To help prepare you for our Much Ado About Books Zine Events, we’re kicking off a series of short interviews with several of the participating writers and creators. Next up is Ian Koss, publisher of Ink 19. Enjoy!
My name is Ian Koss; I’m the publisher and co-founder (with Francis P. Dreyer III) of Ink 19. We started Ink Nineteen in early 1991 as a printed complement to a public-access cable video show, to be called “Room Nineteen.” (We spelled out the numeral in those heady pre-text-message, pre-URL days.) The show never quite coalesced, but we proceeded with plans for publication, and were in print through the end of 2000. Ink 19 continues to publish online, at www.ink19.com.
When and how did you first become involved with zines?
I was originally involved with the campus paper as an undergraduate; I was also involved with the radio station and was an avid music fan. My computer science degree gave me early access to the internet — these were the pre-WWW days, when the medium had email and newsgroups and not much else. Publishing Ink Nineteen was the solution to the equation of what to do with those interests.
At its height, Ink 19 was distributed throughout the state and the Southeast – what kind of work went into planning, producing and distributing an issue?
An unbelievable amount of work from a large group of selfless, dedicated and vastly underpaid people went into each issue. We did almost everything in-house — editorial, layout, production, distribution, ad sales, billing. It was a full-time job for a handful of people, and a week’s worth of 20-hour days to publish each issue.
Without corporate backing, we always had to come up with creative solutions to problems, since we couldn’t “wash them away with the money hose,” as we liked to say. To this day I have no idea how we were able to get it done, month after month.
Tell me your favorite Ink 19 behind-the-scenes story.
Shortly after we first started distributing in the Tampa area, I got a call from a well-established quasi-religious organization in that area, wanting to purchase a full-page ad at our standard rate. We’d sold very few full-page ads at that time, and all at a steep discount, so the money was tempting. But it felt wrong, so I told them I’d call them back. I thought about it for five minutes, then decided it was a can of worms we didn’t want to open. When I called back to tell them we were turning down their ad, they became furious, citing their freedom of speech and threatening legal action. I couldn’t decide whether to be amused or insulted.
Another time, legendary underground producer Kim Fowley called me on the phone out of the blue and spoke to me for about 30 minutes. I was completely zonked on cold medicine at the time, lacking the sense to beg off and call him back at a more lucid time. I don’t recall much of the conversation, other than his promising that he would overnight some sample recordings. He didn’t — I never heard from him again.
You made the decision to take Ink 19 online several years ago, what prompted that?
Ink 19 has always had a foot in the digital realm — even from before the first issue, which featured writing that was solicited and collected over the internet. Production was always dependent on some form of electronic communication, whether it was transmitting layout files over balky 2400 modems or emailing PDFs of proofs. Our editorial department was fully online, meaning all articles were collected, proofed and prepared over the internet, by 1998. We were able to do so much with so little mostly because we leveraged technology as much as we could, but by the end of 2000 it was clear that the spiraling cost of dealing with print, coupled with sagging ad sales as the first dot-com bust loomed and the music industry found itself unable to deal with digital distribution, doomed Ink 19 as a paper publication.
At the same time, everything Ink 19 needed to “publish” online was mostly in place (we’d been updating our website since 1997), and publication costs there were nearly nil — literally a thousandth the monthly cost of putting out a printed edition. The decision to publish online seemed somewhat obvious to me, as it meant getting rid of the aspects of the magazine that were the most expensive and least fun.
What current projects are you working on?
There are several projects within Ink 19 itself that I’m working on, there’s always room for improvement. I’m also involved with community radio again, with a weekly show showcasing the WTF-ness of the music I like. When time allows, I’ll play with some local buskers for spare change. In between all of that, I’ll work on folding little bits of paper and other distractions-from-distractions.