Re: [-empyre-] ~~NMR

 > I'm interested in hearing about the process Nick and Noah went through to
 > bring the book to press (and who else was involved in the process?).

I'm afraid the whole thing took about seven years. Generally, when I've been asked why I put that much work into The New Media Reader I've answered that I think the new media field must engage its history and politics. But it's probably also the sign of some sort of orneriness.

The project's first steps took place in 1995 and 96, when Adrianne Wortzel and I were teaching a "Writing and New Media" seminar in NYU's Graduate Film and Television program. Our students were for the most part brilliant - but they were working in a form that was very much about time-based structure and their prior knowledge of new media was mostly focused on the apolitical ecstatic present (Wired, the latest browser release, Voyager).

We started drawing up our list of things we'd like our students to read and work with - print texts and new media. Then we began thinking about how to get these things to them. Many of the texts were not only out of print (we'd expected a certain amount of that) but also absent from NYU's library - we couldn't even make them available to read on reserve. So we had to do what I later found out most new media folks I respected were doing - give students stacks of photocopies. As for digital work, even more ephemeral than print, we had to go through our own private collections (doing in-class demos or putting copies up for students to download), and borrow things from friends, and convince friends to give demos of research systems, and dig up video of demos for no-longer working systems, and so on.

There was a clear need for a resource, so when Suzanne Kemperman - who was starting to build a new media list for NYU Press - took me out to lunch in 1996 and asked what additional books I thought there should be in the new media field I described something like The New Media Reader. Something that left off where Wired and its ilk took up. I wrote a proposal, she sent it out, the reviews were positive, and in December 1996 Suzanne was at the MLA telling people of our plans. Several months later, we had a contract (though luckily I hadn't yet signed it) and I was working seriously on the project when Suzanne had to resign from NYU for health reasons. The press told me I was entitled to sign the contract, but the book would be on hold until they hired another new media editor, or I could walk away from the deal.

The project's advisory group had already been formed by this time, and given invaluable guidance. I'd also visited quite a few major research libraries and tracked down copies of hard to find texts that I wanted to evaluate. Michael Crumpton, the project's designer, had also done much planning with me. We imagined the NMR being read as much digitally (with search, annotation, and other tools for working with the full text) as it was in print.

Work continued on the project, and I approached a few presses without anyone being interested. It wasn't at all clear to the editors I spoke with that new media had a history or politics that anyone cared about - much less one that demanded a collection of carefully introduced original documents. Then, in 1999, I met two people who would define the project's future: Nick (of course) and Doug Sery.

Nick and I met in October at the Digital Arts and Culture conference at Georgia Tech. We realized we were both living in New York, and later Nick organized a group that met in the city to experience vintage new media works that he had managed to get running on legacy hardware or via emulation. I realized Nick would be the perfect partner for working on the NMR. Initially we planned to divide the work by media - with Nick in charge of the CD and me in charge of the book (both of us working with Michael). But as work progressed it became clear that we should both work on both.

I met Doug in November 1999 at the SuperComputing conference in Portland, Oregon. He was MIT Press's editor for new media, and he was the first publishing person I'd spoken with since Suzanne who had any interest in the idea of The New Media Reader. He'd asked for a proposal - which I worked on, and then Nick and I worked on, and then Stephanie Strickland helped us polish off - and again the reviews were positive, and we negotiated a contract, and this time it got signed and no one from the press resigned. In fact, Doug, assistant editor Katherine Innis, and managing editor Michael Sims put a huge amount of effort into the project over the following three years.

One of the biggest areas of effort for the folks at MITP was helping us with the permissions process - contacting the copyright holders for the texts and digital works that we wanted to include and figuring out what it would take for them to let us reproduce the work in question. And it was here that the project went through its last large transformation. The permissions process was much more difficult than even the experienced folks at MIT had expected. It took a year longer than planned. We had to eliminate some things that we wanted to include, and sometimes that the original authors wanted to include, when the copyright-holding companies wouldn't work with us. But the most frustrating element was that very few companies were willing to give us permission to reproduce texts electronically (on the NMR CD). The media companies' paranoia about electronic dissemination had already taken hold - and their dreams of a goldmine in ebooks were not yet shattered. So our goal of creating an electronic reading experience for the texts, and even the modest goal of letting people search the book's contents, had to be put aside. The CD and book contents became entirely separate, and we put a few of the chapters for which we had electronic permission up on the web to enrich the collection of freely available new media material there.

Jim, I realize you had a few other questions, but this has probably already become more long-winded than it should be. So I'll bring this email to a close and try to write on the other questions - and hopefully also answer Christina's email - later tonight or tomorrow.


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