Independent Publishing on the Internet: Webzine and Fifteen Megs of Fame
Ryan Junell[1]


The room hummed with the low din of twenty-two computers. I sat at my desk (a door over two filing cabinets) at a small web design studio just after 8pm on a Friday night—probably holding a beer, probably working on a website. It was the fall of 1998, and I was in the heart of San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch. Why? Because this was my dream job... I thought.

I moved to the Bay Area two years earlier with an insatiable desire to join the forefront of the internet revolution. I spent my first year converting internet consultant rhetoric into slick corporate presentations for Fortune 500 companies. I spent my second year designing front-page graphics for recycled press releases disguised as news at an online digital economy trade magazine. The money was good, but I was getting bored. I wanted to build websites with a team of skilled people.

As a freelancer with an eye for design and experience with web production, I was quickly picked up by one of the hundreds of newly-formed web studios eager to put warm bodies in front of a monitor. I got to know a set of people with very similar expectations about the web industry. San Francisco is no stranger to big expectations. The city has a constant sense that something huge is about to happen, perhaps due to the cataclysmic promise of seismic faultiness, which adds an underlying tension and urgency to daily living.

I had no idea I would spend most of my time designing and building websites for doomed e-commerce companies—companies commemorated today only by decaying promotional monitor squeegees and branded miniature frisbees. I never understood how stock in a could make normal workers millionaires, yet the lure of stock options, venture capital, and IPO's kept digital workers toiling at their desks. It was a shame to see the internet go from being an open, non-commercial medium of free expression to being a huge, greedy strip mall.

Disillusioned by hype and empowered with experience, I was ready to get involved with a practical, meaningful, and socially accountable internet-related project that actually mattered to people. Back at my 'desk,' an engineer buddy named Eddie walked over. He was wearing one of his dazzling psychedelic shirts and drinking a beer. He said, 'Hey dude, have you ever met Srini Kumar from'

'Nope. I've seen his stickers around though.' I said.

'Yeah... 'Fuck Work' is the big one. I just got one that says 'Microsoft Sucks'. He asked me to work on a webzine event with him. We need a designer. Are you interested?' said Eddie.

I returned cautious, yet curious, 'Uh... sure. When is it?'

Eddie smiled, 'Three weeks!'

My induction to the first WEBZINE event's inner circle was the beginning of a rich and educational journey through ideas dealing with media, society, and creativity. I developed a deep respect for thousands of media creators who, as if following an intense digital manifest destiny, seized the internet to share their ideas with a global community.

The Bay Area has a habit of incubating critical masses of like minds. The WEBZINE event happened in San Francisco because of the environment's dynamic blend of technology geeks,experimental artists, radical writers, and advanced partiers. Dozens of other unique cultural movements, such as the Gold Rush, the Beat poets, the Haight Ashbury hippies, the UC[2] Berkeley protests, Silicon Valley, underground raving, Burning Man, and the over-zealous industry, have flourished in the Bay Area. The WEBZINE event drew directly from this hub of attitude, perspective, experience, and vibe to identify and unify a community of geeks interested in independent publishing on the web.

From aimless, brainwashed yuppie to inspired, independent thinker, I was transformed by the WEBZINE event, as were many others. WEBZINE simultaneously legitimized an underappreciated genre of media and galvanized a diverse community of devoted zinesters. The WEBZINE event is dedicated to these media creators and their work.

What is a webzine?

Our media landscape has widened exponentially with the introduction of affordable desktop computers and access to high-speed internet connections. Millions of people appear online every day but are seemingly unaware that the internet is as much an active medium as it is a passive one. People now own the tools to create and present films, radio stations, newspapers, journals, and television shows; yet relatively few recognize the opportunity.

Independent publishing on the web has been around as long as there has been a World Wide Web. By sharing even the most trivial information such as a favorite color, a poem, or a picture of the family dog, a person experiences the core of independent publishing: initiative. A webzine (pr. web-zeen) is a non-commercial creative publication distributed on the World Wide Web. Webzine creators publish on the internet for the basic satisfaction of having their words read, images seen, and/or voice heard. Webzines typically feature articles, interviews, editorials, multimedia, and/or news about a particular slice of life.

Why is a webzine interesting? Most webzines, in fact, are not very interesting at all. Webzines are not mainstream publications and are not targeted towards a mass audience. Webzine authors usually write for an audience with common interests. The special strength of a webzine comes from its ability to describe subject matter with an intimacy mass media systematically eschew.

Webzines are unique because they offer the rest of the world an unedited glance into an individual's worldview. Mainstream publications, such as Time Magazine and USA Today, have a responsibility to institutional survival and must enforce strict editorial guidelines. Because webzines are unfiltered by corporate objectives, they favor the visions of their authors.

