Friday 22 July 2011

Birmingham Zine Festival 2011: From Behind the Table

A little over a week ago, I tabled for the first time at a zine fest – the Birmingham Zine Festival.  Having only attended three other zine fests before, I was pretty nervous about it all, but also very excited! 

The festival was located in a shop called We Are Birmingham, a great venue choice due to its location in the city centre, only a few minutes from the Bullring shopping centre.  This managed to attract lots of non-zine types, and ensured that the zine fest was fairly busy all day.  The audience ranged from young alternative types, to middle-aged shoppers (including my mum and auntie, who came in to have a nose and ended up buying a few zines).  There were also a few parents browsing with their children – a particularly sweet moment was when a little blonde girl was running around putting pink stickers on all the zinesters in the vicinity. :)

The tables were all situated on the ground floor, which included many seasoned tablers that I’d seen at other zine fests this year, such as Marching Stars, Green Bean, and Lizz Lizz.  There was also a communal table full of free zines, which provided me with lots of reading material for the journey home! It was great to see that us vendors had a decent amount of room for our stalls, and the open layout of the venue made it easy for people to get close enough to the stalls to be able to take a proper look through the stuff on offer.  There were a large number of comics and art zines at this fest, which provided some interesting material for me to flick through on my walk through the tables (though I must admit that most art zines I come across are very overpriced).  Downstairs, workshops were being run throughout the day, including ones covering badge making, drawing, and t-shirt printing.  There was also a film screening by the Brothers McLeod in the late afternoon. 

Upon my arrival, I was given a paper bag full of BZF goodies, including pin badges, flyers, stickers, and a fancy name badge:

I sat down at my small table and laid out my zines and little hand-made placards.  I wasn’t sure how many zines to bring, so I decided to come prepared with 20 copies of each issue.  This was just the right number thankfully, as I sold between four and fifteen copies of every issue – I should imagine that running out of stock is incredibly frustrating halfway through the day.  I also brought a few of my EPs along for sale.  After having a bit of a catch up with my neighbour, Lizzy from Marching Stars, the doors were opened and the crowds started coming through.

My table!
The first thing that I noticed was that when making a decision on buying a zine or not, most people tended to quickly flick through the whole zine without looking at one page for more than a few seconds.  The layout seems to be what sells a zine – mostly, people didn’t even read the contents page or the intro. That’s something I’ll definitely keep in mind when making future issues of my zine.

Another thing that quickly became apparent, which I should’ve anticipated really, was the number of people who tried to buy a single zine for £1 using a ten pound note.  If I had been prepared, I would’ve brought lots of pound coins to prepare for being offered a tenner and not being stuck with £7 in change; unfortunately, the only way I could deal with it was to ask them to buy two more zines to make up the difference – I felt too rude to steal Lizzy’s much-needed pound coins.  Everyone I asked did so too, which was surprising, as I half-expected people to just put down the zine and walk away.  Sir Alan would be proud of my entrepreneurial skills!

I met a few cool zinesters who came up and had a chat, including Alana (who writes an awesome zine about being a girl skateboarder), Sarah Beth (Ellipsis), and AK from Princesa Pirata distro.  I was disappointed at how few requests I received for trades though – I only had two trades all day.  I was also disappointed by how few people tried to start conversations with me about zines and the process of making them, or even to share their thoughts on the festival itself – some people kindly stopped to introduce themselves and talk, but mostly people flicked through and walked on by.  I also had quite a few people come up and get really excited about my EP, but no one bought a copy.  Having said that, I understand that some may just have been too shy to know what to say - believe me, I’ve been there. 

At around 5.45pm things started winding down and others began to pack up their stalls.  I went through my stash and totted up how much I’d managed to sell throughout the day - 33 zines, but no EPs.  That was quite disappointing, especially since my CD is reasonably priced compared to some of the zines on offer, but I half-expected it since the festival is all about handmade creations rather than music.

So, in conclusion, not quite as friendly as I expected, but still a very enjoyable day, and from what I hear, a big improvement in terms of numbers and venue from last year’s fest.  My favourite way to experience a zine festival is definitely from behind the table!

(all photos in this blog post are by Birmingham Zine Festival, except the photos of my stall and name badge, which were taken by me)


Other great posts about BZF:

Photo sets:


  1. Sounds awesome. What did you hear about last year? I thought it was a good venue and really busy! I sold lots from the communal table and made loads of trades. Sad I couldn't make this year. Hopefully Sheffield will make up for it! x

  2. This is a great review. I wasn't able to go to Birmingham Zine Fest, but I feel a lot better informed about it now, since you covered everything someone like me might want to know - what the location was like, what other zinesters were there, how busy it was, etc. Keep up the good work! (Erk, I feel like a primary school teacher now...)

  3. Thank you all so much! :)

    Bettie - I heard that last year it was upstairs in a pub, so the fest didn't get as many people wandering in for a nose - you kinda had to seek it out. I didn't go though, so I don't know if it's true.

  4. It was, but it was still awesome and busy! x

  5. Hi! I'm one of the organisers of the Zine Festival. Just wanted to say thanks for a great review and I'm glad you enjoyed it!