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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

July 01, 2007

Resistance is futile

Click to enlarge the images. These shots were taken in the same direct lighting, with the same camera, using the same focus and resolution settings. Can you distinguish a digitally printed page from an offset-printed page?

Prompted by a teeny link to the new Espresso Book Machine at Ron Silliman's blog the other day, Curtis Faville & I got to talking about whether or not print-on-demand (strategy) and digital printing (technology) are "cheapening the process" of publishing poetry.

I think Curtis makes many good points (as he often does), but I disagree with him (as I frequently do) that writers and publishers who opt to employ POD strategies and digital printing technologies are taking any less care with their work. In fact, I'd propose the exact opposite! Small, micro, and self-publishers who take the production process in hand exert complete control over the process and particularly in the case of self-publishers, are spending more time and effort on the presentation of their work than employees or authors of a large publishing house. They are taking full responsibility for the presentation of their work. Self publishers are extending the writing act to its furthest conclusion, all the way to the book in the reader's hands. (Control freaks rejoice!) Nothing at all impersonal about that--it's intimate even.

Anyway, both Curtis and I stray (really far) from the ostensible topic of the book machine, but since our remarks may be of interest to readers of this blog, I've cleaned up (oh the comment-stream-hasty-typos! the typos here are *much less hasty,* ahem) and expanded my remarks a bit and am reposting them here, in a slightly different form. (I do this not to joust with Curtis at all, but simply to take the opportunity to, well, pontificate further on a personal obsession.)

Argument: "Print-on-demand technology* will be a boon to those for whom the act of publication and reading is the merest convenience."

Many so-called mainstream publishers also use print-on-demand strategies and digital short-run technologies and they have been doing so for at least a decade now.

There are many economic and environmental incentives for publishers--no matter their size--to switch from traditional offset printing and traditional print-run guesstimates to produce their books. A few of these are: 1) Because it's no longer necessary to guess at how to supply an undetermined demand, print-on-demand publishing saves the (sad) waste of returns and remaindered copies having to be pulped (more about this later), 2) it saves lots of shipping and warehousing costs (both economic and environmental), and 3) it usually does not require large outlays of cash upfront for struggling small presses. None of these justifications for going POD in any way compromises the literary merit of the work inside the books.

Additionally, I believe there are several artistic advantages to adopting POD and digital printing methods, because the reduced expense and reduced waste results in a relative freedom from the fairly crippling economic concerns poetry publishers (and poets as a result) have come to face, and because it allows poets to produce their own books free from interference of any kind, should they choose to do so. POD allows publishers who focus on genres other than those that go blockbusters (such as poetry) to take more risks on work that might not otherwise make good business sense. They need not worry *primarily* about whether a book will sell. They can feel confident that making a great book available will not break the bank if it proves not to fly off the shelves in the requisite numbers. For these reasons, it's very good news for poets and their readers that the options are getting better all the time.

Argument (not Curtis's, by the way): Self publishing is crass, illegitimate, vain, or what have you.

I don't think this prejudice has quite the stranglehold it may once have had, and actually don't even know why I brought it up in the thread. Still, it bears repeating (perhaps ad nauseum) that I think the tendency to look down on self-published work is an outdated snobbery, and one that doesn't hold up when looking back at the history of poetry publishing in this country. I imagine most readers of [Ron's] blog (just for example) could name dozens of "famous" poets from their personal pantheons who self-published (or coterie published). That's how American avant-garde poets (and other writers, musicians, filmmakers, etc.) have long made space for themselves. The publishing "industry" will not, and frankly, that makes perfect sense, for some of the businesslike reasons already discussed.

One of the arguments I frequently hear from people objecting to self-publishing is, to paraphrase rather crudely, Editors know better than Writers. To which I always say, oh freaking spare me. This "gatekeeper theory" is generally espoused by those already within the gates, or those who possess an unshakable self-confidence in their own worthiness to reside within those gates at some future date. I applaud their confidence I guess, & being chosen by an editor is really nice--it feels good--but it doesn't mean all work that isn't chosen by an editor is automatically crap. Editors are wonderful, smart, dedicated people, by and large, who love the work they publish. But the reality is that to be an editor at a major publishing house in NY all one really needs is a BA, a willingness to work long hours for crappy wages, and the ability to develop a thick callus over one's artistic ideals. I say that from experience. I quickly learned at my first job something that for some reason isn't so obvious to most writers: Publishing is a Business. Every decision is based on the bottom line, not literary or artistic merit. That's not to say--of course--that some fine literature doesn't get published; economic and literary concerns do frequently overlap! But since that's most often not the case for poetry, according to the publishing industry itself, that's not the kind of gatekeeping poetry needs.

