In part one, Zine Awards, Entry Fees, & Broken Pencil – Part One: The Meaning of Competition, I wrote about the Broken Pencil Zine Awards and how I think using the word ‘awards’ rather than the more appropriate (in my opinion) ‘competition’ could be influencing some people’s reactions and mood when it comes to this event. In this post, I talk about the big, rather expensive, elephant in the room.
This is where I get passionate.
Part of the reason these posts took longer (and ended up being longer) than I anticipated is because I became curious about the costs involved to enter. Especially after reading that, if you’re sending physical zines, then four copies of each entry is required.
This in and of itself isn’t surprising, but it did automatically increase costs of production and postage (if the creator chooses to post them). So I spent a long morning navigating exchange rates and postage calculators for Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia.
Let’s get right to the numbers. I created this table so it’s easier to see:
Things to note about this table:
*I am basing all calculations on 1 zine = 50 grams / the required 4 copies of each zine = 200 grams. The size of your zines could influence the postage costs I’ve included in my calculations.
*Yes, I remembered to convert grams to ounces for US post.
*With the UK and Australia post costs, I didn’t go absolute cheapest route possible because that’s sea mail and can take months to arrive. However, I only went one better with basic airmail.
The first thing you may notice about the table is that there are different costs based on whether you are a Broken Pencil Member or not. Base membership (there are two levels – see the options here) costs $29.99 CAD ($29.68 AUD, 21.99 USD, $17.04 GBP). So while it’s a nice reward for current members, it’s not incentive to join for the sake of a discounted entry fee and free entries for second and third zines.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not commenting whatsoever on the perks of membership itself.
Obviously, the $20 entry fee is what has made some people upset. As far as competitions go, entry fees aren’t exactly uncommon. Even the person who asked me to write these posts said they could understand a small charge. It’s the amount that is the problem.
Speaking from my experiences as an author, $20 is an expensive entry fee. There would have to be a fairly big prize on the line and, even then, I know authors who couldn’t enter and other authors who simply wouldn’t on a matter of principle because of such a high fee.
Entry fees can be tough to decide on. How much is too much? Would $10 (50% off the current entry fee for non-members) be okay? Or is it only easier to swallow at $5? If you’re using the fees to cover the prize – will enough people enter to cover?
Along those lines, I think we need to remember that Broken Pencil is a business. So many of us don’t charge for/don’t think about the time and materials we put into these creations we love making, so it’s easy to assume that Broken Pencil – a magazine dedicated to zine culture – would do things the same way. But a business is a business, and we need to remember to consider possible background costs that prompt the entry fee being what it is. There is the prize money but also the possibilities that they are paying for advertisements as well as paying people for their time.
(An explanation of these costs, if they are there, by Broken Pencil could be a good way to explain what is, from the outside view, simply an expensive entry fee.)
However, by that same token, we then need Broken Pencil to also acknowledge the time and materials cost of creating the zines (no matter whether they are digital or physical entries) – something that is too complex and varied to add into the table above but is an important consideration.
The entry fee isn’t the one and only stopping point for some people (though fair enough to comment on its own). The more I looked into the costs involved from the zine maker’s perspective, the more I came to see that the combination of stopping points is the bigger issue.
Looking past that, the next difficulty comes in the form of postage costs. As much as many of us would like to do something to change them, they’re absolutely and completely non-negotiable.
Broken Pencil has, however, given the option of sending in digital versions of your zine. Here’s a table to show the costs:
Looking at this table compared to the first, going digital turns the cost of a single zine entry for a non-member from $22.95 CAD ($27.76 AUD, $18.42 USD, £16.12 GBP) to $20 CAD ($19.76 AUD, $14.76 USD, £11.37 GBP). Not a massive savings, but a savings nonetheless.
Not needing to pay for postage could make all the difference to zine makers who were stopped by the postage costs rather than the entry fee. (There’s also the possible added bonus of showing off your zines in colour without needing to deal with the cost of printing with colour ink.)
Yet, while helpful, the digital option doesn’t fully cover the problems that arise with the costs involved in entering. In fact, it creates one.
