Networked_Performance

[-empyre-] Publishing In Convergence

Morgan Currie wrote:

“How can the book find an adequate outside with which to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce” – Deleuze and Guattari.

Despite the recent hype around ebooks, the future of publishing remains uncertain. The growth in markets for electronic distribution has resulted in a messy and highly competitive ecology of digital rights management systems, conflicting file formats and devices, and an online book market driven by new players such as Google and Apple. Meanwhile, pirate networks for ‘liberated knowledge’ have opened other avenues for delivering content (whether legal or not), while the open access movement has increasingly consolidated as a legitimate alternative to corporate publishers. These are the realities of media convergence as perpetual crisis, or at least an ongoing entanglement of interests, and a situation full of potential for the future of the book.

This month on -empyre-, we invite a general discussion on the topic of publishing in convergence. Against a background of economic transition, what possibilities currently exist for advancing and scaling new models for writing, collaborating, distributing, reading and interpreting knowledge? What potential affordances can be extended to style, format, design, and dynamic content? Are there novel architectures allowing collective authorship, including the mediation of presence? How could ‘networked book’ experiments shift from being a novelty toward an accepted genre of publication? Is it possible to overcome peer review? How can the production of theory, educational resources, art and literature evolve?

WEEK ONE: Distribution
Sean Dockray
Emmett Stinson

Emmett Stinson is a Lecturer in Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. He is the President of SPUNC – The Small Press Network and a Fiction Editor for Wet Ink: The Magazine of New Writing. He is also a panelist on the Department of Innovation’s federal Book Industry Study Group, established by Senator Kim Carr. His debut collection of short stories, Known Unknowns, has just been published by Affirm Press.

Sean Dockray is an artist in Los Angeles. He is a co-director of Telic Arts Exchange and has initiated a handful of collaborative projects including a school (The Public School), a theory text-sharing website (AAAARG.ORG), and an architecture radio show (Building Sound). He has contributed writing to X-TRA, Bidoun, Fillip, Volume, and Cabinet magazines, and his video and sculptural work have been exhibited at Gigantic Art Space, ESL, the Cheekwood Museum, the Turtle Bay Museum, and the Armory Center for the Arts. “The Public School (for Architecture)” in New York, a project in partnership with the architecture group, common room, was recently awarded a fellowship from the Van Alen Institute. With fellow collaborators in The Public School, Caleb Waldorf and Fiona Whitton, Sean is organizing a 13-day seminar at various sites throughout Berlin this July, called “There is nothing less passive than the act of fleeing,” which will discuss the promises, pitfalls, and possibilities for extra-institutionality. Sean studied architecture at Princeton University before receiving his Masters in Fine Arts from University of California Los Angeles.

Sean Dockray wrote:

Hi everyone,

Morgan asked me to introduce myself and my experience with AAAARG as a distribution platform and give an update on what’s happening now, so I’ll follow her questions more or less to the letter.

I think there is enough background about the project in these two links and I’ll try and avoid repeating it here.

* email interview with Julian Myers:
http://blog.sfmoma.org/2009/08/four-dialogues-2-on-aaaarg/
* chat interview with Morgan:
http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2010/01/05/small-is-beautiful-a-discussion-with-aaaarg-architect-sean-dockray/

There’s a lot that I’m interested in discussing, but from the perspective of “distribution” there are a couple of things that stand out at the moment:

Now that digital reading devices like the Kindle or iPad are becoming popular and widespread, PDFs (and other digital text formats of course!) seem like a viable market. Obviously manufacturers are competing for students and trying to partner with academic publishers. The person who wrote the cease and desist letter from Macmillan (iPad partner?) describes himself as an expert from the music industry. AAAARG has been around for more than 5 years — there are a lot of places around that host or index the same material, not to mention the totally common practice of people sending each other PDFs — and it’s been in this last 12 months that all of the cease & desist letters have come in. What was once just a bad copy now becomes the product itself.

Another point in this constellation are non-profit services like JSTOR, which again makes partnerships with publishers and academic institutions. An individual is absolutely aware of being outside of the academy here – most material is not accessible at all and the material that is accessible costs a lot of money. And for those in institutions but outside of wealthier countries, it’s often a similar situation.

