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Talking With Sean Guillory of Primordial Soup Kitchen
by Jen Angel

How does your distribution operation work?
We work on consignment only. As much as I'd like to purchase zines up front, I don't have the cash. It's a risk for the publisher, but in the zine business you know about risk. First step is to send a sample copy, ideally with a piece of paper that states how much you want for each copy sold and the most you want it sold for. After we look over it, we send you a response. If we take it you send 10 copies. We put them on the catalog and in a local record store which before we came along was zineless.
The cut is right down the middle. All we ask is to cover our postage. A few we lose postage on but it's made up on others. We update you every other month on its progress, which includes any money we owe you and how many we have left. If your zines don't sell well after a few months we send them back.
Tony and I decide on what zines to carry. He likes certain types of zines and I like certain types. He likes more fringe and literary stuff and hates music zines. I like political zines and hate literary zines. But we don't choose exclusively on whether we like the content or not. The zine must be interesting. It must have some effort put into it, some thought. People who submit zines into distros need to ask themselves honestly: Does this zine have anything that might draw someone's interest? and Is the price I want to sell this for worth it? We receive some of the most substandard zines I've ever seen. Total crap. This made me feel for Factsheet Five because it's a lot easier to me to send a postcard saying "no" than having to review utter shit.
We also get good zines but they want enormous prices for them. It takes a lot for someone to shell out more than two bucks for a zine they can't see themselves. I don't like to reject people, because I know how much time it takes to make a zine and I know how much pride they have for it. You are blinded by your creation. It's hard to tell right after you finish your zine if it sucks or not. This isn't to discourage people from sending us samples, we aren't as hard-nosed as this sounds. We're not bad guys.

What do you look for in a zine, besides being interesting?
We do understand that no zine is really that original. So we're not going to reject something because it features something unoriginal. But it has to be presented in a way that's fun to read. Something that Tony or myself would consider buying. Plus the attitude must be there. The attitude that the person is doing it because they like it. That attitude is usually reflected in the price. People who charge inflated prices don't understand. We have gotten zines that charge three dollars for what other people would sell for a buck. Charging a buck for a zine that is packed full of stuff shows me that you create it because you want people to read it, first and foremost.
I know that not all people who do zines have the opportunity to scam copies and have connections to get things for free. Like most things there's a socioeconomic factor to it. I guess it's how much you are willing to sacrifice for your art.

Do you think the distributions are bad because they take away from the reader-writer relationship and make zines more of a commodity?
Zine distributors don't take away from the reader-writer relationship because a relationship can only be established if the person who reads the zine drops a letter to the writer giving feedback, creating a correspondence. Sure the publisher doesn't know where their zine is going, but a person mailing a buck to a zine saying, "Hey I saw your zine here please send me one," doesn't create a relationship. The relationship part is entirely in the hands of the reader.
You can look at the commodity part in two ways. First, it is a commodity because an exchange is taking place. A transfer of money or trade. But if you look at it in the modern sense as something that is widespread, in abundance, so mass produced that it loses its personal touch, than no, zines aren't a commodity. Zines aren't so available that you can walk to the grocery store and purchase one. The scarcity of them is what keeps them from being a commodity.
Just because zines have gotten some press in major magazines doesn't put them in the mainstream. They are still far removed from that. Because we read and publish zines we think that a sudden influx of them means they're mainstream. If they were, there would be no need for people like me and you to have mail orders.

What do you think is important about zines?
I see only two types of free exchange of information left: The Internet and zines. It's only a matter of time before corporate America turns the Internet into a new cable or television system. But zines will never be stamped out, just as when in the colonial period, the later 1800s during the labor movement and the '60s independent, self-published papers couldn't be silenced.
The face of zines has changed from the politically active and the entertaining to those more involved in "alternative" trends. There are two trends of zines. There are those who produce zines because they love it, they have something to say and they realize that they will not get rich. Then there are the others. The ones who have read about zines in Spin or something and see it as a cool thing. But they don't get it. They want to at least break even. And wanting to break even isn't thinking realistic.
When we start our first zine, it tends to suck but we do it, we learn and they get better. Tony and I were talking about this. To do a zine you have to have ego. He said that zines are 90 percent ego and 10 percent free stuff. You have to believe that someone wants to read what you write. People who do zines need to say what they mean and not be passive about it. If you are going to be wishy washy don't waste my time. Stand by your opinion as truth till someone proves you wrong or convinces you otherwise.
I think that's what makes ANSWER Me! and Second Guess as well as others so good. They give what they think and aren't afraid to offend anyone. This is why zines are important, it gives a voice and communication apparatus to the person in the big city or the farmhand in the middle of nowhere and allows them to communicate to many people. It may be a slow process, but it happens. It lets people know that there are other ideas than the ones in major magazines.

What role do you think zines play in society?
Zines are the underground of the underground press, the ordinary person's voice of what happens around them. Most underground publications that critique existing political, economic and social systems tend to be academic. Zines make it fun. Whether you're writing about serial killers or a small punk band, you're relaying information that would never cross someone's mind. Zines are the scum at the bottom of the sewer, they dig out the muck of the world and drop it right in your lap.
It's important for zines not to stray too far from the mainstream. Especially if it is a political zines. Featuring the underground is great, it needs to be exposed. But zines need to critique mainstream society. Another beauty about zines is the information they put forth. If there's a subject you're into, there's probably a zine that deals with it. Many people I know who have no idea what zines are. The first question they ask is, "Do you make money from it?" When I answer no, they look baffled. They wonder why I do it. How can I lose money and not care?
They also discount their validity. They feel they have nothing of worth or of interest to say. This comes from the idea that if it doesn't have a glossy cover and isn't distributed across the nation and isn't called Time or Newsweek. The idea that a publication must have a professional look is a version of information control. I've read better accounts and reports on things in a digest-sized, badly copied zine than I've read in a big magazine. Zines are boundless sources of information. They are great because they are never objective and shouldn't be.

Anything else?
Zinesters need to accept more criticism as a way to make their zines better. It's hard not to take it as a personal attack. Also, if you see a zine you want and you know it's sold through a small mail-order or distributor buy it from them. That way you can keep people like myself from losing their morale and show that you are interested so more people will be willing to put their zines in the catalogs.

This interview first appeared in Fucktooth, available by sending two bucks to P.O. Box 353, Mentor, OH 44061. Copyright 1996 Jen Angel. Posted with permission. Sean shut down the catalog in early 2000 after five years. "The reason is simple," he said. "I just don't have the passion for it anymore. The work needed maintain the mailorder (keeping inventory, writing up catalogs, reviewing submissions, paying out people) has become a burden and chore."

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