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Zines: Mainstream Magazines and the Zine

Magazines and Zines

What makes mainstream/traditional magazines different from independently published zines? This page will go over the differences between mainstream magazines and zines.

Structure of a Mainstream Magazine

On the Cover

  • Cover and cover imagery
  • Title of magazine
  • List of feature articles (possibly with page number information)
  • Date of publication (could be weekly, biweekly, monthly, bi-monthly, etc.)
  • Volume number
  • Issue number


  • Table of contents
  • Reiteration of title, date, volume, issue number

Impressum or Masthead

  • Name of publication/publisher
  • Address of publisher
  • Sponsors
  • Subscription fees and information
  • How often magazine is published
  • Submission guidelines
  • All of the editorial team involved in the publication
  • International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

Present throughout magazine

  • Running header including title of publication, publication date, and page numbers
  • Advertisements
  • Centerfold

Adapted from Structure of the Magazine, published by Nikola on Magazine Designing

What is a zine?

ZineWiki defines a zine as "an independently- or self-published booklet, often created by a single person. Zines are customarily created by physically cutting and gluing text and images together onto a master flat for photocopying, but it is also common to produce the master by typing and formatting pages on a computer. The end product is usually folded and stapled. Zines can be printed and bound in any manner. Offset printing is a relatively common alternative to photocopying, though there is some controversy among zine writers as to whether professionally printed products may be defined as zines."

Zines can include all of the structural characteristics and identifiers of mainstream magazines, but the closer a zine comes to mainstream publication (such as gaining an ISSN and inter/national distribution) the more it becomes less of an independently or self-published zine. Zines can be mainstream production level quality, but far more often they are imperfect. It is possible for zines to be all of these things and/or none of these things. The very first zine is claimed to have been created in 1930, "The Comet" was a science fiction zine published independently. If you are interested in a timeline of zine history the Bingham Center Zine Collections at Duke University has a comprehensive outline.

Bitch (magazine) started as an independently published zine and now enjoys both international distributorship and a substantial online presence. Zines have a deep connection to the American hardcore/punk scene/movement going back to the 1980s and zines were used to share information about favorite lesser-known bands not being covered in mainstream popular culture. The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement is also closely connected to zines, as this format puts publication control in the hands of the individual or collective, rather than a formal publishing body. 

A few characteristics that help in identifying zines: 

  • Uncensored space to talk about things that are not discussed or addressed in mainstream magazines/culture.
  • Production quality tends to be black and white photocopy. Zine writers are reputed for stealing photocopies either by working in photocopy shops or via connections.
  • Binding tends to be saddle stitched using a long arm stapler, but some zine writers incorporate other elements in their binding, including lace, twine, chain, rubber bands, etc. 
  • Handwriting and/or typewriting predominates.
  • Black and white is typically the predominating color palette. Posterization (or blowing out of shades and colors) is common.
  • Often includes ephemera from everyday life that contextualizes the everyday quality of the zine.
  • Can cover unpopular or personal topics.
  • Can be a medium/format to distribute information not discussed in mainstream media (e.g., yeast infections, sexual politics, feminism, etc.).
  • Zine creation emphasizes reproducibility.
  • No ISSN.
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