The difference between magazines and zines

As the overall magazine industry’s revenue declines, the popularity of zines is on a visible rise. In Canada, zine and comic festivals (that feature many zines too) have seen a large rise in attendance. For example, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) attendance has increased dramatically since its inception with 600 attendees in 2003 to 25 000 in 2016.[1] To meet the increasing interest, many festivals have increased their vendor spaces to accommodate more artists[2] or may need to move to larger venues. This leads to the question: why are zines and zine culture resurging while magazines are losing revenue and circulation with its physical print runs?

Before we start, what are exactly are magazines and zines? The root of the word of magazine, means a storage container, essentially it is a collection of a variety of article topics such as news, lifestyle, and culture. Additionally, it also features reviews, art, and photography. The possibilities for what can make up a magazine are endless. Zines, which derives from the word magazine, are self-published, short-run publication, that us usually intended as a passion-project. Zines are also cover just about any topic, just like magazines. The do-it-yourself, cheaply produced components of a zine (often printed with a photocopier and stapled together), makes it so that anyone can create one. Thus, providing an outlet for marginalized voices or works that may not be deemed publishable by mainstream media to be heard.

The 2016 Digital Magazine Media Fact book released by Magazines Canada, a national trade association representing Canadian magazines, reports that digital magazine content is growing in prominence. Magazines are producing digital content on mobile apps like Snapchat.[3] In Canada, the total percentage share of revenue of business-to-consumer (B2C) magazines makes up 11.0% in 2014, from 0% in the 2004 comparison.[4] The Ontario Media Distribution Corporation reports that magazines must reorganize their entire business models from scratch to sustain themselves from the decline in print advertising revenue and paid circulation.[5] For example, Teen Vogue is shutting down its print edition because they want their content “to be in synch with the cultural moments and platforms most important to their audiences,” says a Vogue spokesperson. Additionally, they see their mobile audience increasing 118%.[6] Despite all that, Teen Vogue leaves print behind. Their audience growth following Lauren Duca’s article, Donald Trump is Gaslighting America, was not enough to have their readers buy-in despite their new model of topical content.[7]

As magazines are issued-based, their content strives to be valuable and current with issues, stories, trends, or new releases, that their readers care about to sustain themselves, zines are doing the same. Magazine content alone is not enough to sustain themselves without moving to new business strategies, just as Teen Vogue saw.

Similarly, in Canada, Rogers Media, the one of the largest magazine publishers in Canada with titles including Maclean’s, Chatelaine, and Today’s Parent scaling back on print run frequency.[8] A quick scan of each of these magazine’s websites can provide a quick overview of what topics each magazine consists of. For Chatelaine, the topics include food, recipes, style, life, health, news, home décor, horoscopes, and videos.[9] On Maclean’s the topics are news, politics, economy, education, culture, society, work, and multimedia.[10] Two of the most circulated and purchased Canadian magazines covers a variety topics that is curated for a Canadian-audience. Differently from magazines, zines do not touch on so many topics in a single issue, or do those topics must keep their investors or advertisers happy when producing content. In contrast, magazines are laden with advertisement distractions that takes away from the sincerity of the message. Therefore, having more honest intentions and intimacy with being a hand-made self-published work holds greater potential to resonate with readers.

Despite the economic worries facing the magazine industry, zine culture is making a comeback. An article by The Economist titled, “As big magazines lose readers, home-made “zines” are springing up,” recognizes the zine resurgence as an “antidote” to the internet that magazines are moving towards. They interviewed Lu Williams, the runner of Grrrl Zine Fair in English, who says, “Zinemaking is about the process of creating without authority.”[11] William’s idea is at the heart of what separate zines from magazines.

Jenna Wortham introduces in her article in The New York Times Magazine, “Why the Internet Didn’t Kill Zines,” she argues that while the internet, in theory, should have killed off zines because social media platforms such as YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram essentially do the same thing as zines. The content on those platforms are accessible, and come from diverse perspectives too. But she points out that zines offer “an unexpected respite from the scrutiny on the internet, which can be as oppressive as it is liberating.”[12] She argues that zines are becoming the new personal blogs, but it lays outside of the potential toxicity that publishing on the internet can attract, especially when it is about ideas outside the mainstream which zines often are.[13]

Another dimension of zines, as was touched upon earlier, is its visibility, particularly with zine fairs and festivals. In Taryn Hardes’s Master of Publishing project report, The Events Model: How Industry-Specific Award Events Benefit Magazines outlines the events model of magazines, where award events are essentially monetized and create a different source of income for magazines, these events are limited by specific topic of the magazine such as Western Living and Vancouver. However, zine festivals are inclusive of all types of works and is not specific to one topic. The Broken Pencil, a magazine about zine culture and the independent arts, hosts multiple “Canzine” festivals throughout Canada.[14] Canzine is a festival of zines and underground culture where artists can exhibit and sell their work. In an interview with Sad Mag about the most recent Canzine event in Vancouver earlier November 2017, Jonathan Valley, the editor of Broken Pencil, says that “As a zine fair organizer and community artist, I think it’s crucial to make sure that we are making a space for many different lived experiences to share their work.”[15] Although each zine is different, with highly-niche and specialized topics from the hearts of each creator, it contributes to the overall zine culture of that zine-readers expect, and want to support several creators, instead of only buying into one magazine that touches on several different topics. Zines may not be on the same revenue scales as larger magazines like ones published by Rogers media, but consumers know that their support goes directly to the creator and appreciate supporting local, independent artists and zine-creators.

