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Zines and Small-Press Publishing

An Introductory guide which explains what small-press publishing and Zines are, where you can access Zine collections in Dundee and around Scotland, and how to create your own zines and small press publications

Coin Operated Press


“This is where the action is, where information (and disinformation) is free, where things are happening.”
Mike Gunderloy


Definition of a Zine

Zines can loosely be described as low-cost, self-published, small-circulation magazines. Historically their purpose had been to share niche topics of interest, or alternative viewpoints and as tools for activism within small communities. However with the expansion of the internet and other modes of communication for connecting with communities the function of zines has evolved over time.


Qualities of a Zine

Ephemeral with small distribution –
There is no expectation that once you put your zine out into the world that it will last for ever or reach a huge audience. Zines don't generally have ISBNs or other means of tracking that they existed after they are lost. Creators usually only make a small number of copies in comparison to commercially published works. However, in the past there was more of a culture of photocopying zines that you had bought to spread these further afield, particularly to further political causes

Low production cost and DIY aesthetic 
Traditionally zines were made by hand using materials that most people would already have (pens, pencils, glue, paper) and photocopied in black and white before being stapled or folded into booklets. The focus of creating zines was less around creating a well-finished product and more about sharing your thoughts and ideas, however some contemporary zine makers might use more expensive processes (although some might argue that these aren't zines!)

Personal –
This is the dominant characteristic of a zine. The person or people who are making it are inextricable from the object itself even if it’s made anonymously. It’s a way to share your work, your ideas, your opinions and a way to identify with others who share a similar interest, niche or otherwise. As zines are often given away for free or are sold at low cost there is little financial gain to be had to influence their contents. When you create a zine you make every choice about what information is included or withheld, how it is ordered and presented, and the methods and materials that you use to put your zine together.

Disruptive/Irreverent/representing outsider views and interests –
A lot of zines are written about politics, activism or as social commentary. But the great thing about zines is they can really be about anything which you feel is underrepresented in mainstream discourse or media, or just something strange that you're into!


M. Gunderloy (1990) Zines: Where the Action Is: The Very Small Press in America. Available at: (Accessed 29th May 2023)

Types of Zine


(diverse and can be very niche), some common themes include science fiction, music and sport. 

Political zines,
critiquing the government, identity politics (including zines around sexuality and gender), social critiques and activism

'Scene zines'
 zines reviewing local music and underground social and cultural zines

Network zines
which review and publicise other zines

Fringe culture zines
which discuss conspiracy theories

Religious zines
including satirical takes on religious expression

Vocational zines
about work

Health zines 
exploring healthy lifestyle, medicine and living with chronic illness

Sex and erotica zines 
covering every proclivity

Travel-log zines 
documenting travel, traditionally on a low budget

from the underground scene

Literary zines 
containing short fiction or poetry

Art zines
a way to distribute artwork and photography





Stephen Duncombe, Notes from the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, 2nd ed. (Bloomington, IN: Microcosm, 2008).

Historical Zine Movements

Amateur Press Association (APA)
1860s - present

The Amateur Press Association started in the 1860s and functioned through individuals sending materials (usually letters) to a single person who would then copy all materials in the cheapest possible way and then distribute the unedited 'bundles' via post to all subscribing members. Though these 'bundles' weren't exactly zines they had similar roots in amateur publishing and community-building.

These publications included work from people of different genders, ages, and races with women and African American people often holding leadership positions in the associations, and independently publishing their own amateur newspapers. The National Amateur Press Association formalised in 1876 is still accepting submissions today. These kind of publications led to the APAzine genre which follows a similar process of gathering submissions. Subscribers send materials to a single point and receive a copy of the combined submissions usually in a zine format rather than a bundle of submissions. However unlike the APA these collectives are usually only accept writing on a specific topic or fandom, and they often require subscribers to submit work or be ousted from the group.


Science Fiction Fanzines
1930s - present

Although debated by some, it is generally understood that the first zines were fanzines created by fans of Science Fiction (SF), the first and most famous being The Comet. These zines originated in response to the publication of commercially produced SF magazines. Some of these commercial magazines encouraged engagement and community-building through official fan clubs and calls for feedback about the kind of stories that they'd like to see. The Comet came to be as the 'Science Correspondence Club Bulletin' where members discussed SF and science more generally. As these zines became more popular and widespread they were no longer just a place to discuss commercially published SF and readers began to submit their own amateur SF. Similarly some SF zines existed only to discuss the community that had developed around SF zine-making.


