Can minizines make $$$


(Today’s question arises from my own ponderings about how to make money from online publications when browsers expect free access to anything on the Web. If you have a journalistic, technical or business question regarding your citizen blog send it to tomabate_book (at) I’ll look for help and share it here.)

I have argued that an online publication may build an audience but not an income:

“Niche publishers . . .  should not expect to support themselves from online ads . . .  they may find it makes sense to create special low-run print magazines that contain more detailed information than that available on their web sites, or merely gather a month’s worth of postings into a convenient form of reference.”

But is low-cost, low-run magazine publishing possible?

A Web search last week, using terms like those above, turned up a series of entries for printers advertising finished magazines. Take, for instance, Hoflin Press, a Colorado company that started as a hobby ‘zine for dog breeders and has grown over time into a short-run magazine publishing company. Hoflin publishes a price list, so it becomes possible to imagine in advance what it would cost to create a certain magazine product.

Here is an excerpt from the Hoflin site:

PRESS RUNS (based on 8 page runs)
B/W $220 per run plus $10/m. Over 5,000 Addl. $20/m.
4/C $660 per run plus $20/m. Over 5,000 Addl. $40/m.
PMS Color $250 per run plus $10/m. Over 5,000 Addl. $20/m.
Varnish $200 per run plus $10/m. Over 5,000 Addl. $20/m.

If I still recall printing lingo, “4/C $660 per run plus $20/m” tells me that Hoflin gets $660 for the first thousand copies of an 8-page, full-color, camera-ready ‘zine (camera-ready assumes that all design and layout is done and the original is ready to be photographed and put onto the press; the “m” stands for 1,000 copies). 

So it would cost $1,320 for 1,000 copies of a 16-page magazine. There would be an additional charge of $30 per thousand for binding (that is wrapping the text with a cover and stapling it). I think that includes the cover but I couldn’t be sure without asking for a free quote. 

But for the sake of brainstorming, let’s say that $1,400 would buy $1,000 copies of a four-color magazine (before tax and shipping). And then just because we might overlook costs, kick that up to $2,000.

How could a Web publisher use that to make money?

Well, let’s imagine that you publish a local blog (sometimes called a placeblog) and that you’re starting to get some local advertising. How? By getting out and selling your publication. So now factor in the zine.

Imagine you found 8 local merchants willing to pay $300 each to buy a full page, four-color ad in a printed magazine (one would pay more to get the back cover). Maybe you’d throw in some online ads as well as part of the package. So you’ve got your print costs covered with a thin margin.

You could distribute the thousand magazines as follows: give each merchant 20 or so copies (not too many lest they sit around). Some you might distribute in local coffee shops. But the bulk you will hand deliver to every home in, say, a 10-block radius. This would take about a day.

What would be in the zine? Well, perhaps the best editorial copy for the last month; or a directory of local city offices; in short, whatever locally useful information you could gather and which would make residents pick it up — and perhaps become regular visitors to your web site. (For instance, think about this before local elections — just be warned to collect payment for political ads in advance!)

I cited Hoflin because their price list was an easy starting point. is another site that advertises low-cost, low-run magazine printing, and it has a great FAQ. These are not endorsements. Just examples.

I haven’t done a project like this in a while but some years ago, when I ran a typesetting shop in Eureka, California, I produced what amounts to a short-run magazine for an association of builders. It was their annual directory. We produced several hundred copies of the directory at no charge to the association — and made out money from the ads that we sold as part of that zine.

It was a good money-maker then. And printing costs have come way down. Four-color is cheap. 

Could a monthly or quarterly print zine be a profit-making complement to a Web publication? I think so but I’d sure love to hear, either way, from anyone who has tried.


None of this sounds easy but it is doable and could be profitable.