Blogs -vs- zines

Published Categorised as Art & Design, Life in General, Popular Posts, Zines 12 Comments on Blogs -vs- zines


People who don’t make or read them much them­selves some­times ask me why I still make zines, even though the inter­net exists, and the world is becom­ing more and more digit­ally-focused, and I have this blog. In short, the answer is for the same reas­on I still have hundreds of records and books, and devel­op black and white film at home, even though I have an ipod, spoti­fy subscrip­tion, e-read­er and two digit­al camer­as, and I’m far from a luddite: I feel the phys­ic­al medi­um offers me some­thing that I don’t get from the digit­al version.

I always have the urge to docu­ment things. At home I have loads of scrap­books with things like flyers, tick­ets, pack­aging etc (you can see one here) dating back to 2002. They’re not partic­u­larly private though, and friends are welcome to leaf through them when they visit. I’ve got some art/​creative activ­ity book type diar­ies where you have to draw things or do word asso­ci­ation or whatever, which I fill out when I feel like. I use instagram a lot to take pictures of small details or objects (not so much for people, and I’m not sure why, I’d hope it’s because I’m enjoy­ing their company more than fiddling with my phone- I’m very much a subscriber to phones away when you’re in company).

The one type of diary I’ve never really been into is the private confes­sion­al type, where you write about your whole life. When I was a kid I was given a five year diary as a present by a relat­ive. I tried to keep it up, but got bored very quickly of writ­ing things like “had chick­en nuggets and angel delight for tea” and just resor­ted to draw­ing loads of anim­als in it and cover­ing the pages with stick­ers.


I guess I have a good memory, and a good grasp of the timeline of my own life, so a scrap­book of tick­et stubs and so on helps as a good memory aid, like the way the Incas used to record things with patterns of knots on strings. I like look­ing back on my old blog entries too to remem­ber what I was doing, and what my mind­set was and how I felt at the time. From 2010-2012 I was at art college doing a post-grad illus­tra­tion degree. The main focus of the course was narrat­ive, and there was a lot of discus­sion about things like differ­ent ways to record and docu­ment events, collect­ing, telling stor­ies through objects and the like. We were also required to keep a creat­ive diary of things like inspir­a­tion, research, thought processes, exhib­i­tion visits and so on.

I’ve never liked the oblig­a­tion to update some­thing every day. I tried doing a daily draw­ing diary for art college, and hated it. I much prefer updat­ing some­thing when I feel like it, and feel I have some­thing to say or to show.

I don’t write a blog or make zines to make money. I do it for my own enjoy­ment, and to commu­nic­ate with other people. Going into perz­ines hoping to make money out of it is pretty fool­ish (if you’re care­ful about print­ing costs, and do a zine that becomes popu­lar with­in the small limits of how a perz­ine can be popu­lar, you can break even or make a small amount of extra money, but it’s not going to provide a living). Blogs can be prof­it­able if they are monet­ised with adverts and spon­sor­ships, but I feel a strong amount of distaste at the idea of turn­ing my life and how I docu­ment it into some kind of branded, corpor­ate-sponsored busi­ness, as a matter of prin­ciple. The phrase “person­al brand” when used seri­ously always makes me wince- people aren’t an easily digest­ible one-dimen­sion­al branded product, every­one has multiple facets to them.

You see a lot of now profes­sion­al­ised life­style and fash­ion blogs which a few years ago were records of the inter­est­ing lives or style of the (nearly always female) writers, which is what attrac­ted their large audi­ences. Once they quit their jobs and went pro-blog­ger though, the blogs gradu­ally turned into lacklustre sets of photos of comped outfits from cloth­ing compan­ies or pristine houses only achiev­able by someone who stays at home all day without much to do, ridicu­lous sponsored posts about how much they love a certain break­fast cereal or whatever, and a gener­al sense of a bored, list­less person sitting at home all day feel­ing obliged to keep churn­ing this stuff out and suppress­ing anything person­al or less than super-posit­ive to keep the money coming in, and the advert­isers happy. The whole situ­ation becomes that the product they’re selling is their own life, and as a result the writer becomes more and more isol­ated in a strange little blog­ging bubble. It’s like some weird, modern, neolib­er­al­ised digit­al paid version of being a 50s house­wife. There was an article recently (here) which covers that in much more detail.

