Last month, Broken Pencil – a magazine (or mega-zine as they write on site) on zine culture and independent arts – announced its first ever Broken Pencil Zine Awards. Submissions are open until July 15th. Nominees will be announced by September 1st, and the winners will be awarded at Canzine 2017 in Toronto on Friday, October 20th.
With a prize pool of $1000 ($200 per category), plus $400 if your zine is chosen Zine of the Year, it has definitely gained some attention. However, with a $20 entry fee for non-members (for the first zine, $8 for the second, and $8 for the third), it’s also caused some not-so-great comments as well.
I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the event. What I thought would fairly be cut and dry turned into a look at small business, zine culture, and competitions.
I first heard about the Broken Pencil Zine Awards when someone posted about not supporting the idea. They felt that (I’m paraphrasing) putting zines and zine makers in competition like that went against the spirit of zine making.
While I respect and understand that line of thinking on the matter, I don’t fully agree with it. (Speaking with the bias that I celebrated 100 zine reviews by putting up a zine awards event of my own.) I do think though, that line of sentiment brings up the first thing that niggled me when I read more about this event:
It’s a competition.
You may be thinking ‘of course it is’ at this point, but my point is that the word ‘competition’ isn’t anywhere to be seen, and I think it needs to be.
‘Competition’ is only one word, but in these sorts of situations when you have some people getting upset, then one word can make a huge difference..
The definition of competition is, “The activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.”
By requiring an entry fee, it means the zine maker is making an investment (moreso than other types of entry conditions) and creates the ‘in it to win it’ environment. With phrases like ‘the most creative and cutting-edge zine creators’ and ‘best of the best’ (the latter found in an announcement post) you are creating a competition environment.
Yes, it’s a fine line, but it’s an important one. The words ‘competition’ and ‘award’ create certain expectations. Call it an ‘award competition’ if you like, but to me, awards are about appreciation through equal and open opportunity nomination. Whereas competitions are about a certain slice of a group entering into something with the intention of being better than someone else.
A fee for a competition feels different than a fee for an award (is there such a thing?). An award is like an acknowledgement for hard work, and people don’t usually expect to pay to be acknowledged.
I am heart and soul an editor, so while the wording may be important to me, it might not be important to others. The issue getting many people up in arms is the $20 entry fee for non-members.
More on the hard figures in my next post.
TL;DR I think it’s a competition, and the title should reflect as much to be clearer about expectations. The money stuff is in the next post.