[-empyre-] re.press

Paul Ashton paul at re-press.org
Wed Jun 16 08:36:44 EST 2010


I am one of the contributors of this week so, like the previous
contributors, I will give a bit of an overview of my work here and I
will try an contextualize it ‘politically’ in line with some of the
discussion so far.

I am involved in three projects--in addition to being a lecturer in a
publishing department at NMIT and writing a PhD on Hegel--that may be
of interest:
- I am a co-director or re.press
- I am a co-founder of OHP
- and I also found and co-edit Cosmos and History: The Journal of
natural and social philosophy

David, Gary and Sigi will talk about OHP so I will manly focus on
re.press. Any-way … re.press is a publisher of open-access philosophy
and philosophically oriented literature. I will really focus on the
philosophy we publish because the lit is a bit harder to make sense of
and not really our core publishing function (in that it need not be
OA). While some of the people involved in re.press have a background
in publishing and design, re.press is really a group of theorists or
people involved in ‘the field’ of philosophy. Everyone involved is a
reads, studies, or lecturers in philosophically oriented thinking and
we consider the work we do to be a product of the field. A kind of
producer publishing.

Currently we produce between 5-10 books a year (which is about 50%
more than we can handle). These books come out as POD versions via
lightning source and locally sourced POD producers and as PDFs—both of
which are OA. The books use a by-nc-nd cc license by default but some
authors have asked for other licenses and this is fine by us (i.e.
Jottkant’s First Love is on by-nc-sa). However, the key thing is that
the book must be available for free. This license may seem a little
bit restrictive to some but it was just used rather intuitively. There
were very few (if any?) publishers of OA monographs when we started to
compare with, and this license seemed ok at the time. Perhaps more
thought needs to go in to it.  The main thing is that the books are
available for free and commercial interests have no right to profit
from these books in anyway. To be sure, the freeness of the books is
only marginally more important than corporate interests non-rights to
profit from the book, and this includes people distributing the book
from websites that have ads on them. That is, not being part of an
external capitalist system of exchange is an important part of the
project. A couple of ques-tions arise here: There question of google
books and the advertising on this site; the fact that universities are
essentially profit seeking commercial entities; and that the more
publishing that re.press does the more its members (at least some of
them) exit the academic philosophical world and become part of the
publishing world (an example here is Verso/New Left Books, clearly
this began as a radical publisher but now is a publisher of radical
books … if Verso were to begin today would OA not be the way to go?).

Why is important that commercial interests do not profit from
re.press’ OA attitude? re.press is a production of the field, it is
not a publishing house external to philosophy that provides services
in exchange for the right to profit from the books that the authors
supply. This is not simply because there is very limited, if any,
money in the exchange, rather, it is because publishing is part of the
presentation of thought and the manifestation of a culture (in this
case a specific part of the contemporary philosophical scene).
Publishing is part of our role as members of a philosophic community,
and because we produce material for that community it makes sense that
it is free. It really only makes sense to charge someone who is not a
contributor to the community, and given that reading philosophy makes
one part of the community, then …

It is true that some revenue is generated from the POD production,
however, this is really in part a product of the whole mechanism
distribution which is part of the large mechanism of capitalist
exchange that requires money to be spent (the physical copy) and
profits to be made (i.e. for suppliers to supply and sell books they
demand profit). We have set the prices of our books so that the most
costly method of supply breaks even (we are a completely unfunded
project) and be-cause there are numerous channels of supply that are
less costly some money is made, however, this really is channeled back
into books that loose money etc.

OK, there are two big problems…. 1) Many authors do not get the
project. They do not understand that publishing with re.press is a
partnership and that we are not service providers working for them,
rather we see ourselves as collaborators in the presentation of
philosophy itself; 2) The field, which has been completely drawn into
the academy, is all but morally and spiritually bankrupt and cannot
appropriately identify itself anymore. This makes it difficult because
we must constantly, even if not explicitly, address the question of
whether we are part of the field as it currently manifests itself, or
whether we are (re)creating the field as it truly ‘is’ (or should be).

I guess you could say our(my) politics are those of the politics of
autonomy and self-determination. Yes I do think that it is problematic
to publish a monograph on Marxism with a company that has a double
life as a gun runner …

However, it is actually quite difficult to say anything explicit off
the cuff about the philosophy of re.press that is concretely true, or
universally agreed upon by those involved. It was (and to some extent
still is) a rather spontaneous project that did not have a philosophy
developed before it was created. In this sense it is not a
theoretically motivated practice but rather a practice that one can
try and make sense of theoretically, or is a practice produced by a
group/community that has a ‘politics’ in need of explicit
theorization. I think! That is, if we are to think about re.press
theoretically the demand on us (or me in this instance) would be to
theorize this opening in publishing (and philosophical thinking as
well) that allows the production of something like re.press, or, for
that matter, any of the other projects that have been mentioned. Given
this, re.press, like many of the other projects it seems, finds itself
occupying contradictory positions, or at least positions that are not
consistently applied.

What is clear—again, I think—about the aforementioned ‘opening’ is
that we stand at the point of enormous change where anything can
happen even if the most likely outcome will probably just be ‘business
as usual’. Clearly the digital revolution and the era of digital
reproduction is a technological transformation far greater than any
other in human history. In this sense I agree with Emmett’s assertion
that the publishers have not really thought about how big a deal
piracy is for them, and I think that despite all the effort put into
drm, the ‘industry’ can’t quite come to terms with the implications of
 digital reproduction. To some ex-tent infinite reproducibility is
beyond capitalism because it explodes the means of (re)production—mere
existence is reproduction, simply viewing an object re-produces it! If
this is correct, and if we accept that capitalism is the way of being
of the owner of property, then the instantaneous recreation of
(pirated) private property must has significant repercussions for the
system itself.



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