Julia Evans

I started a corporation!

After I released Bite Size Linux in May, something surprising happened – it sold WAY more copies than I expected! (as of today, 2600 copies!!!). If you bought one, thank you! It was super encouraging and makes me want to produce a lot more fun zine ideas :). And 1300 of you have already bought Bite Size Command Line, which is similarly astonishing.

The only downside of selling things is – making money is complicated! I need to track the income so I can pay income taxes, I need to pay sales tax on Canadian sales! Tracking expenses is really annoying!

So I decided to start a corporation (just on the side, I still work at the same place ❤) to manage the logistics. I’m pretty excited about this so I wanted to explain why.

What’s involved in starting a company?

I thought briefly about using Stripe Atlas (which is a cool way to easily start a US corporation) but I live in Canada so I decided to start a Canadian corporation. I hired a lawyer and an accountant to do all the paperwork. Now I have:

  • A numbered Canadian corporation!
  • GST and QST numbers for me use to to pay sales tax!
  • A corporate bank account and credit card!

Even though I hired a lawyer / accountant to help me out, it ended up taking 8 weeks from start to finish, mostly because I was travelling/busy.

It’s easier to pay people!

One of the most exciting things about having a company is that it’s easier to hire people to help me with my zines! And I can use the company’s money to expense ALL KINDS OF THINGS. For example:

  • I’m interested in doing collaborations with folks and paying them for their work. This makes that WAY easier – the fantastic Katie Sylor-Miller and I just announced a collaboration where we’re illustrating oh shit, git!
  • It simplifies hiring illustrators for my covers (and maybe I can get EVEN MORE things illustrated?!)
  • I can hire an accountant to help with my taxes
  • It makes it easier to maybe print & ship zines to people (because it simplifies things like potential kickstarter taxes), which folks have been asking me about FOREVER and I’d really like to do one day.
  • I can hire an IP lawyer to get advice about intellectual property / copyright if I need it!
  • I can more easily invest in equipment (like I’m thinking of buying a fancy colour laser printer or maybe even a machine to help me staple zines)

It’s easier to keep track of money!

Before, all my zine income was mixed in with my personal income. This was okay when there wasn’t that much of it, but now that there’s more it’s really exciting to have it in a separate place. And I’m SO EXCITED about being able to use a corporate credit card to buy company-things.

Adding a company rate for zines

One other sort-of related thing I’m excited about is – for my last 2 zines, I’ve added a “corporate rate” which gives you permission to use a zine at work for $100. So far 47 companies have bought it (thanks ❤), which is really amazing. And one company bought the $500 version which is for companies over 1000 employees!

It’s possible that I should increase those prices in the future, but it’s a start!

some questions about running a zine business

There are more aspects to selling zines that I’m interested in talking about in the future – reframing writing zines as a “small side business” instead of just a “fun thing” raises all kinds of interesting questions like:

  • will more or less people read my zines if I sell them than if they’re free?
  • does selling zines make it harder to make weird niche zines because there’s an incentive to make things that are more general-interest?
  • does having a side business make it easier to do high quality work?
  • do people value work more if it’s not free?
  • right now I’m selling zines for $10, but $10 is is a lot of money for many people (both in the US and outside the US). how do I keep them accessible?
  • are there better ways to sell zines to companies?
  • does giving away really good work for free normalize the idea that work “should” be given away for free? Does it undermine people who sell their work?

All of the existing zines that you can find at https://jvns.ca/zines will remain free, of course :). I’m not sure about newer zines. I’m doing some experiments! (Bite Size Linux and Bite Size Command Line are both not-free) More on those questions in the future as I learn about them :)

A few recent podcasts How to teach yourself hard things