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Is there a market for selling old zines as collectors items like comics?

I probably have a few hundred zines from the 90's. I have all pathetic life (at least I think I do, there was always one mysterious issue that never appeared). FF5, Rollerderby, Ben is Dead, Crank, Even Tank Girls Get The Blues, and on and on. I had a favorite one, can't remember the name right now, I just had issue #2, it was like 200 pages and all about this guy who was squatting in Florida at the time and all his travels. I always wanted to find the first one.

I've been hanging on to many of them in case someone ever became a famous writer, etc. :D I might consider auctioning on e-Bay if there is enough of a market for them.

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I don’t think that anybody is getting rich from selling old zines to others

That's a fact. There are, of course, the rare exceptions but for the most part there just aren't many collectors of older zines out there. The comics arena is a bit different (the industry was practically built on obsessive fans) but for ziney zines? Not so much.

I respect the fact that some folks believe zines shouldn't be resold for a profit (apparently we're excepting distros); but I also don't see any way to make it not happen. Once any zine publisher puts their zine into somebody else's hands they have to be prepared for whatever may become of it (it's sold, it's destroyed, it's lambasted, etc.). For better or worse, it's part of the self-publishing risk.

But I agree with the recurring sentiment that, all in all, there's just not that much selling-for-profit going on. And the selling that is done is most often for very little profit (not to mention all of the paid-for listings that go unsold because of no interest).
eric, yeah, there have been a few incidents i can think of with people trying to trade other people's zines in exchange for fresh new zines to read...the thinking being similar to the philosophy behind reselling someone else's zines: "well, it's my zine now, i own it, i can do what i want with it, & if im trading it to someone in exchange for their zine, where's the harm? someone new is reading it, i don't want it anymore, everyone wins, right?" i've had people approach me at zine fairs, trying to trade me zines they'd picked up from other tables & already read for my zines. i mean, we shouldn't have to say, "i'll trade my zine...for ZINES YOU MAKE YOURSELF!" but there's always someone who doesn't understand the distinction, or doesn't care about the dictinction. this is part of why i'm against being asked to foresee every potentially unsavory use my zine may be put to once it leaves my hands & specify that people not do those things. there's always going to be someone who will think up a new transgression i couldn't have ever accounted for!

danny, about "murder can be fun"...i can't help thinking that it would have been nice if that person up in canada would have donated that issue if "murder can be fun" #7 to a zine library, so that all of the library's patrons could come & read the zine. that avoids the whole weird "elitism/should have gotten it at the time" charge. & with more & more libraries springing up in more & more towns, more & more zine readers have access to local zine libraries. that wouldn't solve the problem if you were really hellbent on having a copy of "murder can be fun" #7 all for yourself, but old, well-known zines are archived in zine libraries all across the world all the time, every single day, further eliminating the "collectors' market" (which barely exists anyway) for old zines. i know papercut, the zine library in boston, has a bunch of old issues of "murder can be fun".

& just a quick distinction on "selling for a profit," rick--distros generally charge a retail price that is set by the zinester. typically this price is the same as what the zinester charges. so there is no "profit" going on. the distro & the zinester also have a pre-determined relationship, with the zinester being paid for their work on a per-copy basis usually, & retaining the right to allow their old zines to go out of print at any time. few distros break even, with the various hidden expenses of keeping a distro running (web hosting for online catalogues, mailing supplies, the constant rotation of new items coming in, etc). for example, in january 2008, my distro received $839.27 in orders. i spent $770.98 on maintenance costs, including postage, paying zinesters, making copies for the flats i keep in stock, & web hosting. my profit amounted to $68.29, about 8% of my incoming funds. let's say i spent $10 a week on bus fare back & forth to the post office to mail orders, which brings my take down to $28.29. i work on distro stuff probably around 40 hours a week (a low estimate). so my profit/cash in pocket to reimburse me for my efforts at distributing other people's work, came to about 17 cents an hour. i doubt the zinesters i work with would begrudge me a wage of 17 cents an hour for selling approximately 500 copies of their zines. if they do & they are reading this, i hope they feel free to speak up!

