[-empyre-] Week Four - Design

Emmett Stinson stinsone at unimelb.edu.au
Wed Jun 23 14:00:08 EST 2010

I ultimately cannot see any way in which notions of open access would make
things better for literary authors in Australia, in particular. The current
situation for literary writers in Australia is certainly not good as it
stands: all but the very few superstars of Australian literature are either
a) dependent on grants for basic survival or b) need to have 'real' jobs
(and they often end up becoming underpaid administrators in arts management,
hand-to-mouth freelance writers hustling for every dollar, or else
overworked academics, left with little time to write). Given the small size
of the Australian market (20 million people), the relative unimportance of
literary publishing to the overall industry (which came in at only 10% of
overall publishing sales in the last survey by the Australian Bureau of
Statistics from 2003/4), and the well-documented decision by major
publishers to move away from literary publishing due to its
high-risk/low-reward nature (see Mark Davis, 'The Decline of the Literary
Paradigm in Australian Publishing' in David Carter and Anne Galligan (eds),
Making Books: Contemporary Australian Publishing (St Lucia: University of
Queensland Press, 2007), 116­131), my concern at the moment is simply how
best to foster Australian literary culture full stop, given these relatively
grim realities.

There is some good news: due to the paring back of literary lists at major
publishers, there has been a renaissance of small and independent Australian
publishing over the last 5-10 years. Smaller publishers tend to develop
their own underground networks, and, as a result tend to draw in a different
demographic (i.e. readers under 50) to events, helping to create a new
readership/public. They are also able to take the risk of publishing books
that have literary merit, but that aren't likely to become bestsellers. As a
result, small press books increasingly make up a large percentage of works
nominated for major Australian literary awards, and have a cultural impact
beyond their sales. No-one gets rich as a small publisher (indeed, you
wouldn't even bother unless you were passionate about literary publishing to
begin with), so small publishers tend to offer higher royalties to authors,
and treat them well. Most authors won't make a living this way, but, at the
very least, books tend to be published on their merit rather than their
sales potential, and authors are compensated for their work as fully as is
possible (keep in mind that margins in book publishing are slim compared to
other forms of media).

The worry, in all of this, however, is that literary publishing simply
becomes increasingly marginalised as a set of niche publishing practices. It
is precisely out of this concern that I, along with many other local
independent publishers, founded SPUNC--The Small Press Network
(www.spunc.com.au), an organisation that serves as an advocacy body seeking
practical benefits from collective organisation (eg. cheaper postal rates
for freight), offering training to members, representing their needs to
government funding bodies, and attempting to publicise the role of the small
press in shaping Australian culture.

I think the formation of networks like SPUNC and other types of collective
activity are essential to ensure that Australian publishing remains diverse
and democratic, rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few major
corporations, who also serve as de facto cultural gatekeepers. From my
perspective, notions of Open Access and also Free Culture have a role to
play in fostering this diversity (as does zine publishing and other forms of
micro- and self-publishing), but it cannot be the whole story here. In this
sense, I oppose the notion that 'free' is inherently good, and that
publishing for profit is inherently bad. I think OA is great for academic
publishing (as I've written in a recent article for Overland Magazine, which
offers my argument in detail here:
http://web.overland.org.au/previous-issues/feature-emmett-stinson/), but
this model won't work for other forms of publishing.

I also have one larger concern regarding digital publishing more generally:
independent publishers are successful in Australia because we have a large
and successful network of independent booksellers (independent booksellers
are around 20-25% of the market here, as opposed to 5-10% in the U.S. and
the U.K.). If online sales result in the death of bricks-and-mortar stores,
it could result in the destruction of the very sales networks that make
indie publishing viable.