The Editors Know Better assumption also begs the question which editors? I believe editors and publishers who are poets themselves are the best editors and publishers for poetry. They must at least be avid readers of poetry--and how many avid readers of poetry do you know that are not also writing poetry? That might sound inbred, but if an editor or publisher is not immersed in the stuff herself, please explain to me how in the world she could know best. If poets make the best editors and publishers of poetry (they do), if publishing is an economically beleaguered business (it is), and poets are more likely to have MFAs than MBAs, do the math: less financial risk for poetry publishers is one of the best things about POD publishing.

Argument: Faster, cheaper production methods and self-publishing flood the field with too many throwaway books.

My feeling is that if POD strategies can relieve some of the purely economic considerations keeping good books from finding readers, I'd much rather sort through a thousand piles of "cheapened" "trivial" POD books to find those stunners than wait for the publishing industry to hand them to me prestamped with their approval. Because terrible poetry isn't scary. It's really simple to protect yourself against a bad book: you just close the cover.

Argument: "[R]ejecting traditional publication because of the the "bottom line" is NOT justifying poor quality and bad writing. Simply because you can literally produce a paperback book for $1.75 (at least for the moment) doesn't say anything whatsoever about its contents; and I would argue that that facility cheapens the process, both because of materials and because of a lack of responsibility."

I agree with the first half of this argument, particularly that the cost of production says nothing about content. I disagree that the facility (as in ease, not as in the physical printing facility, to clarify this out of context) has anything to do with cheapened materials (those are getting better all the time, more about which below), or that the relative ease of producing a book lessens anybody's responsibility. I've already sort of addressed that assumption above, saying that when poets take control of the production of their books they are exercising more responsibility in the presentation of their work, which is factually true.

The Xerox DocuTech 6180 printers and Xerox IGen 3 color process create really impressive pages, and I say that as somebody who is trained in letterpress printing. The text is clear and crisp, and though it is digital, at 300 dpi there's no discernable smushiness or pixelation. [Note, I followed the lead of another commenter and used "IBM Docutech" in the original thread, but wanted to be more specific here. IBM is the manufacturer and Xerox is the brand, 6180 is a model number and IGen3 is a proprietary name for this particular Xerox color press processing. These are the printers used by Lulu.com, Amazon's BookSurge, and other POD printers. They are high-tech, "profressional" machines, no doubt about it.]

Of course, it depends on how the digital files are prepared. Some POD or digitally-printed books don't look so hot because they are designed by folks who have not taken the time to learn about digital production. There's no "easy" way to lay out a digital manuscript and prepare it for printing. I mean, making a decent-looking book is not just a matter of dumping poems into a Microsoft Word document and clicking print. While some POD books may not be well designed, or may be inexpertly laid out, the same can be said of many books produced by other means. In other words, complaints about the design of a POD book ought to be registered with the designer of the ugly book, not blamed on the machines that designer used to make it. In other hands, the same machines are fully capable of producing books of what some people like to call "professional quality."

Generally speaking, POD publishers either hire designers or make the effort to learn the design fundamentals and software required to do it themselves. Self-publishers are successful designers insofar as they have taken the trouble to learn the same skills. Again, this amounts to more effort, more responsibility, and greater care.

POD companies are also introducing new paper stocks--heavier weights, recycled options, bright whites and creams, acid-free choices, etc. They only thing I'm personally still disappointed with is the choice of cover lamination--my service of choice (Lulu.com) does not offer matte covers. Other services (Cafe Press, for instance) does not seem to use lay-flat lamination and those covers can curl in humid conditions. I'm not aware of any POD service that offers uncoated or specialty cover stocks. But it's only a matter of time. The more publishers to use these services, the better they will get. (And that's where capitalism can actually help out. The POD services will supply if publishers demand.)

Argument: "You could even say with justice that ease of access encourages mediocrity."

This argument is related to the one above, and maybe I've already covered it? The idea is that if publishing is DIFFICULT the books will be BETTER. That's just funny. (Please do see Anne Boyer's Poetic Nonaction, on difficult ways to publish poetry!) Getting a first book published is harder than hell and still crappy ones come out all the time. How much harder does it need to be to keep all the Crappy Poetry from reaching us? (See above: don't be alarmed. Just read something else.)

