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  • Mark 7:32 am on September 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , publishing, ,   

    The first and second wave of viral publishers 

    From Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth pg 281

    While the new-media pioneers at BuzzFeed and Upworthy produced LOLs and cultivated trumped-up umbrage over the killing of poor Cecil, a second guard of new-media publishers set out to capture the loyalty of another psychographic swath of America whose disaffection far surpassed mere boredom. The new wave would employ the methods BuzzFeed had pioneered, but used partisan anger as their way of hot-wiring readers’ emotional responses.

    From pg 283:

    Breitbart, meanwhile, fixated on a more violent and direct overthrow of the mainstream media, a coup d’état more than a reformation. His aspirations were colored by the chip on his shoulder, and his approach was adversarial. “The idea,” 39 he told Wired , “is that I have to screw with media, and I have to screw with the Left, in order to give legitimate stories the ability to reach their natural watermark.” It was a lucrative idea. “When the entire media is structured to attack conservatives and Republicans, there is a huge business model to come in and counterbalance that.”

  • Mark 3:58 pm on September 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , publishing, ,   

    Vice’s ‘non-traditional’ working environment 

    From Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth pg 348:

    One abiding feature was the draconian nondisclosure and nontraditional workplace agreements staffers were required to sign before joining the company, 7 which demanded, “Individuals employed by Vice must be conscious of Vice’s non-traditional environment and comfortable with exposure to and participating in situations that may present themselves during the course of their employment.” These situations might include exposure “to highly provocative material, some of it containing extremely explicit sexual and controversial content,” as well as shoots on location that involved “unique and unusual situations which may be considered offensive, indecent or unacceptable by others.” Employees saw the agreement as barring them from complaining about lewd conduct and sexual come-ons from their supervisors, even if that wasn’t stipulated in black and white.

    The supervisors were almost all male, and sexual liaisons between bosses and young associate producers were common. (Smith’s wife, Tamyka, was once a junior producer at Vice.) There was a huge problem, too, with sexual harassment, incidents that unspooled after work at bars, often following long drinking sessions.

  • Mark 7:12 pm on September 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: publishing, , , , , digital publishing, , ,   

    Staying small in order to grow 

    I thought this was an interesting extract from Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth about the rise of Vice. Limiting their circulation was a deliberate strategy to facilitate its expansion in the longer term, enabling them to side step some of the pressures they would have been subject to if they had dived headfirst into growth. From pg 45-46

    “We realized if we were going to try to go mass,” 10 Smith said, “and try to go for a million copies, we were going to have to dilute how we wrote and how we did everything.” Instead they doubled down on catering to the cool kids and consciously kept their circulation number lower than market demand. They printed 150,000 issues to distribute across the U.S. and similarly small batches overseas, in Japan, then the U.K., then Germany. “We got to a million copies that way,” Smith said. Each of those cool kids would pass their issue on to six or eight friends, expanding the magazine’s circulation by word of mouth.

  • Mark 3:41 pm on April 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , publishing, Sarah Kember,   

    A manifesto for writing and publishing differently 

    My notes on Kember, S. (2016). Why publish?. Learned Publishing, 29, 348-353.

    This short piece is based on Sarah Kember’s inaugrial professorial lecture at Goldsmiths, its writing timed to coincide with the launch of Goldsmith’s new press. Its establishment was explicitly motivated by a sense of “the opportunities afforded by digital technologies and the new DIY spirit of scholarly publishing”, as well as the challenges raised by contemporary scholarly communication. As Kember puts it, it was informed by “a stubborn refusal to accept the constraints of genre, style, and format; and a conviction that there is more to the future of publishing than it being online and open access” while also reflecting the specificity of Goldsmiths as an institution (348).

