The conventional notion of the book, based on centuries of print, is rapidly growing outdated. The book is coming unbound in a double sense: both freed from the bindings of the printed volume, and from the limitations of conventional text. The entire concept of 'bookness' needs reinvention. Critical cultural forces must step in to develop new models for reading, publishing, and learning. The Unbound Book Conference invites its speakers and audience to take part in defining this transformative landscape.


Report from Linz: Eurozine Conference

Posted: June 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm  |  By: Morgan Currie  | 

Eurozine is a Vienna-based non-profit network of over 75 journals and small publications throughout Europe. It aggregates and often translates content from its partner publications for eurozine.com.

Its annual conference this year brought people together to ruminate on the theme ‘Changing Media – Media in Change’. And while ‘change’ is a perpetual condition of the field, organizers wanted answers to the pressing economic and political challenges specific to digital media.

I kept notes on the panels devoted to journalism and copyright. The questions weren’t entirely novel, but the conversation represented some of the dominant currents in these debates.

Panel on Future of Journalism

‘Truth has become an amateur project.’ – Geert Lovink

Jacques Verges, the panel’s chair, introduced his session with this quote from Lovink in order to ask the panelists what to make of so-called amateurs churning out content, often without consideration for the ethics of reporting specific to traditional journalism. Has the internet really turned traditional media into yesterday’s news? And is news really democratizing into a collaborative affair among non-experts?

Not so much, said panelist and media scientist Tamara Witschge. Journalists continue their specific role through processing events and by informed commentary. The important difference is that they’re more often seeking sources from the rest of us.

Which means that for any debate about the future of publishing, this ‘amateur project’ goes in two directions: you could also claim that a process of amateurization is taking place in the newsroom as traditional reporters take tips from civilians. More and more often we find that sources are unnamed and unaccounted for and that ‘desktop journalism’ replaces aggressive on-the-ground fact checking. This potentially leads to homogeneity and news cycling, with stories and press releases moving from blogosphere to newsites and back.

Not all is bleak. New models of news production are taking off, like Pro Publica, a digital-based news organization that makes most of its money from foundations and donors and that aims for high standards amidst a general decline of investigative reporting. Their website puts the problem in economic terms: ‘Time and budget constraints are curbing the ability of journalists not specifically designated “investigative” to do this kind of reporting in addition to their regular beats. This is therefore a moment when new models are necessary to carry forward some of the great work of journalism in the public interest that is such an integral part of self-government, and thus an important bulwark of our democracy.’

If investigative reporting is no longer a product of traditional news agencies, then maybe competently run non-profits like Pro Publica (which was founded by Paul Steiger, founder of the Wall Street Journal, and won a Pulitzer Prize this year for its reports on Wall Street) will fill the gap.

Also couldn’t audience participation be considered good reason to promote a new kind of ethical imperative for ‘digital citizens’ in need of a general level of literacy as producers/publishers? The discussion made me think again that general grade-school education reform is one way to address this issue of accountability to facts.

And just as readers must learn ethical standards and literacies, so reporters must work with new practices, including crowd sourcing and on-line investigation, and to develop rigorous methods of research native to digital media. (Research in this area is being done, for instance, by Richard Rogers’ Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam.)

Finally, there are interesting examples of collaboration between readers and reporters and editors that still upholds their distinctive roles. The panel’s second speaker, Krystian Woznicki of the The Berliner Gazette, showed how the Gazette used ‘radical transparency’ by allowing reader comments to filter back into a story, making its development – both corrections and additions – transparent and wiki-like.

What if machines themselves also take part in the filtering? An audience member asked a provocative question: can a software platform reflect the stability or confirmation of accepted verses disputed facts?

With this, we get back to the heart of things, the representation of the truth. But is it truth vs fiction we need, or, in the age of massive leaks, the ability to know what to do once a glut of truths are outed? It certainly seems that journalists and editors of any esteemed platform now must take on the role of synthesizer and filterer, as much as that of fact-gathering muckracker.