Making new printing technologies accessible to the Rabble is Bad because some of the Rabble Suck? I can't really argue with that. I'm sure some of the rabble do suck. But many of them are probably also brilliant, and we get to find out.

Maybe I should point out that I have worked in publishing for nearly 13 years (OMG), in about every conceivable position from publicist to book designer to editor to publisher? So when I say the traditional print-run model is wasteful, I know what I'm talking about. Yeah publishers based their print runs on their best guesses about demand, but those guesstimates are notoriously off the mark (and FYI, almost never what the publisher says they are--they artificially inflate print-run numbers as a matter of course to "generate buzz"). To say overprinting "doesn't happen often" is inaccurate. Overprinting has been the default practice for decades. It's actually less expensive (bottom line) to print too many than to print too few, from the perspective of the big publishing houses. Printers, binders and trucking companies offer volume discounts. Going back for successive small printings, which would be less wasteful, is more expensive because the volume discounts don't apply, there are more shipping costs, and the printers and binders charge set-up fees for each print run.

Ever seen a dumpster behind a bookstore that sells mass-market paperbacks? They don't even bother to return and pulp those. They strip the covers and throw them in the landfill. By the 1000s...and 1000s. Trade paperbacks and hardcovers are returned (see, more shipping = more waste/environmental impact) then the publisher has to pay to have them pulped (more waste/environmental damage) and recycled (more waste/environmental damage). Those $5 hardcopies on the discount tables at the chain bookstores? Those are so-called remaindered copies, sold in prepicked lots (meaning the bookstore chooses by general subject category rather than choosing individual titles) in a last ditch effort to avoid having to pulp them. They’ve been shipped probably 4-5 times each: from the printer/binder to the publishing house (or its distributor’s warehouse), from the warehouse to the bookstores that placed orders, back from the stores to the warehouse, from the warehouse again in the prepicked lots after markdown. Those things weigh a ton. That’s lotsa Middle Eastern petroleum.

It just seems pointless and uninformed, frankly, to resist a decade-old technology that's already become the Way It Is, particularly when there are many benefits to leaving offset printing and overprinting behind. (Again, I don't just mean Curtis, but resistance at large.) Very soon there will be no discernable physical difference between a book produced digitally and one produced using offset printing plates. We're talking strictly about how the ink reaches the paper here, y'all. Offset printing is almost completely digitized these days anyway--the cylinders are created from digital files eliminating the need for film at all, and those files may or may not be stored on servers at the printing facilities for future reprints. That's just another way of saying POD, people! Offset printing continues to make good sense for high-volume projects where the expense of the set-up is outweighed or justified by the greater number of copies produced, but even in those cases, offset printers have another drawback that digital printers alleviate: once the cylinder plate is created, if there's a typo found or some other change that needs to be made, it's got to be scrapped and a new one must be made. (If an error is found in late stages in digital production, it's much easier/less expensive to fix.) Take a look at the photos at the top of this post. Click each of them to see a full-sized, high-resolution photo. Each page was photographed under the same conditions, in the same lighting, with the same camera using the same settings. The fonts are all classic-style serif book fonts. The paper is of four different types, and you may be able to discern some textural differences there. But check out the type (the center of each image will be most focused)--crisp, clear, no pixelation. Can you spot the digitally printed page?

Did anyone make these same kind of arguments about the advent of movable type? "Movable type and the printing press means instant books can be produced in 1000 hours vs. the usual 10000000 it takes Irish monks to hand-illuminate them. It's cheapening the process!" Grumble, grumble. I think any letterpress printer (bless their hearts and gorgeous work) will tell you that to print complete books by that method you must be kind of insane. They'd also tell you their goals and concerns have very little to do with the market. As it should be. Treating the book as a fetish object is natural for people who love books--why shouldn't they be as beautiful as possible?--but that kind of bibliophilia is AT ODDS with the sort of bibliomania that compels us also to find and read as many good poems as possible. (My solution for this particular schizoid rift is to release books in both the best-looking digitally printed version I am capable of producing as well as a limited-edition handmade version, so people have a choice. Other presses do this too--Tarpaulin Sky, for instance, did Jenny Boully's latest book that way.)

Offset printing was the "new" "cheapened" technology at its introduction too. The suggestion that just because a book is faster or cheaper or easier to print (and bind) its author or publisher took less care with it is pretty ridiculous. The text reads the same--which is the point, let's remember--whether it's offset in a print run of thousands, digitally printed on demand one at a time, or stapled fresh from Kinko's, and whether or not it has any branding stamped on the spine. (My most insistent point is always that the poem is primary but the rest is necessary.)

