Having been a lifelong book and magazine tsundokist (not an actual word), having co-edited a print magazine, and now writing Sentiers, I’m always paying attention to various publishing models and experiments. With Walden Pond popping up a few weeks back, then Robin Sloan launching his Sloanstarter, and finally following an exchange on Twitter about zines, I changed themes for this Dispatch and decided to share some of the publication formats and concepts that have drawn my attention over the last few years.
It’s a broader mix I've included here but one of the centers of gravity around which these publications orbit is where communication possibilities (the internet, really), the tools of the web and the tools of print touch and overlap. Feeling and understanding the “grain” of the web, publishing content on the web, has a metaphorical and actual connection with feeling and understanding the grain of print publishing. You’d be surprised how many indy print magazine publishers were once or even still are web designers and developers, there’s a certain and recurring need for various people to bring their online content and skills to a printed artefact. In the opposite direction, there’s a curiosity and thirst by many print curators and artisans to leverage the toolsets of the internet.
Remote communication and collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, Dropbox, and Google Docs are now also both pretty much indispensable for all publishing processes, and were enablers for many indy publishing projects, the “shop” where you prepare your publication is now often a bunch of files and email, until you print your proofs and look at paper samples.
To use a term more often seen in interaction design; web and print people are keen to explore and better understand the affordances and limitations of both mediums, and how they might be remixed. I’m always drawn to intersections and hybridity, this one is a definite favourite and worth exploring.
There’s an at least decade long discussion on how practitioners can approach technology, the internet, and then the web specifically as a material. Here are a couple of quotes to give you an idea of this view, to provide some context on how I’m approaching this selection and why some specifics grab my attention.
To make art with technology, one does not use it as a tool; one must understand it as a material. Technology is not always a tool, an engineering substrate; it can be something to mould, to shape, to sculpt with.
Materials have desires, affordances, and textures; they have grains. We can work with that grain, understanding what the material wishes to be, wishes to do – or we can deliberately choose to work against it. We must understand that grain and make a deliberate choice.
—Tom Armitage, Technology As A Material
For centuries we’ve worked with wood, metal, glass, ceramic, paper, textiles. More recently, new materials have emerged; plastics, fiberglass, silicon, and more. We understand their limitations, their affordances. We can fold, heat, manipulate and warp some of these materials. But the Internet and the Web are still very new to us. We don’t fully understand them as a material.
What does this mean for the Web? What are the properties of the Web as a Material?
We have lost the apprentice / master relationship in the digital world. Spending years getting our hands dirty with an expert, learning slowly and really understanding the material rather than the framework. We need to be asking ourselves what sacrifices should we be making for the convenience of our customers rather than shortcuts for ourselves.
Sidenote → This is adjacent to the idea of the “post-digital.” If it’s not something you are familiar with, I wrote a piece on the topic in 2012 (!!), Edge of Eversion which can point you in a few directions to explore the topic.
Lets start with some of my favourite hybrids showing the craft of making publications while understanding the “material” they are working with.
- Robin Sloan is an author and has “produced an assortment of short stories and odd-shaped internet projects.” His Sloanstarter, successfully crowdfunded just a few days ago, is a novella which was initially published daily in Bay Area newspapers, and then funded to be published digitally in EPUB, Kindle, and PDF formats for funders, and as a web edition opened for all. Sloan also made the web edition’s code available on Github. The original serialization, sharing the code, and making it free to all makes it a unique combination.
- Another frequent Sentiers mention, Craig Mod, who’s done a number of print projects where he created or co-created beautiful artefacts, also released Ise-ji: Walk With Me, a “digital book” (it even has an ISBN number!). He published it as a long one-page website with lots of details about the walk, presented with his own design and code, and of course lots and lots of pictures. It was “produced by the generous support of Explorers Club members.” The subscribers to his ongoing writing and projects made it possible for him to spend the time to create this, it was not specifically financed or sold, but it’s part of the work they support.
- Cita Press is “a library and press highlighting, publishing and promoting feminist works. [They] pair contemporary authors and designers with open-access texts, and make carefully designed books available for free!” All work is released under the Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International” licence, and they use open-sourced code for the web editions.
- Parametric Press “is an experiment, a born-digital magazine dedicated to showcasing the expository power that’s possible when the audio, visual, and interactive capabilities of dynamic media are effectively combined.” Previously in the weekly I wrote that “these people are just mad in the length, thoroughness, and technical chops they display in their loooong reads with embedded technical demonstrations.” (There was a call for proposals for issue 2 but at this moment there is only one live issue.)