Knut Olav Åmås, culture editor of Norwegian daily Aftenposten, was the last speaker. He championed the traditional sector as the central font of ideas and looked-to content. And he points out that we shouldn’t be so scared. He showed us sales figures of a healthy journalism sector, for Scandinavians at least.

Panel on ‘Open or Closed’

Pirjo Hiidenmaa, President of the European Writers’ Council, asked the audience: what exactly are we so afraid of losing? We have more platforms than ever to read on, and no shortage of content. Perhaps we’re what we’re desperately trying to hold onto is the long format book along with its authors and publishers.

They seem to be threatened, she claimed, by the technological imperative: If piracy is so easy, it will eventually become legal. But how can authors live if they can’t sell their ideas, and, more to the point, how should you sell an idea today?

The go-to answer is still copyright. Put a monetary claim on a text (in the abstract) and then on any physical manifestation it takes. There are now several business models adapting copyright to various physical forms:
-Publish and sell a bounded print book
-Sell ebook files
-License a file (to libraries, schools, and ebook readers)
-Sell a collection to a database for search (mostly libraries and schools)
-Reissue an out of print work (this seems to be catching on for small and large presses)

She also mentioned that individuals could turn to licensing companies to manage collective copyright, often done in the music business and for dramatic works. This is evidently done for writers in Scandinavian countries.

Leonard Dobusch from the Free University of Berlin rebutted that the problem isn’t digital technology but rather finding remuneration for artists – and we should get over our habit of seeing copyright as the solution.

Campaigns depicting how new uses of technologies can starve artists and impoverish creative output go back to cassette tapes. Actually, he showed that there’s been an increase in cultural content between 2002 and 2007: 66% more books, 30% more films, 50% more music, so the technological imperative doesn’t seem to be cramping creative output.

According to a 2007 study (pdf) by Kretschmer and Hardwick on authors’ earnings from copyright and non-copyright sources, 40% of authors live on writing alone. It’s a monetary distribution problem among writers, says Dobusch and copyright generally means that a smaller number of writers takes the largest cuts. Further, most books don’t thrive on markets anyway, so copyright makes little sense for niche areas such as linguistic minorities or avant garde literature.

Felix Stalder, a lecturer in digital culture and network theory at the Zürich University of Arts, pointed out that copyright is doing more than just tipping the scales towards the few – it’s a serious societal tax. It makes it harder to access materials and so requires more human labor to find stuff; it implies licensing and lawyer fees, and it has led to the enclosure of three million orphan works that could be feeding into the public domain.

Says Stalder, the economic situation of cultural producers has historically often been poor, forcing artists to find ways to make a living on the side of their craft. But today it’s much worse, with money concentrated at big firms with massive back catalogs and that can afford attorneys to defend their trove – a concentration of cultural economy directly related to copyright. Copyright strengthens blockbuster culture, not the individual artist.

Even worse, mechanisms for enforcing copyright once only included law and the courts to lengthen contracts, but now monopolistic companies use digital surveillance to enforce copyright online.

Stalder called traditional publishing the last vestiges of Fordism, a collapsing frame. Today’s writers will employ new forms of cultural production such as remixing, and publishers will start to promote innovative work that doesn’t jive with copyright. So is it worth enforcing the law if costs of enforcing it are too high?

He looked at a few new approaches to sustainability without copyright:
-The cultural flatrate used by a collecting society. But what works should be included? Tweets, blogs? How do you measure what each artist receives? Will surveillance be a problem? How do you distribute money?
-Long tail aggregation that can create mechanisms to relegate income based on attention. But he pointed out this wouldn’t be suitable for minority or niche content. Examples include small-scale donation sites such as flattr.
-Project centered approaches including community financial investments for pre-production. Authors can sell things that can’t be copied, using an economy of affection by building a fan base or rematerialization (books as well-designed fetish objects).
-A final solution could be state or private funding.

A few questions lingered. Why would a publisher pay a writer any advances if there is no copyrighted ‘thing’ to sell in the end, since anyone else could theoretically make use of the text as well? If there is no distinctive product or service for a reader, how can artists, editors, and publishers make a living? How can we sell something that doesn’t require the creation of material difference?