I don’t know how much this stuff matters to most writers, but the publishing industry has decided that Poetry is not worth bothering with from a business standpoint because they can’t sell enough copies to justify the expense and hassle of producing them. The way I see things, there are (at least) three ways to remedy that situation: 1) circumvent the publishing industry, 2) lower the cost of production, and 3) reduce the hassle of production. POD and services like Lulu.com (my current fave) allow individual poets and poetry publishers to do all three, and take some of the kinks out of the Problem of Distribution too. (A whole nother kettle, about which we've already talked lots before, yes?) (DIY publishing + a website or blog with a PayPal button is another strategy that also accomplishes all three.)

It seems to me poets would do well to embrace ANY technology or publishing method that might free them from the economic concerns that hobble the publication and distribution of their work, whether it’s handmade DIY chaps, blog-posted poems, internet journals, or digitally printed POD books.

* Note: On this blog I try to be careful about conflating POD with digital short-run printing, but the two get a bit mixed up fairly often, including these remarks. Briefly, print-on-demand (POD) is the publishing strategy of producing books only on an as-ordered basis, rather than in bulk. Digital printing is the technology whereby digital files (in the form of PDFs, Quark, InDesign, and other formats) are stored on computer servers accessible by digital printing machines like the Espresso Book Machine or the Xerox DocuTech printers like Lulu and other printing companies use. Though many print-on-demand books are produced using digital technologies, not all digitally printed books are POD and not all POD books are digitally printed. Our coeditor Sandra Simonds, for example, produces a handmade magazine that is essentially POD, in that she makes copies on request, not in a print run of a set bulk number. However, in general usage, "POD" usually refers to books printed one-at-a-time using machines like the IBM Docutech printers, after being digitally retrieved from a storage server. Whew.

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  • Thanks for all the clarification- as someone who runs small chapbooks to sell at readings I don't care how I get the work out there, just that I do-

    I wish I were more artistic about it, but I will be-

    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:38 AM  

  • Shanna: I'm running out the door, but thanks for the well thought out argument, with all of which I tend to agree.

    I think you somewhat misinterpreted the gist of my post, which is that writers ultimately need to get closer to the physical or "end-point" of their work. Maybe POD is a way to do that. Maybe I'm too old-fashioned to see it. I always admired small publishers like Laughlin, Jonathan Williams, John Martin, not necessarily their choice of content, but the bringing together of writer and physical book to produce a lovely object which seemed a better result. An honor to the text. Self-publication is obviously something I privilege, as you would know if you saw my new book Metro, basically a letterpress livre d'artist. It can be taken way too far, as with Arion Press productions, which are just too-too effete and fussy. My favorite book I think is the Collected Poems of Weldon Kees by the Stone Wall Press, Iowa City, 1960, Edited by Donald Justice. The Author was dead when it was published, but the whole feel of the book as a presentation, object, homage, effort, elegant artifact is there. I love it. When you pour that much love and resource and care into a project, something good's likely to happen. I'm not sure I see how being able to crank out a book in 48 hours--I mean literally from composition to physical object--preserves the commitment to the act that is likely to bear fruit.

    Give me an address and I'll send you a copy of Metro for free.

    By Blogger Curtis Faville, at 9:12 AM  

  • does anybody go from composition to physical object in 48 hours though? i guess somebody might, but i wouldn't recommend that either!

    i'm working on a POD book right now, which will be released in October, and the author and i have already spent a good month going back and forth on the poems and the shape of the whole manuscript. now that i'm laying it out, we'll go back and forth several times making sure the formatting is all correct and there are no errors in the text, etc.

    the editing process up to the point of uploading is identical to that of an offset printed book. except we usually use PDF and email instead of mailing printed proofs back and forth.

    i tried to be really careful to say that this "essay" is more general than a response to your comments at ron's. talking to you though made me realize that there's still a lot of confusion about how these things work, and i happen to know something that seems worth sharing here.

    i'd love a copy of metro. i will swap you for me new book when it is ready (oct). i'll send you an email in a bit...


    By Blogger shanna, at 11:14 AM  

  • actually, we usually use PDF proofs when we go offset too, though we are still sent printed proofs or bluelines by the printer, depending on the project.

    By Blogger shanna, at 11:30 AM  

  • yes of course.

    convenience, no risk, no waste, and... no style.

    the psychology of The Spine. Big deal.