    Racism and sexism is rife in publishing, “if not at the level of editorial decision making, then at the level of infrastructure (through marketing strategies; publishing systems that classify and categorize like with like; through policies that privatize higher education, introduce exorbitant fees, and preclude those from more diverse ethnic and social backgrounds from becoming students and practitioners of writing and publishing” (349). This is matched by discrimination reproduced through citation and review practices in a scholarly publishing culture driven by audit, metrics and professionalisation. These control mechanisms favour the already established academics, with their unsurprising demographic profile, as well as the already established ideas. Goldsmiths Press joined other new new presses (UCL, Westminster, Open Humanities Press, Open Books, Mattering Press, Mute and Meson) constituting a “collective manifesto for future publishing” (pg 249). This is Kember’s account of what that entails:

    1. Digital first, not digital only: digital first for Goldsmiths means being digitally led rather than solely digital. It is a context for publishing rather than an end point. People still like print books and digital can’t provide a magic bullet to solve the problems of publishing: books are sensory things. Unfortunately, the enormous changes in how books are produced and distributed hasn’t been matched by a change in what they are. Being digitally led can help prompt this reevaluation: “looking again, in a digital context, at once new, provisional, provocative but largely analogue forms like the essay, the pamphlet, and the manifesto” (350).
    2. Open out from open access: a terrifying percentage of journal articles and books are published but not cited and hardly read. However the solution to this fast publishing, taking place without much concern for demand, isn’t to go more slowly. Kember takes issue with the open access movement which “rightly challenges the spiralling costs and price barriers put up by commercial journal publishers in particular and the fact that they are draining library budgets while profiting from academic free labour” but increasingly encourage a “pay-to-say model of publishing” which is “not only exploitative but also dangerous because it makes the ability to say contingent on the ability to pay” (350). Furthermore, openness is too often openness to commercialisation, redesigning the public sector on behalf of the private sector. Both the top-down and bottom-up open access movements “conflate access and accessibility”: mistaking something being freely available online or it being readable. Instead, we need a research commons in which universities invest in an infrastructure to support grassroots publishing against the offerings of private platforms.
    3. Intervene below the line: established practices of scholarly publishing reproduce inequality off the page, through the mechanisms identified earlier. This is why alternatives need to intervene ‘below the line’ and explore new techniques, norms and routines which can avoid this careless reproduction of inequities.
    4. Crisis, what crisis? Crisis talk is psychologically enticing but it has little practical value and we should avoid it, not least of all because it gets in the way of recognising how new initiatives inevitably prop up existing power structures in some ways while resisting them in others.
    5. Take responsibility for companion species: a failure to recognise the particular circumstances facing different groups and career stages is a failure to recognise the opportunities which these differences offer for rethinking the forms and practices of publishing e.g. “Our forthcoming poetry pamphlet series, which puts undergraduate and postgraduate work alongside that of established poets, is just a start”
    6. Work harder there, unwork there: the criteria built into promotions mean that withdrawl from the journal system is impossible for most, leaving us with the question of how to reroute labour into less harmful and explotiative outlets. This is why academic run presses are so exciting, creating opportunities to work as publishers rather than for them.
    7. Write! It’s necessary to resist the pervasive instrumentalisation of writing, reclaiming a sense of what it do. The professionalisation of academic writing has forced us “to substitute the more writerly, discoursive forms, such as the essay, for the more measured and measurable –largely unread and unreadable – quasi-scientific journal article” 352). We need to make contact with a sense of writing as something that evades and exceeds the possibility of measurement.
  • Mark 4:01 pm on November 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , publishing,   

    An accessible introduction to the (post-capitalist) future of scholarly publishing – Thursday afternoon in Cambridge 

    If you’re anywhere near Cambridge this week, consider coming to this masterclass I’m organising: register here. What I find so inspiring about Gary Hall is the relationship between his theoretical work and his institutional interventions. He’s been a key figure in an enormous range of projects which have pushed the boundaries of scholarly publishing and helped map out its post-capitalist future. The masterclass will offer an accessible introduction to these issues and run through the aforementioned projects and what they embody about the potential of scholarly publishing. Everyone is welcome and the Faculty of Education is only a short walk from Cambridge train station.


  • Mark 11:32 am on December 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , publishing, , , ,   

    What are ‘recognition triggers’ in scholarly publishing? 

