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As a zine fest organizer... i am wondering... as i am sure many other organizers wonder...

WHAT DO YOU WANT AT A ZINE FEST?

Both as an attendee and as a tabler... what are you looking to get out of attending a zine fest? What could organizers do to make it a more enjoyable experience? What are things you have seen at zine fests and you think, "Wow, that is NOT working!" or "What a COOL idea!" or "Why didn't they ______ ?"

Tags: events, fests, zinefest, zines

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Some community awareness that this event will be taking place ... flyers in surrounding windows and on lampposts.

An area of heavy foot traffic (on the day the fest is to take place)

tables

organizers who have cool, enthusiastic heads the day of the event. (and lots of singles for vendors who run out of change) (and tape) (and Sharpies and paper)

Egalitarianism of display. I've been to small press fairs where the big gorillas, or people who've paid a higher premium get good placement (main floor, prime room ... or outside of the building on a pleasant weekend day) and those who've paid less are relegated to a dreary upper floor , different room ... or in some uninviting building on a pleasant weekend when everyone wants to be outdoors)
At the Alternative Press Fair a couple of weeks back they were in a social club with a bar.

It was a nice event anyway, but it was even better being able to flog my zines with a pint of cider in my hand.
good question! bad ideas i have seen at zine fairs: the entire fair being held in one giant room, with tables at the periphery & workshops being held in the center, so that workshop people don't have any privacy & people feel awkward chatting at tables & walking around, lest they disturb the workshop groups. bad news all around! similarly, i have been to zine fairs that had entertainment, like music & stuff, happening on a stage during the tabling. i get that they wanted to keep people from being bored or whatever, but it was distracting & made people less inclined to look at tables or feel comfortable walking around. i have also been to oh-so-many zine fairs where some knucklehead thought it would draw to attention to his table to have a boombox & be playing tunes...really loudly...for the whole room to hear...so that no one could chat with their neighbor or the people coming by their tables. it was really rude, i thought. play music if you must, but control your volume. i am also not impressed by zine fairs where most tables are covered in t-shirts, crafts, & other random stuff that is not zines. i enjoy a nice handmade craft as much as the next person, but crafts are not zines, & any event calling itself a zine fair should put a premium on attracting zinesters to table. ditto goes for bookstores & publishers that show up with big tables full of BOOKS instead of zines. there are zine fairs, there are craft fairs, & there are book fairs. if an event is claiming to be a certain type of fair, people who sell other types of items should re-consider whether it's appropriate for them to tabler, or organizers should offer clear guidelines on what kinds of items ought to be tabled. i also won't go to fairs that charge exorbitant rates for tables. a friend told me i should table my distro at the NYC anarchist bookfair, & i considered it for a hot second, before i remembered that a half-table costs $50. when you are selling zines at $2 a pop, tabling prices should be in line with what is likely to be a small-ish profit. (& i know, the anarchist bookfair is a book fair, & you can make more selling books than zines...but $50 still seems nuts! the allied media conference, which began as a zine fair before it morphed into a monster, also charged ridiculous prices just for people to ATTEND THE EVENT! big mistake. i definitely think just going to the fair & walking around & even hitting workshops ought to be completely free. maybe accept donations. that's it.)

i like zine fairs where: there are lots of zines! this is kind of a "no duh" moment, but i really dislike zine fairs where all that is being tabled are books, comics, & crafts, with a meager sprinkling of zines. i also like it when the zine fair has a nice website that lists in advance the zinesters & distros that are coming to the fair. it makes me more excited about going if i know i'll be able to pick up a certain zine or hang out with a certain zinester. i also like fairs that have workshops! & as much as i love a good practical skillshare-based workshop, i really love the thought-provoking discussion-based political zine workshops. we had some interesting ones at the bowling green zine fair ten years ago, one on gender & zines, one on race & zines...they generated a lot of interesting conversation. blockprinting is all well & good, but once you know how to do it, you can kind of live without a blockprinting workshop at every single zine fair. i also like for zine fairs to either be set up somewhere nearby to coffee & food, or to actually have coffee & food available at the fair (for free or not, doesn't much matter--depends on what kind of funding the zine organizers have to pay for that stuff). the last boston zine fair had free coffee & pizza. very nice! it kept people from leaving early, so i was still making sales even as i was packing up my tables at the end of the day. people stayed because they were fed, watered, & having fun. the more you can keep people on the premises, through good tables, workshops, food & beverages, & other activities (like a make-your-own-zine table, for example), the more people will sell & mingle & have fun, & then they'll tell all their friends how awesome your zine fair was & you'll have an even better turn-out the next year.

i'll give this some more thought & see if i have other ideas. i've organized a LOT of conferences, & sometimes it's a crapshoot as to what works & what doesn't. sometimes something as simple as gorgeous weather guarantees a great event, while an otherwise perfectly-organized zine fair falls apart because of a thunderstorm. & who can control that stuff?
good:
signs/posters on lamp posts
friendly stall neighbours! the best.
accessible and kid friendly (should not even be needed to say but zine fairs are often up lots and lots of stairs)

bad:
i have a total issue with expensive 'design/craft/art' zines that call themselves alternative. fairs of this kind are bad too. like DIY fanzines should be DIY and affordable/tradeable right? am i missing the point? i like to be able to go in with £5-£10 and come out with a really really heavy bag.
also these sorts of fairs that turn down DIY zine stalls or infoshop stalls because they arent marketable enough or whatever (looking at you publish and be damned)
and yeah crafts/tshirt/record stalls arent zine stalls.
music on individual stalls is annoying
really long discussions and workshops in really short events, there isnt enough time to do everything.
expensive tables, i dont think ive really ever experienced having to pay too much but yeah $50 dollars is ridiculous
How about not have a black out! Seriously, the Midwest zine fest of 03 I think started hours after the huge blackout that happened! They were such troopers and still pulled it off. I was amazed.