    I'll take fine printing and human labor (and risk!) over prepackaged robot product any day of the week. If other people won't, or don't care, that is their problem. Real ink and real paper still matter to some. That is what you pay for. Not the language. Language is free.

    By Blogger Effing Press, at 1:55 PM  

  • scott, you know i love your books. i think i have pretty much all of them.

    i'm not suggesting POD replace "fine printing" or handmade books. read more closely. i do both things myself. as i noted, handmade books and fine printing are awesome, but they are done for different reasons. so we actually agree.

    i am simply suggesting that new technologies in printing and distribution are one way to improve poetry's lot and disentangle it from a multimillion dollar industry that doesn't give a shit about it. i am proposing that POD and digital printing are a way to ease the economic pressures imposed by publishing as a business model.

    another benefit: a POD-based press is a great alternative to contest-model poetry publishing, for example. haven't really talked much about this, but i think about it alot--why and how poetry publishing got into this state, what to do about it, etc. it's been my job for so long i can't help it. it's my way of channeling my anxiety about how pointless (to the culture at large) poetry publishing apparently seems.

    what you do, and what other small presses do(though you may turn a profit and sell copies) is not *primarily* business, as i noted. i couldn't be more grateful that people continue to take care to make beautiful objects--that i can also collect and obssess over! comparing an effing book to one from lulu is pomegranates to potatoes, no question. they are different sorts of things, with different meanings.

    my concern is that poetry may be pushed entirely out of the trade presses, relegated only to university presses, or those receiving ever-dwindling arts funding. i think that has very real, and very negative consequences. the craft presses (handmade, letterpress, fine-printing, et al) simply cannot accommodate all the great work being written. what does that mean? where will it go? how will it be published? i think part of the answer can be found in the POD printing and distribution networks.

    i don't think the two modes are mutually exclusive or that all other kinds of publishing should be destroyed. i mean, of course i don't.


    By Blogger shanna, at 2:17 PM  

  • self impowerment is a good thing yes sure. But all I hear is that this costs publishers less. And now more people can afford to be publishers and so more poetry can be published. Great. Less investment, less integrity, less quality. But more poetry! But who gets the money? And what do they do with the money? And who will ever love the odor of a POD book? toner don't smell so good.

    I guess what I am saying is that I'd feel a lot better about POD if it were poetry publishers that owned and operated these machines. Cuz it just feels the same as any other check writing.

    I know you, especially you, are not suggesting POD over all printing. Of course I know that! And I'm not a fine printer by any means but I am definitely interested in ink, paper, and skillz.

    I just think poetry publishers and writers are lazy and don't want to work for what they believe in. Like give up their day job and make it happen. Whatever the costs. But it's more about marketing these days, which is necessary I know.
    (publishing and printing split over 100 years ago so I am not so naive to suggest people produce in house, but damn I like that idea.)

    POD has been around and it's going to replace film based printing. Digital's been a long time coming. It ain't new, as you say. But I don't have to like it!

    I just want to make my rebel noise.

    Publishing is hard. It should be hard. I like it hard. I never want it be easy. And as for poetry: ditto.

    By Blogger Effing Press, at 4:38 PM  

  • maybe i'll have a chance later to try to respond to some of your other questions, scott.

    i think maybe i'm not doing a very good job articulating my (admittedly many) points.

    the purpose of this post was to discuss demonstrate that many people who object to digital printing do so from either an outdated idea of what that means or a misunderstanding of how prevalent it already is.

    we can totally talk about where the money goes! eileen tabios and reb have both been very forthcoming with their own experiences as POD publishers on their own blogs, and i have pointed to many of those posts from here.

    if, as i believe, the POD systems free publishers from having to amass big sums for printing in bulk (their profits tend to come in drips and drabs, when they do come) that's a boon. what they save on shipping and distribution fees and warehousing may allow them to hire another designer or give somebody a raise, or pay a permissions fee, or increase the author's royalty. maybe if they make enough they can spend the time they'd usually spend writing grant proposals on publishing and promoting their books. or maybe they can stop asking for poets to foot the bills in the form of contest fees.

    yeah, they're still writing a check to a printer, in effect, but they're doing it a little bit at a time, as a commission on each copy sold. in a cash-poor situation, that makes a huge difference. kinda like spreading your own bills out between the paycheck you get on the 1st of the month and the one you get on the 15th, eh?! :)

    i know i've never, ever, been able to adequately support myself on a publishing salary alone, and always worked at least one other job or did regular freelance.

    anyway, these are all good things to think about as well, and i will!

    keep trucking & have a good 4th.