Also, with the rise of free and open movements, open access, and open data, new predators come into the mix. Google, Facebook and telecoms are also campaigning against copyright, so will they be the new profiteers in a more open setting? If so, how can we move forward in a way that benefits cultural producers and not corporations who see flowing content as integral to their entire business model?

Side note: I spoke with a Finnish editor at the conference who told me about Finland’s model: if you write three books and the books sell decently, then the government pays you an indefinite salary to keep going. Reward for labor well done, plus a general acknowledgment for our need for storytellers. The Scandinavian bard system sounds too good to be true, but could we imagine paying the individual laborer, not their product?

Videos of the Unbound Book Conference

Posted: May 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm  |  By: Lily Antflick  |  Tags: , , , , , , ,

For those who couldn’t make it to the recent Unbound Book conference, all videos of the conference are now viewable on vimeo!

Videos are available for each of our five sessions which include:
1- What is a Book?
2- The Unbound Book
3- Ascent of E-Readers
4- Future Publishing Industries
5- Books by Design
6- Horizons of Education and Authoring

Below is Miha Kovac’s compelling talk during the “What is a Book?” session on May 20th.

For more videos please visit our vimeo page here.

IDPF 2011: the Digital Book

Posted: May 26, 2011 at 4:38 pm  |  By: Morgan Currie  |  Tags: ,

For all you e-book formatting geeks out there, a conference on digital books and formats just took place in New York this week. Mostly execs and developers with a smattering of professors giving talks about how our reading devices will shape up. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any documentation of what the speakers had to say.

From their site: IDPF Digital Book 2011 will be a one-and-a-half day educational conference that gives attendees the opportunity to network with global leaders in digital publishing business and technology. Learn about the latest trends in the digital publishing industry through expert panels and in-depth demonstrations and case studies. Included are workshops on the EPUB standard including the new EPUB 3 revision, eBook production, workflow, and best practices.

Saskia De Vries: Hybrid Publishing Model

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm  |  By: Lily Antflick  |  Tags: , , , , , ,

Saskia C.J. De Vries is managing director and senior editor of the Amsterdam University Press. In 2005, she started up Leiden University Press, a new [digital] imprint for dissemination of academic research materials at Leiden. Since 2008, AUP is coordinator of the EU funded project, Open Access Publishing in European Networks (www.oapen.org). She is a fellow of the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (Royal Dutch Society of Sciences), of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letteren (Society of Netherlandic Literature) and on the board of the National Museum of Natural History and EIFL.

Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg.

During the Digital Enclosures session, Saskia De Vries, a strong believer in the creative commons, offers us the Amsterdam University Press’ point of view. She ponders whether it is appropriate to divide the publishing world into three categories and concludes that the answer is yes, because of different markets, content and types of authors.

De Vries discusses how the funders of academic research allocate funds and thus define scholarly communication and publishing. She believes that in the Open Access Publishing model, ‘authors pay’ should still be implemented, specifically in the realms of the humanities and social sciences. The Amsterdam University Press publication model aims toward a hybrid model of publishing- combining Open Access, traditional print, ebooks or PoD.

De Vries condemns the recent trend of glamorizing the author in popular culture. She stresses the fact that authors should not behave like performers, but instead should remain outside of the public eye to do what they do best, write. She criticizes the celebritization of authors claiming that it produces “rubbish texts”.

She concludes by applauding the Internet for its democratizing abilities, for it allows different countries to advance and alter their status on the global playing field.

For more information, please visit http://www.aup.nl/do.php?a=show_visitor_home&l=2

The Rietveld videos for the Unbound Book

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm  |  By: Suzanne Schram  | 

Students of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie made video introductions for the sessions and workshops of the Unbound Book conference. The Graphic Design students developed the videos during the Interaction Design course by Luna Maurer and Roel Wouters.

The first video introduced the audience to the first workshop on Thursday: ‘Open Publishing Tools’. The video is called ‘Sharing is Caring’.