    An interesting concept from John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture which I think has important implications for scholarly publishing. From pg 276-277:

    Oprah and Richard and Judy are prime examples of what I shall call ‘recognition triggers’. I use the term ‘recognition trigger’ to refer to those drivers of sales that have three characteristics. First, they are triggers based on a form of recognition that endows the work with an accredited visibility . Thanks to this recognition, the work is now both visible , picked out from an ocean of competing titles and brought into the consciousness of consumers, and deemed to be worthy of being read , that is, worth not only the money that the consumer would have to pay to buy it but, just as importantly, the time they would have to spend to read it. Visible and worthy: a form of recognition that kills two birds with one stone.

    The second characteristic is that the recognition is bestowed by individuals or organizations other than the agents and organizations that are directly involved in creating, producing and selling the work. Literary agents, publishers and booksellers cannot produce the kind of recognition upon which recognition triggers depend. They can produce other things, like the buzz and excitement that surround an author or a book, and these forms of laudatory talk can have real consequences, as we have seen. But recognition triggers presuppose that those individuals or organizations who bestow the recognition are, and are seen to be, independent in some way and to some extent from the parties that have a direct economic interest in the book’s success. It is this independence and perception of independence that enables recognition triggers to grant worthiness and explains in part why they can have such dramatic effects.

    The third characteristic is that, precisely because recognition is bestowed by individuals and organizations that are independent and seen to be so, it follows that publishers themselves have only a limited ability to influence the decisions that result in the bestowal of recognition, and hence a limited ability to control their effects. They certainly try to influence these decisions where they can, or to second-guess the decision-makers where they can’t directly or indirectly influence them, but at the end of the day the decisions are not theirs. So recognition triggers introduce yet another element of unpredictability into a field that is already heavily laden with serendipity.

    Do these recognition triggers exist in scholarly publishing? The obvious example is the journal system itself. The anonymity of peer review is understood to ensure independence and negotiating the peer review process is understand as a marker of quality signifying the paper is worthy of being read.

    But the over abundance that characterises scholarly publishing has complicated this, as has the growing functional imperative to self-promote one’s own papers. People will be searching for more ‘recognition triggers’, despite not using the concept, leading to all sorts of competitive dynamics which I think we’ll begin to see over the coming years. I suspect many of them will involve social media.

  • Mark 9:32 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , publishing,   

    The proliferation of books 

    From Merchants of Culture, by John Thompson, pg 238. In the United States:

    The number of new books published in the US each year prior to 1980 was probably under 50,000. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the number of new books published greatly increased, reaching nearly 200,000 by 1998. By 2004 the number had risen to over 275,000 (see table 9 ). 2 After falling off in 2005, the total climbed to over 284,000 in 2007 and continued to rise in the following years, reaching an estimated 316,000 by 2010.

    And this has been supplemented greatly by non-traditional outputs. From pg 239-241:

    The data from Bowker suggest that the number of non-traditional outputs rose from 21,936 in 2006 to a staggering 2,776,260 in 2010, which, if added to the traditional books published in 2010, would give a total output of more than 3 million titles. The non-traditional outputs include books released by companies specializing in self-publishing, like Lulu and Xlibris, but the vast majority of these non-traditional outputs are scanned versions of public domain works that are being marketed on the web and made available through print-on-demand vendors. 

    A similar pattern can be seen in the UK. From pg 241:

    Prior to 1980 there were probably fewer than 50,000 new books published each year in the UK. By 1995 this number had doubled to more than 100,000, and by 2003 it had increased to nearly 130,000.The total number fell off slightly after that, though by 2009 the number of new books that were published in the UK had risen to more than 157,000 (see table 10 ), spurred on by the growth of print-on-demand, digital and self-publishing.

  • Mark 8:29 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , publishing,   

    Academic Celebrities and the Transformation of Publishing 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, he makes a number of observations about the importance of brand-name writers which could easily be applied to the growth of academic celebrities within scholarly publishing. From pg 212-214

    Brand-name authors are important for two reasons: first, their sales are predictable, and second, they are repeaters. Their sales are predictable because they have readerships that are loyal to them. Readers become ‘fans’ of a particular writer, or of a series of books by a particular writer, and they want to read more. The publisher can therefore count on a market that is to some extent captive, and the sales of the author’s previous books become a good guide to the sales of the author’s next book. If the author’s career is developing satisfactorily, the publisher can count on cumulative growth: each new book will sell more than the previous one, and the overall trajectory will be a steadily climbing curve. In a world where so much frontlist publishing is a crapshoot, predictability of this kind is a gift.

