How to run a zine without dying: Part 5, shipping and fulfillment

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You’ve made it to the home stretch! It’s time to order your products, package them up, and send them to your eager customers. Here’s the final part of this blog series!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Part 1: Planning - Clarify your idea

  2. Part 2: Applications - Assemble your avengers

  3. Part 3: Production - Herd your cats

  4. Part 4: Preorders - Get that bread

  5. Part 5: Shipping and Fulfillment - Now make it


1. The expense chart

Welcome to your expense chart: both your best friend and your worst enemy. You’ll want to make this before anything else. Update this chart as you order everything, because it’s going to be how you calculate profits. It will also help you notice anything out of the ordinary.

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The Seasons Zine expense log is available to the public and can be viewed here, if you’re looking for an example.

 

2. Ordering from vendors

It’s now time to send your files to the vendors! Vendors all have different production timelines, so keep track of when packages are coming in. It’s also a good idea to post pictures of the products on social media as they arrive; that way, your customers know that the project is showing progress.

When ordering, make sure to order a few extras. Packages—especially international ones—may get lost in the mail and you may have to send or pack some replacements.

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3. Packing orders

The general process for packing orders is as follows:

  1. Assemble according zine bundle while quality-checking the items for defects. (Defects can usually be sold after shipping on a “leftovers sale” as Grade B items.)

  2. Place zine bundle into the mailer.

  3. Input package details, address, and customs form into a shipping service (Pirate Ship, ShipStation, Stamps).

  4. Double-check address with original order before purchasing label.

  5. Purchase label and print.

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Allot the required time for packing orders for your zine. Even if the process only takes you 5 minutes per package, 50 zine orders + 20 artists means that preparing everything will still take you nearly 6 hours. Packing orders takes time. Take care of your hands and neck, and don’t crunch everything at once.

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Items need to be carefully packaged to prevent severe damage. While you can’t control how the post office treats these babies, you can help protect them from most issues by using a bubble mailer. Extra fragile items like enamel pins may need supplementary bubble wrapping.

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Personally, I would also like to encourage you to get eco-friendly packaging items that prevent disposable plastic from bloating our landfills! Check out sites like EcoEnclose, Pure Labels, and Clear Bags for recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable options.

 

4. Shipping orders

Never shipped a package before? Terrified of the mysterious necromancy that goes on behind sending a box from one place to the next? I understand exactly where you’re coming from—up until two years ago, I had never sent a package my entire life.

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Here’s a general process of how shipping packages works:

  1. Weigh and measure your package. Domestically in the U.S, weight price jumps at 1 lb. Internationally, price jumps at 8 ounces. If you can, keep your package lighter than these amounts.

  2. Input the weight and measurements into shipping software. Pirate Ship is an amazing free tool, and ShipStation and Stamps are favored by companies and enterprises.

  3. For international packages, fill out a customs form. This sounds scary, but it’s just a list of the items inside the package, how much they weigh, and their declared value.

    1. You can choose to mark international packages as a “gift” or “merchandise.” Customers may request you to mark it as a gift or underdeclare the package value to avoid customs fees, but this can lead into legal troubles or the package being confiscated, seized, or impounded without notice if a customs officer examines it. I never recommend marking international packages as gifts unless they are genuinely gifts to your international friends.

    2. In general, marking international packages as gifts lessens the chance of customs fees, but is riskier and leads to more missing packages. Marking them as merchandise gives a higher chance of customs fees, but is more reliable.

  4. The shipping software calculates an amount, which you pay online via card. The software will calculate the amount you have to pay to purchase the shipping label. Most services take Paypal and credit card.

  5. The shipping software then provides a printable shipping label. Print the label out on your home printer or thermal printer, then attach to your package. You can either print the label on paper and attach it securely with packing tape, print the label on an adhesive sheet, or purchase shipping labels in bulk rolls (4” x 6” is standard size).

  6. Drop off your package at the post office. You can skip the line to the front desk. Most places have package drop off areas, or if your package is small enough, you can also slip it into a collection box since the postage is already paid.

You can also just take your package to your local post office and pay at the front desk where they calculate for you, but this can take some time if you have a big number of international orders.

 

5. Customer service

Now, it’s time to wait for the packages to arrive. Domestic customers will receive their packages within 1-2 weeks, while international customers will receive theirs within 1-2 months. Keep those extra copies on hand, because some hiccups might occur on the way!

What if someone attacks me? Most customers are very pleasant people, but if a particularly disgruntled one contacts you, just remember that they have probably been dealing with a frustrating process and don’t take it personally. They’re not angry at you so much as they’re angry at the situation. Be patient, say that you understand where they’re coming from, and work to resolve the problem.

What if I have to pay to send more stuff or ship more things? Package problems vary drastically case-by-case. Some cases may call for you to send another package free of charge. Others, you may charge only shipping. And still others, you may charge for a whole new package. Since zines are short run and managed by individuals, there isn’t much of a standard rule here.

 

6. Closing the zine

Once everyone has received their packages and it’s time to say goodbye, depending on the zine, you may have to do any or all of following:

  1. Distribute digital zines.

  2. Host a leftovers sale with any extra copies from the vendors.

  3. Calculate and disburse profit among the artists.

  4. Delete the zine Discord channel.

  5. Remove or transfer ownership of the social media accounts.

  6. Close or archive anything else you might have created during the process of this zine.

All in all, this step is just tying up any loose ends that might be hanging.

 

You did it!

Congratulations! You just successfully ran a zine! Whether you feel like it or not, it’s a big achievement. You’ve leveled up in leadership, administrative skills, and communication. Zines can be difficult, but they’re also extremely rewarding. Hopefully, you found something valuable in the process and enjoyed your experience.

Have any interesting or fun stories on a zine you modded for? Feel free to share them in the comments below!


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