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Not your grandmother's music zine

By Jillian Mapes, Editorial Director

A stack of Aquabear Readers sits in a tall, metal magazine holder in an out-of-the-way nook at Athens’ own Donkey Coffee. A latte-toting young man squats down to pick one up. Examining the front cover, which depicts a polar bear wearing a party hat against an outline of the state of Ohio, the man turns to his friend and says, “This is like, free, dude. I didn’t know people still made these things.”

“These things,” as the passerby so eloquently phrases it, are music zines. As instrumental as fanzines were within punk and Riot Grrrl, Internet media such as music blogs now seem a more convenient form of commentary. Plunge a little deeper into a local music scene, though, toward those who thrive on D.I.Y. aesthetics, and there are still zinesters cutting, pasting and photocopying their way into history. Today’s zinesters, however, are also embracing modern technology – the technology that has supposedly killed them – to take their print zines to a new level and an expanded audience.

While print zines strive toward personal expression and attract readers who might just happen to stumble upon a copy, maintaining an Internet presence is important for zines who strive to reach readers on a regional and national level. By providing online readers with a PDF of the print zine via, the Athens-based music zine Aquabear Reader reaches those interested in Ohio indie rock who might not find one of the 2,000 free copies distributed by local music and art collective Aquabear Legion.

“There’s no reason not to spread your message online, too, because it gives it a whole new audience access without a lot of extra effort,” Brian Koscho, the zine’s editor and Aquabear Legion co-founder, said. “Sure, our zine is a snapshot of the arts scene in Athens and surrounding areas, but it doesn’t mean people elsewhere wouldn’t be interested.

”And spreading the message online through an expanded Web presence is exactly what legendary punk zine Maximumrocknroll is attempting in upcoming months. The monthly San Francisco zine, which has an international distribution of 5,000-6,000 and is sold at mass retailers such as Barnes and Nobles, is in the process of redesigning its Web site to include daily blog and news updates, said Cissie Scurlock, one of several volunteers behind Maximumrocknroll.

“Kids have the Internet starting at age five now, so a younger audience is going to find you on the Web and then maybe get interested in your zine,” Scurlock said. “They’re not going to zine stores and bookstores in the numbers that an older generation may have.”

Some say that the Internet killed the zine star, or at least weeded out those not completely committed to the time and money required to produce a print zine. Scurlock, however, cites rising printing and shipping costs as the main reason for a streamlined zine scene.

“I think bigger magazines like Rolling Stone are going to fall and exist only on the Web, but fanzines will always exist,” she said. “People will always put together a couple hundred zines for their friends and people who might be interested, but I don’t think zines could exist on a larger level because of the increase in the cost of printing and shipping in the last five years.” During what Scurlock calls the “1990s punk craze,” Maximumrocknroll printed roughly 17,000 copies each month.

Small, cost-conscious zines are also utilizing modern technology to complement a decreased circulation. Absolute Catastrophe, an Appalachian hardcore zine with a circulation of fifty hand-made issues, uses a weekly radio show on (this very station!) to promote and draw in readers. “It’s a great idea to expand your zine brand, and it’s a great way to correlate the musical interests of Absolute Catastrophe through the medium of radio,” said Rika Nurrahmah, the zine’s editor.

Nurrahmah expresses a commitment to the print medium of zines, noting that they inspire nostalgia over time. “I think the reason zines have survived is because they are a tangible piece of history that people want to keep, want to hold in their hands.”

Additionally, the worldwide prevalence of the Internet has made it easier to distribute zines. Online-based mail order distros, such as San Francisco’s Last Gap publishing, allow zine enthusiasts to order back issues of zines from around the world.

Much like vinyl records, music zines have a small but dedicated collectorship. The importance of self-published, print commentary remains so integral to music that none of the zinesters interviewed for this story could even imagine a music scene without the existence of zines.

“If there’s a show that I’m at and there aren’t zines at the distro table, it sort of feels like something’s missing,” said Max Wheeler, a local D.I.Y. community organizer. “For me, it would be just as strange if there weren’t any bands at the show.”

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