Monday, February 18, 2013

Construction of a Zine

Matt Jackson posted a review of the third Manor and asked me about the card stock I use and mentions the construction of my zine.  A few people during the week have contacted me about starting their own zine.  I thought I'd use this post to go over the physical parts, price and putting together a zine.  Along with a little advice.  Before I get started let me say there are many ways to go about doing a zine, I'm just sharing my experience.  Each one of you will have to find their own path, hopefully one less traveled.

Click here to get an issue.
   Starting Equipment
Get a good printer.  Don't be cheap.  Get a full fledged office printer, not a home printer.  There are plenty of good sales. Make sure it can do auto double sided printing or you're going to be re-feeding the pages through the printer again and that takes a lot of time.  Make sure the page yield per cartridge is high.  By high I mean over a 1000.  Ink is expensive.  You'll be burning through it quickly with dozens of copies with weird fonts and pictures. 

Long-armed Stapler:  I never knew the possibilities until I bought my long-armed stapler.  They run about $30+ depending on the store.  I have a simple black Swingline brand.  It uses normal staples.

Publishing Programs: I warn you not to put together a zine in Word.  Especially if it has pictures.  If you want to know what the 1st circle of Hell is like, try to format your zine in Word.  I went with Publisher, but there are several free programs.  Just get one that works for you.

Space.  You'll need some dedicated space for your zine.  You're going to fall in love with cardstock colors, so have room to store extra paper, printed issues, and a well lit space to put together your zine.  Make sure its clean.  No Cheeto or Dorito dust, or spilled beverages.  The owner has the privilege of staining the zine not you.

I'm not including any of these costs into the zine.  It's the start up costs before you can even think about doing it. 

The cover is typical card stock you can buy in any office supply or hobby store.  Just watch the measurements because some of them are slightly smaller than a normal page.  Card stock is usually 67lb paper.  I'm sure it can go higher, but weight is a consideration when shipping and 67 hits a sweet spot of being sturdy and not weighting too much.  For a ream of 250 sheets you can expect to pay around $15.  Some of them only come in 50 or 100 packs.  They seem cheaper, but when you average the price they end up being much more expensive.  That said, if you have to pay a bit more to get the color you want, go for it.

The paper inside is something I went over in a previous post, Experiment of the Paper Kind.  The paper I use is the typical all-purpose 20lb, 96 bright.  I have paper that is 92 bright and I don't like it because the ink shows through.

My Staples runs sales, where I'd buy two reams of paper and get rebated the entire cost.  Not sure how that works out for them, but for it works great for me.  Normally paper should run about $4 a ream.

I recently bought 24lb/98 bright paper and holy crap is it nice.  However, it costs twice as much as the 20lb.  I paid $8 for the ream, and my wife almost killed me.  There were other reams that went to 28lb and 30lb.  I plan on buying those in the near future just so I can compare.  I'll make sure I leave Ivy in the car for that purchase.

Back to the 24lb paper.  While you wouldn't think such small upgrades would make a difference, it does.  Feels and looks different.  I plan on using it in a future issue.  It may cost a little more, but I think it will be worth it.

I do all the printing in-house, which keeps my costs low.  I get rebated for paper, so that helps, and card stock works out to be .06 cents a sheet.

I have a Epson WP-4530 printer.  It kicks some ass.  It costs $38 for a black ink cartridge, but has a yield of 2400 pages.  That's just for text though.  Pictures suck up a lot more ink so lets cut it by a quarter to 1800 pages.  That means it costs about .2 cents to print/page.  I have six pages and a cover, front and back, so at 14 printed pages costs me .28 cents in ink. 

Cost of Printing Services
I could go to Staples and have them print copies of my zine.  I called Staples, these prices include the printing, paper, and cardstock, at 50 copies of a 24 page zine (6 half pages printed on both sides + the cover), would cost $97.26 or $1.95 an issue.  At 100 copies it costs $181.79 or $1.82 an issue.  I'm going to be optimistic and use the 100 copy cost.  This does not include any other costs except to get a printed issue in your hand.

I am not trying to make Staples the villain.  I get most of my supplies there.  Just a comparison.  Staples costs me $1.82 and issue.  I can print it at home for .34 cents. 

This is a weird expense.  Zines fit into a normal greeting card sized envelope, and there's a lot to choose from.  Wal-Mart has a box of 100 for $11.54 (or 12 cents an envelope), top open.  Staples has a box of 250 for $31.49 (or 13 cents an envelope), side open, self-adhesive envelopes.

I try to get ones that are sturdier since some of The Manor buyers are in United Kingdom, Sweden, and Australia, to name a few I recently sent out.   And I want the zine to find its way there with minimal damage.

Postage recently increased. For domestic mail it went from .65 cents to .66 cents.  And they made creepier butterflies for the 66 cent stamps. This is for packages 2oz or under.  Should it weight over 2oz the postage leaps to 86 cent per stamp.  My zine weights in at 1.7oz.  I'm thinking I have enough room to add another page (which would mean 4 additional pages) into the Manor.

