The impact of digital on zines

This is a guest blog post by Hazem Tagiuri, who also blogs for bookleteer. You can connect on our site with Giles Lane, director of Proboscis who developed the bookleeter app.

‘Zines’: will they survive the digital?

Recently I've been looking at ‘zines’, independent publications with small circulations, and how the way they are created and read is changing with the digital age.What happens to the hand-made aesthetic of zines when publication goes digital? And how much will this affect the value of this product?

Zines became widespread during the Punk movement in the 70's. The cheapness and availability of photocopying enabled anyone to create publications, and make them available, without standard distribution channels; they were also unaffected by censorship. Zines were staples of the Punk scene, often the only ways of reading about certain bands, and crucial for promotion and building a fan-base. Thus, they were commonly known as fanzines, and many were created and distributed by a single author. This very personal approach to making and editing produced a hand-made and idiosyncratic aesthetic. Despite the introduction of digital design and more sophisticated printing methods this ethos is still common to this day.

The rise of the blog

Since the advent of the internet, zines have lost public awareness, as websites have taken their role as a means of personal expression, particularly blogs. Some zines shifted from print to online, but were usually little more than basic digital newsletters. The ease of blogging, coupled with high production and distribution costs for zines, has led to many former zine makers now blogging instead.

Blogs have an immediacy and can be changed at will, whereas their print counter-parts are considered final products. The material within print zines has been sourced and edited usually over a lengthier period of time. This could arguably lead to a higher level of dedication and thought.

PDF Mags is a large directory of online magazines in PDF format, enabling high design and quality standards, and the ability to be printed by the end user. The majority are free, and employ stylised, zine- inspired aesthetics, proving to be a convincing argument in the case for digital publishing. However, although digital can be interactive, it can not reproduce the physical interactivity or the lovingly hand crafted look of print. This is a point which my colleague, Karen Martin touched on in her post, "From Paper to Pixels".

There are still those who still turn their back on the digital options, continuing to design and assemble their zines by hand. Some abstain from using computers entirely, simply photocopying pages, or even reproducing every copy by hand, often resulting in some amazingly intricate and unique creations (some beautiful examples of hand-made zines can be viewed here). This opposition to the digital format seems to inspire a much more elaborate aesthetic, and many would be impossible to recreate digitally, save for the new wave of pop-up e-Books and iPhone applications.

It seems that digital and handmade zines will continue to co-exist in the future. There is a large community involved in hand producing zines, and an equally large demand for them, seen in the popularity of websites such as Etsy. I don't believe the digital format will truly supersede the print form; the intrinsic value of hand crafted works, with the level of involvement and enjoyment experienced while making them, is rarely matched digitally.

What lies ahead?

Perhaps, when technology has advanced further, we might see a material that can serve as a canvas and be manipulated physically, then uploaded, recreated and shared digitally, able to be explored and experienced in the same way the author created it. When programmable origami already exists, we may not be far off!

*This is a result of my work with Proboscis  and their bookleteer project, an online application for authoring and publishing eBooks and StoryCubes, which can be created online to be printed out and shared. Visit http://bookleteer.com  to find out more.

Last updated at 11:35 Thu 06/Jan/11.
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