    Brand-name authors are also repeaters. They write a book a year, or maybe a book every two years. This means that the publisher with a number of repeaters can plan their future programme with much more accuracy and reliability than a publisher who is relying on the normal hit-and-miss business of frontlist trade publishing. They know when each of their repeaters will deliver and they can plan their publishing strategies for each author and each book in order to maximize their sales potential –each year a new hardcover, which is subsequently relaunched as a trade or mass-market paperback, etc. The regular, predictable output of repeaters enables the publisher to build the author’s brand over time, feeding new books into the marketplace at regular intervals to maintain the interest and loyalty of existing fans and to recruit new readers. It also enables the publisher to build the backlist, since the better known the author is, the more valuable his or her backlist will tend to be, as new and existing fans turn to earlier books in order to sate their appetite for their favoured author’s work. So the publisher with brand-name authors wins on both fronts: predictable frontlist hits that can be turned into staple backlist titles.

  • Mark 8:03 am on December 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , publishing, ,   

    Bounded autonomy in the workplace 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, he describes what might be termed the bounded autonomy enjoyed by some editorial teams within publishing houses. From pg 128:

    the devolution of editorial decision-making to small editorial teams operating with a high degree of autonomy within certain financial parameters is the best way to maximize your chances of success. As one senior manager in a large corporation put it, ‘We’re giving somebody a playing field and we’re putting fences around the edge of it and saying, “If you want to cross one of those fences, you have to ask a question. But if you’re playing in the field you can do what you like.” You give people a lot of scope, but you provide a framework within which they operate.’

    I was struck by how absent this seems in (British) academia, with the possible exception of some business schools. Rather than seek to return to a full system of collegial self-regulation, does this provide a model for arguing for autonomy within managerial structures? E.g. Scholarship is something which needs autonomy to flourish but this can be bounded in terms of outcomes and rules?

    It’s worth noting that there’s a brutally instrumental attitude which underwrites this bounded autonomy. From pg 131:

    ‘There is an unspoken rule,’ explains one senior editor who has worked at Star for some 30 years, ‘put one toe out of the elevator to interfere with us and we will cut you off at the knees. And the only thing that enables us to take that attitude is profitability. As long as we make the money, we can tell them to go fuck themselves. It’s as simple and as old-fashioned as that. The second that goes wrong, we’ve had it. If we stop being profitable, the incursions will start.’

    And underlying this dynamic is a certain ineffable trait, a resistance to quantification amidst demonstrable sources of profit and gain to the organisation. From pg 131-132:

    This is part of the mystique of the imprint, ‘and the one thing corporate owners are scared shitless of is messing with mystique,’ said another senior editor. ‘Mystique is what they don’t understand. All they know is, if it works, don’t break it.’

    Thompson later offers counter-examples to this. I’m intruiged by the analogy between high prestige imprints and successful research groups. How does the negotiation of bounded autonomy empower group leaders? The figure Milena Kremakova calls ‘the troll on the bridge’ could become very powerful here: mediating pressures towards granular control within the group and negotiating bounded autonomy for the group as a whole.

  • Mark 1:50 pm on November 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , publishing, ,   

    What is ‘the literature’? 

    My experience of watching the literature on asexuality spiral from a handful of papers ever through to new ones each month has left me fascinated by how quickly ‘the literature’ can become unmanageable. Within a relatively small and nascent field, it’s possible to grasp ‘the literature’ as a totality. But past a certain point, circumscribing it becomes an inevitability for purely practical reasons: focusing on this, ignoring that, excluding material from different disciplines.

    At what point does it become impossible to represent ‘the literature’ as a totality? The impulse to do this doesn’t cease but with its growth these depictions are increasingly performative rather than representational. Demonstrating mastery of ‘the literature’ entails authoritatively circumscribing large chunks of the total knowledge stock within the field, naturalising these occlusion in a way liable to influence others. 

