In 2021, Email Newsletters Are The New Zines

Are email newsletters the torchbearers of the fun and informative publications we used to know as zines? If we review the history of this casual publishing format, the answer is definitely yes. While the popularity of online blogs has decreased because of social media, newsletters are enjoying a resurgence, and they are being compared to the adorable zines of the past.

With every passing decade, we are invariably reminded that the small publications we used to know as zines, and later e-zines, are now part of modern history. If you are old enough to remember science fiction fanzines, there is a good chance you lived through the golden age of zine publishing, which unfolded in the 1980s and continued through the early years of the 21st century. During this period, some zine editors used Kinko’s as their publishing headquarters while hackers took advantage of electronic bulletin board systems to create and distribute e-zines.

Digital zines thrived online until established magazines got into web publishing. A few e-zine publishers got into blogging, but this practice started fading around the time Facebook dethroned MySpace in the mid-2000s. We can safely say that social media is the main reason many bloggers ceased their active publishing, and this unfortunately happened just a few years after major newspapers such as The New York Times had jumped into the blogging revolution.

Blogs have been largely replaced by podcasts, which are wonderful, and by newsletters, which feel more like the rightful heirs of the zine movement. Newsletters have been around a lot longer than podcasts; their first incarnation was in the form of religious pamphlets that were passed around by hand, but their commercial origins date back to the days when postal services came of age. Email newsletters have been around as long as email has been, but they mostly served a corporate purpose in the beginning.

Modern newsletters cover just about any topic, and this is why they resemble zines the most. These publications are for individuals who prefer the written word, and who appreciate additional context such as embedded videos, audio snippets, and images. Newsletters do not actually compete with podcasts, but they share certain elements such as the intimate feeling that subscribers get when they receive a notification about new content being available.

With the advent of tablets and smartphones, newsletters bring a new dimension of engagement to readers. If you are an active stock investor who enjoys getting the latest market and IPO updates, for instance, you can subscribe to the newsletter by Pitchbook, a site known best for in-depth corporate overviews, like this example of a company profile. Pitchbook’s newsletter provides an excellent source of breaking financial news. 

An interesting aspect of modern email newsletters is that many of them are moving towards blended platforms where you can create, publish, and manage subscriptions. With platforms such as Medium and Substack, the publishing experience combines the feeling of blogs and zines, which is why we can say that digital newsletters are the 21st century versions of our beloved zines.