obviously no one has control of their zine once it leaves their hands. i don't think anyone is arguing that we should invent some kind of remote tracking control system that would enable zinesters to prevent readers from reselling (or doing some other shady business) with their zines. everyone is aware that there is some risk to self-publishing, but part of the reason people keep taking the risk (& the reason why some zinesters cease publishing) is because of the trust level that exists between zinester & community. i do believe that every reader who resells someone's zine for profit, when they either know that the zinester wouldn't have wanted that, or without knowing the zinesters's feelings on the issue, chips away at that trust a little bit & possibly drives a few more zinesters to quit publishing. even if the absolute worst we can do to a transgressor is say, "hey, that wasn't a cool thing to do," well...that's what i will say then! i think reselling for profit breaks an unspoken code (that is starting to be spoken out loud quite a bit these days!), & while i acknowledge i that i can't prevent anyone from doing it, i can at least share my feelings on the issue & mete out a bit of moral censure when it seems warranted. resellers are always free to ignore me, but if they can't handle me saying, "wow, what a dick move," maybe they shouldn't be reselling. i mean, if you're going to do something that you know is controversial & frowned upon by certain people, you should be able to handle some criticism when it comes your way without acting like, "OMG this is shocking & brand-new information! i could have never foreseen that anyone would ever be upset with me for doing this!" i am saying, yeah, you're free to do what you want, but your actions might still have consequences, even if no one can stop you from doing them.
Yes, Ciara! I came up with it. A tiny microchip that we implant in our zines, programmed with the information of the indended recipent. If it ever leaves their possession... the zine will simply self-destruct.

Until that technology is available... (well it probably is available. shall i say, "cost effective" instead?) I think people are just going to have to realize many of us DON'T want our zines resold. And i agree... if people can't handle being called a dick for reselling, then it's probably something they shouldn't be doing.

ciaraxyerra said:

obviously no one has control of their zine once it leaves their hands. i don't think anyone is arguing that we should invent some kind of remote tracking control system that would enable zinesters to prevent readers from reselling (or doing some other shady business) with their zines.
Dearest ciaraxyerra (and interested parties), I absolutely agree with you about the whole zine library thing. In fact, I think the very idea of a public library is one of the most wonderful concepts in all of human history. We should all take a moment to tip our hats to Mr. Benjamin Franklin, who was the first to institute such a novelty in the Americas. OK, so I don’t wear a hat, but I give thanks to the man’s foresight nonetheless.

That being said, the reason I posted my hasty missive last night was because, as I scanned the six pages of previous posts, I noticed that some folks had the belief that certain zines (particularly those of a deeply personal nature) should only be allowed into the hands of select people. Perhaps I misread things, but that did seem to be the opinion of more than one poster. And I have to say that zine libraries, at least those open to the public, would only broaden the opportunities for unwanted outsiders to tread on such sensitive material.

As a history buff, I’ve always been a fan of the first-person memoir because that’s about as close as a guy (or gal) can get to seeing the world through the eyes and experience of another human being, which in my opinion is the most efficient vehicle for personal intellectual growth. I strive to find materials that weren’t necessarily written with folks like me in mind, texts where random individuals expose themselves in valiant attempts to exorcise (or exercise) their demons in the form of the written word.

Personally, I lack the collector mentality and am only in this zine thing for the insights that can be gleaned from peripheral characters armed with pens, paper and access to copy machines. I’d be overjoyed if there were a complete public domain repository for works of every ilk, ranging from the mass produced fluff aimed at the lowest common denominator to the absurd and obscure publications aimed at – whoever. Perhaps that’ll happen some day, but in the meantime I’m occasionally forced to purchase materials that have a low circulation; I’d always prefer to have the creator profit from their works, but sometimes they’ve already left those creations behind them and have no interest in delving into the past. Yet those words live on long after they’ve been written and I don’t think that makes them any less vital, even if the publishers’ feelings may have changed over time. Zines tend to be fast and dirty time capsules, which is what I like most about them.

