A zine is a publication designed for a very limited target audience, and usually distributed on a small scale, as well. They are cheap to produce, and are often spread by hand through the relevant community; for example, a punk zine might be available at punk performances, and a poetry zine would be featured at poetry readings. The term itself is short for “magazine,” suggesting a collection of varied written and visual work distributed to readers at a relatively low cost. A zine is often viewed as a news organ of an underground or cliquish community, and a zine's readership often has an inclusive sense of pride at being part of the movement the zine relates to.
The idea of distributing writing and pamphlets which are cheaply reproduced to make them readily available is an old one, but zine culture really began to explode in the 1970s, when numerous members of the punk scene started to create zines, or fanzines. A fanzine is a zine which communicates information about a group or movement to its fans, and it might contain things like upcoming tour dates, interviews, album reviews, and other material which would be of interest to fans of a group or cultural movement. The idea caught on, and comics started using zines to distribute their work, along with other members of the counterculture.
In the 1990s, the riot grrrl movement burst onto the scene with a number of well-distributed feminist zines such as Bust, which later became a major magazine in its own right. They pushed for gender equality in the zine community, and brought about an era of increasingly political zines covering controversial issues. In addition, zines of writing also began to flourish, and many beginning writers and poets published their work themselves to increase readership.
There are a number of ways to obtain a zine. The most direct, of course, is from the people who made it. Zines are often sold at concerts, counterculture book fairs, and underground events. In some urban areas, large bookstores also stock zines, and a few distributing houses specialize in zines along with other counterculture publications. In the late 1990s, e-zines also grew popular. An e-zine uses the Internet as a distribution method, either in the form of a mass e-mailing or website, and is often free. Physical zines are usually very low cost, so that the producers can recoup printing costs, and are preferred to e-zines by some people because they can contain media which is uniquely physical, such as pop-ups, gag glasses, and other multimedia.