To see the rest of the videos, click below:

Read the rest of this entry »

Henry Warwick: Digital Enclosures

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm  |  By: Lily Antflick  |  Tags: , , , , ,

Henry Warwick is an artist, composer and scientist who received his BFA from Rutgers University in Visual Systems Studies, a major of his own invention. Henry received an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from Goddard College. He is assistant professor in Communication Theory and Digital Media at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Ontario.

Warwick discusses ‘atok’ or access to knowledge, which represents the public’s fundamental right to knowledge. He uses the example of AAAAARG which uploads texts in PDF form for people to download and allows for comment, discussion and community formation. This is an example of a platform which has the ability to disseminate information around the world, however, the content may be ephemeral. The main issue here is access to knowledge.

Henry Warwick explains how citizens are ultimately being charged enormous amounts of money for access to knowledge. He describes this disconnect in academic publishing.

He also notes that the web is no longer resilient, it used to be thought of as a tough structure that was impermeable, however in reality, it is very precarious. The recent events in Egypt and the shutting down of the web exemplify this. This is frightening because it represents an end to net neutrality, a construct which was believed to be a fundamental attribute of the internet. Other possible issues mentioned include: file formats and spotlight citations.

Warwick concludes that the hard drive has great advantages over the internet because he believes that it is more durable due to the fact that one cannot shut it down.

For more information, please visit http://www.henrywarwick.com/


Tallahassee discusses ‘The Future of the Book’

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 10:21 am  |  By: Suzanne Schram  |  Tags: ,

Florida State University and the Panhandle Library Access Network are organizing a two-day conference on 21 – 22 July also on ‘The Future of the Book’. The aim of the conference is “to explore the significance of emergent digital technologies on the dissemination and reading of text for research and pleasure.”

Bob Stein, founder of the Institute for the Future of the Book and the Voyager Company and one of our speakers this weekend, is one of the keynotes. Lynn Sutton, Ph.D. is Dean of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at the University Wake Forest, there to talk about libraries: ‘As Libraries Change: Keep Your Eyes on the Readers’. Another featured speaker is Elaine Treharne, a lecturer of Book History, bringing philosophy into the mix: ‘You Kant Touch This: the Immanent Book and the Digital Age’.

For more information: http://www.lib.fsu.edu/thefutureofthebook/

Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm: Can the Literary Publishing Industry Learn to Adapt?

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 10:06 am  |  By: Lily Antflick  |  Tags: , , ,

Christiaan A. Alberdingk Thijm is a partner at the boutique law firm SOLV. Based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the firm specializes in technology, media and communications law. Christiaan is considered a copyright law expert, especially where it concerns the application of copyright in a digital environment. He frequently advises about e-books and has had the opportunity to speak about the subject on numerous occasions. Besides his work as an attorney he teaches copyright and information law at the University of Amsterdam. In June 2011 his debut novel The Trial of the Century (‘Het process van de eeuw’) will be published.


Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm @ the unbound book conference – photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg

In theme with his professional experience working for Kazaa (the first file sharing company that received a positive victory from the supreme court) Christiaan focuses his discussion during the Digital Enclosures Workshop on the copyright and file sharing wars.

He believes that the publishing industry should think of itself and be thought of as a service company. He explains how others must pay them for a service with either royalties or a grand sum. This change in perception of the literary publishing industry in to a service company is a change they must make mentally in order to succeed.

The issue of rights has become a problem with e-books and publishing companies because of the fear of piracy. Like the music and motion picture industries, the realm of books must now confront this dilemma. Thijm mentions that the publishing world should take note and learn from instances of the past, such as what took place in music file sharing. However, the book and publishing industry is very old-fashioned and the question must be asked, are they capable of adapting?

Thijm mentions the institution of the Library as being a very culturally important establishment but also currently facing a large problem with public lending and e-books. Public lending rights don’t apply to digital books, but only to physical books which forces the Libraries to go to the specific publishers and ask permission to lend out digital books. Many publishers are subsequently only allowing downloads from the Library premises. This forces the librarians and institution builders to re-examine and focus in on the space of library to ensure that it is a comfortable, enjoyable environment for the public to reside and learn.