On 23/06/10 2:57 AM, "christopher sullivan" <csulli at saic.edu> wrote:

> Hi Michael.
> The notion that the present "copyright economy" system is not working out well
> for writers, is true, but it is working out well for those that have an
> audience, and open access, where there is no exchange but "hype" is not an
> answer.
> Why should creative people not be paid for there work? we all want free health
> care, but the assumption is that the doctors get paid.
>      I feel that you are looking at how the system does not work for
> unpublished
> or vanity press authors. if they where producing a play, there would be no one
> in the house, and then they could complain that the current theater system is
> not working for them.
>      I still do not see an answer or even strategy coming out of this that
> pays writers for there work. and why is anonymity so important, that is an
> unnecessary appendix from political activism, in totalitarian countries or
> moments. it is just style for any other kind of work.
>      Let's see where the discussion goes next week. Chris.
> Quoting Michael Dieter <mdieter at unimelb.edu.au>:
>> Hey empyre,
>> I'd like to introduce our final guests for the topic of Publishing in
>> Convergence under the topic of design: Femke Snelting and Pierre
>> Huyghebaert from Open Source Publishing, and Mat-Wall Smith and Andrew
>> Murphie from Fibreculture.
>> However, just before doing so, I’d like to chime in with some thoughts on
>> OA, if only to emphasize that the critiques of free culture presented so
>> far have not by default been arguing in favor the existing regimes of
>> copyright and intellectual property. As Gary notes, it is widely
>> recognized that these systems are highly exploitative, exclusionary and
>> (moreover) completely inadequate for the age of networked media:
>>> Of course I’m aware that in-work academic labourers are paid by their
>>> institutions and many have a lot to benefit from making their research
>>> and publications available on a free and open basis. And, yes, ‘for
>>> other kinds of writers, the idea of free culture may simply result in
>>> more alienated labour’, as Emmett Stinson quite rightly points out.
>>> However, at the same time, and as others have suggested, the vast
>>> majority of (non-academic, non-affiliated) authors, artists and
>>> musicians actually benefit very little from the current copyright
>>> economy, too. A few top stars may earn a lot, but most people don’t. An
>>> Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society Study from 2007 suggested that
>>> the ‘typical earnings of a British professional writer aged 25-34 are
>>> only £5,000 per annum’. In his recent book, Nice Work If You Can Get It,
>>> Andrew Ross even goes so far as to argue that 'in the court of public
>>> opinion, corporate IP warriors can always win points by broadcasting the
>>> claim that they are defending the labor rights of vulnerable artists.
>>> Yet the historical record and the experience of working artists today
>>> confirm that the struggling proprietary author has always been more of a
>>> convenient fiction for publishers to exploit than a consistent
>>> beneficiary of copyright rewards. Culture-industry executives are able
>>> to masquerade as the last line of protection for artists, when in fact
>>> they are systematically stripping them of their copyrights.' If so, then
>>> it might not be just academic labourers who have things to gain from
>>> experimenting with different kinds of economies and ‘alternate
>>> modernities’.
>> With this concluding point, however, I also wonder what 'might be gained'
>> from those unsupported artists and authors openly contributing to free
>> culture. There is a strong argument to make that vying for 'exposure' or
>> 'hype' only further fuels a mode of communicative capitalism that
>> maintains the secondary parasited role of knowledge or creative labor in
>> deeply problematic ways (especially combined with the still dominant UGC
>> logic of 'social media' platforms). This is why, for me, it's not about
>> moving back to the existing IP regimes if you're critical of the
>> 'theoretically correct' support of free culture. Rather, it's simply
>> willing to ask how can art and cultural works might exist in network
>> societies outside of patronage, care-giving or charity, AND residual
>> systems of property.
>> This is, of course, why Creative Commons appears so problematic. Besides
>> issues of a paradoxical inverted ownership model and of structured versus
>> unstructured commons, without any material compensation for artists, such
>> initiatives are more invested in assisting the Law come to terms with
>> digital and networked technologies (copying-machines), than with
>> supporting cultural production per se (Lessig is very clear on this
>> point).
>> Just as a side-note, the Venture-Communism project interests me a lot in
>> this respect, since it's at least willing to experiment with figuring out
>> ways that artists can autonomously make a living under networked