I some­times get samples of fancy toiletries via my job, but I’m not required to pretend I like the product or photo­graph myself using it in return for getting a bottle of expens­ive sham­poo or whatever. I think the most that has ever been asked was some private feed­back to the company, but the major­ity of the time it’s a no-strings free sample. Obvi­ously I and my co-work­ers don’t get paid for receiv­ing these samples, but we don’t have to live our lives as a living, breath­ing advert either.

A few months ago, I was wast­ing time in a fancy café in Paris while wait­ing for my train back to London. There isn’t anywhere partic­u­larly nice to wait at the Gare du Nord, so I went to a impress­ive look­ing place I saw one RER stop away. They had some really fant­ast­ic cakes, and I was enjoy­ing myself with a coffee and cake and writ­ing post­cards to while away the time. Two French women came and sat at the table next to me, who were very dressed up, with immacu­late hair and makeup, more dressy than is the norm in Paris in fact. They ordered a plate full of the most elab­or­ately decor­ated cakes in the café, and then spent ages taking photos of them­selves about to bite into the cakes and posing as if they were having the most fun ever, and were the greatest friends. Once they’d taken the photos though, they pushed the plate of cakes to one side and didn’t eat them, and then ignored each other, tapping away at their phones. Prob­ably upload­ing pictures saying “best friends ever!” “so deli­cious!” and getting lots of comments about their oh so glam­or­ous lives. They ignored each other for about 20 minutes, barely exchan­ging a word, and then left, barely saying bye. I’m guess­ing they run some kind of life­style blogs or some­thing. It was a bit depress­ing, how everything was for show, and they didn’t enjoy the food or the company at all or really make any attempt to.

Even worse is when blog­gers sell scammy e-courses about how to have as picture-perfect a life as them (answer: have plenty of money, lots of spare time, and never let anything unsightly or complic­ated show in public, fake up some special moments only for the photos, maybe throw in some New Age bull­shit like the Secret or EFT tapping). Sites like Get Off My Inter­nets have sprung up to point out the many dishon­est and ridicu­lous things these monet­ised blogs do, sitting on that weird bound­ary between person­al and advert­ising that they do. Although I’m very much on the fence about Get Off My Inter­nets- it tends to swing wildly between well deserved criti­cism and high school level gossip­ing, depend­ing on who is comment­ing, being a discus­sion between a large group of people, but it’s fair to say that if I found myself ending up on there I would consider it as a sign I needed to seri­ously recon­sider what I was doing. I guess I regard it as a handy guide to how not to run a blog, and the people who write the main articles are often very funny.

This blog is certainly not a warts and all portray­al of my life. I’m very much aware that it’s under my own name, publicly visible, and find­able to anyone on Google. You won’t see any pictures of my laun­dry pile (sorry, laun­dry fans), but I don’t try to pretend I live a wonder­ful, picture-perfect life either. It’s more for shar­ing things I’ve done, and things that interest me. Hope­fully they’re things that interest other people too. I’ve moved around a lot in the twelve years since I left home, and I’ve accu­mu­lated a lot of friends in differ­ent places, and become friends with people who have also moved a lot. A lot of the people who read this are people I know, who like to keep up to date with what I’ve been doing, as they rarely see me. It’s also much easi­er to update a blog than tell loads of differ­ent people the same things over and over.

I don’t think I will ever do this for money, and I don’t think it would be a possib­il­ity either. I’m not perky or photo­gen­ic, and I’d hate doing things like going on comped trips to restaur­ants or whatever and then feel­ing obliged to write some­thing over­whelm­ingly posit­ive because I had to to get paid, rather than giving my honest opin­ion. Person­al blogs are meant to be person­al, not re-writ­ten press releases. The only time I’ve ever had a comped trip from this is when I took some photos of a café whose interi­or I liked anyway, and the owner saw them later and offered me and a friend a free cake and drink to say thanks. I guess the key issue is that I feel a bit protect­ive of the things that genu­inely interest me and that I choose to write about for their own sake, and I don’t want advert­isers’ and spon­sors’ grubby little mitts all over them. I don’t think I really cover gener­al enough topics to hit a wide audi­ence anyway. My life­style is in pretty easy reach of most people I think, anyway. (Visit char­ity shops, read books. Shazam!)