So much of who I am and the pride I take in what I create comes in the form of the physical. The paper I choose, how I bind all my zines with green thread, and all the additions that go into the zines after they are printed.
With digital entries, zine makers who create zines that aren’t easily scanned, aren’t practical for scanning, and/or lose something when being converted to digital are excluded. Yes, there are plenty of zine makers who could ‘take the hit’ of losing ‘texture’ in the hopes that the ‘flavour’ will carry the zine.
But what if you’re the zinemaker who folds his zines into origami creations? The zinemaker who uses traditional Japanese binding for her Japan-themed zine? Or the zinemaker who enjoys putting mini-zines and other tiny treasures within their zines? About that poster-sized zine…
I hope you have enough money for postage.
Broken Pencil is a big voice in a world where we could use more voices introducing people to the amazing, wonderful creations that are zines. This is an exciting event for them and, if you are able to enter, then there’s the potential to win a great prize.
In this event, however, I think there are more ways people are excluded than they are included. The entry fees are expensive – even moreso for non-members. The postage involved in most scenarios gets expensive in a hurry. The digital option without the postage costs just isn’t possible for some zine makers.
Again, I’m not against competitions (so long as they are being clear about what they are), and you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But when so many excluding factors pop up, I think some (more?) considerations need to be made for the people you hope will enter.
Zine makers aren’t exactly known for being rich – to the point of laughing when people ask how to make a profit from making zines. So many don’t have the ability or can’t risk investing in chance. And increasing those chances simply leads to more expense.
“Then just don’t enter” I hear people saying. “Nobody is forcing you to enter.”
To that, I say:
There’s a lot of difference between choosing not to participate and being too poor to participate.
Yes, there are options that make it more affordable than other options, and credit to Broken Pencil for that. Send a PDF (if you have one/can make one/have a zine that lends itself to scanning). Enter (four copies of) one zine instead of (four copies each of) two or three. Use sea mail (NOW) and cross your fingers that it doesn’t get lost and arrives on time.
But that’s not the point.
Desperately trying to find the funds or immediately knowing you can’t enter an event at best takes a lot of fun out of it and, at worst, creates a class system within a community that strives against such limiting and often-negative constructs.
Last month, Broken Pencil – a magazine (or mega-zine as they write on site) on zine culture and independent arts – announced its first ever Broken Pencil Zine Awards. Submissions are open until July 15th. Nominees will be announced by September 1st, and the winners will be awarded at Canzine 2017 in Toronto on Friday, October 20th.
With a prize pool of $1000 ($200 per category), plus $400 if your zine is chosen Zine of the Year, it has definitely gained some attention. However, with a $20 entry fee for non-members (for the first zine, $8 for the second, and $8 for the third), it’s also caused some not-so-great comments as well.
I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the event. What I thought would fairly be cut and dry turned into a look at small business, zine culture, and competitions.
I first heard about the Broken Pencil Zine Awards when someone posted about not supporting the idea. They felt that (I’m paraphrasing) putting zines and zine makers in competition like that went against the spirit of zine making.
While I respect and understand that line of thinking on the matter, I don’t fully agree with it. (Speaking with the bias that I celebrated 100 zine reviews by putting up a zine awards event of my own.) I do think though, that line of sentiment brings up the first thing that niggled me when I read more about this event:
It’s a competition.
You may be thinking ‘of course it is’ at this point, but my point is that the word ‘competition’ isn’t anywhere to be seen, and I think it needs to be.
‘Competition’ is only one word, but in these sorts of situations when you have some people getting upset, then one word can make a huge difference..
The definition of competition is, “The activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.”
By requiring an entry fee, it means the zine maker is making an investment (moreso than other types of entry conditions) and creates the ‘in it to win it’ environment. With phrases like ‘the most creative and cutting-edge zine creators’ and ‘best of the best’ (the latter found in an announcement post) you are creating a competition environment.
Yes, it’s a fine line, but it’s an important one. The words ‘competition’ and ‘award’ create certain expectations. Call it an ‘award competition’ if you like, but to me, awards are about appreciation through equal and open opportunity nomination. Whereas competitions are about a certain slice of a group entering into something with the intention of being better than someone else.