My main reason for reading is to try to understand the worldviews of other people and I write in the vain hope that random canny weirdoes will do the same for me. Writers who strive to limit their audience intrigue me; it just makes me want to read their work even more! Oh, the great paradox of mankind – always struggling to grasp forbidden fruit simply because it’s out of reach.

Getting back to the topic at hand (finally!!) I couldn’t agree more that profiteering on the work of others is a lazy and irresponsible thing to do, but pathetic and contemptible as such actions may be, they form the fundament of human culture. It’s sad really. I mean, if you want something done right, do it yourself! Alas, simple as it may seem, it’s still not the opinion of the majority. It took me a long time to understand that I can’t expect others to live by my own sense of ethics, that preaching to the disinterested is a hostile and unpleasant act that gains more enemies than converts. One-sided debates have never done anyone any good.

Speaking of preachy, listen to me rant and rave!! OK, let me end this with one final thought: The words we leave behind are the closest to an afterlife that any of us can hope to achieve, and all in all, that’s plenty. I’m flattered when people are able to take something from what I’ve said, and if they fail to reimburse me for my time and effort, well that’s OK, because speech is free. Or at least it ought to be.

My opinions are all that I have in this world. I don’t ask that others share them, or even condone them, just that they tolerate and respect them. I promise I’ll do the same for all of you.
distros generally charge a retail price that is set by the zinester. typically this price is the same as what the zinester charges. so there is no "profit" going on. the distro & the zinester also have a pre-determined relationship, with the zinester being paid for their work on a per-copy basis usually, & retaining the right to allow their old zines to go out of print at any time. few distros break even, with the various hidden expenses of keeping a distro running

As you say, the zinester is being paid for the copies and, generally speaking, the distro turns around and sells the copies for more than they paid for them. That's profit at its simplest. Of course, it varies from distro to distro as to how much profit they're interested in making. None? Just enough to break even? Enough to allow them to travel to zine shows? Enough to allow them to run their distro as their sole/primary means of income? And achieving the profit goals they have (if any) depends a lot on their free time, business acumen, organizational skills, etc.

I'm aware of the hidden expenses distros deal with and my comments about profit certainly aren't intended as negative. I have no problem with the concept of profit but I'm also not suggesting distro owners are all free-wheeling profiteers only interested in making money. And, obviously, the majority of distro'd zinesters don't mind the distro making some amount of money off of them (not to mention for them) or they wouldn't submit their zines.

Your example of $800+ in orders turning into $28 is astounding and you obviously deserve some accolades for still running your distro after five years on such a narrow margin. But I have to say that I believe that kind of recompense would run many distros into the ground (and mostly likely has).

Anyway, that doesn't have much to do with resellers, eBay or collectors but I just wanted to make the point that, at its simplest, profit = profit = profit. Plus, it's a subject I find interesting.
I think an illuminating analogy could be drawn between the reselling old zines and the sale of second hand books. We don't expect book authors to receive royalties from books that are onsold, why do we expect differently for zine-makers? The same copyright laws seem to cover mass-marketed publications (books, magazines, and newspapers) and alternative publications (zines). And many books are extremely personal in nature as well, and the authors would also probably have qualms about the mass-circulation of extremely personal reflections in the public. That discomfort is inherent in the nature of publication.

Interested in Gianni's first comment about the back history of zines - Gianni, if you're still reading, I'd love your feedback on this. And of course, anyone else out there who'd like to comment.
Nicoleintrovert said: "if people can't handle being called a dick for reselling, then it's probably something they shouldn't be doing."

Always the confused anal foreigner who has problems and doubts about the English language: Can I call a woman reselling a zine a cunt, or do I run the risk of being called a mysoginist? Because I'm sure there are women who do the same.
It may not be an exact analogy, but I think it holds, Sarah. There are a lot of personal memoirs out there, and only some authors of personal memoirs write them, and sign contracts in the expectation of, large amounts of money. Book authors do not 'usually' expect large amounts of money to be returned to them along with their contracts; only 'sometimes, in particular circumstances, and depending upon luck and changes in market expectations'.