Other examples include cases in Britain, where women’s magazines are shifting back to being self-published zines. Publishing independently allows these women to directly control the content in their magazine, and to actively include more diverse voices.[16] Heather Barret, the opinion editor of gal-dem, an online magazine by women of colour, says that what gal-dem does is change the scope of the issues discussed in normally women’s magazines from cooking, beauty, and fashion (like Chatelaine) to instead write about marginalized women, feminism, sexism, women’s movements, LGBT women, and the non-binary.[17] While gal-dem is has multiple topics on politics, music, art, lifestyle, etc. like a traditional magazine, being self-published and independent allows them to cover features and commentary that would not be as prevalent in mainstream magazines. Zines represent a safe space, and supportive artistic community surrounding since it represents the entire spectrum of identities, personal issues, and global topics.

But zines must not only be viewed as a radical act, or something “underground” and non-mainstream. It can by done for fun, and to go ahead with creating a publication yourself about a mainstream topic you care about. A quick search through Tumblr will expose you to fanzines. Fanzines are essentially zines about an existing cultural phenomenon, like a tv show or movie. With digital printing becoming more accessible, and cheap to produce, these fanzines are becoming more and more prominent to produce yourself. @ZineAppCalls[18] on Twitter, and the Tumblr blog @zine-scene[19] posts countless of new fanzines and zines opening calls for submissions. These fanzines are entirely curated for fans and by fans. The prominence of fanzines is a recent phenomenon I have observed where fans are self-publishing collaborative, primarily art-based zines as a passion-driven project for other fans. Fanzines are making it possible for correct the lack of merchandise like artbooks that do not exist for many niche-fandoms to contribute back to that fanbase.

While the magazine industry is looking outwards and exploring other ways to sustain itself such as with moving towards digital circulation and working on their online presence and brand, zines are still doing what they have always done. Zines look inward, at what truths can be expressed about your passions, personal experiences, etc. that goes through no screening process like magazines do with editors. The D-I-Y produced zines are on the rise despite the age of the Internet. Zines are striking a cord as the antithesis of the what mainstream media perpetuates. Zine culture acknowledges the importance for broader media representation, nonconformist, diverse perspectives, and works that have a sense of honesty and genuineness that resonates with its readers. All of these reasons are contributing to the rising prominence of zines and zine culture. Perhaps media can learn from what zines are doing so well.



“2016 Digital Magazine Media Fact Book.” Magazines Canada. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Chatelaine. Accessed November 28, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“About TCAF.” TCAF 2018 – May 12 & 13. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“As big magazines lose readers, home-made.” The Economist. October 12, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“Interview with Broken Pencil’s Jonathan Valelly.” SAD Mag. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“Introduction.” Magazine Industry Profile. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“Introduction.” Magazine Industry Profile. Accessed November 28, 2017.

Hardes, Taryn Alexandria. “The Events Model: How Industry-Specific Award Events Benefit Magazines.” Master of Publishing Project Report., Simon Fraser University, 2015.

Jamieson, Ruth. “Zine queens: how women’s magazines found new life via indie publishing.” The Guardian. July 31, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“Registration opens August 15, 2017 over at the BP online store! .” Broken Pencil Magazine Canzine 2017 Registration Comments. Accessed November 28, 2017.

Silva, Emma. “Condé Nast Shutters Print Edition of Teen Vogue.” Folio:. November 06, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“Upcoming Zines and More.” Upcoming Zines and More. Accessed November 28, 2017.

Wortham, Jenna. “Why the Internet Didn’t Kill Zines.” The New York Times. February 28, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.

Zines. “ZINES (@fanzines).” Twitter. November 27, 2017. Accessed November 28, 2017.

“» Zine Festivals and Small Press Fairs.” Broken Pencil Magazine Zine Festivals and Small Press Fairs Comments. Accessed November 28, 2017.

[1] “About TCAF,” TCAF 2018 – May 12 & 13, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[2] “» Zine Festivals and Small Press Fairs,” Broken Pencil Magazine Zine Festivals and Small Press Fairs Comments, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[3]“Introduction,” Magazine Industry Profile, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[4] “2016 Digital Magazine Media Fact Book,” Magazines Canada, accessed November 26, 2017,, 11.

[5]“Introduction,” Magazine Industry Profile, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[6] Emma Silva, “Condé Nast Shutters Print Edition of Teen Vogue,” Folio:, November 06, 2017, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Introduction,” Magazine Industry Profile, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[9] Chatelaine, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[10], , accessed November 28, 2017,

[11] “As big magazines lose readers, home-made,” The Economist, October 12, 2017, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[12] Jenna Wortham, “Why the Internet Didn’t Kill Zines,” The New York Times, February 28, 2017, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Registration opens August 15, 2017 over at the BP online store! ,” Broken Pencil Magazine Canzine 2017 Registration Comments, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[15] “Interview with Broken Pencil’s Jonathan Valelly,” SAD Mag, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[16] Ruth Jamieson, “Zine queens: how women’s magazines found new life via indie publishing,” The Guardian, July 31, 2017, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[17] Ibid.

[18] Zines, “ZINES (@fanzines),” Twitter, November 27, 2017, , accessed November 28, 2017,

[19] “Upcoming Zines and More,” Upcoming Zines and More, , accessed November 28, 2017,

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