Webzines are about creativity, the exercise of free speech, truth telling, and the communication of ideas with a larger community. Webzine makers are passionate, generous people. Though people have millions of reasons for making webzines, process is the common thread. The exercise of saying something that hasn't been said before or perhaps isn't being said enough is the fundamental joy of making a webzine.

The WEBZINE event

The WEBZINE event series started in 1998 when, on a whim, Srini Kumar of baited Adobe Systems on the idea of organizing an event about webzines. To his pleasant surprise, they bit. Adobe wrote Srini a check for $1500, which enabled him to locate a venue, round up a team of organizers, ask some friends to speak, and pay for some posters and programs. WEBZINE 98 took place at the Transmission Theater in San Francisco on November 14, 1998, with twenty speakers and two hundred fifty in attendance. Little did Adobe know that they had helped birth the world's only annual event for independent publishing on the internet. I was one of the original six organizers.

Understanding the gravity of the first event, three of the original organizers including myself moved forward to plan a bigger and more organized event. WEBZINE 99 took place on July 24, 1999, in San Francisco, with more than fifty speakers and seven hundred fifty in attendance. Among many notable occurrences, Mayor Willie Brown proclaimed the day 'Internet Independence Day,' Survival Research Laboratories blew off a jet engine in the parking lot, and the whole event was webcast on a teeny ISDN line.

With more financial support and a phalanx of volunteers, WEBZINE 2000 happened again in San Francisco on July 22, 2000, with more than fifty speakers and nearly one thousand in attendance. We produced an hour-long documentary, which included interviews and panel discussions. Attendees learned how to make webzines at a webzine-making workshop and rocked out to an evening of electronic noise music played on laptop computers. Our panelists from New York were very inspired by the event and wrote us an email afterwards asking if we would mind if they put on a WEBZINE event in New York.

WEBZINE 2001 in New York City took place on July 21, 2001, in the basement of CBGB's[3] with nearly fifty speakers and over three hundred in attendance. To mention only a few speakers, Michael Moore (director of 'Roger and Me' and 'TV Nation') spoke along with Phil Kaplan of and Mark Berenson, father of political prisoner Lori Berenson. The New York WEBZINE event proved that our celebration of independent publishing on the internet was a meaningful global sentiment.

After the 2001 internet industry bust, the event hibernated for a couple of years to come to life again in 2005. WEBZINE 2005 was held at the Swedish-American Hall in San Francisco on September 24-25, 2005. It was probably the most successful of WEBZINES. And it was also the last WEBZINE—at least for now.

Organizing a WEBZINE event

Depending on your definition of a good time, organizing a WEBZINE event can be very fun. I adore creative collaboration, which is the reason why I am attracted to webzines in the first place. Great beauty exists in being part of a group with a mission to accomplish something for no other reason than to put it out there for others to enjoy.

The WEBZINE event's decentralized organizational structure is modelled after a burgeoning trend in the software industry called 'open source.' Open source means that the code or operation of a thing has been made available to the public. The Linux operating system is the greatest example to date of the success of open source. Linux is distributed under a free license giving anyone the right to modify its source code and redistribute it as they see fit. Because of this, Linux has with it a talented and friendly community of developers dedicated to the improvement of this software. By applying the open source ethos to WEBZINE, we established an environment where any organizer could contribute to the event as much or as little as they wanted without group expectation or scrutiny. The sum of contributions results in the event.

We created an email list for the regular organizers, which we called the 'core' list. Information posted to core was directly related to organizing the event. A second list called 'zinesters' was created in 1999 to build an informed community of webzine enthusiasts, bounce ideas around for new WEBZINE events, and keep the WEBZINE spirit alive year round. The zinesters list currently has more than two hundred fifty subscribers and generates twenty to thirty new messages a week. We have had extensive webzine-centric discussions about society, art, advertising, history, and methodology. The zinesters list also receives a constant stream of links to new and interesting webzines.

WEBZINE organizers take on the following tasks:

- Rounding up speakers
- Creating a website
- Finding sponsors
- Finding DJs, musicians, and performers
- Figuring out food and refreshments
- Having meetings

- Making a press release
- Making posters and/or flyers
- Contacting the media
- Sending out emails
- Distributing up posters and flyers

- Creating program and other materials
- Designing the venue

During the event
- Stage-managing
- Cleaning up
- Setting up a network
- Managing the door
- Handling volunteers
- Selling T-shirts

- Managing a discussion list
- Documenting the proceedings
- Coordinating with the venue

The WEBZINE organizational meetings began three months prior to the event. We put out an open call for organizers on the zinesters list and other popular geek lists in the Bay Area. We usually met for no more than two hours over coffee or dinner in a regular space on a weekday evening in the Haight or in the Mission. After a few meetings, a core team emerged, made up of the regular faces that really wanted to be involved. Organizers tasked themselves based on their interests. Everyone contributed to programming speakers and selecting a date. By showtime, all organizers had mastered their piece of the event and maintained it throughout the day.