For more information, please visit http://www.solv.nl/people/christiaan-alberdingk-thijm/17522.

Book Launch of CPOV Series # 7: A Wikipedia Reader

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 8:16 am  |  By: Lily Antflick  | 

We are pleased to announce the launch of  the Critical Point of View Reader: A Wikipedia Reader

CPOV is compiled of a network of investigators, researchers, artists, activists and writers who have conducted independent Wikipedia research outside of  the Wikipedia sphere. ‘Critical’ need not have a negative connotation but simply means that we want to have the space and freedom to openly discuss all aspects of Wikipedia.

Our reader, series # 7, focuses less on the question of truth but rather emphasizes historical aspects, power struggles, the history of the encyclopedia and the role of the editor.

Through collaboration with a diverse international network of scholars, the result of the Wikipedia reader reflects a non-Western, post-colonial point of view.

We distribute this reader as both a contribution and proposal to further develop Wikipedia.

Available for free download as a pdf or in hard copy, also available for education purposes. To order a hard copy of the reader, send an  email: books@networkcultures.org

For more information and PDF download, please click here: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/inc-readers/critical-point-of-view-a-wikipedia-reader/

Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz (eds), Critical Point of View: A Wikpedia Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. ISBN: 978-90-78146-13-1, paperback, 385 pages.

Florian Cramer on sober genealogies of the (un)bound dialectic

Posted: May 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm  |  By: Rachel O'Reilly  |  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Geert Lovink introduced this title panel of the conference by mainframing its attempt at Nietzchean thinking around the binding and unbinding of the book – not in terms of ethics or morality, beyond the book as a sentimental object, and more in terms of the exploded situation of the present.

Researcher and theorist Florian Cramer, currently, Centre for Creative Professions at Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam, threw up a series of very concrete genealogical provocations. Cramer came to new media as a classically trained philologist, precisely through interest in the situation of electronic literature 20 years ago, the 91 launch of electronic book applications such as Voyager and so on. The Unbound Book’s title panel evokes for him a troublingly “strong sense of deja vu”. Considering all the experimentation with multimedia writing in the 80s and early 90s that happened before net art and multimedia design, and that has now “completely stagnated” in the hands of its same early agents, Cramer asked provocatively about the elided techno-cultural links here: what does the history of artistic experimentation (indeed early electronic or not) have to do with this apparent present (nostalgic? or ahistoric?) conversation around unboundedness?

Florian Cramer @ the unbound book conference

Florian Cramer @ the unbound book conference – photo cc by-sa Sebastiaan ter Burg

David Stairs’ Boundless (1983) provides an important theoretical reference point, being emblematic of the dialectic that Cramer emphasises is always at issue:

“Binding and unbinding exist in it in a fruitful paradox, a tension that nevertheless boils down to binding as the lowest common denominator of a book. A book, in other words, is almost anything bound together, or unbound in negative reference to the former. To be unbound, after all, does not mean to be boundless.” Further, there are important spatial dimensions of being bound, alongside the temporal: bound “so that it doesn’t fall apart”, and bound in the sense of enduring coherently. For Cramer, “the idea of the book is one that can be read in 1, 5, and 100 years time.” Exceptions presented by unstable books (citing here Dieter Roth and Jan Voss‘s work, available from Amsterdam’s Bookie Woekie), only prove the rule. Yet this strong dialectical appreciation of bound/unbound “bookness” seems absent from the panel description which seems to incorrigibly describe the web rather than the book. If it were really a book, “links would be broken, social tags spammed, geo-location programming interfaces would have changed, the codecs for the video and sound … obsolete, and it wouldn’t work on your screen in 2021 anyway.”