    Furthermore, ‘the literature’ as a totality necessarily eludes depictions of it because each of these claimed attempts to represent the object in fact contribute  to that object’s spiralling complexity. 

    The way we talk and think about ‘the literature’ is unsuited to the realities of publishing in the accelerated academy.

  • Mark 12:53 pm on March 19, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , publishing,   

    Call for Blog Posts: the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Sociologist 

    The notion of ‘publish or perish’ has become something of a cliché. But its reality is starkly confirmed by the sheer quantity of scholarly literature produced each year, with an estimated 28,100 active scholarly peer-reviewed journals publishing around 1.8-1.9 million articles in 2012. How much of this literature is written as a contribution to knowledge and how much of it is written to be counted? How many of these papers provoke serious engagement and how many are largely forgotten? After all, it’s estimated that 82% of papers in the humanities are never cited, 27% in the natural sciences and 32% in the social sciences.

    Does keeping up with the literature remain feasible when so much is being produced? Graham Scambler suggests we are seeing a ‘compression of the past’ in which many Sociology papers increasingly make reference to “a handful of ‘reified’ classics from the past century and a flowering profusion of twenty-first century offerings”. His point is that when we have access to a “a bewildering and heterogeneous assembly of up-to-date sources” we tend to combine uncontentious canonical sources with “what we have most recently digested”. He argues that great bodies of work are lost under these conditions, contributing to a situation thatStephen Mugford describes as the eternal sunshine of the spotless sociologist: long studied topics and well developed approaches are ‘invented’ afresh, without reference to the originals, such that endless reiteration and forgetting replaces cumulative intellectual progress

    This special section of The Sociological Review’s website seeks short blog posts reflecting on the challenge for scholarship under conditions of abundance. This might include topics such as the following:

    • Is it becoming more difficult to keep up with the literature within any given field?
    • What role does specialisation play in the explosion of scholarly publishing?
    • Do our reading practices need to change under these conditions?
    • Is the proliferation of journal articles simply a distraction? Do we need a renewed focus on quality rather than quantity?
    • How do the demands of career progression contribute to the proliferation of journal articles?
    • Should we place more value on review articles because of their capacity to systematise and condense sprawling literatures?
    • Do we need new practices of reflection to consolidate what has been established within a field? Could social media help to this end?

    Please contact Mark Carrigan with submissions or any questions relating to the special section: mark@markcarrigan.net. The deadline for contributions is March 31st 2016.

  • Mark 3:04 pm on February 21, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , over production, publishing, ,   

    The Vertigo of the Accelerated Academy 

    From Sustainable Knowledge by Robert Frodeman, loc 1257:

    I feel like I am drowning in knowledge, and the idea of further production is daunting. Libraries and bookstores produce a sense of anxiety: the number of books and journals to read is overwhelming, with tens of thousands more issuing from the presses each day. Moreover, there is no real criterion other than whim for selecting one book or article over another. To dive into one area rather than another becomes a willful act of blindness, when other areas are just as worthwhile and when every topic connects to others in any number of ways. The continual press of new knowledge becomes an invitation to forgetfulness, to lose the forest for the trees.

  • Mark 6:36 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: academia.edu, , , publishing,   

    why are we not boycotting academia.edu? 

    Via Nick Mahoney. How good does this event look?

    Why Are We Not Boycotting Academia.edu?

    Coventry University

    Tuesday 8th December 2015


    Ellen Terry Building room ET130 


    Janneke Adema – Chair (Coventry University, UK)

    Pascal Aventurier (INRA, France)

    Kathleen Fitzpatrick (MLA/Coventry University, US)

    Gary Hall (Coventry University, UK)

    David Parry (Saint Joseph’s University, US) 

    Organised by The Centre for Disruptive Media: http://www.disruptivemedia.org 

    Registration: http://why-are-we-not-boycotting-academia-edu.eventbrite.co.uk 

    With over 36 million visitors each month, the San Francisco-based platform-capitalist company Academia.edu is hugely popular with researchers. Its founder and CEO Richard Price maintains it is the ‘largest social-publishing network for scientists’, and ‘larger than all its competitors put together’. Yet posting on Academia.edu is far from being ethically and politically equivalent to using an institutional open access repository, which is how it is often understood by academics. 