WEBZINE organizers commit enormous amounts of time, energy, and resources to create a place for folks to show off inventive, innovative, and creative online projects. The essential zinester thrill of creating is at the heart of our organizational process.

Financing a WEBZINE event

Over time, the event has had to ask itself many of the same questions webzine creators ask themselves. To what extent does this project require financial assistance in order for it to survive? Could the event become a successful non-profit? Would becoming an institution serve the non-commercial and independent principles we're attempting to communicate? Are we compromising our message by accepting corporate sponsorships? The event has taught me that having a financially sustainable creative project that is our own is better than: a) not having a project at all and b) working for a corporation. One of our main messages was to encourage people to stop consuming corporate media and begin creating their own. The do-it-yourself (DIY) spirits is one of the strongest motivations for creating a webzine and, in turn our event.

The ambiguous connection between our radical rhetoric and our commercial patronage would perhaps confuse diehard punks who might believe that we, the volunteer organizers, are merely an extension of 'the man.' I completely disagree. The biggest effects of corporate sponsorship on an event are in the programming, the product demos, and the prolific marketing materials (not to mention the heinous complimentary tote bags), none of which have been seen at our event. The WEBZINE organizers have retained full control over the event and have turned down lucrative sponsorships from companies who did not understand or respect that responsibility.

Sponsors of the event were individuals who understood webzines and webzine culture. They knew that webzines are usually made on company time because they were the types of people who had done something cool on company time before. Dropping a few dollars into the WEBZINE hat was their way of supporting an event they felt was serving a community they cared about.

We approached small web studios and other small companies with no direct marketing objective for donations of $400 or less, in order to stay off the tax radar. The donations were essentially grants to put on an event with no expected returns. We usually thanked the sponsor from the stage, in our program, and on our website.

We raised nearly $8,500 in 2000 and spent the money on projectors, food, T-shirts for volunteers, renting the venue, creating a documentary, and a number of supplies. Every single penny we accepted from sponsors went back into the event. Organizers and volunteers also make large personal sacrifices of money, time, and resources to pull off the event.

Our event would have happened had we brought in $50,000 or fifty cents. Our mission was to provide a space for people to come together to discuss independent online media. I believed then (as I do now) that as long as we ultimately had control over our project (in our case, the event), then we were upholding DIY ideals, even in the most punk sense of the term.

Evolution of the event

The WEBZINE event is one of the few success stories of the internet boom because of its lack of institutional overhead. The event started as a whimsical pitch and transformed over four years into an annual not-for-profit bi-coastal gathering. Although the event evolved in subtle ways over the years, it remained an exhibition, forum, and party.

WEBZINE 98, for example, was rife with organizational inexperience. Every element was generated at the last minute by the seat of our collective pants, which gave the event an exciting immediateness. Speakers stood alone or with an interviewer at the microphone in a smallish gallery space starting around 8pm and going until midnight. Once the speakers wrapped, the event quickly turned into a ravenous drinking party. The fact that we pulled off WEBZINE 98 at all amazed us. We were very proud of ourselves and felt like we had proved the validity of our idea. We knew that future events could be better. We spent the next few months reviewing what we had accomplished and how we could improve it.

WEBZINE 99 was to WEBZINE 98 what a feature film is to a movie trailer. Scott Beale of San Francisco's Laughing Squid crowd applied his event-organizing experience and networking skills to the core team. Thirteen other part-time organizers joined Scott, Eddie, and myself under our open-source policy. We expanded our sponsorship approach to accept cash donations from web design studios and in-kind donations from service providers. We significantly changed the format of the event from an evening crowd of insiders at a party to an all day conference, with keynote speakers, panels, and workshops. We programmed panel discussions in hopes of elevating the level of discussion for zinesters unfamiliar with public speaking. We also encouraged multimedia artists to show off their works. We sent out dozens of press releases and created flyers, which garnered some early press attention.