Within these kinds of shifts, who has the right to build a library? We’re technically and legally not allowed to share a PDF between Kindles (the way I might give you a book after I’ve finished reading it) so what does that mean for similar collective acts? I’m thinking about the history of the public library, of little traveling libraries, of how collections were acquired, donated, redistributed, etc. about how one book might be read by hundreds of eyes. Now, of course, every individual is responsible for purchasing their individual file and sharing is reframed as unethical, illegal, naive, etc.

Maybe that’s enough for now?

Oh, finally, for an update on what happened and what’s happening now: see the very end of the interview with Morgan above! Before this week is through there will be more news, but for now I’ll just say that some people will be unhappy and many more will be happy.

Sean

Renato Ferro wrote:

Morgan and Sean, I just read both links and am fascinated by your project. Can you explain both the AAAARG and The Public School? What’s the relationship between the two specifically. And the AAARG site is static right now? Renate

Sean Dockray wrote:

Briefly, we say that The Public School is a school with no curriculum. Which means that the curriculum comes out of the people participating in the school, in the life of the school. Because teachers, students, and administrators are constantly switching places, sometimes several times in a day, it’s not simply the class, but the whole curriculum, the entire “institution” that is part of the regular discussions. Lots of people make the project. The Public School works by asking people to propose classes that they wanted to take (or teach); and then others can begin saying their interested, having discussions, sharing resources, etc; and then the classes that seem the most vital or timely or provocative are scheduled. There is no disciplinary framework (the school is not accredited and it has nothing to do with the public school system in the US) which means the people involved often come from different places and can have significantly different investments in the subject matter. Unlike online learning which uses the internet to broadcast classes, to disperse the classroom, we’re more interested in using it as a way of getting people together, in trying to activate the radical potential of the classroom.

Although they are independent, AAAARG and The Public School do have a relationship that’s both conceptual and technical. Practically, classes at The Public School can use an “issue” from AAAARG as a syllabus. A few examples of this (accessible from the AAAARG tab right under the class title):

Kultural Kapital — http://la.thepublicschool.org/class/1326
UC Strikes and Beyond — http://la.thepublicschool.org/class/1856
Economies of Attention — http://la.thepublicschool.org/class/1445
Queer Technologies — http://la.thepublicschool.org/class/64
Performance/ Performativity/ Enactment — http://la.thepublicschool.org/class/1515

But this also means that as classes happen at The Public School, the people involved with that class will scan and upload readings to add to the syllabus. On the AAAARG side of things, if the issue is shared, then that means anyone can add a text into it (for example, I made the Kultural Kapital issue “shared” and then someone added Jason Read’s “Micro-Politics of Capital” text). It’s a double movement into and out of the discussion of the class.

The Public School is obviously localized (in several cities), relative to AAAARG. But hopefully the class wages themselves can be a resource to groups of people anywhere who want to do the same class. We don’t record classes or broadcast them or anything (partly because it is usually boring to watch, but mostly because it impedes the physical meeting as people futz with technology or hold their tongue) but we do try and circulate the class idea itself and perhaps some material and organizing discussion. I know that Kultural Kapital has happened, or is happening now, in at least 2 other places!

So to respond to your question a little more generally, Renate, AAAARG predates The Public School by a few years, but both are motivated by a certain tendency towards self-education and engaged autonomy (Charles Esche?). They are both collaborative to the point that the each has a life of its own.

Finally, I’ve been thinking more recently about “resources,” how we might produce them and how their existence might change things. So, by resources, I simply mean something that is shared and useful (shared with and useful to whom is an open question). Producing resources could just be an act of designation; or maybe it rearranges, removing from one sphere of life and inserting into another; or by creating new knowledge, or making restricted knowledge available. Put together, these actions generate common resources. Given some of what has been making the news over the past year (at California public higher education, Middlesex Philosophy Department, for-profit colleges absorbing federal aid, Puerto Rico, just to rattle off a scattered few) or the larger financial trends over the past few decades, it seems appropriate to think about – resources as a part of strategic withdrawl.

Sean

PS: for a couple more days.

Emmett Stinson wrote:

Hi Everyone:

Michael has asked me to introduce myself, and I thought I¹d talk a little about my own research in relation to the posts so far.

I think the question of what AAAARG is (raised by Renate) is an interesting one. Sean, obviously, sees AAAARG as an online library or archive, one that offers freely accessible digital copies of books that, by and large, are related to the tradition of continental theory and related disciplines. Others (notably, it would seem, Pan Macmillan), however, would see AAAARG as simply a website for book pirates, which violates authorial copyright (and the copyright license owned by publishers).

