[-empyre-] HYBRID BOOKWORK, Week Two - Paradoxical Publishing, Postmedia, Critical Aesthetics

Domenico Quaranta quaranta.domenico at gmail.com
Wed Feb 12 19:09:13 EST 2014

Dear empyreans,

I have been producing content for books, catalogues and magazines for a while, but if Michael kindly invited me in this discussion on empyre, it is because, at some point, I became an editor and publisher. In the following, I will try to explain shortly how it happened, because it can be useful to introduce you to the approach and structure of Link Editions (http://editions.linkartcenter.eu/).

In 2011, while working with some partners on setting up the Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age (the no-profit organization behind Link Editions), I started collecting ideas for a personal side project. I wanted to go through the texts I wrote for magazines, catalogues and blogs in previous years, select the ones that were still meaningful to me, edit them (most of them were badly translated in English by third parties), publish an anthology and remove everything from my website. I felt it was time to review this material, take it off from the fluidity of the internet, and make it more readable: a better formatting, a better design, a better indexing. Self-editing with a bit of make-up.

I didn't know how to do it, but I knew that I didn't want to submit it to a publishing house. At the time, I had just published a book in Italian, and even if it was a wonderful experience, I didn't see any advantage in following the same path again. Maybe if you are a better writer it goes differently, but with my 2010 book what happened was that (1) I gave all the rights on the book to the publisher (2) for almost no money and for (3) 30 free copies of my book. Since then, (4) I can't put the pdf online for free, (5) I have no control on distribution and (6) I can have a rough idea about how sales are going only through the (rather opaque) filter of the publisher. I can't even allow my students to make photocopies, even if I do it all the time. 

So, I started exploring print-on-demand platforms, and what I saw was very interesting. With, for example, Lulu.com 1) I could keep my rights on the book and choose the kind of license I wanted to apply to it; 2) I could potentially make money, or decide on my own - not because I was forced by a contract - that I didn't want to make money at all; 3) I could buy as many books I wanted at author's price; 4) I could circulate the book in digital form, even on the same platform, without any restriction; 5) I couldn't be in my neighborhood bookstore, but I could access some of the biggest bookstores in the world, and 6) I could keep track of sales and downloads. I could even send the download link to monoskop, and spread the digital file through my students. Of course, print-on-demand platforms have their faults too, but at least everything that made me upset in traditional publishing seemed to be healed there.

From here to Link Editions, the step was short. I talked about all this to my partners, and they agreed to set up a publishing initiative grounded in print-on-demand and free download. I published my book, In Your Computer, in May 2011. By September 2011, three other books were released: Random, by Valentina Tanni; In My Computer # 1, by Miltos Manetas; and the catalogue of the first exhibition produced by the Link Art Center, Collect the WWWorld. The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age. Feel free to download all of them. 

With these books, our three main book collections were born. "Clouds" is both an attempt to allow other writers the kind of freedom I experienced working outside of traditional publishing, and to bring to shelves some good theoretical writing that meets our interests as an institution. "In My Computer" is a kind of concept magazine, inviting artists to share meaningful content stored in their hard drive (or in the cloud) that for some reason never got released, and that can be meaningful in book form. "Catalogues" collects our monographs and exhibition catalogues. Recently Link Editions started being an interesting platform also for other organizations, and we are exploring different modes of co-publishing. These books are filed under "Open". 

Simply put, Link Editions is an attempt to conceal the advantages of self publishing with the ones of working with a publishing house. One of the faults of POD platforms is the lack of a context around the book you publish. Of course, you can use categories and tags in order to index your book and make it easy to retrieve. But how many people look for books this way? Landing on Lulu.com is like entering a giant bookstore, with thousands of bad books welcoming you at the entrance, and with an unreliable indexing system. You head to the art shelf and you see calendars; you look for the contemporary art shelf and you see self produced portfolios; you look closer for "new media art" books and you find ten bad ones - the best one is actually indexed under Essays > Photography, and, if you spend a whole day there, you may be able to find a great artist book under "Software and code".
Another problem, when you self-publish a book, is your lack of professionalism. You may be a good writer, but still need an editor and a proof reader for your contents, and a good designer for your book. With Link Editions, we tried to bypass these problems without rebuilding the barriers someone experiences when working with a traditional publisher. We offer to our authors our editing and design expertise; due to our weak economic model, we can't design all the books we publish, but we try to keep an high level of quality. We set a low income for Link Editions that basically pays back the expenses produced by the initiative, and we offer all books in free download; everything is done in a very transparent way, and authors are always free to request statistics on their sales / downloads, as well as to but their books at author's price through our account. It's basically like self publishing, but with a professional assistance, and delivering the book in a context that becomes more interesting and rewarding for us and for authors any time a new book is published. 

Sorry for the long presentation post, but I assumed that my role in this conversation was more that of presenting a concrete "case study", than that of addressing the interesting topics raised in the first part of this discussion. Hopefully I will be able to say something about them later on.

My warm regards, 


Domenico Quaranta

email: quaranta.domenico at gmail.com
skype: dom_40


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