Thursday, 30 August 2012

Why I won't be attending Birmingham Zine Fest this year.

I'm been umming and aahing over whether to write about this for about 3 weeks now, but I feel like its something I need to get off my chest, something I think other zinesters need to know about, and something I've talked about quite a bit with friends and other zinesters who agree with my sentiments. A couple of years ago, I attended the first Birmingham Zine Fest, and it was awesome. I even wrote about it in a zine (Anatomical Heart #10). Last year I couldn't go because I was skint, and it's a fair trek from Carlisle to Birmingham, but by all accounts it was pretty good. This year I was hoping to attend again, especially since having such a nice time at Little Zine Party. I thought I'd apply for a table since a few folks I knew had already applied. So, I was kinda sad when I found out that tables were £40 (half tables £20). There would be a communal table, but the organisers would take 10% of sales. This was disappointing, so I decided I'd probably give it a miss and leave it at that, even after this twitter conversation happened which if I'm honest, fairly got my back up:

I let the "Sorry if you think otherwise." comment slide, but I couldn't ignore this gem: "it's more of an independent publishing fair: those who self publish books/illustrators/freelance artists I guess- but all DIY" But not for those who self publish zines? Birmingham ZINE Fest, without the zines. BZF offered this explaination:

They wanted to change the name, but people already know it as Birmingham Zine Fest. It kinda makes sense I guess. I mean, if I owned 'Bettie's Sweet Shop', but then started selling fish and chips instead of sweets, I'd still call it 'Bettie's Sweet Shop', because that's what people know it as. Oh, wait...

They're going to pay lip service to zines by offering a communal table. So we can be in the same space with the same audience as those wonderful full time illustrators. Thanks, but honestly that's not my target audience. This tweet kinda sums up my feelings about that:

Good call, Lizzy. In the interests of not wanting to appear one-sided, you can see the whole conversation between BZF and me, Lizzy and Tukru on their twitter feed, just scroll down to 5th August.

For a zinester like me, I'd have to sell over 80 zines to break even of the cost of a table. That's just the table, for obvious reasons I don't include any other costs. So this is basically why I won't be attending, and it is why I felt I needed to let you, as a zinester / zine appreciator, know that if you're heading to Birmingham Zine Fest expecting zines, you might well be disappointed.

Just as an FYI, I'm most likely attending Leeds Zine Fair on the 4th November! Tables are £10 if you're interested (anyone wanna share a table?), see you there!


  1. Jeez... their views and justifications on keeping 'Zine' in the title is just... BALLZ! I feel so sad that it has come to this.

  2. Good for you Bettie. I have to say I totally agree with you.
    As an attendee I would feel annoyed going to a Zine Fair only to find it was actually not selling many zines! False advertising, even if it was free entry. There's no shame in changing the name, or saying 'hey, BZF is changing a bit this year and as a result we're going to call it 'Birmingham Alternative Press Fair' or whatever.

    Definitely hoping to be at Leeds Zine Fair. Might even brave a half table. Maybe.

  3. This is such a shame as the first one I went to with you, Tukru and Jess was wonderful and small, with only a few 'elite' individuals. How cheeky of them to charge that much, especially people who self publish.

    I'm so disappointed and glad I had no plans to attend this year.

  4. Replies
    1. Hey, thanks for your comments. I'll try to address some of your points.

      I understand the amount of work that goes into organising these events - I've been involved with organising zine fairs in the past, and I'm not disputing that. The fact is though, that where zines are generally a labour of love, and often very personal in nature, zinesters have other lives and jobs, illustrators and designers are making a living from selling their wares and therefore tend to sell at a much higher price (for a more "professional" product) and most could justify the high price. In addition, my beef isn't with the inclusion of illustrators to a zine fair, it's more with it essentially becoming an illustration fair whilst retaining the BZF name. As the organisers have said, they wanted to change the name. Why not do so? The point of my post was to address this and I suppose to let other zinesters know what had gone down. God knows I've travelled far and wide to zine fairs only to be disappointed by the lack of actual zines! I was going to attend because I enjoyed the first BZF so much, but it has become something else entirely.

      Honestly, I hope I am proved wrong about the day! I hope the zinesters and friends that attend have an awesome time, but personally, I just don't feel like its in the spirit of zines anymore. You're right, zines are a bit of a community, but they're also DIY. Professional publications, magazines, illustrated books, comics, chapbooks, etc, whilst I enjoy many of those things, are just not zines.

      ps. I'm sorry I didn't reply to your letter, I always do (eventually!). As you probably know I don't write AH anymore, and have moved 5 times during and since writing it. Perhaps it went to an old address? :(

  5. And another thing: you had to 'apply' for a place which suggested that there was an element of competition amongst zinesters and artists, which is really disappointing. Zines aren't in competition with one another: they are all about inclusivity rather than exclusivity so shouldn't a zine event follow suite?

    Now that it doesn't appear to be a zine fair at all, that all makes more sense.

    Well, anyway, I've got my table at the Leeds zine fair and I'm mega-excited to be going.

  6. Having met you at Ort a couple of months ago and really enjoying your zines, I was hoping to run into you again at BZF.

    I can see your argument from both sides. Having paid upto £100 for art fairs, £40 for both days seems pretty reasonable. I can see how much effort and cost must be attached to this years BZF, from the marketing, workshops, film screenings and to build something of this scale must take some fundraising. But as you say using zine in the title could be misleading. It does suggest a certain type of publication which has been traditionally low cost. Once you've paid for a stall, travel, expenses and trying to recoup all this through <£5 publications it can be tough.

    Possibly calling it Birmingham Self Publish fair, not as cool or snappy, but less open to interpretation. They could also show some sympathetic economy(!) towards low cost zines and larger publishing orgs who are likely to make more money through having more expensive publications. This isn't to try and say one is better or worthy than the other, but quality will always be assured through selection.

    I'll suggest it when I'm there and hope to run into you really soon.