A fee for a competition feels different than a fee for an award (is there such a thing?). An award is like an acknowledgement for hard work, and people don’t usually expect to pay to be acknowledged.
I am heart and soul an editor, so while the wording may be important to me, it might not be important to others. The issue getting many people up in arms is the $20 entry fee for non-members.
More on the hard figures in my next post.
TL;DR I think it’s a competition, and the title should reflect as much to be clearer about expectations. The money stuff is in the next post.
“I know what I can do,” I thought. “How about a zine awards thingy?”
This may or may not have been fuelled by Australia’s Logies and the zine world’s Golden Stapler Awards.
As it turns out, the fun part was dumping out all of my zines onto my bed and sifting through them, remembering all the goodness. The hard part was organising them and trying to sort out which one is best in any given category. You know how much I adore zines, and I hadn’t thought of that before I started. Still, I thought it would be nice to highlight zines and their makers because recognition and acknowledgement are beautiful things.
Things to remember:
1. My apologies for the less than stellar photos. Some are old, some are new. I am looking at trying to get some sort of set up so I can take consistently good photos.
2. All this is completely out of my own head and on the fly. It’s meant to be a bit of fun.
3. Obviously various zines fit into more than one category. How they were sorted is all on me.
4. Keep in mind these are limited to the 100 zines I’ve reviewed. You can find the whole list: Zine Review Index
5. Picking out the ‘best’ stinks. I love them all!
Here we go!
Best Binding: Beer and Longing
I went back and forth on including this as a category, but it’s all a part of the art. Zines aren’t just about one thing, so it’s fair to point out things like amazing binding.
Best Zine With No Words: Plague
This is one of my earliest reviews, hence the less than awesome picture. A screenwriting class years later would help me to appreciate this zine and telling a story without words even more.
Best Mini-Zine: Shakespeare’s Lovers (All of them. I refuse to choose just one.)
Best Comic: You Don’t Know Me, Bus Driver Blues
I know what you’re thinking, but I couldn’t pick just one. You Don’t Know Me has such power behind the words, and Bus Driver Blues has a message I think we all need reminding of.
Plus, of course, they both have fantastic art!
Best Series: Pieces
No big surprise here, I imagine. There is a lot to be said for writing with an open heart and letting yourself show vulnerability.
Best Mental Health Zine: SAD
This was SUCH a hard category. Wow. In the end, I chose SAD/Sensitive Adult Daily because it accomplished so much in so little space in a way that was fun and memorable.
Best Mail Zine: Photocopy Press #2
I had more mail zines than I realised! Happy discovery. In the end, Photocopy Press won out because of the energy, ideas, and variety behind it. I really wish the series would have continued.
Best Fiction Zine: Mini-Moss Log/Dognapped
This is another category that was a tough one with a lot of great examples. I must say, though, that the way these stories tied together when I wasn’t expecting it whatsoever. Love it.
Best Perzine: The Third Biannual Mildly Informative Booklet Depicting Graphical Representations of General Occurrences and Observations
What can I say? An expression of life using graphs and charts? All the love.
Do I need to explain this one? Other than, ‘it gets even better on the inside’?
Best Anonymous/Secret/Confessions Zine: Zine Crush 3
There was so much to this zine, a variety I didn’t expect in the content, and it reminded me of why I love ‘confessionals’ and the like.
Best List Zine: Summer Goals List
From the paper to the printing to the fact that it’s a zine of lists…
Best Tongue-in-Cheek Zine: How to Talk to Your Cat About Abstinence
Another one I’m not sure I need to explain beyond the review itself. This zine lived up to all the hype.
Best Overall: Every Morning
I was so-so about picking a ‘best overall’ and giving the wrong impression, but there is a zine I keep coming back to when it comes to making me all kinds of happy on multiple levels. You can check out the review if you’d like to know exactly why. For this, I will say that time has not diminished my love for this zine.
Congratulations to all the fun zine people, for whatever these celebratory awards are worth. ^_^
Thank you to everyone who has sent me zines, responded to my reviews of zines, and who has otherwise supported me. This site makes me happy, but having people actually read it is fantastic. I hope that I’ve introduced you all to new/different zines and that I will be able to continue to do so.
Best wishes always,