    By Blogger shanna, at 5:34 PM  

  • I like the gristle of this:

    "Publishing is hard. It should be hard. I like it hard. I never want it be easy. And as for poetry: ditto."

    Yes. Exactly. But it should also be a great pleasure.

    By Blogger Curtis Faville, at 11:10 PM  

  • Dead on! Thank you.

    As an author I have published 4 books. #1 was a POD "self-published" book. 2 and 3 were published by a small press that also used POD technology. #4 was printed on POD presses owned by Amazon.

    Fact is: Most of the books sold by Amazon are printed by Amazon, how else could they stock a billion books? The electronic files are sent to Amazon by the various publishers and when the sale is final Amazon pays the publisher. No excessive inventory and one time shipping.

    POD has not made the author's job any easier. It has in-fact raised the bar as competition is stiffer than ever before with over 2000 new books published in the United States every week of the year.

    And to shine the light of history on the subject: Vanity publishing and self-publishing (very different things) are in-fact older industries than the so-called publishing industry. Books existed long before printing presses and almost all were self-published.

    By Blogger Billy Jones, at 11:32 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger RL, at 10:31 AM  

  • i deleted a duplicate comment, fyi.

    By Blogger shanna, at 10:35 AM  

  • ACK! Except I deleted it twice. Sorry Reb!

    Here was Reb's comment:

    Reb said...
    Scott -- I know you don't mean that as a personal diss, but geez, my press does POD, it has integrity, it has quality and it ain't easy -- the printing process, which makes it POSSIBLE for my participation, isn't cheap for me -- it's still a big deal to spend $800 - $1000 of my personal funds per book (when it's all said and done, money I could easily put towards something else, like my son's education), less for a chapbook, more for an anthology. And I'm on a perpetual verge of a nervous breakdown trying to publish books I love, making all of this stuff happen, writing my own work, raising my son, etc. I'm spending major time on these projects -- all consuming time. If it was so easy, I'd be publishing more than 3-6 books a year.

    I think effing press is very cool, I think your books are cool, I think what you do is great. I'm not sure why this has to be a competition about who's more DIY, who loves books more, who works harder, etc. This is like sitting in a room with a bunch of parents arguing over whose parenting style is supreme and disregarding other parent's reasons for doing things, specific children's needs, cultural reasons . . . I mean, that's great you grow all your own food, make your own bread and jam by hand, sew your own clothes, home school your kids, did a natural childbirth and don't let your kids watch TV. I fully support your choices -- just don't go around thinking that's the only way to be a serious/concerned parent, you're not the only one making sacrifices, you're not the only one who loves his babies.

    By Blogger shanna, at 10:38 AM  

  • you didn't delete it twice, i deleted the first one because there were several typos.

    By Blogger RL, at 10:42 AM  

  • Curtis, are you still here? I was going to email you re: swapping books, but I realized I don't have your email address and it's not on your Blogger profile page. Will you please email me at shannacompton [at] earthlink [dot] net? Thanks...

    By Blogger shanna, at 10:59 AM  

  • Hey Reb, I am certainly not competing and I have no grudge against you or anyone else that uses POD. Sorry to come across like that, but I hope you know me better. (In the bitter end I am most interested in the poetry between the covers of a book rather than the covers themselves, believe it :-) I've said over the years that I understand the attraction of POD and it's function to publishers of all kinds. I hold nothing against you or anyone else about your choices which are practical and logical. What I mean to point out is that here is this "DIY Publishing" blog advocating a publishing method that relies on a book to market industry that automates production and distribution, which doesn't ring very DIY to me. All these links to book arts and book making and studio classes and how-to instruction, and then this full on advocation of POD which relies on a burgeoning industry of convenience. The two ideas just seem to be at odds with one another. That is all. I didn't mean to suggest you or NTB have no integrity or serious intent because I know that isn't true. And believe me I know that paying for printing is only part of the expense of any publisher, oh don't I know that.

    I bristle when I feel like hands on book making and fine printing gets the pat on the head as being an arts n craft hobby rather than just another way of controlling costs, materials, etc.

    As much as there seems to be a move toward POD there is also an obvious increase in book arts and print making courses on campuses and art centers and people flocking back to to printing. There are, maybe we could agree, different notions of DIY at play here. POD as a kind of business-minded DIY and hands on book making as a utility-minded DIY. POD wants to replicate the trade tradition and DIY book making wants to revel in the indy tradition. Perhaps? I dunno. It seems that way.