    Academia.edu’s financial rationale rests on the ability of the venture-capital-funded professional entrepreneurs who run it to monetize the data flows generated by researchers. Academia.edu can thus be seen to have a parasitical relationship to a public education system from which state funding is steadily being withdrawn. Its business model depends on academics largely educated and researching in the latter system, labouring for Academia.edu for free to help build its privately-owned for-profit platform by providing the aggregated input, data and attention value.  

    To date over 15,000 researchers have taken a stand against the publisher Elsevier by adding their name to the list on the Cost of Knowledge website demanding they change how they operate. Just recently 6 editors and 31 editorial-board members of one of Elsevier’s journals, Lingua, went so far as to resign, leading to calls for a boycott and for support for Glossa, the open access journal they plan to start instead. By contrast, the business practices of Academia.edu have gone largely uncontested. 

    This is all the more surprising given that when Elsevier bought the academic social network Mendeley in 2013 (it was suggested at the time that Elsevier was mainly interested in acquiring Mendeley’s user data), many academics deleted their profiles out of protest. Yet generating revenue from the exploitation of user data is exactly the business model underlying academic social networks such as Academia.edu. 

    This event will address the following questions:

    Why have researchers been so ready to campaign against for-profit academic publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis/Informa, but not against for-profit platforms such as Academia.edu ResearchGate and Google Scholar?

    Should academics refrain from providing free labour for these publishing companies too?  

    Are there non-profit alternatives to such commercial platforms academics should support instead?

    Could they take inspiration from the editors of Lingua (now Glossa) and start their own scholar-owned and controlled platform cooperatives for the sharing of research?

    Or are such ‘technologies of the self’ or ‘political technologies of individuals’, as we might call them following Michel Foucault, merely part of a wider process by which academics are being transformed into connected individuals who endeavour to generate social, public and professional value by acting as microentrepreneurs of their own selves and lives?  

    About the speakers

    Janneke Adema is Research Fellow in Digital Media at Coventry University. She has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and edited books including New Formations; New Media & Society; The International Journal of Cultural Studies; New Review of Academic Librarianship; LOGOS: The Journal of the World Book Community; and Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy. She blogs at Open Reflections: http://www.openreflections.org/ 

    Pascal Aventurier has been leading the Regional Scientific Information Team at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research’s (INRA, France) PACA Centre since 2002. He is also co-leader of the scientific information technology group. His focus is on research data, linked open data, open science, knowledge management and controlled vocabularies, as well as researching digital and social tool practices. His team is also exploring the evolution of social networks for academic use. His recent piece on ‘Academic social networks: challenges and opportunities’, is available here: http://www.unica-network.eu/sites/default/files/Academic_Social_Networks_Challenges_opportunities.pdf 

    Kathleen Fitzpatrick is Director of Scholarly Communication at the MLA, and visiting professor at Coventry University. The author of Planned Obsolescence (2011) she is also co-founder of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons. Her recent piece on Academia.edu, ‘Academia. Not Edu’, is available here: http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/academia-not-edu/. 

    Gary Hall is Professor of Media and Performing Arts, Coventry University, UK, and co-founder of Open Humanities Press. His new monograph, Pirate Philosophy, is forthcoming from MIT Press in early 2016. His recent piece on Academia.edu, ‘What Does Academia.edu’s Success Mean for Open Access?’,is available here: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/10/22/does-academia-edu-mean-open-access-is-becoming-irrelevant/

    David Parry joined Saint Joseph’s University in the Fall of 2013. His work focuses on understanding the complex social and cultural transformations brought about by the development of the digital network. He is particularly interested in understanding how the internet transforms political power and democracy. He also researches and is an advocate for Open Access Research. His work can be found at http://www.outsidethetext.com.

