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Zine Distribution:
The Realities (Response)
by Dok Kaper
excerpted from Punk Planet

1. If you want to get your zine onto the racks of the chain & most independent bookstores and newsstands you're going to have to go with the system, if you're happy with limited distribution through record distributors and direct to individual outlets then the rules are much more flexible. If you can get a magazine distributor(s) to handle your title it's going to be on their terms, not yours. The mainstream magazines float their boats and they know it. The day that a major distributor gives a better deal to Punk Planet or Ben Is Dead than they do to Spin or Raygun is the day that the major distributor has slit their own wrists. The system in place is set up for mainstream publishers, publishers who make their money from advertising, and they're quite pleased with it. The mainstream retailers like the system, the distributors like the system, the mainstream publishers like the system.
There's no way that you're going to like the system. What you can do, however, with diligence, hard work and a little luck is learn to live with the system and maybe even make some money off of newsstands.

2. Here's what the buyers want to see from you. They need all the information possible about your 'zine, who's reading it, where, why, how often, what's being said about it, blah, blah, blah. Why do they need this information? The buyer has to figure out whether or not your title will work for their customers. The back issues are helpful because buyers want to see the evolution of your 'zine. It needs to get better with each issue. The difference between Giant Robot #1 and #5 is astounding. The better that your 'zine gets and the more regularly that it appears will help to improve your distribution tremendously.
Here are some other tips. Make your package to the distributor as professional as possible. Don't recycle an envelope, in your presentation letter tell them how you heard of their company, let them know your future goals for the 'zine, use Priority Mail, along with those back issues include two or three copies of the current one. A buyer may show your 'zine around the office. They may take it home and leave it there. They may show it to a particularly influential customer. They might drop their Arch Deluxe all over it. Make sure that the buyer has a clean copy of your zine.

3. Being consistent with your production schedule is vital to your growth as a publisher. When you're finished with this article your assignment is going to be to go and check out a big newsstand. Here's what you'll see: racks bursting at the seams with titles. Racks that are way too crowded for their stock. If you're not consistent with the timing of your new issues you'll just lose your space on that rack when a new issue of something else comes in. 70 percent of a magazine's sales come in the first two weeks after it hits the newsstands. The newsstand managers know this and they live buy it. After a couple of weeks your prime display is gone, and if you don't get removed from the rack entirely at this point, you'll at least be sent to the back part of the display.
Consistency doesn't just mean a regular print schedule. It also means that your zine always stands out from the others. Huh? Consistency begins and ends with your cover. Remember how crowded that rack is? The titles with the best covers tend to get better display. Even if your zine is all newsprint on the inside pop for a glossy stock cover. It looks better to the eye and once Joe Consumer picks your zine up, the scintillating content will stand up by itself.

4. It's fine to call the buyer on the phone, but don't make a pest of yourself. Always be polite with the buyer, they have all of the power in this situation. If they reject you don't get mad, but do ask them why. Most of the time you'll receive an honest answer: "The world needs a another indy music magazine like it needs a hole in the ozone." "The content was great, but have you heard of a word processor or saddle-stitching."
Unless the buyer has their head stuck completely up their ass they'll encourage you to keep sending the new issues to them. I've picked up many titles on the second, third or even fourth pass through.
Insulting a buyer will get you nowhere. The amount of people in the magazine industry is incredibly small, and we all move from company to company. And guess what? We remember the folks who caused us trouble just as much as we remember the nice publishers.
Be courteous, accept the buyer's constructive criticism and keep plugging away.

5. Never sign a 60 percent off contract with an individual distributor (if you have a National Distributor, one that handles all of your distributors for you, then you'll sign a 60 percent off contract). Individual distributors are entitled to 55 percent off, or the equivalent. The larger ones will ask for 50 percent off and a reship allowance. You may be able to haggle on the amount of the allowance, but they'll get it, and it's on every copy they ship for you, not just the ones that sell. Again, this is a grim reality of playing in the big leagues. Accept it and be nitpicky with details.
The payment terms are all tied into cashflow. The distributors are juggling their money as best they can. Anybody at the National level who says that they'll pay you faster than net 60 days after offsale is lying to you. Don't go for it.

6. OK, secret revealing time. Here are the reasons why distributors have affidavit returns: The chains have central returns centers. In other words, all of the Barnes & Noble and Borders stores send their returns to one place for processing! Each week the returns center then sends a returns report to the distributor. The independent stores do send the covers back to the distributors themselves.
Also, it's cheaper and more efficient to send back a piece of paper with the returns on it then it is to send back the covers. Even if you offer to pay the shipping for the covers it's not worth it. Sad but true.

This article appeared in Punk Planet #16, January/February 1997. Dok Kaper lives for zines. He eats them for breakfast, lunch & dinner and observes them from an insiders point of view. Due to his need for anonymity, he can be reached through Punk Plnet.

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