. A very few exceptions were made for large-scale fanzine distributors, who in effect did spend their livelihood agenting 'zines for publishers who could not travel to sell them directly at cons (or did not want to spend their entire convention stuck behind a dealer's table), as well as providing extensive catalogs of 'zines available for mail order.

As with all types of 'zines, the purpose of fan fiction 'zines has come in to question since so many writers choose to read their fiction on-line for "free" today, and do not see a need to "buy" it. A small number of publishers continue on with their work, however, and there is continuing friction in some circles between on-line and print fan-fiction readers, writers and publishers.

Quality issues

One long-standing issue brought up in defense of fan fiction 'zines, as compared to reading fan fiction on-line, is that of quality control. Editors and publishers of fan fiction 'zines argue for their superiority because of the work they claim to put into what they publish, stating that such efforts are rarely found in on-line fiction.

This argument, however, is not always necessarily true. Fiction 'zines were always of varying quality, both in terms of how they were printed and the quality of story telling. Neadods explained this on a comment on fanthropology saying:

I agree about (lack of) quality controls, but not about survival of the fittest. Even the cheapest zines cost a large sum of time and money to produce, especially way back in the dinosaur days when you did your entire print run up front. Plenty of people ended up with garages full of unsold stuff because the market simply wasn't interested.
But the word-of-mouth mill worked just as good back then, and if a zine was good, we would find out about it. Then we'd get it. Then we'd start submitting stuff for the next issue, hoping to get in... the fittest did survive, because the fans were all rooting for the best zines to continue.
I also think that while writer's circles are good, as is feedback, there's a lot to be said for the educational effects of getting an edit back from a reputable zine-ed. Almost more than the feedback, because one of the things that you had to do for a zine ed that you don't do in a circle and you never do in feedback is to make the critical decision of whether you agree or not. When an editor says "add this, change that, or give it somewhere else" after the initial "My baby! She doesn't like my baby!" reaction it is up to the writer to look at the story cold-bloodedly and decide "was I right, is she right, or is there a third option?"
There's nothing analagous to that in online fic. You post it or not, people like it or not, but there is no point in the story development where a third person looks at it and critiques it as a work in progress. [5]

Other issues of net vs. published fan fiction

Authors and readers who prefer on-line fan fiction over 'zines argue many points commonly, including:

  • Ease of feedbacking authors - while some fanzine editors collect and publish LOCs on previously published stories, authors generally receive less feedback on fanzine published stories than on 'net published stories.
  • Variety of fandoms - fanzines generally succeed best in large fandoms. While some multi-fandom fanzines would publish rare fandoms as well, for a fan of that rare fandom it may not be cost-effective to have to spend $15-25 on a 'zine just to read one story. Likewise, a fanzine publisher may have difficulty receiving enough quality submissions for a rare fandom zine, and may only sell a few copies of it.
  • Lack of information before buying - 'zines often do not contain summaries, warnings, pairings, and other details which describe its contents the way netfic does. Unless a fanzine has been reviewed, and/or the buyer is familiar with the authors and publisher already, it can seem like a financial risk to buy a fanzine.
  • Poor editing & publishing control - while many editors argue proudly that they carefully edit and proofread their submission to present the best 'zine possible, some do not and will publish submissions exactly as received, or in fact be sloppy and introduce errors into stories that were not there originally. Such carelessness will discourage an author from submitting to a 'zine publisher in the future. On the flipside, many editors will speak out that today's authors do not want to be edited in detail because of the 'net.
  • Access for fans worldwide - the internet allows for fan fiction readers worldwide to have access to stories much easier than in the past. International shipping can be very expensive and slow, making it difficult for those outside of the country of a 'zines publication to afford it.

Fans of 'zine publishing today still insist that the overall "quality" of fanzine-published fan fiction is better than that found on-line, and that it has been "destructive" to the fan fiction community to encourage the widespread posting of fan fiction on the net. This is a battle that continues to flare up every so often, especially in places such as Zinelist and at conventions where fanzines are sold.


Below is a partial list of articles and academic sources that reference fanzines.

  • Aikman, Becky (1995). Express yourself. Newsday, December 17, p.1.
  • Atton, Chris (1996). Alternative literature: a practical guide for librarians. Hampshire, England: Gower Publishing Limited.
  • Aul, Billie (1997). Is it a zine? Is it mail art? It's...a dead locust. In Factsheet Five, #50, p.107. [P.O. Box 1700099, Sn Francisco, CA 94117-00099]
  • Barnes, Denise (1996). What the hell is a zine, anyway? In Fodder January/February, p.3.
  • Bauder, David (1990) What's the alternative? Hundreds of 'Fanzines. In Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Ene. 28, , p.3E.
  • Becker, Christ (1993). What I’ve learned from Fanzines. In Factsheet Five # 35, . p.3
  • Biancolli, Amy (1995) Ragtime: underground magazine venture where mainstream publications won' t. In Times Union [Albany], March 12, p.I-1, 4.
  • Carstensen, Jeanne (1987) Fanzines: your right to rave. In Whole Earth Review, Winter, p.46-47.
  • Castro, Laura L. (1990) Blast from past: nostalgia magazine published for love and money. In New York Newsday, February 14.
  • Chepesiuk, Ron. (1997) The zine scene: libraries preserve the latest trend in publishing. In American Libraries, February, p.68-70.
  • Criterion. (1997) Zinedom. In Making punk a threat again: Profane Existence: best cuts, 1989-1993. Minneapolis: Loin Cloth Press, p.64 [P.O. Box 8722, Minneapolis, MN 55408].
  • Dodge, Chris (1995) Pushing the boundaries: Fanzines and libraries. In Wilson Library Bulletin, May, p.26-30.
  • Duncombe, Stephen. (1997) Notes from underground: Fanzines and the politics of alternative culture. New York: Verso.
  • Dunn, Jerry (1997) Zine readers and zine publishers. In Idiom savant: slang as it is slung, p.269-271.
  • Emerson, Bo. (1992) Zine scene In Atlanta Constitution, December 1, p.1G.
  • Emigre (1998) Fanzines and the culture of D.I.Y. In Special issue of Emigre Spring #46.
  • Fanzines in libraries (1996). In Information for Social Change. Spring, #3, p.25-26.Zobel, Cheryl (1999).
  • Flinn, John (1994) Think it, publish it: the zine scene In San Francisco Examiner, January 23, p. A-1, A-9.
  • Green, Karen and Tristan Taormino, eds. A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. 1997.
  • Gross, David M. (1994) Zine but not heard In Time, September 5, p.68-69.
  • Herrada (1995). Fanzines in libraries: a culture preserved. In Serials Review, Summer, p.79-88.
  • Marr, John (1997) On the trail of Cometbus: a talk with the publisher of Berkeley's best-loved 'zine. In Bay Guardian [San Francisco], February 26.
  • Werthman, Frederick (1973). The World of Fanzines. Illinois: Southern Illinois Press.
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