Cramer’s point is that this is exactly what happened with electronic literature 20 years ago, carrying itself on the “exact same slogans”: “linking, multimedia, interactivity, networking.” The Expanded Books series launched by Bob Stein’s Voyager company, an apple-specific project inspired by the Powerbook in 91, is the near-same event as the ipad inspiring “unbound” literary experiments and ereading start-ups today. They are even ‘unbinding’ exactly the same texts! Noting the John Cage reference, Cramer sees that we’re almost literally revisiting George Landow’s hypertext media theory:

We must abandon conceptual systems founded upon ideas of centre, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them with ones of multi-linearity, modes, links, and networks. Almost all parties to this paradigm shift, which marks a revolution in human thought, see electronic writing as a direct response to the strengths and weaknesses of the printed book. (Landow, Hypertext, 1992).

Similar enthusiasm surrounded the audiovisual media/theory of the early 90s, but film and games have stayed separate for the most part, and “it’s the same with books and the web.” Of course ebook culture has emerged, but it is embodied instead by two “commercial and anti-commercial extremes, Amazon’s Kindle e-book store and aaaarg.org… the text-cultural equivalent of iTunes and mp3 file sharing respectively.” The actual historical passage of digital music and audio is strikingly similar to the present situation of the book: “people simply shared and collected simple audio files”, just as we today sample “plain vanilla PDFs, ascii and epub files.” So in fact the book’s trajectory is: “premedieval scroll, bounded codex, computer file.” Cramer predicts: “Hardly anyone will buy interactive mulitmedia books, just as they didn’t in the 1990s.” The book becomes merely solidified by the contrary nature of the web.

From a history of artistic experimentation around the book we can be sure of this, as Drucker’s work shows.

Even in their most experimental and unstable forms, books do not leave beyond their material unity or binding. They are persistently “thought of as a whole… an entity, to be reckoned with in (their) entirety” (Drucker, 122). This is not a conservative statement, Cramer emphasies. Even classical examples of “unbound” literary books such as Marc Saporta’s Composition no. 1, Raymond Queneau’s One hundred thousand billion poems, indeed “explode the corpus,” but do so by evoking it “ex negativo.” The binding here becomes only more accentuated.

Its interesting at this point to observe that Drucker’s definition of “artist books,” the continuity of their experimentalism, coincides almost directly with present technical definitions of epublications. This is Drucker:

To remain artist’s books, rather than book-like objects or sculptural works with a book reference to them, these works have to maintain a connection to the idea of the book, to its basic form and function as the presentation of material in relation to a fixed sequence which provides access to its contents (or ideas) through some stable arrangement. Such a definition stretches elastically to reach around books which are card stacks, books which are solid pieces of bound material, and other books whose nature defies easy characterisation.

Meanwhile Cramer adumbrates more recent epub specifications in the following way:

Epublications are not limited to linear content… but the basic assumption is there is an order that is not achievable through html alone. A key concept of epublication is as multiple resources that may be consumed in a specific order. They are in essence offline media, self-contained documents with downloading features.

From this point of coincidence though, the technical, political, and aesthetic possibilities of epub experimentation is much more difficult than what the present discourses of unboundedness suggest. Cramer gives the example of the Boem Paukeslag project produced at Piet Zwarte, an effort to publish a visual poem as animation on an ereader, using entirely non-standardized code. This was only possible through extreme amounts of crude technical hacking, with the result restricted to reading on this single hacked device. The gesture of the work is this exercise of difficult possibility in the era of ereading.

Cramer ended by ruminating on the increased interest in and mainstreaming of artist books today, as a “genre of graphic design.” Print itself here seems to be becoming a “boutique niche of materiality.” This is its entropy: “all print books strive to become coffee table books, often with warm, fuzzy and unbound characteristics”. The artist book becomes a real or auratic object, and tech art schools become implicated in “producing boutique collectiables for rich people,” not unlike vinyl collection. The image of the young Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby, enamoured by the great library at the houseparty of the Long Island bourgoise, and picking up up a book from a shelf only to realise that not one on the shelf had been read, seems to resonate even more strongly in the present. Electronic books in contrast are the cheap paperback books of our time, for better and for worse.

PDF of presentation available here: Unbound Book.