    I like the idea of sticking it to the man, so to speak, and I feel like POD puts coins in the pocket of the man. Just a few coins at a time.

    my attitude is political / philosphical and probably not practical. I am okay with trade publishers ignoring poetry and poetry not making it to a greater audience. I don't share Shanna's hope for poetry and the public. I don't have that kind of faith in the public (or poetry) I guess.

    By Blogger Effing Press, at 1:35 PM  

  • Sent you an e.mail just now.


    By Blogger Curtis Faville, at 10:30 AM  

  • Shanna,

    Thanks for a wonderful, compendious, and spirited post.

    I think, as we consider resistance to POD and digital printing, it's also worth saying that there is a great deal of difference between the way one press uses those technologies and another. Short runs of older Yale poetry books are now, sometimes, POD, and they don't look very good, compared to the first editions. But, at the same time, books by presses like Ghost Road, which are all short run (I think they call it "Lightning Print"), look as good as anything else out there --- as long as the paper is good paper.

    I co-edit Copper Nickel, which is digitally printed. Everyone who buys one talks about how good it looks, especially the color, and I think it looks better than offset. We've much less smudging that what I've got through offset in the past. The printing is, as you say, very crisp and clear and smooth. Paper---and the rising cost of good, durable paper---is our main concern. I love the books Scott makes at Effing, and I love the proliferation of handmade chapbooks, but I continue to be concerned about the rising costs of paper: I hope we'll continue to be able, through whatever printing technology, to afford to make durable books.

    On a different note---I wonder if you think tax codes will push larger printers to POD technology in the long run? I've been told by several publishers that one of the reasons for reductions in the amount of overprinting for poetry books in particular over the last decade and the practice of remaindering (or dumpstering) books pretty quickly after publication (within two years) has been a change in the tax codes that now treat unsold inventory as an asset, so that a press has to pay tax on the value of its unsold inventory each year. I've not done the research on this, so I can't confirm that this is true, but I've heard it so many times I think there must be something to it. If so, I'd suspect this will push more publishing toward POD.


    By Blogger Jake Adam York, at 12:15 AM  

  • hi jake--thanks for saying "compendious" instead of "long-winded." heh heh.

    you're right: businesses have to pay tax on inventory, so i assume that is a concern for book publishers as well. (except nonprofit presses, i guess.) thanks for pointing that out.

    i didn't realize Copper Nickel was digitally printed. if i were still editing LIT, i'd suggest it switch over as well. (it's printed by McNaughton & Gunn, beautifully, sure, but at a cost of nearly $5 per copy if we run color plates for the art. it sells for $8.) also, one of the big problems for lit journals is distribution. it is notoriously difficult to get paid by the distributor, even if the issue does sell out. the meager profits are frittered away in fees. it's difficult to focus promotional efforts because the distributor will not provide a list of stores that order it. if LIT (for instance) were to go POD with a service like Lulu, and choose their global distro package, it would be available through more channels to booksellers and newsstands, as well as to customers via Amazon and the other online retailers, and the staff would be able to track the orders themselves. the distribution, in other words, would be MUCH better than what Bernhard DeBoer can offer. makes sense to me!

    and absolutely: there's a great deal of difference between POD printers. not all are equal. Lightning Source (is that who Ghost Road uses?) makes good looking books. Salt uses Lightning Source as well, and books ordered from Lulu.com are printed via Lightning Source i think (though Lulu books ordered via other channels may not be). other POD printers are generally used for galleys (advance promotional copies) etc. and don't turn out quite as nice. (they aren't really meant to.)

    paper costs are of concern to everyone, whichever printing method they choose. i think scott uses a treeless paper for the effing books, at least some of the time. for half empty/half full, i have used cotton, recycled and wind-power-produced papers. there are options like cotton, hemp, sheep poo (not a joke), and other sustainable/renewable plant fibers that are available that have not yet been integrated into the POD systems, but there is a demand for them there, and i really hope that happens. some services are at least offering recycled choices now, which they were not a few years ago. so there's still plenty of room for improvement. of course, that's true of the off-set printers as well.

    as usual, it's a matter of compromise. from scratch 100% DIY books are the best way to control *all* the factors that go into the making of the books.