Punk Zines
1970s - 80s

The second major zine-making movement was around Punk Music in the 70s and 80s. Fans created zines around artists who they considered to be underrepresented by mainstream music channels. These magazine producers were considered to be  ‘so far away from the kids that they [couldn't] possibly say anything of any importance to punk rock fans’ (Worley, 2015). Fanzines were a good complement to Punk music as they ‘pioneered a ‘new language’ in the form of '‘visual and verbal rants’ freed from the pressures of censor-ship, editorial dictates, subbing or deadlines' (Worley, 2015). This DIY spirit of cut-and-paste and collage spoke to the movement's agency against the commercial music industry and became synonymous with Punk aesthetic. Around this time photocopying (xeroxing) became more accessible to the public and this  was a good way to make a large number of copies of zines cheaply. The cheap production and lack of editing or high production value of the zines got across the urgency of the messages zine-makers were trying to communicate.

Punk Fanzines were predominately sold at gigs and record shops for very low cost, and were crucial for ‘[initiating], [encouraging] and [surveying] the upsurge of activity sparked by the Sex Pistols, The Clash and others' (Worley, 2015). These zines began to expand to cover not only music reviews and commentary on the scene but to interpret and embody the principles of punk through art and writing, often culminating in political call to action around anarchism, fascism, feminism and socialism. These zines also sometimes served to create networks for political action. 

Worley, M. (2015). 'Punk, Politics and British (fan)zines, 1974-84:'While the world was dying, did you wonder why?', History Workshop Journal, 79(1). pp. 76-106. doi: 



The Riot GRRRl movement stemmed from the Punk movement in the 90s, and but was specifically linked to the experiences of women in the punk scene, women-fronted and LGBTQI+ bands (most famously Bikini Kill) exploring the anger of women, and calling out the masculinism of the punk scene and ‘the multiple ways they were dismissed, scorned, violated, and controlled not only in the punk scene but also in their daily lives.’ At this time there was a lot of excitement about sharing and publishing zines within the community as it was refreshing to be able to talk in a really candid way about the violence and abuse suffered by women, music made by women, and women's sexuality. Zines were circulated at shows and through newsletters dedicated to compiling lists of new zines being made in the community. Some Zines were even highlighted in commercial magazines aimed at women. Sharing zines was accompanied by conferences and meetings around punk music and feminist principles. There are now lots of collections of Riot Grrrl zines which have been saved by libraries and museums who see their importance as historical artefacts (you can see some of these at Glasgow Women’s library). This follows the tradition of women creating and preserving their own histories where these have been dismissed in scholarly writing. Like Punk, Riot Grrrl also had its own enduring aesthetic popularised by the bands in the scene and Zines which incorporated elements of stereotypical femininity, punk, and statements around sexual violence and gender. Although, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre states  that you should “Stop always worrying about what you look like and what clothes you wear, 'cause in the end it's not important. What's important is friendship and being creative.


Zines today

At the end of the 1990s as internet use gained prominence, new mediums for connecting with like-minded people were more easily accessable. Many zines moved online or disappeared altogether, and as independent retailers closed there were fewer places to pick up zines in-person. However some zine-makers persevered. When asked about the declining popularity of zines, Louis Rastelli who helped to create the Montreal comics and review zine Fish Piss said ““I’m baffled at any notion that people should stop making zines [...] Expressing yourself on your own, when no other media around you is reflecting your reality, will always be pertinent. This isn’t being replaced by Facebook or Twitter or blogs, because those are very fleeting, ephemeral expressions, and rarely involve the care one takes when deciding what to write down for posterity in a zine. If you want to leave a trace of your experiences, you still need to put it down on paper or in some other physical art form.” Others argue that the dawn of the internet has shifted the focus from creating zines to preserving zines as important cultural artefacts. Those that make zines perhaps make fewer, but take more time to create quality work, for instance the use of Riso machines has increased in zine making.

One of the dominant themes in current zines are perzines, which are zines written about your personal experiences. This kind of zine-making underwent a particular boom during the COVID 19 pandemic. These zines can be a therapeutic means to empower the author and readers who relate to their experiences, and as a way to give voice to marginalised communities underrepresented by commercial publishers.