How Much It Costs To Make A Zine When You Pay Contributors & Use Nice-ish Materials

1930s printing press. Photo via the Seattle Municipal Archives.

Making a perzine is cheap. You write everything yourself, you use crappy paper, and you mail out copies in flimsy envelopes. Making a zine more along the lines of a chapbook is expensive, especially if you want to pay contributors a decent amount. I learned this while editing four issues of my now-defunct lit zine Balm Digest, even though I stuck with low-end materials, and I’m learning it again with User-Friendly Urbanism.

I launched Tradeoffs Press with an editorial vision, but also with the purpose of making money in order to facilitate my creative endeavors. (I’m aware that this might doom the whole thing — pleasing customers should be the foremost concern of any new business. And yet.) My goal is to earn enough to compensate myself for the time I spend as well as to earn back the cost of materials. I hope that I can do so while being open about money — I like being open about money. Please don’t resent the dollar of per-unit profit. Anyway, without further ado…

User-Friendly Urbanism Costs

  • $20 for Big Cartel (covers October and November)
  • $215 for Divya Persaud*
  • $250 for Nicole Dieker*
  • $200 for Loretta Carr*
  • $50 for bubble mailers
  • $70 for paper
  • $25 for card stock
  • $115 for ink (I sprang for the name-brand stuff because it really does print slightly better)
  • $1.42 postage per zine — $142 for 100

*Divya, Nicole, and Loretta each contributed an 800-ish-word essay, but the final lengths were slightly different.

When I added up the expenses, I had slight sticker shock:

  • $1,087 total for 100 zines → $10.87 each
  • $1,489 total** for 200 zines → $7.45 each
  • $1,891 total** for 300 zines → $6.30 each

**Doubled and tripled the material costs accordingly.

$10.87 / $7.45 / $6.30 are production costs, not retail prices. I calculated that if I print 300 copies and sell 250 of them for $7.50 each ($7.27 after processing fees), I’ll make $0.97 per zine, AKA $242.50 total, which leaves me just $72.50 short on overall production costs. Selling the ebook for $3.99 → $2.79 profit, so if I manage to sell 100, I’ll make $279 and end up in the black for this whole project to the tune of $206.50. If I don’t sell as much of either format as I’ve guessed, then I’ll lose money. Which is okay — I wouldn’t undertake this gamble if I couldn’t afford it.

Should I have gone with lower-end paper and stuck with flimsy envelopes? Should I have offered to pay $0.10/word instead of $0.25/word? Yeah, maybe. CreateSpace or some other print-on-demand service might have been cheaper.

Granted, either way I can write off the expenses on my taxes! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Originally published on my website.