Zine Awards, Entry Fees, & Broken Pencil – Part Two: Money Changes Everything

In part one, Zine Awards, Entry Fees, & Broken Pencil – Part One: The Meaning of Competition, I wrote about the Broken Pencil Zine Awards and how I think using the word ‘awards’ rather than the more appropriate (in my opinion) ‘competition’ could be influencing some people’s reactions and mood when it comes to this event. In this post, I talk about the big, rather expensive, elephant in the room.

This is where I get passionate.

Part of the reason these posts took longer (and ended up being longer) than I anticipated is because I became curious about the costs involved to enter. Especially after reading that, if you’re sending physical zines, then four copies of each entry is required.

This in and of itself isn’t surprising, but it did automatically increase costs of production and postage (if the creator chooses to post them). So I spent a long morning navigating exchange rates and postage calculators for Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia.

Let’s get right to the numbers. I created this table so it’s easier to see:

Things to note about this table:

*I am basing all calculations on 1 zine = 50 grams / the required 4 copies of each zine = 200 grams. The size of your zines could influence the postage costs I’ve included in my calculations.
*Yes, I remembered to convert grams to ounces for US post.
*With the UK and Australia post costs, I didn’t go absolute cheapest route possible because that’s sea mail and can take months to arrive. However, I only went one better with basic airmail.

The first thing you may notice about the table is that there are different costs based on whether you are a Broken Pencil Member or not. Base membership (there are two levels – see the options here) costs $29.99 CAD ($29.68 AUD, 21.99 USD, $17.04 GBP). So while it’s a nice reward for current members, it’s not incentive to join for the sake of a discounted entry fee and free entries for second and third zines.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not commenting whatsoever on the perks of membership itself.

Obviously, the $20 entry fee is what has made some people upset. As far as competitions go, entry fees aren’t exactly uncommon. Even the person who asked me to write these posts said they could understand a small charge. It’s the amount that is the problem.

Speaking from my experiences as an author, $20 is an expensive entry fee. There would have to be a fairly big prize on the line and, even then, I know authors who couldn’t enter and other authors who simply wouldn’t on a matter of principle because of such a high fee.

Entry fees can be tough to decide on. How much is too much? Would $10 (50% off the current entry fee for non-members) be okay? Or is it only easier to swallow at $5? If you’re using the fees to cover the prize – will enough people enter to cover?

Along those lines, I think we need to remember that Broken Pencil is a business. So many of us don’t charge for/don’t think about the time and materials we put into these creations we love making, so it’s easy to assume that Broken Pencil – a magazine dedicated to zine culture – would do things the same way. But a business is a business, and we need to remember to consider possible background costs that prompt the entry fee being what it is. There is the prize money but also the possibilities that they are paying for advertisements as well as paying people for their time.

(An explanation of these costs, if they are there, by Broken Pencil could be a good way to explain what is, from the outside view, simply an expensive entry fee.)

However, by that same token, we then need Broken Pencil to also acknowledge the time and materials cost of creating the zines (no matter whether they are digital or physical entries) – something that is too complex and varied to add into the table above but is an important consideration.

The entry fee isn’t the one and only stopping point for some people (though fair enough to comment on its own). The more I looked into the costs involved from the zine maker’s perspective, the more I came to see that the combination of stopping points is the bigger issue.

Looking past that, the next difficulty comes in the form of postage costs. As much as many of us would like to do something to change them, they’re absolutely and completely non-negotiable.

Broken Pencil has, however, given the option of sending in digital versions of your zine. Here’s a table to show the costs:

Looking at this table compared to the first, going digital turns the cost of a single zine entry for a non-member from $22.95 CAD ($27.76 AUD, $18.42 USD, £16.12 GBP) to $20 CAD ($19.76 AUD, $14.76 USD, £11.37 GBP). Not a massive savings, but a savings nonetheless.

Not needing to pay for postage could make all the difference to zine makers who were stopped by the postage costs rather than the entry fee. (There’s also the possible added bonus of showing off your zines in colour without needing to deal with the cost of printing with colour ink.)

Yet, while helpful, the digital option doesn’t fully cover the problems that arise with the costs involved in entering. In fact, it creates one.

So much of who I am and the pride I take in what I create comes in the form of the physical. The paper I choose, how I bind all my zines with green thread, and all the additions that go into the zines after they are printed.

With digital entries, zine makers who create zines that aren’t easily scanned, aren’t practical for scanning, and/or lose something when being converted to digital are excluded. Yes, there are plenty of zine makers who could ‘take the hit’ of losing ‘texture’ in the hopes that the ‘flavour’ will carry the zine.

But what if you’re the zinemaker who folds his zines into origami creations? The zinemaker who uses traditional Japanese binding for her Japan-themed zine? Or the zinemaker who enjoys putting mini-zines and other tiny treasures within their zines? About that poster-sized zine…

I hope you have enough money for postage.

Broken Pencil is a big voice in a world where we could use more voices introducing people to the amazing, wonderful creations that are zines. This is an exciting event for them and, if you are able to enter, then there’s the potential to win a great prize.

In this event, however, I think there are more ways people are excluded than they are included. The entry fees are expensive – even moreso for non-members. The postage involved in most scenarios gets expensive in a hurry. The digital option without the postage costs just isn’t possible for some zine makers.

