Sunday, 5 February 2012

Feature: Working With Distros

This is a guest post by Lizzy Goddard, who has been running Marching Stars Distro since July 2007.  These opinions are all Lizzy's own. Every distro is different; probably because every distro is run by an actual, gloriously unique person/collective.

Marching Stars at London Zine Symposium 2011

Distros. You’ve heard of them. You’ve seen them around. You might have even ordered from one. Why then are so many zinesters so nervous about working with us?! We want to stock your zines! I’ve run marching stars zine distro ( ) for 4 ½ years and this little guide is based on a “Working with Distros” Workshop that I ran at Camden Zine Fest 2011. I hope to run it again at future zine events, because I love talking about distros and my experiences of running one. But more importantly, I want zinesters to feel more comfortable working with us, because we only exist because of YOU and YOUR ZINES.

What is a Distro?

Distro, short for distribution or distributor, quite simply, distributes zines on behalf of zinesters. Lots of zines, in one place. Distro is both a noun and a verb. I run a distro and I distro zines. I truly believe that distros are very much part of the zine community, and here’s why:

Role of a Distro

From a zinester point of view
- get your zine out to a wider audience
- get your zine to a different country
- promotion of your zine
- get your zine in with similar zines
- get your zine sold with other zines you respect and love
- money/shifting your stock
- getting your zine out there without giving your address/etc

From the zine reader point of view
- get lots of different zines in one order
- save on postage
- pick up zines you might night ave otherwise heard about
- lots of similarly themed zines in one place
- might trust the distro owner’s opinion

From the distro owner point of view
- there aren’t other distros selling what you want to buy
- help make lots of zines available in one place
- promote zines in non-zine places (e.g. gigs)
- collect together zines on a certain theme in one place
- help make international zines more accessible here
- not competitive

3 main ways distros work
Quotes taken from ‘Stolen Sharpie Revolution 2’ by Alex Wrekk.

1. Buy zines outright at wholesale prices. “This is when a distro pays you wholesale price for the zines upfront, before they sell any copies or sometimes before they receive them.”
 - Wholesale price: “The discounted price you would offer a distro for buying multiple copies. You can specify a minimum quantity if you like. Most wholesale prices are around 50-70% of the retail price.”
 - Retail price: “The price that you sell a single issue of your zine for and the price you would like other distros to sell you zine for. A high price can detract distros and potential buyers from your zine."
2. Consignment. “When a distro pays you the wholesale price after all or a portion of the zines have sold. Some distros work on a regular time frame like quarterly or monthly. This can vary from distro to distro” 
3. Flat copies. You send the flat pages of your zine to the distro

3 main ways distros sell

1. Online (usually through a website with integrated paypal or online checkout)
2. At shows and events (both zine-specific and non-zine specific)
3. Paper catalogue (good old snail-mail)

Do’s and Don’ts

- reply to emails
- only send zines for consideration that you can make lots of and intend to for quite a while (i.e. not a limited print run)
- include a note with important info on (email address, wholesale/retail price, etc)
- email when you have new issues out
- package zines well when you send them
- keep accurate records
- ask questions if you don’t understand
- send personalised emails
                - maybe look up the distro owners name?
                - tell them how you heard about them? Why you chose to submit to them?
- not look at what the distro normally stocks and offer something totally different
- send a zine for consideration and then never reply to emails
- have a ridiculously high wholesale price
- not send zines (either before or after payment), the ultimate ‘not cool’.
- expect to make money out of it

Things you can expect from the distro
Distros are run on love alone. I cannot stress this enough.  But now I’ve put that out there, the following things you can expect from a distro (in due time – life does get in the way sometimes!):
- replies to emails
- accurate records
- zines promptly added to the website
- updated website
- your zines being promoted
- their choosing ‘good’ zines and maintain a certain standard

Distros aren’t for everyone
Sadly selling your zine through a distro isn’t for everyone, but a lot of the problems with distros applying to selling your zine in general.
- No control over who reads your zines/where they end up
- Might work out that you lose money
- Might not like the description of your zine
- Some distros wholesale zines to other distros (they’ll say, but just heads up)
- Producing in the quantities they want if it’s a limited print run
- Zines can stay in distros for months/years after you’ve stopped printing them
- Zero contact with the reader

- You might not get a reply. This is probably because it’s really hard for distro owners to reject zines (no-one likes to say no to what people have lovingly created).
- Try not to be too disheartened and consider submitting elsewhere.
- Definitely submit future issues (or ask if it’s ok to submit future issues)
- There are lots of reasons why a distro might reject a zine including space/money and it not ‘fitting’ with other zines stocked. Reasons I’ve, sadly, had to reject zines include: poor spelling/grammar; hard to read; poorly photocopied/put together and too expensive.
- If your zine is rejected, or you just don’t hear from them, feel free to ask why they rejected it and hopefully you’ll get some constructive criticism (or hear it was rejected for some reason out of your control).
- Remember, distros are run on love, so at the end of the day it is the prerogative of the distro owner to decide what they do and don’t want to stock, and that can be a little irrational.

Where to find distros
- The links over there -->
- Google
- Zine fairs/events
- ‘Links’ section on most distro websites

So, I know that’s quite a lot of information, but it’s really not that scary. You haven’t got much to lose in submitting to a distro, and stand to gain a huge amount – so go for it!


  1. This is a great article, thanks to Lizzy for sharing.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this! x