WEBZINE 2000 was the most polished and well organized of the four, produced by a seasoned set of twelve core members in three months. I volunteered full time on the event for more than two months and was intimately close with nearly every aspect. The panels were carefully planned to create a constructive, open dialogue between the speakers and the audience. We introduced an open microphone, hosted by our friend and emcee, Justin Hall. As we recruited speakers for the event, we noticed that many of the zinester speakers we programmed for 98 were no longer involved with their webzines. We realized that our event is not only about webzines but also about encouraging people to experience the process of free speech. We featured more individual speakers who took a closer look at independent media theory.

The West Coast organizers were thrilled and flattered to hear that interested zinesters on the East Coast wanted to host and organize WEBZINE 2001. The New York core was made up of six dedicated zinesters, several of whom were former top employees of the Bla Bla Network, a webzine portal start-up. After several unsuccessful attempts to acquire,, and (bids opened at $5000), we finally registered to create a permanent home for all things WEBZINE. I first met with the East Coast core to discuss a New York event using an online instant messaging tool two months before the event. The event was low key and predominantly attended by diehard webzine fans. WEBZINE felt right at home in the low-slung ceilings of CBGB's basement, just beneath the stage of rock and roll bands such as Television, Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, and the Ramones.

The event hibernated for the next four years while the internet industry recuperated from the 2001 bust. In early 2005, the Webzine events-of-old started coming up in conversations by enthusiastic next-generation creators of tools who were looking for a Webzine-like forum to demo their stuff and talk about the future of independent online publishing. Scott Beale, Eddie Codel, and I crashed BarCamp (the indie response to O'Reilly's elite tools conference FooCamp[4]). Before the weekend was over, we had pulled together a new core group of organizers and even decided on a keynote speaker. This was Jacob Appelbaum, a media producer who had independently found his way to New Orleans while it was in lockdown stage immediately after the flooding from Hurricane Katrina and who worked with a group of people to establish a variety of communications from within the zone.[5] WEBZINE 2005 was held at the Swedish-American Hall in San Francisco on September 24-25, 2005, and was perhaps the most successful of WEBZINE events. A well-attended two-day event, it featured bloggers, vloggers, phloggers, and many of the latest software and service makers such as Wordpress, Odeo, SixApart, Technorati, and many others. WEBZINE 2005 was arguably the most well funded and well organized of the events. By looking at the amount of audience-created media (blog, audio, video, and photos), one could get a sense of how much the WEBZINE ideals had made its way into the fabric of the modern internet.

In the spring of 2006, Eddie and I discussed spearheading another webzine event later that year. But it never materialized, probably because we were both preoccupied with paying work that we loved. We discussed paying ourselves to spend the months on end of organizing a big event like webzine, but for some reason turning WEBZINE into a business just didn't seem right. I'm proud that through its five incarnations, WEBZINE remained a 100% volunteer organized event. Without a core group tirelessly devoting time, energy, and spirit there really is no way to pull it off. But I think WEBZINE is quietly and patiently waiting for the right cataclysm to bring the punked-out media makers together again.

Fifteen megs of fame

Andy Warhol once said everyone would experience fifteen minutes of world fame. I wonder if his statement holds true in the age of the internet. Fame is a product of the media, yet when we are the media, we control the means of determining fame. The typical webzine takes up about fifteen megs of space on a hard drive. It is possible that in the future everyone will experience world (wide web) fame for fifteen megs of self-published material on the internet.

Fame is the easy part, but celebrity is not the only reason zinesters publish. The act of placing words, sounds and images on a website is a form of historical documentation. Self-publishing is a way of proving that our ideas, dreams, and fantasies exist. Webzines reflect and confirm our identity. It follows that by not publishing our ideas, we lose our identity and must return to our seats in the audience. When we lose 'us,' we get 'them'—and 'they' are really boring and very controlling. 'They' are the powerful mass media companies like AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, General Electric, Viacom, News Corp, and Disney who tell the consumer public what to buy and how to think.

In the past decade, the internet has transformed from an open, non-commercial medium of free expression to a passive medium saturated with e-commerce, banner advertising, and walled gardens of corporate protection. We need to understand that the freedom to independently publish on the internet is a valuable exercise of free speech and an extension of our constitutional rights as citizens in a democracy.

The WEBZINE event believes society is strengthened by the wide circulation of diverse ideas. We have worked hard to bring deserved recognition to the contributions of independent media creators. Dozens of webzine makers shared their experiences and perspectives at our event. WEBZINE was designed to support a meaningful dialogue between creators, their audiences and the general public. As an organizer and participant of the WEBZINE events, I am proud of our message and our work. I hope we have inspired everyday people to get started on their fifteen megs.

[1] See also
[2] University of California
[3] CBGB is the name of a legendary music club.
[4] FooCamp is an invitation-only, unstructured hacker event hosted by O'Reilly Media.
[5] See