>> conditions. Dmytri Kleiner’s overview: “Venture Communism is an
>> investment
>> model designed to be a form of revolutionary worker's struggle. The
>> Venture Commune is a type of voluntary worker's association, designed to
>> enclose the productivity of labour and enable the possibility of the
>> collective accumulation of Land and Capital, which, in the endgame, will
>> eventually allow the workers to buy the entire world from the
>> Capitalists.” http://www.telekommunisten.net/WhatIsVentureCommunism
>> OK, to move along now to the introductions, it’s my pleasure to invite
>> Femke and Pierre from Open Source Publishing, and Mat and Andrew from
>> Fibreculture to the list. Following the debates this week around OA, we'd
>> like to also draw attention to the complexities of informational design
>> underpinning experimentations with digital publishing. This has already
>> been gestured to in a post by Joost Kircz, since the rise of e-books
>> suggests a return to the weird kinds of media objects that characterized
>> the hypertext and multimedia CD-ROM era. More pragmatically, there’s new
>> questions of open fonts, the rapidly expanding field of informational
>> visualization and database management to consider, along with effective
>> architectures for collaboration (i.e. Liquid Books, the Institute for the
>> Future of the Book).
>> Again, a lot to talk about! By way of drawing the discussion to a close
>> over the next few days, however, there might be relevant links for all
>> contributors here: from the design of software-enabled technologies as
>> reading devices, neurological/affective intensities, to questions of
>> access, control and economics, I look forward to reading your posts!
>> Bios:
>> Pierre Huyghebaert <http://www.speculoos.com> Exploring several practices
>> around graphic design, he currently drives the studio Speculoos. He is
>> interested in using free software to re-learn to work in alternate ways
>> and collaboratively on cartography, type design, web interface, schematic
>> illustration, teaching and book design.
>> Andrew Murphie is associate professor at University of New South Wales in
>> the School of English, Media and Performing Arts. His research interests
>> include media philosophy and sociology; social impact of models and
>> practices of mind from cybernetics to neuroscience; electronic arts, music
>> and design; open access publishing and education; continental philosophy,
>> cultural theory; digital humanities. He has a special interest in
>> Guattari, Deleuze and Whitehead, and post-connectionist theories of
>> thinking processes. He is the founding editor of The Fibreculture Journal
>> (running since 2003, now published by the prestigious Open Humanities
>> Press), and a member of the editorial boards of Performance Paradigm,
>> Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, and Scan. He is
>> involved in research with the Senselab in Montréal, and with Kolding
>> Design School in Denmark, where he was a guest Professor in December,
>> 2009. He is currently a Chief Investigator (with Anna Munster) on an
>> Australian Research Council Discovery Project, 2007-2010: Dynamic Media:
>> Innovative Social and Artistic Developments in New Media in Australia,
>> Britain, Canada and Scandinavia since 1990.
>> Femke Snelting <http://snelting.domainepublic.net/> is an artist and
>> designer residing in Brussels, developing projects at the intersection of
>> design, feminism and free software. Together with Renee Turner and Riek
>> Sijbring, she forms De Geuzen <http://www.geuzen.org/> (a foundation for
>> multi-visual research). Femke is member of Constant
>> <http://www.constantvzw.org/> and participates in Samedies
>> <http://samedi.collectifs.net/>, femmes et logiciels libres. With Pierre
>> Huyghebaert and Harrisson, she initiated the design and research team Open
>> Source Publishing <http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/> (OSP).
>> Mat Wall-Smith is a media theorist and experimentalist with several years
>> experience in sound design and as a lecturer in media studies at
>> University of New South Wales, Sydney. He is currently writing a PhD about
>> ecologies of thought, affect and technology drawing on the philosophical
>> work of Brian Massumi and Bernard Stiegler. He is a member of the
>> Fibreculture Journal editorial committee.
>> Cheers,
>> -- 
>> Michael Dieter
>> School of Culture and Communication
>> University of Melbourne
> http://www.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/research-students/michael-diet
> er.html
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> Christopher Sullivan
> Dept. of Film/Video/New Media
> School of the Art Institute of Chicago
> 112 so michigan
> Chicago Ill 60603
> csulli at saic.edu
> 312-345-3802
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Emmett Stinson
Lecturer, Publishing and Communications
School of Culture and Communication
The University of Melbourne
Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3010
Ph: 613-8344-3017 

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