I’ve just written an article offering a pragmatic analysis of so-called “book piracy” for Overland magazine, and I have mixed and contradictory feelings about the practise. On the one hand, I am emphatically against any attempts to criminalise or penalise activities relating to not-for-profit “book piracy” and am a staunch believer in copyright reform that enables a more free and open access to copyrighted material. But I also come from a publishing-industry perspective and strongly believe that both authors and their publishers (or other intermediaries) have a legitimate right to expect payment for their labour.

The argument that books and information should be (monetarily) free to everyone is absolutely compelling for academics; since most academics have salaried positions, they don’t need royalties from books to survive. But for other kinds of writers, the idea of free culture may simply result in more alienated labour (i.e. people who say things like “write advertising copy during the week, but I’m a novelist on weekends”).

Book piracy is clearly a huge problem for the industry (much bigger, I think, than most publishers realise), although I think publishers themselves can partially solve this ‘problem’ simply by acknowledging that ebooks require a different form than print books. This goes beyond ebooks that include “value adds” (i.e. audiovisual content); publishers need to radically rethink the form of ebooks by creating books that can be customised by users and include user feedback/interaction in order to make the book a dynamic process rather than a static artefact. An artifact can be pirated, but an evolving process can’t.

On a final note, last week I spoke with two librarians in charge of major Australian research libraries; interestingly, they were both strong advocates of significant copyright reform, and very much believe in something like the creative commons mode of copyright. Ironically, they argued that electronic providers of copyrighted content are currently the biggest barrier to a more free and open information exchange. Most Australian research libraries spend far more money on electronic resources than they do on print, and very few digital providers offer reasonable single-use or single-user fees. So digital publishers, themselves, are not in anyway inherently more open or free.

Emmett Stinson

Michael Dieter wrote:

Hi Sean, Emmett and the empyre list,

I’m one of the curators of the topic for this month, along with Morgan Currie and John Haltiwanger. Thought it’s a good time to introduce myself through some reflections on this topic of distribution.

To pick up a number of issues flagged by Emmett around sustainability, I’m interested in asking Sean whether he can speak more about if there are plans to perpetuate the ethos of the AAAARG.org experiment now that the site appears to be stalled? And on this point, I’m wondering more specifically whether AAAARG.org has a politics, and how might that be defined. I understand that providing access to resources and extra-institutional education are aims, but what underpins this desire, is it an idea of radical democracy? A liberalism? An anti-capitalism?

Of course, I’ve noticed that the way you speak about the project during interviews does imply a certain kind of politics of networking. Partly something out of your hands, not exactly based on critique, but about connective or reticular alternatives (“Rather than thinking of it like a new building … imagine scaffolding that attaches onto existing buildings and creates new architectures between them.”).

The relation between filesharing and intellectual property is itself a complex situation, however. I’m wondering about the point of indistinction with this logic of networking at the center of AAAARG.org as an exchange economy. I’m thinking of Matteo Pasquinelli’s recent work here, who has suggestively drawn attention to the parasitic dimensions of contemporary informational economies – utilizing the philosophy of Michel Serres – partly as a critique of free culture ideologies. A difficult point for radical thinking to grasp, he claims, “is that all the immaterial (and gift) economy has a material, parallel and dirty counterpart where the big money is exchanged. See MP3 and iPod, P2P and ADSL, free music and live concerts, Barcelona lifestyle and real estate speculation, art world and gentrification, global brands and sweatshops” (http://matteopasquinelli.com/docs/immaterialcivilwar.pdf). From this perspective, even liberated knowledge exchange-based sites like AAAARG.org (or blogs like Monoskop, not to mention massive e-book trading forums like Gigapedia) are not only targeted as threats to the rise of e-Reader markets, but also paradoxically prepare the way for devices like the iPad or Kindle in the first place. Liberated resources here return to commodification, not directly, but on the side.

Thinking about Emmett’s post, I agree we need to seriously re-think the general impulse towards free, but also question the economics of this situation politically. We should definitely support, celebrate and fight for open access to resources, but it seems like there’s no point being theoretically free, if there’s no possibility of sustaining that autonomy. I’m wondering Sean if you have any thoughts on this paradoxical situation?

