DISCLAIMER (this paragraph does not count as a part of the essay): Before going into this analysis, I think it is important to state that many successful zines have garnered a mass following since the release of the first issue and it would be a fair assumption to make that nowadays the popularity relies more so on the hype surrounding it rather than the quality of the content that it beholds. Not to mention, successful zines are a sort of collector’s item, therefore it makes sense that the more popular the zine, the more sales. For this reason, I will not be basing my choices for what I think makes a successful zine on the financial aspects of it or on the statistics of sales. (also, it is close to impossible to pull that kind of information from the Internet) This post is all hypothetical.
It is undeniable that covers, regardless of publication, are incredibly important as they are quite literally the front page for said pieces of content. It is the first impression, a taste of what is in store, the main reason why, in this case, zines are picked up in the first place. The secret behind successful zine covers has been much disputed for years now with no deliberate consensus.
The concept of zines has now been alive for almost a century and to this day there is really no correct way of creating one – no “recipe for success” per se – it is completely up to the artist what they want to do with their personal publication. The lack of a mold has made it incredibly difficult to pinpoint what it exactly was that made some zines more profitable than the rest. After conducting some research I was able to draw out a conclusion that would partially answer that question.
One of the answers to it is simply knowing your audience or knowing what audience you wish to cater to/garner. There is a reason that zines are not loosely-subjected – more often than not they cover a specific topic or a collection of topics that fall into a single genre/field. A successful zine cover should be able to capture the essence or the subject matter of the entire zine and put it on display for the public’s eyes to see.
Another important contributor is quite obviously the aesthetics of it. Zines are renowned for the vast array of visual language – the eye-catching colours, the unique fonts, the in-your-face nature they possess, the various compositions and stylistic approaches. If the cover can incorporate all or most of those elements, it will most definitely attract someone who will at the very least give it a look/flip through.
The last aspect that I believe is worth noting is whether or not the zine has a zesty title. A common trope I noticed with zines is that a lot of them have appealing titles, most of which pose as punchlines to the entirety of the zine. Put it like this – if someone delivers a punchline before even alluding to making a joke, would you not be interested to hear the joke? It is this logic that I assume is, or should be, applied when coming up with a snappy zine title, couple it with a bold font and it is destined to allure a curious bystander.
If applied correctly and tastefully, this is what I imagine the formula to a perfect zine cover to be. However, the reason I referred to this answer as “partial” earlier in the essay is because at the end of the day, it is all very subjective. I see these more as tips on how to stand out rather than guarantee success for your publication, but, in a vast sea of zines that strive to do the same, is that even feasible?
To that I would say – absolutely. A zine should be a passion project above all else, it should not be made for monetary/commercial purposes, but rather to contribute to a topic with unique imagery and your personal take on it. As long as the effort to add to the conversation translates throughout the zine as well on the cover – it is a successful one.