And there is no reason why a well-made (or even badly made) personal zine could not become hugely popular. Indeed, the world of publishing and marketing probably has plenty of examples where things like this have happened.
Dr. Danny Swank said:
I noticed that some folks had the belief that certain zines (particularly those of a deeply personal nature) should only be allowed into the hands of select people. Perhaps I misread things, but that did seem to be the opinion of more than one poster. And I have to say that zine libraries, at least those open to the public, would only broaden the opportunities for unwanted outsiders to tread on such sensitive material.

This confuses me as well. And it's probably a new topic of discussion altogether, maybe worthy of a new thread. If your position is that some zines are so personal and meant for a small defined audience, therefor reselling them would violate the publisher's trust, one would think the publisher would be equally, if not more upset, if they were donated to a zine library where hundreds of people would have access to them.

I've never sold a zine on Ebay, but I've donated 3,000-4,000 zines to public zine libraries and museum collections. Tons of them were personal zines... I helped fill in the ZAPP collection early on, start the Experience Music Project's zine collection, and add to a collections at the Seattle Public Libraries and a few others. I'm wondering if zine libraries get contacted by old zine publishers upset about their zines being in their collection? With zine collections in public and academic libraries, those items get cataloged by keywords, author, title and end up searchable in national databases like WorldCat--much more exposure than a single sale through an auction site.

On ZineWiki we occasionally get contacted by people that want their articles taken down. It's always a debate how much we should comply to their wishes and how much you try to be true to the mission of documenting the zine community and zine history. Is it OK to write people out of zine history because they want you to, even if they published something that impacted a bunch of people? Often it's because now they are born-again or more normal and trying to escape their past. I'm sure zine librarians have to grapple with the same thing. Do you as a librarian or someone documenting zine history completely cave to the wishes of any individual zine publisher? Or if you are building a collection or documenting history, is there some greater principle you answer to with the project/zine library/history you're working on? I think some of this will be discussed at the upcoming Zine Librarian Unconference in Seattle.
I was wondering about that stance as well. Surely the zine getting into the hands of a single stranger is better than going into a public collection (when the concern is the highly personal nature of the publication, I mean).

But, Dan, I'm not so sure the other questions you raise are too complicated. Articles published without consent still fall under copyright law so even if it's something really important for a public archive the author still has legal rights. If the article is really that important then there's always the legal option of paraphrasing. Maybe there's an argument to be made in the area of "fair use" but I'm not sure it allows for usage of an entire piece.

And I'm not sure removing a zine from a public collection has to impact the historical documentation of said zine. It's a bummer but the documenation could still be done; the downside would be that the public couldn't hold the thing in their hands.
Rick, I didn't mean articles published without consent... totally agree with you there. I meant an article on a Wiki, which is an entry or page. So say a zine archivist goes through a bunch of their old zines and creates a page on ZineWiki for each one, trying to historically document the zines of a certain genre, era or locale. And one of the entries/articles is for a zine published 8 years ago, it's a basic page about a zine or it's publisher. Then the original author stumbles upon it, no doubt Googling themself, and asks to have it taken down. Does the old publisher's wishes trump the historical archive's? It's a tricky situation we run into occasionally on ZineWiki. I'd assume zine libraries have to face it too, especially if their collections are cataloged in a way that they are searchable online.
When someone PUBLIshes something, they make it PUBLIc. They have to live with that decision. They have not, can not, and should not be able to copyright their name and address. Otherwise no one would be able to say or write the name of a celebrity, or give out an address they found in a phone book or directory. You as a zine librarian and documentarian have a duty to your calling. If they didn't use a pseudonym when they wrote their zine, that was their oversight. I doubt anybody but a tiny minority of us zinesters, obsessed with zine history, is going to pay that much attention to their misspent youth anyway. I think you should leave your entries up, and keep their zines in the library.

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