Bruce Sterling once said that “conferences are the new magazines.” For a while lots of events produced one-off magazines, now these things are even more mixed together.
- It’s not the first time I mention Generation C, I love the model of a “Hybrid Symposium Publication.” Great essays released on an event-like schedule, a live talk/discussion every day, and an upcoming publication.
- The Plurality University Network are getting their community together with U+ZINE Springboard for Ideas, “[a] cycle of short thematic explorations for alternative futures and change, through the lens of arts and fiction. Each month, one theme, one call for contributions, one online meeting and one publication. Open to all!”
- NXS WORLD is a collaborative research project that “unfolds as a biannual publication which functions in sync with cross-media platforms and happenings such as immersive exhibitions, performances, lectures and experimental educational content creation formats.“ Very distinctive covers, and a narrow vertical format that’s being used a few places now.
Zines are used quite often as quickly executed artefacts of a project, and for writing or design experiments. They also have a long history as a creative output and a magnet for communities.
“Zines [we]re where you found out about stuff before any of your friends. New bands, new ideas, new movies. And not the stuff that everyone else liked, but the weird stuff. The dangerous stuff. Zines were, and amazingly continue to be, markers of fringe communities. They’re the social networks those communities use to communicate with each other.“
- The guys at the Near Future Laboratory made COVID ZINE: Pandemic Special, which presents “real observations alongside provocative Design Fictions – truth alongside fabrication.”
- Austin Kleon has been making cute super small zines all throughout quarantine.
- Parker Higgins celebrated the return of public domain’s march forward with 1923: A Monthly Zine of Public Domain Treasures.
- Mike Monteiro’s book Ruined by Design is available in paperback and hardcover but he also took it upon himself to produce an econo zine version printed on “cheap-ass newsprint.”
- Johannes Klingebiel and others at Süddeutsche Zeitung wanted to forgo Powerpoint, “the language of the status quo,” to help them transport different ideas, so they made Research Zine: Luxury. He also produced Zine Emerging Practices FOJ which looks extremely pertinent to this Dispatch, sadly I don’t read German. Enjoy it if you can!
- Jay Springett produces podcast episodes in an hour, he’s making some of the transcripts into The Start Select Reset. “I’ve essentially been exposing my intellectual life to the internet weekly. Over time some themes have begun to appear. This zine series (to start) will collate some of the transcripts from episodes with a similar theme.“
If you go to the more structured or recurring model, there are a number of great book publishers and independent magazines out there.
I’ll only give a few examples, for more on magazines in general, have a look at the grand daddy magCulture, Stack independent magazine subscription which shows off some great mags, or Monocle’s The Stack podcast. If you get the print bug or are just curious to learn more about the economics of publishing an actual magazine, the always pertinent Kai Brach made Indie Magonomics, which you can download free.
- Mouse Books is a super interesting combination. They “curate selections of literature, short stories, speeches, poetry, and more, all structured around themes that are topical, challenging, and varied.” They print them in a very small format akin to Field Notes notebooks, sell them in units, packs, and subscriptions as well as holding book club meetings for subscribers. Finally, they pre-sell collections on Kickstarter, which is a great way to finance the print runs and the growth of the company.
- I’m a long time fan of CLOG so you might have heard me mention them before but I really love the format, their selection of themes, and the way their submissions work, as well as the way they build each book, each contributor filling one spread.
- I’ve linked to Logic Magazine articles a bunch of times, but their whole collection and model is worth a look with the three times a year print and digital magazine, books, calls for pitches, donations, and subscriptions.
- Ignota Books is a bit weird and a small publisher at the “intersection of technology, myth-making and magic” which I’m intrigued by.
- Volume is a “new publishing platform for creators and lovers of books on visual culture,” and has a pretty unique model, they host campaigns to fund and produce high-quality illustrated books. A community of art book lovers who help bring in existence the books they are interested in. (Not indy though, “powered by Thames & Hudson.”)
- Radix Media, a worker-owned printer and publisher in Brooklyn, also have a small but surprising line-up of self-produced and printed books, including Futures: A Science Fiction Series Box Set which is a collection of chap books.
If you want to try your hand at printing something, you can start super simple with a bunch of webpage urls and get something done with print.are.na, you can get a little printed zine made up of your Pocket un-reads with Walden Pond, and there are various browser extensions available to create PDFs from a selection of webpages.
To go a couple of notches more serious, you can use Newspaper Club and get a nice newspaper or magazine-like custom job done, or get some notebook-sized booklets done with Scout Books (loads of beautiful examples on their blog).
These days I’m especially interested in the “born-digital” publications, so send your examples my way, and I hope you enjoyed this quick tour of multi-form publications!