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Farewell, Factsheet 5? 

Longtime publisher of the magazine of the zine world burns out; publication's future unclear

Wednesday, Oct 7 1998
After five years of producing Factsheet 5 magazine, Publisher R. Seth Friedman is surrendering his mantle. With him goes Christopher Becker, the current editor. Citing burnout, among other reasons "way too numerous to list," Friedman said goodbye to his readers in issue No. 64, which included an article that traced his history with the magazine, from reader to publisher, and finished with an admission that he feels worn out but happy with his experience.

Factsheet 5 is a magazine that reviews zines (that is, self-published, small-scale magazines), magazines, and recorded material, organizing the reviews into categories like Quirky, Sex, Film, Music, Punk, Grrrlz, Personal, and Queer. Items in each category are critiqued and contact information is listed, so readers can write and/or trade with the self-publishers. In this way, far-flung zinesters and musicians can get nationwide exposure that they might not be able to otherwise afford. Friedman assured readers that Factsheet 5 isn't folding. There are new publishers and editors in the process of taking over the magazine, he said, though he refused to comment as to their identity.

With the changing of the guard may come a changing of location for the San Francisco-based magazine. In e-mail, Friedman wrote that "most likely the magazine will move out of the Bay Area when the new publishers decide to take over."

Reaction among local zinesters has been mixed. Though many are anxious about F5's future, most believe the magazine will continue. If it does for some reason cease publication, it will be remembered for its success in expanding zines' sphere of influence. Matt Kelly, of the S.F.-based Cool Beans, says, "I consider Factsheet 5 to be the most important resource in the zine community. I think of them as being kind of like the Maximum RocknRoll of zines."

Factsheet 5 was started in 1982 by Mike Gunderloy, who was then living in Hyde Park, Mass. The first copy was mimeographed and sent only to friends of Gunderloy, and it consisted of eight reviews. Over the years, as the circle of readers expanded, F5 grew more and more polished, and the strain of putting together the ever-increasing reviews of submitted zines became enormous.

In 1991, Gunderloy resigned. Hudson Luce became publisher, but for only one issue. It was then that R. Seth Friedman moved in, refusing to let F5 disappear. The history of the beginning of Friedman's tenure can be found in Stephen Duncombe's Notes From Underground. "When [Friedman] took over, he inherited a full-blown project, with full-blown financial difficulties aggravated by its interim publisher. In order to stay afloat financially, Seth took some radical steps: canceling [Gunderloy's] policy of giving free subscriptions to prisoners, renegotiating previous subscription rates, and, most drastically, announcing he would no longer trade for other zines."

Friedman also announced that F5 would no longer be able to review all zines sent. The numbers were too great for one person to stay on top of. By the end of Friedman's run, F5 printed 16,000 copies of every issue, each with over 1,000 reviews. Friedman also gave the magazine a new, more sophisticated look, designed to make it more accessible to people outside the zine scene. Friedman included articles such as "What's a Zine?" to make F5 a stepping stone for beginners, as well as a resource for those already interested in self-publishing.

Eventually, F5 was picked up for distribution by national bookstores such as Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Tower Books, and B. Dalton, in part due to its new, glossy image, which made it look more like a professional magazine. There has been some dissent in the zine community over Friedman's changes. When zines began, very few people charged money for them. They were given away free or traded for other zines. Friedman's declaration that F5 was no longer involved in trading distanced the publication from zine tradition. Once F5's layout metamorphosed into a more user-friendly, cataloglike form and the magazine increased its distribution range, zine people began complaining. It was true enough that more people were getting into zines because of F5, but the newcomers were less likely to create a zine of their own or write a nice letter to the zine-makers.

Instead, zine creators reported an increased number of envelopes arriving that included money and a brief note saying, "Please send me a copy of your zine." The shift from community to commerce offended purists.

And then there was the question of the difficulty in keeping advertising separate from the reviews. The lines could be blurred, if the editors weren't careful. Lisa Miya-Jervis, of Bitch, says, "I thought the new practice of allowing reviewed zines to pay $50 for a cover shot to appear next to the review was sleazy. I know it's hard for zines to survive financially, and I also know that reviews were not for sale, but I thought it blurred the editorial/advertising line way too much."

"But Seth did a fine job," Miya-Jervis adds. "F5 is a great resource."
It is not known at this time how long it will take F5 to secure a new publisher, or when it will start coming out again regularly. The prevailing opinion seems to be that, with or without F5, the zine community will continue.

"There are other review zines such as Zine World and Amusing Yourself to Death, which, while they don't have the wide distribution and visibility of F5 ... do mean that there won't be a complete vacuum in the zine reviewing area," says Larry-bob, of Holy Titclamps.

If Factsheet 5 disappears, or if its newest incarnation is harder to come by, those most affected won't live in the Bay Area. Ray Earles, who lives in Evansville, Ind., and self-publishes The Stork, notes that zines are hard to get in the heartland. "But we have a Barnes and Noble here just like everywhere else," he says. "The problem is, that's the only place around here to get [F5]."

"It would be good if instead of just one F5, there were maybe 25 or 30 that got as much exposure," Earles adds.

About The Author

Michael Van Vleet


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