  • Mark 7:54 am on November 1, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , fragmentation, publishing, , , , ,   

    digital capitalism and the acceleration of bullshit 

    This is a slightly crude attempt to thematise something which I’ve been struggling to express for a while: has there been an acceleration of the rate at which bullshit emerges in the digital economy? Here’s an example of what I have in mind. I’ve been looking through Amazon for business books about the newer social media and sharing economy companies for part of my new project. This is what I find when searching for Instagram in the books section of Amazon:


    If you can’t read the screenshot closely enough, trust me when I say they look crap. What appear to be a uniformly substitutable array of questionably written books united by the underlying motif of how to get rich from Instagram. I’ve found something similar for almost every search I’ve undertaken in the last half hour.

    The presence of many crap books on Amazon might not be a revelation. But what interests me is the motivations of those writing them. The buzz around a new platform presents an opportunity to establish oneself as a guide to that platform. But the nature of this buzz means awareness of that opportunity is almost as pervasive as awareness of the platform itself. The barriers to entry are minimal and the rewards appear to be great, particularly given the tendency of those who have ‘made it’ to “publicize successful outliers to propagate the illusion”. Furthermore, there’s a broader acceleration of the rate at which people seize on opportunities against a structural background of destructured careers and a cultural background of entrepreneurial individualism.

    The result: we find ourselves drowning in an ever expanding pool of bullshit. The cognitive costs entailed by sorting the wheat from the chaff become ever more onerous, our reliance upon human and algorithmic intermediaries tends to increase as a result, making a small but meaningful contribution to the upwards spiral of individual distraction and collective fragmentation that I’m increasingly convinced is perhaps the defining characteristic of digital capitalism.


  • Mark 9:49 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: micro-publishing, publishing, ,   

    What will micro-publishing look like in higher education? 

    A few weeks ago I was browsing a photography bookshop in London and came across the term ‘micro-publisher’ for the first time. The friend I was with seemed slightly bemused that I hadn’t encountered the term and explained that it just meant small publishers with tiny print runs. Here’s how Wikipedia defines micro-publishing:

    • The book publishing industry sometimes uses this term in discussing publishing companies below a certain revenue level.
    • It is also used to describe the use of efficient publishing and distribution techniques to publish a work intended for a specific micromarket. Typically, these works are not considered by larger publishers because of their low economy of scale and mass appeal and the difficulties that would arise in their marketing.


    The two meanings seem obviously connected to me, in so far as that the former will be the likely state of companies who only engage in the latter. In fact, as the Wikipedia articles goes on to make clear, it’s only with the growth of Print on Demand that the niche markets to which micro-publishers cater became financially feasible because of a radical reduction in the upfront investment that was necessary. This trend intensified with the emergence of online publishing in general and eReaders in particular. As the Wikipedia articles continues:

    Before the emergence of the internet, micropublishing was considered a “microtrend” that would not play much of a role in the publishing world, because costs per copy were too high. The internet has changed this by providing authors and micropublishers with an affordable medium through which to publish and distribute their works.[citation needed]

    The Internet is also evolving how the works from traditional publishing, self-publishing and micro-publishing are distributed. The long imagined dream of digital distribution for published works is quickly becoming a reality. For micro-publications, digital distribution may enable greater numbers of authors and potential authors to enter the publishing industry to access readers who prefer to receive and/or consume content in digital form.


    Digital micropublishing sites like Scribd and Docstoc enable micro-publishers to easily distribute their digital works using intellectual property licenses. Licensing micro-publications simplifies protecting and tracking those works which are distributed digitally, an approached used for many years by software producers, and in the last decade by MP3 music distributors.

    Micro-publishers and authors who use intellectual property licensing sites are not limited to a specific medium (like eReaders) to distribute their works. This flexibility may allow micropublishing to significantly expand readership while protecting copyrights.


    The Subcompact Publishing manifesto thinks through the potential implications of this for the nature of the magazine. To produce a digital edition of a print publication leaves a publisher under a very particular set of constraints:

    A generalized print magazine may be composed of the following qualities:

    • Each issue contains a dozen or more articles.
    • Issues operate on a monthly cycle.
    • All articles are bundled and shipped at the same time.