What are people's opinions on assigning tables vs. free for all? We have done both with the Portland Zine Symposium. I think I like them assigned. Also, this year we are limiting the amount of full tables to make room for more individual zinesters and only give full tables to people who really need them like distros or people who travel with other people's zines. In the past we have had greedy jerks who just wanted a full table or filled the tables up with things that are not zine or comics and I don't feel that was fair. We are also having the PZS for 3 days again. 3 days of tabling and 2 of them will have workshops. We are devising a way that people can register for each day separately on the web sit so we can regulate how many tables we will have each day. I'm pretty excited about that because we had a huge overbooking problem last year.

I like zine events where there is one or two specific people who do the announcing of workshops/raffles/etc. and event organizers who get lots of change.
the midwest zine fest black-out was AWESOME! it was so much fun driving to detroit with no streetlights or anything, & i am totally not being facetious. that was fun times, & it was the first time i ever tabled paper trail, so it will live on in my heart. that zine fair was so scrappy & charming & probably the only zine fair i have ever been to where i was like, "okay, THIS is why i do zines."

i like assigned tabling. a free-for-all means that people will stake out what they think are the "best" spots & i don't know if that's fair. i mean, it does bug me when i make an effort to get to a zine fair on time & all the rest of the tables are sttil empty & i feel like a big nerd, but i like assigned tabling. because that way you can also control spreading out distros so they aren't all grouped together, & putting people who need more space, because maybe they have a wheelchair or something with them, on an aisle where they can spread out, & put tables that might need a little more oversight from neighbors next to people willing to shoulder that responsibility, etc. i also am into the idea of full tables being reserved for people who need them. a huge eight-foot table with five zines on it just looks sad, i don't understand why people do that.
"What are people's opinions on assigning tables vs. free for all? We have done both with the Portland Zine Symposium. I think I like them assigned."

I like assigned just because I always find free for all's awkward. If someone wants to sit next to someone else (or doesn't want to sit next to someone else) you shouldn't be too much of a hard ass about letting them move but in general I like there to be some orginization.

Also, try and get in touch wth the local alternative weekly newspapers. They're almost certain to metion it in their list of upcoming events and if it's a slow week they may even write an article on it. the Weekly Dig in Boston had an article on last year's Boston Zine Fair and I dunno if it helped attendance, but it didn't hurt. And I was quoted in the article which really impressed the hell out of my mo and impressing your mom is always a good thing to do.
oh and a table for individual zines (either brought along by people or sent by friends who cant attend) run by the organisers is always great
-Assign the tables and price them cheaply enough that a lot of people can participate
-Set some guidelines to what people should be selling/what you're looking for to deter it become a craft fair or indie book fair
-Wall space behind tables for hanging banners/posters/info is great, let people know if it's available
-Have an entertainment portion of the event (live bands and booze rules)
-Moderated panel discussions rock, as do zine readings
-Promote and advertise the hell out of it, if you haven't promoted an event before, wrangle someone into helping that has (you need a website, press release, to bug the local press and radio, posters, flyers to zine distros in the months leading up to it, and to promote it in various forums)
-Keep admission free or super cheap to encourage a big turn out, the more stuff you have going on (bands, readings, panels) the higher you can make the door price
-Try to get a couple main volunteers on the floor most of the time. To not only answer questions, but to act as facilitators in introducing people and getting people talking. Like real talky people that can encourage conversations between socially awkward zinesters. The best zine conferences I've been to have really made an effort to introduce people and had someone playing party host. And this isn't the kind of thing you'd normally think about.
only give full tables to people who really need them like distros or people who travel with other people's zines.

This makes me feel crappy. I had a full table because I have lots of zines and I don't like to be jammed in trying to fit them all on a table while also making it so people can see them. It makes the whole experience much more fun to me to have my own table. I gladly pay the extra money and do not ask for it back, so why am I being greedy?

Also, Alex, by your criteria, you wouldn't have a full table, either. I hope you will consider this during the meetings.

Alex Wrekk said:
How about not have a black out! Seriously, the Midwest zine fest of 03 I think started hours after the huge blackout that happened! They were such troopers and still pulled it off. I was amazed.

What are people's opinions on assigning tables vs. free for all? We have done both with the Portland Zine Symposium. I think I like them assigned. Also, this year we are limiting the amount of full tables to make room for more individual zinesters and only give full tables to people who really need them like distros or people who travel with other people's zines. In the past we have had greedy jerks who just wanted a full table or filled the tables up with things that are not zine or comics and I don't feel that was fair. We are also having the PZS for 3 days again. 3 days of tabling and 2 of them will have workshops. We are devising a way that people can register for each day separately on the web sit so we can regulate how many tables we will have each day. I'm pretty excited about that because we had a huge overbooking problem last year.

I like zine events where there is one or two specific people who do the announcing of workshops/raffles/etc. and event organizers who get lots of change.
organizers who have cool, enthusiastic heads the day of the event.

I agree about this. I have been an organizer and it is hard and by the day of the event you are exhausted and usually short tempered. However, I have also been just a vendor and have gone to events when the organizers are tense and in bad moods and ignoring you and it feels really bad. You feel like you can't ask questions and there is just this bad tension in the room. So, I guess I would make sure there are people who are helping out only the day if. People who will be fresh and happy to help and to take some of the load of the core organizers.
"This makes me feel crappy. I had a full table because I have lots of zines and I don't like to be jammed in trying to fit them all on a table while also making it so people can see them."

If you have a lot of zines then there should be no problem with having a full table. The problem is when people who have one or 2 zines get a full table just because they don't like sharing or they like putting their feet up or something.

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