Again, I’m not against competitions (so long as they are being clear about what they are), and you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But when so many excluding factors pop up, I think some (more?) considerations need to be made for the people you hope will enter.

Zine makers aren’t exactly known for being rich – to the point of laughing when people ask how to make a profit from making zines. So many don’t have the ability or can’t risk investing in chance. And increasing those chances simply leads to more expense.

“Then just don’t enter” I hear people saying. “Nobody is forcing you to enter.”

To that, I say:

There’s a lot of difference between choosing not to participate and being too poor to participate.

Yes, there are options that make it more affordable than other options, and credit to Broken Pencil for that. Send a PDF (if you have one/can make one/have a zine that lends itself to scanning). Enter (four copies of) one zine instead of (four copies each of) two or three. Use sea mail (NOW) and cross your fingers that it doesn’t get lost and arrives on time.

But that’s not the point.

Desperately trying to find the funds or immediately knowing you can’t enter an event at best takes a lot of fun out of it and, at worst, creates a class system within a community that strives against such limiting and often-negative constructs.

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3 thoughts on “Zine Awards, Entry Fees, & Broken Pencil – Part Two: Money Changes Everything

  1. ok! Wiseblood is now hosting a competition! and i’m announcing it first here on the delightful seagreenzines. and my competition only costses 10 bucks (american goddamned it). so send your zine and 10 bucks to me fishspit c/o wiseblood 1304 175th pl. n.e., bellevue , wa 98008 u.s. of fucking a! winner will get a dinner with me! winner pays . . . don’t worry if you can’t make it to washington, if you win just send the money for the supper and i’ll send you a tape of the blather i’d spew at you for the hour and a half (90 minute tape!) we’d be supping together. so send in your money you pack of wusses! oh . . . and the zine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Money Thing. I had to think about this one a bit longer, but here are Thoughts: 20 dollars is a lot of money. Pretty much every competition fee for literary type events that I’ve seen was between 7,5 to 10 dollars. Why so expensive? Why 4 copies? What happens to those copies afterwards? What are the criteria on which zines will be judged? So many questions.

    Also, but this is my gripe with a lot of writing competitions: what is the point of the competition? With some writing competitions, there’s the direct or indirect promise of attention from agents/publishers and that can be a way of “getting yourself out there” if that happens to be your goal in life.

    It might again be due to witnessed bad experiences, but at some point it seemed that a new sf/fantasy/ya competition popped up every week: pay 7,50, participate, win a cash prize (and the possibility to pay us a shitload of money to basically self publish with our “publishing company”, but that’s a story for some other time).

    Nobody in The Industry ever paid any mind to these competitions which are basically self sustaining raffles. Not at all saying that this competition is like that, but apart from the cash prize, why would somebody want to participate? I understand that The Broken Pencil gets publicity and goodwill and a lot of great zines to read, but I don’t quite understand what’s in it for the zinester?

    And then there’s the semi-related issue of zines rapidly going the way of other hobbies like making your own clothes and knitting: where it used to be something that was an accessible and cheap way of getting dressed with the knitting/sewing or getting your thoughts out into the world with zinemaking, we are now at a point where this is no longer the case. With clothes, it’s very often a lot cheaper to buy things than to make them, and with printing costs and specifically postage costs rising, it’s a lot cheaper to just start a blog.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE zines, but I have been struggling with this for a while now: I sell my zines for 2 euros, which literally only covers my printing costs. Then there’s the shipping to the UK/US/rest of the world because here in NL I am The Only Zinester In The Village, and you end up with an 8 or 9 dollar zine. For a lot of people, this is just too much money. Which will inevitably lead to people (except for the lucky ones that have an irl community and can trade among themselves) no longer being able to offer/trade physical zines and moving on to other mediums (blogs?) and maybe at some point a whole new crew of peeps with more money starting to make zines (see also what happened within the scrapbook/fancify your planner communities).

    Do the peeps at The Broken Pencil expect this to happen soon and is this competition a first step at trying to appeal to the new, more financially affluent crowd? Or did I just spend too much time inhaling ozone this week and have they just not thought things over and just gone “Let’s have a competition! Let’s make the entry fee 20 dollars! Cool!”? 😀 /novel

    Liked by 1 person

    • $20 is a lot of money no matter which way you cut it, and I should have been more direct in saying that (rather than worrying about possible backlash). I tend to get caught up in how ‘limited’ my life experience is, but I’ve seen enough people balk at $7 entry fees to know better.

      In the end, I think more transparency is needed. A lot can be forgiven if it’s simply shown up front.

      Transparency would do well not only in the form of why such a high fee but also in advantages (beyond the prize money). Broken Pencil is big, but how big? When I announced I was doing research for these post, I heard plenty of, “I’d heard of Broken Pencil but not more than that” comments. This is by no means meant to insult BP, but is their site traffic worth the money on the chance of getting noticed by them? Will all entrants be published?

      I am completely fine with “just for the fun of it” if that’s how they want to run, but, to sing the same tune, more communication and transparency would be nice.

      Your thoughts about zines going the way of other hobbies are very interesting ones, and it’s a subject I’d like to dedicate its own post to in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

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