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So what is the differ­ence between what I put on the blog and what I put in the zines? After all, there’s no point putting the same things on both, anyone who reads the zines is very likely to also have inter­net access these days. I suppose the two main things are time and meth­od of repro­duc­tion. I usually write about things on the blog close to when they happen, it’s a current record. I often write about things in the zines years after they’ve happened, once my brain has had a chance to put them togeth­er a bit, and get a narrat­ive out of it. There’s also the major differ­ence that the zines are b&w photo­cop­ies, and my blog is seen on a colour screen, and can also feature sound and video. This tends to mean that what I put in the zines is text-heavy, where­as the blog tends to be more photos/​other kinds of media with comment­ary.

There is also the issue of access. To get hold of my zines you have to be some­what with­in a certain network of people. If I don’t know you person­ally, you have to visit a fair or zine library, or have heard of zines and order some­thing from a distro or direct from me. This has posit­ives and negat­ives, the main negat­ive being that someone who would enjoy your work or who feels very isol­ated and would love to hear about the lives of people they feel simil­ar to would prob­ably never encounter it if they aren’t in the right networks of people. A blog can be found via a Google search for an unre­lated term (my stats have great ones like “ladies in creepy bunny costumes”) or linked to from anywhere. On the other hand, there is also the down­side that you have no control over the context your work is discovered in. If a zine read­er wants to send me a nasty comment, they have to go to the both­er of compos­ing me an email or writ­ing a letter. (This has never actu­ally happened, zine people tend to be a nice bunch). On a blog all you have to do is click a button to make a comment, and I think every­one knows how nasty people can be with anonymised inter­net comments. I don’t really get nasty blog comments though either (touch wood!) because this blog isn’t big enough to show up on people’s radar either. There are some things I just feel more comfort­able writ­ing about in my zines, though.

I think as well, there is some­thing more person­al about the phys­ic­al medi­um of a zine. There’s more of a connec­tion hand­ing over a phys­ic­al object, having some non-bill post arrive at your house or chat­ting to someone who buys it from your stall. I have a shoe­box with old letters and post­cards from friends that I would never ever throw away, I don’t have a shoe­box with prin­ted out emails. The main thing that makes people be so nasty on the inter­net I think is that it all feels so abstract and detached from real people and their real feel­ings (here’s a hint: it often isn’t!).

I have made friends with some great people from making, swap­ping and read­ing zines. The sort of person who contin­ues to go to the both­er of making zines is usually thought­ful, kind, creat­ive and good at keep­ing in contact, and the sort of friend who it makes no differ­ence to the friend­ship if you don’t see or hear from each other for a while. It’s not really a medi­um where there are hier­arch­ies, if you meet someone whose writ­ing you enjoyed, you’re on the same level as them, and you have conver­sa­tions as two equals, rather than the godlike creat­or and humble fan. I really hate the idea that actors, musi­cians etc whose work you enjoy are some­how on a high­er plane of exist­ence- I firmly believe that people are funda­ment­ally equal. Doing zines has also given me a network of friends in far-flung places, which is great for trav­el­ling. Getting involved with zines won’t bring you money, main­stream social status or fame, but it’s creat­ively satis­fy­ing and I recom­mend making zines for meet­ing great people (the proviso for success on this on you being a nice person your­self).

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  1. I LIKE THIS. Life­style blogs make me feel very weird – I don’t under­stand why people keep read­ing them, except for the creat­ors being very good at network­ing and brand­ing. They go in a ‘don’t consume things that make you feel bad about your own life’ pile with glossy women’s mags for me. I just have vari­ous blogs either for myself or for shar­ing things that might be inter­est­ing, and I think those are the best ones! They have waaay less filler posts.

    1. Also, as well, in print if something’s an advertori­al (ie an advert writ­ten as an article) you have to put “promo­tion” or “advert” along the edge of the page, but you don’t currently have to disclose on blogs in the UK. Some coun­tries make blog­gers do that now though.

      I feel like you that loads of blogs are just adverts pretend­ing to be someone’s person­al diary now, but still trying to get around people’s cynicism about advert­ising by keep­ing the veneer that it’s someone’s real life they’re shar­ing. I dunno if you saw the link I buried in the text here: (the comments are a bit fraught)

      Also, I dunno if you knew that lots of the Amer­ic­an life­style blog­gers are devout Mormons. They’re supposed to try to show outsiders that being a Mormon is a great life to try to encour­age people to join, which prob­ably explains some of it too.

