Zine Talk: Prices, Accessibility, and Why I Don’t Want to Charge More than $5 an Issue

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11.18.2014 / zine collection
If you search through the zines on Etsy, you’ll find a variety of styles, genres, and prices. Prices are, of course, one of the details that stand out to me when I’m browsing, not just based on my wallet, but also the fact that as someone who writes and sells zines, I have to put thought into what my work is worth. In the past few years, I’ve started to notice zines ranging anywhere from a quarter to ten, twelve dollars a copy. Sometimes I’ll roll my eyes at those higher prices, sometimes I’ll be interested enough to overlook that and add them to my favorites, my someday to-buy list. My feelings on this topic have changed over the years, and they still change almost daily. In fact, they’ve changed a number of times as I’ve written

Part of me wants to scoff at higher-priced zines and believe that they shouldn’t be more than a certain price. (I mean, at that point, can they still be considered zines? It’s complicated.)

But the other part of me asks, Why shouldn’t zinesters, any zinesters, be able to make an actual profit off of their writing and art? It takes effort and time just like anything else you could get paid for without judgment. People online make money for plenty of other things, so why not zines? So I berate myself for being so hard on others.

I’ve always had this idea that zines shouldn’t be more than five dollars. I have no recollection of where that number came from or why I started to think that, but there it is. That magic number that stands out whenever I’m browsing for zines, and this elitist-yet-not part of me tends to side-eye a little bit at people with the gall to charge more than that for their zines, as if I know what they’ve put into it or the quality of the content or anything of that nature just from an Etsy listing.

Sometimes I’m kind of a jerk.

My personal feelings still stand that I don’t want to price any of my own zines higher than five dollars, partly due to the fact that I want my zines to be accessible to people. I have trouble justifying spending so much on zines sometimes, and other times I don’t have two dollars to spare for an order, much less ten dollars. I don’t want people to see my zines and feel burdened by the thought of not being able to order one that they want. (This is also why I’m enthusiastic when anyone suggests a trade—I just want my work out there, however it gets there.)

But I know it’s not the same for everyone. Some people can’t afford to give their work away. Realistically, I can’t either, but I also want my work to be available. It’s why I blog without sponsors, something else I have conflicting opinions about, and it’s why I hide my zines in public places. I want my work out there where people can see it and, hopefully, enjoy it. But not everyone wants to make that sacrifice and not everyone can and maybe not everyone should.

While on the one hand, I think I’m a little justified in my apprehension, if only because those lower prices are what I learned as a part of zine culture when I first began getting involved, I also know that maybe I just need to suck it up and stop being so judgmental.

I’m curious what anyone else thinks, because I know pricing is a big deal for a lot of my online friends with businesses, and people in general looking to buy, so please share your thoughts with me on this one.

November 19, 2014
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  • Kay

    While it’s hard for me to relate in a writing sense, I feel exactly where you’re coming from in terms of an art perspective. I would much rather offer my portraits at an affordable price even if I “should” be making more. It’s MY art, therefore the price is MY choice. However, I tend to cringe when I see pretty high priced art/commissions in what I feel is a similar skill level to my own. I know that’s unfair of me since I know the work that goes into it, and I know it’s reasonable to ask that; it just means that I will probably never afford it! As you said about your writing – I just want my art out there, and I like making people happy with my drawings. If that means I do it at a cheaper price, I’m okay with that! So if you are happy with your prices, I think that’s the most important thing.

    • Sonya

      I’m really glad I’m not alone in this. I was worried I was being oddly snobby/elitist about it. And it sounds like we’re basically in the same boat, just with different mediums. It’s not necessarily that I wouldn’t charge more for other things, either. I certainly wouldn’t sell a whole book for only $5, but there’s something about zines that makes my head scream this maximum price. It’s strange and confusing and I try not to let it affect how I see other people’s work too often.

  • I do a similar thing with blogging. And really, anything that I or anyone else sells. There’s a weird line between being pushy and all about sales, and just asking a fair price for making something that you also happen to love. It does take time and effort, and I think the biggest hurdle is that everyone’s definition of “fair” price differs based on how much they think their own work is worth, in terms of talent and time. It’s a weird situation, indeed.

    • Sonya

      Isn’t it? Because you know people aren’t always going to agree with you either way, but there’s still that internal struggle to reconcile everything. I guess it’s a matter of being able to accept your own feelings and opinion on it and realizing that other people’s *will* be different, but it’s not a big deal in the end.

  • I agree with you on the zine pricing. I was excited to see an artist I admire release a zine and it was $12 and I just can’t justify spending that much on it. I have been having trouble pricing my own products. My husband recently brought up if all the work I put into what I do is worth it? I told him I really enjoy what I’m doing and I’m not sure what else I would do. But ya know a girls gotta pay the bills lol

  • I realize this is an older post, but I just finished my first comic con and sold a handful of my zines for $3 each. Now, with these small 12 page zines – 11×8.5 folded in half, what justifies selling them for $5…or $10…or $12? Just having a hard time pricing out my stuff. Any advice is helpful.

    • Hi Jon, I would say that, since the time I wrote this, my feelings have expanded to include the concept that sometimes it can be a gut feeling; you know what your work is worth based on the time you put into it along with the quality of the finished product (say a few black and white pages versus a full color zine with a card stock cover). Which probably isn’t a terribly helpful answer, but pricing can be a really hard thing to figure out. Even now, when I’ve been making zines for five or six years, I struggle when I’m sitting down to price out a new issue. And honestly, on a personal level, the difference for me is going to come down to what you call it. Like I said in the post, $5 is just a magic number without a real origin for me, but if you just called them “short comics” instead of “zines,” I probably wouldn’t have a second thought regarding the price if I saw it out in the wild. I’m not sure if any of this helped, but I’ve been thinking about it since you left this comment, and I didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you!

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