Sean Dockray wrote:

If it helps, Emmett, I also have mixed and contradictory feelings about the practice.

I know I’ve been playing too much chess recently – I’m imagining how discussions over “book piracy” seem to open up along fairly common lines: e4 – why are there restrictions on the movement of texts when it is technically possible to overcome geographic, political, or economic limitations? c5 – authors and publishers have put in real labor and deserve monetary compensation in return.

The variations that might come out of this position? Attempts to prove that piracy actually helps book sales as opposed to reducing them. Arguments to settle for symbolic capital or other forms of valorization that can be “cashed in” elsewhere. Assurances that if piracy just went away the market would make sure that all those limitations were overcome. Proposals for micro-payments, creative commons, and other reforms. (This is obviously not the route chosen by Macmillan, who made news last year for “standing up to” Amazon over lower prices for digital books). Less common lines might be that piracy amounts to a strange form of unpaid marketing; that when it comes to art and theory, reading and writing doesn’t break down so cleanly along the lines of consumption and production, or leisure and labor.

Emmett’s argument about alienated labor resonates with me at this moment in particular because I have had to wait until finishing my full-time day job (which is the equivalent of writing ad copy) each day to participate in this week’s discussion! I’m assuming some in this discussion have a university job based in these issues, or are teaching a class on them, or are writing on the topics? Some are in the position to translate the knowledge or symbolic value from discussions on this list into real income. I’m conflicted when tenured faculty use AAAARG to make a reader for their classes, to save themselves time. I completely agree with the calls to think about the unaffiliated, selfishly I suppose, because that’s my camp!

[ One thing that I’m wondering is, should these discussions be based on the assumption that each download represents quantifiable lost income for publisher and author? Obviously this has legal precedent, where people end up “owing” a few million dollars because of the music they downloaded. But the zero-sum logic of it all frames the discussion in a certain way. The actual economics of publishing are a mystery to me and it isn’t public, so I’m left with speculation (watch out!) based on anecdotal data. I spend roughly the same amount on books and art as what I make on sales, fees, and rentals (OK, I’m flattering myself a little bit here). Is this common? Is it the same thousand dollars passing through all of our hands? ]

How might we pose our mixed feelings in a way that isn’t point- counterpoint, but something less identifiable; or even how do we try and imagine possibilities beyond the capitalist framework, something that’s not just turning the price dial down on a product until it hits the level where people start using their credit card again?

Jumping over to Michael Dieter’s post, which says that file-sharing, like gentrification, produces value that ends up in the pockets of those few who own the networks or buildings or whatever, I’d agree that Free Culture is not the road map or destination point or anything (and so I haven’t argued for that anywhere). Looking at the specificity of AAAARG, which is composed of people who are generally cognitive workers themselves, reading and referencing as a part of their practice, I see a space of confrontation over the very materials with which we produce; many of the authors on AAAARG are also registered and several of them have expressed extraordinarily nuanced, ambivalent, and internally conflicted positions: Paul Gilroy, Jason Read, and Stuart Elden for example, on the site or on other networks. Publishers (doing their job) surreptitiously register and send cease and desist letters about Marxist and anti-copyright texts. And of course the people who use the site think quite concretely about the nature of the site (what belongs?) and tactics for the project.

What I’m getting at is that it’s not my place to assign a politics to AAAARG, that comes out of its use and out of the responses or activity it provokes, its life as a public space. Nevertheless, I personally see it aligned with the occupation movement, as something which is actively trying to produce conditions for critical thought, which itself is being downsized and subject to inane requirements to justify itself through results. Although I will fully support reform demands that come up here (for wage increases, better health insurance, favorable copyright laws, etc.) I feel most invested and interested in autonomous spaces and forms (things like Virno’s “defection modifies the condition within which the struggle takes place, rather than presupposing those conditions to be an unalterable horizon” or Tiqqun’s “The Party is a collection of places, infrastructures, communised means; and the dreams, bodies, murmurs, thoughts, desires that circulate among those places, the *use* of those means, the sharing of those infrastructures.”)