  2. Very inter­est­ing. Obvi­ously you’ll know I used LJ for a long time, as it’s how I got to know you, and it was a bril­liant place to just write about what I wanted. Sadly the site seems to have died a death these days, and I also acquired a slightly creepy stalk­er through it, which has taken the shine off things. I have recently star­ted blog­ging in an attempt to acquire trans­port consultancy work; it’s not for making money per se, but it’s for rais­ing my profile. Not sure if it’s happen­ing or not, but hey.

    Look­ing around for hints and tips on blog­ging I came across a life­style blog­ger who writes quite a lot about how she makes a living from it and how she’s developed a writ­ing style, and that stuff was quite inter­est­ing, but her actu­al blog is pretty grim, and a lot like the things you’ve poin­ted out here. It’s full of pictures of her wear­ing retro-fifties style outfits around beau­ti­ful touristy loca­tions, or pictures of details and objects in her house, which is very white and very bare – it looks like she lives on the inside of a giant, very sparsely-stocked fridge.

    Yes…zines…I’m not very good at making them very often, but it’s great fun and I know what you mean about the people who make them. They’re people who have genu­inely inter­est­ing things to say for the sake of saying them, and like you I’ve found them to be inter­est­ing, thought­ful and creat­ive people that are well worth inter­act­ing with.

    1. I think the issue is that if you’re making money from a life­style blog about your life, is that the advert­isers want the person­al touch of it being a person­al blog, but you have to present your­self as being palat­able and inof­fens­ive for market­ing purposes, so only show­ing the photo­gen­ic, market­able sides of your life, while pretend­ing it’s an honest portray­al of your life rather than just a glossy ad. I wouldn’t enjoy that life at all. I also wonder how much of a living these full time blog­gers actu­ally make. They have to give the appear­ance of afflu­ence with all the free clothes and comped trips to restaur­ants etc, but they must spend a lot of time at home to get the pristine house and the time to take so many outfit photos, and I wonder how many rely on the free­bies to provide basics and are actu­ally quite broke behind the scenes or in massive cred­it card debt.

      1. True… I suspect most people rely on free­bies to subsid­ise their life­style or at least make it cheap­er. I guess if you’re work­ing from home as well you can save a lot on commut­ing costs, and that’s worth a few hundred quid a month to some people. In the case of the blog I’m think­ing about, I suspect the writer is inde­pend­ently wealthy or lives off her partner’s income to some extent at least – she has a *dress­ing room* in her house, FFS, so clearly doesn’t have the money worries of about 99.9% of the popu­la­tion.

  3. These days I blog more than I zine, but I still feel the need to zine. All of my friends have stopped, though, so I some­times feel like I’m send­ing my zines into some kind of void, because there’s no such network where I live. Still, I love zines best. To me, there’s just some­thing about having a thing I can hold, and work­ing with my hands – the process of making them is sooth­ing.

    1. Are you in Malay­sia? I’m afraid I don’t know of much in the way of zines there. I used to swap with a Singa­por­ean, but she lived in the UK. There’s a zine social network- although it has died down a bit. There’s also a few good tumblrs that show­case zines.

        1. Yes, I’m in Malay­sia. We do have a zine scene of sorts, although they’re either the polit­ic­al type (that may get a person in trouble if brought to the main­stream, yes) or very focused on the SEA punk/​metal scenes. And then there are the art zines. Since I write perz­ines mostly and write about books more often than not, I just give away my zines to book­ish friends and buy zines off distros instead. Recently my city star­ted an annu­al zine event, though, so I hope to check it out this year!

  4. Hey there! I just finished read­ing this blog post (took me two days, because of two people I made). I used to have a (f***ing shit) parent­ing blog a few years back, then fell into freel­ance social media manage­ment (vomit), before head­ing lefter than I previ­ously was, becom­ing utterly disen­chanted with the world. Picked up a pencil a year ago and star­ted draw­ing, and have found massive ther­apy in creat­ing illus­tra­tions and prints. I’ve missed writ­ing, and have star­ted consid­er­ing creat­ing a zine (or a few).

    I stumbled upon your post, and thor­oughly enjoyed read­ing about your perspect­ive on blog­ging and zines. It’s great to read an honest, no-strings-attached piece, which I guess is largely because my mind is some­what tarnished by my previ­ous times on the fringes of the parent-blog­ging world.

    So yeh, just a little feed­back and props. Will check out some more of your writ­ing. Oh weirdly, I’m also 30ish (near­er 40) and in Kent. Small world.

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