    By Blogger shanna, at 10:30 AM  

  • Thanks for this excellent post (which a link from Ernesto Priego led me to). I agree with every point you bring up, Shanna. As an artist/designer/writer and sometimes self-publisher (also published by mainstream pubrs.) I can speak from experience and you have covered every single relevant issue. Not just for poetry publications, by the way. I have recently published via Lulu p.o.d. a full-colour paperback book of my webcomic strip "The God Interviews". It took me nearly a year to design, format and prepare the book for upload and I took the same care as I would for any published work. The result is a high-quality product in no way technically inferior (and in many ways better than) many mainstream books in the market. I agree about the lack of matt cover options in Lulu but I have also used another excellent printing company (Print on Demand Worldwide) who has more choices. Another plus point is that I have had a large number of readers' reviews on my Lulu page:
    as well as on individual blogs. This is not something that happens very often for books published in the mainstream, unless the author is already well-known.
    One thing I think everyone who decides to take the p.o.d route should be aware of: it takes a lot of time and effort (and expense) to be your own promoter, distributor, publicist. But if you don't do anything, it's more than likely that your book will sink into oblivion very quickly, unless you're satisfied to produce a few copies only for friends and family. As for "editors know best" - well, judging by some of the unbelievably bad writing that does make it through the agent/publisher barrier, I wouldn't put too much faith into the 'experts' judgement. With exceptions, of course.

    By Blogger Natalie d'Arbeloff, at 11:46 AM  

  • Sorry if my last comment is duplicated. It didn't look as if it was posted so I hit the 'publish' key twice.

    I wanted to add that I started out as a livre d'artiste maker and left my mark in that field for a long time (examples are on my main website). But I'm now going via the more democratic path of p.o.d and/or mainstream publishing because I do want to reach a wider audience. While I really enjoyed hand-making beautiful book-objects they are now kept mostly out of reach by their private or public owners, just because they are 'rare books'. It's nice to put the list of collections on my CV but I'd rather have my stuff actually in the hands of many people, at affordable prices.

    By Blogger Natalie d'Arbeloff, at 11:56 AM  

  • Loved this, and found the ensuing discussion interesting. (Got here, incidentally, by way of Natalie, above.)

    I'm delighted by the idea of POD and will sooner or later be producing a few books that way. I have not the slightest interest in "making a name," nor in kissing ass, but I'm perfectly happy to spend a year getting a poetry book right. I have a couple dozen people I know want to read what I write, and I want to make books for them. Now I can do that, without having to bend over backwards to convince other people (who don't know me or my readers from Adam), that I'm a good business risk. I'm a terrible business risk. I know that. I'd be a terrible risk even for a fine-print house, because I'm not willing to spend a single minute of my life -- not one -- marketing my work. Life is just too short. I have other things to do.

    Maybe it's the professional poets who are good poets, but most of the poets I love best have been amateurs -- people who who wrote poetry, not because they wanted to be Famous Poets, but because they had things they badly wanted to say. I understand why people who adore the Famous Poet game would resent us being able to make and buy our own books, but -- tough, guys. Not everyone wants to play that game.

    By Blogger Dale, at 10:37 PM  

  • I want to be clear that my issue with POD is not that it utilizes digital printing (though personally I do prefer liquid ink to powder toner). I print the text pages of Effing books digitally myself but then, I own the equipment which isn't cheap to maintain. I wouldn't say I'm green though by any means (but yes, I often use Vision paper, which is nontree).

    My ultimate problem with current POD is with the profit scheme. That we would outsource to big box companies that we don't know much about and whose profits don't go back into our communities is problematic to me. It keeps us out of touch with the whole process of manufacture which as publishers we should be concerned about, even if we are just writing checks. Publishers push production so they should, in my opinion, bear responsibility for the effects. Whatever the printing and binding method, I am interested in where the money goes.

    I don't mean to say that hand work is better. I certainly don't. It will kill your free time and sex life!

    Also, I am interested in NOT using the monopolous book printers like McN&G and the like. It's the same situation.

    I think we just get product lust. The coversation ends up being about the look of a book. The great irony of what is mostly leftist poetry publishers. We'll write and publish poetry about environmental and social issues and then turn a blind eye when we go to produce our own books.

    I certainly don't feel like I am a good example of the alternative, for to do it like I've chosen is to disregard many practical advancements in technology. But my interest in the history and practice of book production and my enthusiasm for what our poetry elders did with hands on lo-fi methods means for me to learn it from the ground up. I simply like it.

    I can't argue that it's better. And don't mean to be that pompous if that's how I come off when this subject comes up.

    But the economics are fascinating as well.

    thanks for the good discussion...

    By Blogger Effing Press, at 2:52 PM  

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