Back to P2P (actually in an effort to break free of the IP discussion).. as Pasquinelli writes of the parasite on (between) P2P culture (the owners of the network who take money for that very “free” activity), we can always be looking at who is profiting from free labor and Free ideology that sustains it. My mind jumps to things like access to libraries (my UC Library card was taken away when I stopped teaching) or access to JSTOR (also removed at the same time) or conferences, festivals, and the like. Those knowledge networks that academics take for granted, but the boundaries of which are most apparent to the precarious laborers (grad students, lecturers, adjuncts who regularly cross in and out of the institution, gaining and losing “privileges” each time), rely on valorization as compensation for virtually free labor, while education remains a profitable industry for some.

Finally, on this idea of “sustainability” that has been brought up directly or indirectly in several posts… it seems like Michael is asking for a response about the act of writing in general: why invest our energies in autonomous projects if in the end, it isn’t sustainable (they won’t sustain the people who write with a living wage)? Of course, capitalism isn’t sustainable either, but I think his point is that AAAARG is more of a symptom of capitalism than a response to it. Maybe this comes down to whether you think the system generates the crisis within capitalism or if we do. Either way, I’m not going to make an argument for file-sharing paying writers enough to pay their landlord, their insurance company, their kid’s daycare, their student loans, their credit card, and so on! AAAARG is definitely not the solution to that. It is contingent, happening now, part of a movement, something that I wouldn’t want to collapse or simply be recuperated. A different kind of sustainability we might be talking about. A little later in the Tiqqun text the lived practice of communism is described as “the formation of sensibility as a force” and “the deployment of an archipelago of worlds.” This compared to iTunes for books or Creative Commons… a different game entirely…

Hi, Matthew Stadler here.

Thank you Morgan. Publication Studio is a for-profit business that uses what we call “non-exclusive rights.” We ask the authors for permission to publish our editions (printed, bound book and DRM-free ebook) and we encourage or enable, if we can, the authors to publish the same texts with others. Where authors we admire are caught in an exclusive rights contract with a publisher that will not circulate their work we offer to “bootleg” the book and produce our customary non-exclusive edition, alongside the legal one. We always begin a “bootleg” by explaining our service to the other publisher and asking how they would like to proceed. We pick these cases very carefully in the hopes that we can productively model the use of non-exclusive rights. We feel this rights arrangement offers the best future for publishers and for writers. So far (10 months) we have five books that help model bootlegging.

By printing and binding the books ourselves using cheap, reliable print-on-demand machinery (an old Instabook III), maintaining a digital commons with free off-the-shelf tools such as WordPress and a.nnotate, and organizing social events that are paid for by whomever attends — we either go super cheap and make up the costs by selling enough books; or, we work with talented cooks and musicians, so that our audience pays for those things and gets the books and authors in the mix — we’re able to make a profit producing books on-demand for an audience that can begin very small (one reader) and grow to whatever size it will.

Our guiding goal is to connect texts to readers meaningfully. We cultivate meaningful conversations around the work, and this grows an informed desire for the text itself. We have no interest and invest no resources in selling books to people who will not read them. This is a radical departure from the conventional approach to for-profit publishing. We focus only on cultivating the conversation around reading, which makes a market of readers and draws the books we sell into that market.

All of the material capacities of print-on-demand publishing together with digital distribution of (for us, PDF) texts have thrown us back on the primacy of social relationships. Publication is the creation of a public. Our only work is to attend to the relationships that create such a public. The economy and the material practice that supports writers will follow directly from proper attention to these relationships, one by one by one. We make money move through making these relationships rewarding and meaningful enough that people will pay for the texts. (We price our books at roughly 4x material production cost, which is roughly 2x labor and material cost, and split the profits 50/50 with the writer; most of our novels, for example, cost $20 of which the writers gets $5.) We pay writers more per-book than conventional publishers.

Regarding your initial questions, Morgan, we have also helped structure and publish several collaboratively written books. Two used an Etherpad (now PiratePad) writing environment to enable a geographically-dispersed but socially unified group to work together in real time on a book-length text. Both of these turned out to be funny, fun, but nearly unreadable and a huge pain-in-the-ass to deal with and edit (or not). A third, WHAT WE ARE LEARNING, was structured and enacted by three writers (Sam Lohmann, Colin Beattie, and Alyse Emdur) and is, I believe, enormously successful model for activating a social group as the authoring intelligence. Our “store” has more details, as well as our usual “free reading commons” copy of that book (which you can read and annotate, using the a.nnotate tool we’ve engaged). http://www.publicationstudio.biz/books/34


Jun 5, 12:30
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