We Make Zines

a place for zinesters - writers and readers

The art of scamming came up in the thread about zine publishing being too expensive these days. Back in the '70s, '80s and '90s zinesters used all kinds of scams to publish cheaper or for free. Many of these scams are no longer possible, but many are, and there are new tricks also out there. We used to share scamming tips on alt.zines and through the letter pages of zines, why not do so in a thread on We Make Zines? What tricks can you share? Where do you cut corners to save money?

I'll start:

-Writing, editing, doing layout on work time and computers
-Using work scanners, laser printers and copy machines on the sly for your zine
-Stealing Sharpies, white out and blank paper from corporate chain copy shops like Kinkos (you can grab full reams of paper out of copy machines and load them in your bag if you're crafty). And stealing Sharpies is popular enough to make it into the title of one of the most popular zine chapbooks :)
-Soap your stamps when trading. Use actual postage stamps, rub bar soap over them until there is a thin film covering the stamps, then include a note with your zine that the stamps are soaped and can be reused. The person trading with you can use a wet cloth and wipe off the postal cancellation marks, cut out the stamps, glue them to the envelope they are sending a trade zine back to you in, and presto, only one of you has to pay postage.

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I never knew about soaping stamps. Never, ever.

The Staples here (which is the only business that offers copy services) has made it so that you cannot steal any copies at all. Not even a few pages. It makes me sad. Basically, the only way to work the machine is to either stick your debit card in there for the ENTIRE time you are copying or get a pre-loaded Staples card.

However, if anyone knows how to get past this, let me know.

I would love to make copies at work, but there are far too many twitchy, tattle tales at work and the copy machine is a far too viewable location to get away with it.
There are still payphones places?

Joe Biel said:
Converting a Tone Dialer into a Red Box (the best "scam" ever)
(Finally get some free phone calls out of all those payphones you see everywhere!)
As far as scams go, if you've got keys to your job, just sneak in at night. Make sure you save the keys after you leave that job, to keep sneaking in at night long after you're not working there anymore. Yes, it's breaking and entering but tough times call for tough measures.
"Follow the rules and be a good zine punk" comes from the exact same place as "follow the rules and be a good citizen." What's lawful is lawful. Alignment is useful because it doesn't involve value judgments of any kind. It's a well-reasoned system of purely unemotional description. Emotional (unreasonable) reaction is where people get off on imposing moralism on other folks based on an illusion of shared community.

True Neutral is probably closest to where I'm at, except that I have a tendency to be lazy that makes imposing balance in my world seem as extreme as imposing law. Laziness -- detatchedness -- is a (fairly insignificant) loophole in the system.

In any case, people steal from jobs they love all the time. It's the same crime, you know, either way. Even if they're good to you, you can steal. It's up to you, not them.

--> Tip: Learn to wrap packages properly in kraft paper instead of using envelopes. It is much cheaper.
--> Another: Make more copies of your zine. Lots more. Find friends with unlimited access to mailrooms. You do not have this access, I understand. But I promise, you can find someone who does. Now Media Mail those zines to your friends with the mailrooms, pre-addressed. Your friends will mail them. You will save money.
--> Another: If you have a short zine, print all the text on a blank postcard, back and front. Really small. You can easily fit most zines' entire text contents on postcards. Make the text somewhat too small to read. Your readers need a magnifier or a photocopy to enlarge the print, but your message gets out there. Make enough of these to send them Presorted Bulk rate.
--> Another: Charge people slightly more than you need for postage. Call it "Shipping & Handling." Never specify what "Handling" means. Handle their money. Stroke it. Whisper to it. Spend it on your next zine.
--> Last and finest: Vellum covers. The best scam there is. You can charge so much more for a vellum cover.
--> Funnier still: Handprinted covers. You can charge for this as if it's gold leaf. The glory of this is that it is free. You save the money you'd have spent on color copies *and* you get to charge more. Screenprint on vellum, don't get me started.

BestAvailable said:
I have nothing to add regarding scamming-- I used to scam copies from my work, but I have a job I don't hate now. So I don't want to risk getting in trouble. Plus, this job actually pays enough for me to afford copies. And they don't care if I have pink-ish hair sometimes or a nose ring. It's a job I want to keep. Back when I had a hateful job? I made tons and tons of copies.
But, I did want to say that I love that people are talking about scamming in D&D alignment terms. I consider myself to be Chaotic Good.
what's 'Media mail''?
womans monthly said:
what's 'Media mail''?

when you can send unpersonalised printed papers for cheaper postage. i think i read on the zineworld website (or here?) that it is difficult to do in the US now. In the UK it is called 'printed papers'.

I've reused stamps quite a lot but since thinking about it I dont know if I want to scam our mail service, the Royal Mail in the UK is nationalised and runs at a loss, if it were to go/be bought out it would be a lot more expensive for everyone to use. At least thats the impression I get anyway.
Media mail in the US actually applies to books, magazines, records, CDs, DVDs, etc. It's a slower way to ship, but can be much cheaper, especially if you are sending over a pound. So it's a good rate to use if you are say sending 10 or 20 zines to a distro.
Nobody here is self-deluding enough to think their way of making value judgments is anything but that, and nonemotional to boot, right?

Joe Biel said:
I think it is very oppressive to have to think about the implied morality of unemotional reactions in the zine scene (i.e. alignment). Can you at least post some links to articles where the zine community has agreed to operate on a level of D&D alignments and unemotional reactions? This seems highly non-normative based on 99% of the reactions here.

Kate said:
Aaron Cynic said:
As far as scams go, if you've got keys to your job, just sneak in at night. Make sure you save the keys after you leave that job, to keep sneaking in at night long after you're not working there anymore. Yes, it's breaking and entering but tough times call for tough measures.

This made me laugh. I don't work, but my husband does. He's about to start working for the Home Office, so I doubt he'll be able to sneak in at night there! At the moment he's still working for HSBC and doesn't mind printing my zine at all. I don't know what he'll be able to do when he starts at the HO.
My first wife used to glue-stik all her stamps when we did a zine, but that was back in the '80s. Another trick she used to do I always thought was classic: She would address review copies with our address and put the place she was sending it to in the return address place. Then she'd put a postcard stamp on it and drop it in the mail. It was amazing how many zines got shipped all over the country because the post office would "return" them for insufficient postage!
"Another trick she used to do I always thought was classic: She would address review copies with our address and put the place she was sending it to in the return address place."

I've thought of something like this, but if I was trying this trick mailing something from MA to CA wouldn't the PO workers in MA wonder how something being mailed from CA made it to MA w/o any postmarks?
That was the beauty of it. We would send oversized mail all over the country from the same city and almost every package ended up where we wanted it to go. Some of them came back to us, but we never even got so much as a notice in our P.O. box that we were doing anything wrong. Keep in mind this was many years ago, and I'm sure the post office workers just followed procedure and sent each package to the mailing address without thinking it could be a scam...

Ericfishlegs said:
"Another trick she used to do I always thought was classic: She would address review copies with our address and put the place she was sending it to in the return address place."

I've thought of something like this, but if I was trying this trick mailing something from MA to CA wouldn't the PO workers in MA wonder how something being mailed from CA made it to MA w/o any postmarks?

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