International shipping. Canada cost a $1.10.  The rest of the world as far as I have shipped, costs $2.05.  If I remember correctly the world postage was at $1.92 so it went up 13 cents.

I use Paypal for all my print sales.  For USA sales I charge $3.50 and Paypal takes out a .40 cent transaction fee. International, I charge $4.50 and Paypal takes out .48 cents.  So Paypal takes about 11% of what I charge for a zine.  When I did subscriptions at higher amounts the percentage was lower.

Other Costs
Other costs would include the little bit of pizza money I send to the artists who draw those fantastic pictures.  It's not a lot, but I like to give them something.  A show of appreciation.  And along with that and other contributors, I give them at least one contributor's copy or a CC.  I can't figure these into the costs exactly.  Since this is not a professionally run business and while I could account for all the CCs and pizza money costs, I don't.  Too much math for me.

Total Costs
Here are the total costs if I had Staples do the the printing for me.
Print Costs: $1.82 + .13 envelope + .66 stamp +.40 Paypal fee = $3.01 (a .49 cent profit)
International: + $2.05 stamp + 48 Paypal fee = $.4.48 (a .02 cent profit)

I'm no business man, but that sucks.  While I am not in it to make big bucks I would like to make enough profit so I can buy the next cool gaming book I see.  Or upgrade the paper I want to use.  Or pay for colored art for an issue (spoiler).

My costs printing it from home.
Print Costs: .34 + .13 envelope + .66 stamp + .40 Paypal fee = $1.53 (a $1.97 profit)
International: + $2.05 stamp + .48 Paypal fee = $3.00 ( a $1.50 profit)

Those are numbers I can work with. In a future post I plan on writing about what I do with the profits.

First, make sure its something you want to invest a lot of time into. It's not easy.  Well not for me at least, but its something I really enjoy doing.  So make sure the zine is a personal reflection of you and what you like about gaming (or whatever yours may be about).  That's why people love zines because they're personal.  Most of the things I include are directly from my games or stuff I think is cool.

Second, use your friends.  Not in a bad way, but all my friends have different talents they bring to the table.  Whether ts be a map maker, proof reader or content contributor, accept some help.  You'll have a ton on your plate as is.

Third, CCs.  As I mentioned above, contributors' copies are important to those who have helped. Hell, I even send a copy to my mother.  Again, it is a show of appreciation for the people who have helped.

Fourth, be generous.  Zines are not a money making project.  If I know someone is having financial difficulties or a bad day I'll fire off an issue, gratis.  If someone emails me and says they got my zine in the mail and it made their day, cool.  There are a lot of good people out there that will support you if you take the time to get to know them, and show you're willing to give them hand also.

Fifth, ties to the first, have fun with it.  Don't think you have to be bound by expectations or genres or conventions.  You're going to spend a lot of time on that little book, you might as well enjoy it.

There are many ways of doing a zine.  You can Google videos of people hand sewing the binding.  Photo coping the content.  Countless ways you can express you gaming mojo.  But if you plan on doing it, get the tools to make it a little easier for yourself.   I'm hoping this post gives you a sample of what it I needed to get things going.  By all means give it a try.  Its a blast.  And if you find its something you don't enjoy then move on to your next gaming project.

If you have any questions or want to know something in more detail you can email me at elder(underscore)sensa(at)yahoo(dot)com.


  1. This is outstanding, a very useful resource. Thanks very much.

  2. Very informative, thank you for the information.

  3. Cool rundown of what it takes to put out your zine. I am a huge fan of everything you publish Tim, keep up the awesome work.

    On a side note - I have been thinking about the possibility of starting up a small zine that discusses old pocket/micro/mini games of the past. Each issue would have a new micro game inside (or an expansion for one, including older published games). Small folded map, less than 40 counters, 8 pages or so or rules, and maybe 10-12 pages of other content, ziplock bag for issue and counters. The price point would be higher, but there must be a way to do it for about 5 bucks or so.

    Be a cool way to explore another old school gamer aspect and give people a chance to try their hand at a manageable size game design.

    - John Middleton

  4. Knowing what goes into this, I appreciate your hard work, as well as Christian and everyone else who puts out 'zines. I think I'd lose patience with the hobby really fast if I had to dedicate this kind of time and effort into it.

    I know my wife would probably lose patience with losing her husband to a 'zine too.

  5. Great seeing all this. It reminds me of the Tavern Cards updates with all the math in them... very useful for those of us that dream about doing all this stuff one day :).

  6. "If you want to know what the 1st circle of Hell is like, try to format your zine in Word."

    Haha! You got this right! I just finished wandering, slowly and with much cursing, out of this hell for the 4th time. I have got to try Publisher or something else with the next issue.

  7. Pizza? Someone is getting pizza?

  8. Thanks for sharing this.

    I've been working on content for a zine for a few months and have started wondering about the costs to produce it. It's a one-shot to be given away free, so good to see how much I can expect to spend.

    As for layout, I'm a big fan of rubber cement and scissors - cheap and virtually no learning curve.