In the spring of 2001, Amy Schroeder was looking forward to the publication of Venus, her zine on women's music. Issue number nine would have 52 pages, a print run of 3,000, and the zine's first full-color cover. "I thought I had found the perfect printer because they were so cheap," says Schroeder. "Printing is the most expensive part." The job was supposed to be finished in two weeks, yet after two months it had failed to materialize. "They stopped taking my phone calls, and they wouldn't answer their doors. I threatened to sue them, not knowing that they were going bankrupt." The company's employees had walked off the job, leaving behind stacks of uncollated pages. Schroeder was in a bind; with subscribers waiting for a new issue and advertisers breathing down her neck, she went to the print shop on four consecutive evenings and assembled the zine herself.
That kind of tenacity has fueled the steady growth of Venus, whose 13th issue arrives in stores this week with a cover story on Sleater-Kinney. With a run of 8,000, the issue will be the first whose printing costs are all paid for by ad revenues. Schroeder has slated three issues for this year and four for 2003, and in 2004 she hopes to go bimonthly. The zine's coverage has broadened with each new issue--female filmmakers, activists, fashion designers, and visual artists have all become part of the mix. "The main mission of Venus is to create a space that shows women's work," says Schroeder, "especially independent music, which I don't think gets enough coverage."
Schroeder launched Venus as a 14-page photocopied and hand-stapled zine of personal musings during her freshman year at Michigan State University in 1994. The earliest issues of Venus reflect her collegiate experiences from a feminist perspective, and she published one installment for each of the five years she spent at MSU. Schroeder earned a major in women's studies and a minor in journalism, and publishing Venus has been an education in almost every aspect of magazine production: writing, editing, design, subscriptions, distribution, ad sales. By her junior year Schroeder had begun freelancing music articles for slick magazines like Soma and Surface and had decided to pursue a career in music journalism. After graduating in 1999 she moved to Brooklyn and worked as copy editor for Blaze, a hip-hop magazine, but less than five months later she returned to her hometown of Naperville, where her sister lived. Venus #6 had been in the works for a year, and it represented Schroeder's decision to focus on music by women and to take the zine to a semiprofessional level. "I knew I wanted to do Venus, and I think that's been one of my biggest struggles over the years, knowing that I wanted to make it my main thing," she says. "But in order to do that I've always had to have a day job."
A few months later, in early 2000, she took a job as managing editor of Soma in San Francisco and moved to affordable Vallejo, California, in the Bay Area. That job lasted only six months: disheartened by pressure from the marketing and advertising departments to tailor coverage to potential advertisers, Schroeder quit and spent the next six months as a copy editor and music writer for the Bay Guardian. The low pay and the two-hour commute from Vallejo to San Francisco began to take their toll, and she began hearing good things from her college friends who'd moved to Chicago. "They kept telling me how much cheaper the rent was and how much easier it was to live here."
Since moving back to the city Schroeder has assembled a committed group of
editors and contributors for the new Venus, all of whom work for free, and recently she left her job at U Wires, a college wire service, to devote all her time to the zine. Its design has grown increasingly stylish, and though it enthusiastically promotes music by women, it has no particular social or political agenda--one new section, called "Penus," even gives a page or two to male subjects. Despite Schroeder's unhappiness with the situation at Soma, she schedules most issues to coincide with album releases, and the music coverage skews toward indie rock and pop, with a touch of hip-hop. There's virtually no coverage of women in jazz, classical, folk, metal, experimental, or world music. Nor does the magazine give much column space to questioning the bias against women in music; Schroeder would rather use the column space to address the imbalance than to complain about it.
On Saturday, July 27, Venus will host a benefit and release party for the new issue at the Fireside Bowl, with tunes from Lady D of Superjane, a set by the Detroit band Saturday Looks Good to Me, and a rare Chicago performance by Ari Up, formerly of the Slits (see Spot Check). The gathering will give Schroeder and her staff, who are already at work on a new issue for December, a chance to celebrate the zine's growth. "What really keeps me going is daydreaming about having our own office and all working together," she says. But she's also concerned about Venus getting out of hand. "Once we get to 30,000 copies we need to start thinking about not getting bigger," she muses. "That's what I say now."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.