    Almost all of these qualities are the result of responses to distribution and production constraints. Printing and binding takes a certain amount of time. Shipping the issues takes another chunk of time. In order to find a balance between timeliness of content and shelf-life, a month makes a pretty sensible — if brisk — publishing schedule.

    Old into new

    So why do so many of our digital magazines publish on the same schedule, with the same number of articles as their print counterparts? Using the same covers? Of course, they do because it’s easier to maintain identical schedules across mediums. To not design twice. To not test twice (or, at all).

    Unfortunately — from a medium-specific user experience point of view — it’s almost impossible to produce a digitally indigenous magazine beholden to those legacy constraints. Why? Not least because we use tablets and smartphones very differently than we use printed publications.

    One of the great benefits of being part of the emergent publishing world is that you don’t have multiple mediums to publish across.10 You can and probably should focus squarely on digital. Perhaps later — contingent on market demand and content quality — you can consider publishing a print anthology to give your publication a stronger literal edge.11


    The author then outlines how ‘Subcompact Publishing’ can take advantage of freedom from these legacy constraints:

    Subcompact Publishing tools are first and foremost straightforward.

    They require few to no instructions.

    They are easily understood on first blush.

    The editorial and design decisions around them react to digital as a distribution and consumption space.

    They are the result of dumping our publishing related technology on a table and asking ourselves — what are the core tools we can build with all this stuff?

    They are, as it were, little N360s.

    I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:

    • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
    • Small file sizes
    • Digital-aware subscription prices
    • Fluid publishing schedule
    • Scroll (don’t paginate)
    • Clear navigation
    • HTML(ish) based
    • Touching the open web


    To my surprise, the author suggests that Apple’s Newstand is actually a grossly under-appreciated tool to this end. The argument seems convincing:

    Apple’s Newsstand? “But isn’t that where all those horrible things live?” I hear you say. Or, “Oh? That folder I’ve never opened?”

    Newsstand is perhaps the most underutilized, under-imagined distribution tool in the short history of tablet publishing. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head at just the right angle, you’ll notice something magical about Newsstand: given the proper container, it’s a background downloading, offline-friendly, cached RSS machine people can subscribe to. For money.


    What I find interesting is how much of the innovation in this field has been driven by the facilitation of micro-publishing by others:

    The Magazine is no longer alone as an enterprising app-magazine. It has been joined on the Newsstand by a host of publications put out by 29th Street Publishing, which acts as a publisher and marketer for indie editors and writers, and now a clutch of other startups have entered the fray, each toting cheap or free tools that help regular schmoes produce and sell beautiful cross-platform publications. The options available to independent publishers have never been better, but it’s also likely that this space is going to get saturated quickly. Below is a rundown of the new companies that offer digital publishing products.


    Here are some of the tools listed in this article:

    1. Readymag
    2. Periodical
    3. Blookist
    4. Glossi
    5. TypeEngine
    6. Packagr

    What does all this mean for scholarly publishing? Three initial thoughts occur to me. Firstly, it’s clearer to me than ever why I’m ambivalent about the growth of new journals facilitated by Open Journal Systems. If the journal is freed from the complexity of sales & licensing then why so enthusiastically reproduce the form of long established non-OA journals? Secondly, these tools could offer new opportunities for dissemination by large research projects, publishing accessible material on an ongoing basis rather than restricting dissemination to the end of the project. Thirdly, it potentially becomes feasible to run public engagement projects on an going basis without being completely reliant on grant funding and/or endless unpaid labour.

    Thoughts much appreciated.

    • nationalmobilization 11:49 pm on March 29, 2015 Permalink

      Reblogged this on National Mobilization For Equity and commented:
      How might micropublishing as described here benefit the less privileged peripheries of higher education as well as ancillary support, professional or advocacy organizations? Would it lower paywalls, increase access to underrepresented voices while maintaining quality?

    • pgogy 6:21 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink

      Wonder what the minimum spec is – permanent URL identifiers?
      But our LSE stuff showed books work best? So maybe published PDFs? Amazon is forever?

    • Mark 10:27 am on April 1, 2015 Permalink

      dunno, it’s a potentially elastic concept, just throwing ideas out there really

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