Unlocking the Commons: Tim Carmody, NDQ, Amazon, and the Digital Press

There is a ton of tech writing on the internet these days and some of it is really good. None is better, I think than Tim Carmody who wrote really great pieces for The Verge and Wired back in the day, and now partners with one of the original bloggers, Jason Kottke, to produce a regular newsletter called Noticing that blends content from Kottke.org and the rest of the web. He also has a Ph.D. in Comparative literature from Penn.

What’s more interesting to me lately is his interest in the economics of good writing on the web. As a writer, editor, and a publisher, I have long relaxed in the relatively luxury of academia which has given me the security to do creative work — whether through my professional writing, my blog, my editorial role at North Dakota Quarterly, or my work as publisher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota — without having to get too far into the weeds of funding and finance. At the same time, I do realize that if these projects are going to have a life beyond my own energies and attention, some kind of sustainable model will have to exist to support them.

Carmody has proposed and developed a model that he calls “unlocking the commons.” It is predicated on the idea that a project – like his new newsletter on Amazon – needs a certain amount of support to exist. Carmody is a freelance writer and, from what I gather, he earns his income from his writing. At the same time, Carmody is aware that locking content behind a paywall or the like makes it difficult to demonstrate the value of the content and difficult for supporters and authors to share their work. In fact, it actually reduces the impact of any content produced by making it less visible and less likely to influence a larger community. In this way, Carmody is following arguments long held by the open access community who see the value of creative work not in its narrow and immediate monetary value realized through subscribers, but in its expansive potential to inspire and influence a wide range of audiences. By unlocking the commons, subscriber support allows Carmody to develop his ideas, write, and produce his work, and once it is supported, the work is available freely to anyone who wants to read it. He and Jason Kottke modeled this approach with Kottke.org’s membership program, which apparently worked.

For his new newsletter on Amazon, the threshold for unlocking the commons and making supporting Carmody to produce one newsletter per week was 200 subscribers at $5 per month. If he manages 400 subscribers at $5 per month, he’ll write two articles per week. You can subscribe and support the newsletter here.

This project is interesting to me for two reasons.

First, NDQ has a money problem. Right now, it’s not existential, but it is limiting. We have a great publishing partner in the University of Nebraska Press, and moving forward, they will handle subscriptions and most production for the Quarterly. The goal is that as we rebuild our subscriber base, we can break even for UNP and, then, with a little help from our community, generate some revenue. In the meantime, we rely on three sources of revenue: a small endowment that provides us with enough to copy edit the journal, a funding “backstop” provided by donors and income generated by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and surplus energy provided by our editors and editorial board. This is enough to keep our head above water and to survive the occasional emergency, but isn’t really enough to innovate in a sustainable way. 

Recently, several editorial board members suggested that we install a reading fee for submissions. Other members of the editorial board pushed back arguing that the submitters and contributors MAKE the journal and they shouldn’t be charged for that privilege. While I’m not entirely convinced by this argument, I share its broad sentiment that submissions should remain free as a way to encourage the widest possible range of potential contributors. Moreover, ideologically, there’s something democratic about allowing anyone to contribute and, practically, I think even a modest reading fee might discourage contributions from marginal writers especially in the global south.

What if instead of a reading fee, we included a link to a Patreon or Memberful account or created a formal NDQ newsletter using Substack subscription. To be clear, these wouldn’t be subscriptions in a formal sense — that is money provided in exchange for a product — but they’d unlock the commons and make more of the same creative content that typifies NDQ. More than that, the synergy between a funded newsletter and the regular publication of NDQ will be complementary. After all, the print version of NDQ is what makes us NDQ.

The second interest that I have in Carmody’s new project is that we built The Digital Press, in part, on Amazon’s print-on-demand infrastructure. Whether we like it or not, the world still loves paper books, and the ability to distribute our paper books from the nearly global Amazon marketplace is a massive advantage to a small press like ours.

At the same time, we realize that using Amazon is problematic. First, it limits our reach to small book sellers in the region who have not really warmed to Amazon’s direct sales to retailers. Second, Amazon’s labor practices and corporate culture are in many ways antithetical to the values that we have at The Digital Press. Thirdly, our relationship with Amazon’s production system, platform, and marketplace is completely outside of our control. Of course, as our catalogue expands, we will likely have other opportunities to partner with distributors, but at present, we’re stuck with Amazon whether we like it or not.

Carmody’s regular columns exploring Amazon as a company will offer us insights into both the present and future of the current distribution model for The Digital Press. 

New Book Day: Epoiesen Volume 2

The best day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is always New Book Day.

The Digital Press is very pleased to announce the publication of Epoiesen, volume 2. Epoiesen is exactly what it says on the box: a journal for creative engagement in history and archaeology. It is edited by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa in collaboration with  an impressive editorial board. The library at Carleton hosts digital side of the journal and The Digital Press publishes an annual paper and pdf version of articles.

Cover Epoiesen2 DigitalFinal

This issue includes a model for creating interactive, immersive historical texts using twine, an experiment in interactive mapping, and a graphic novella that explores the experience of 17th century witch trials in East Anglia. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this volume includes an editorial essay by Shawn Graham titled “Citation as an Act of Enchantment” which reminds us that citation isn’t simply a professional responsibility or stylistic formality in academic writing, but a form of engagement that can “broaden the possibility space for what our research and engagement could be.”  Or, as the volume says on Katherine Cook‘s cover image: who you cite matters. This is important and very much in keeping with the spirit of Epoiesen.

Shawn reflects:

“After two years, I am excited by the range and variety of creative engagement we’ve seen in Epoiesen; but I’m more excited by the range and variety of voices we’ve heard. Nevertheless, we have work to do. We have to make it a daily, ordinary, occurrence to make space for others. As I say inside, ‘let our citation be a gift. Let it be an act of enchantment. Find the wonderful work, the uplifting work. Cite it. Build on it. Let your creative engagement with history and archaeology echo with voices you haven’t heard before.’”

We’re proud to partner with Epoiesen to make their content available in paperback form and as free downloadable pdf. Check out both volumes for free and their website.

Also, check out our new catalogue page!

A Book by its Cover: Epoiesen Volume 2

We’re getting pretty close to having Epoiesen 2 ready for publication. Followers of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota may remember that we published Epoiesen 1 in early 2018. It’s a collaboration between The Digital Press and Shawn Graham and colleagues who publish Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology. If you haven’t checked out Epoiesen 1, you really should. It really showcases the range of creative ways that thoughtful and critical folks are engaging with the past. You can even buy a paper copy for $6.

The process of publishing Epoiesen has been a particularly fun challenge for The Digital Press because it involves transforming content published in a digital format into paper. In some sense, the act of mediating between the born digital and the paper (or the ersatz paper in the case of the PDF) is an example of creatively engaging with the past. 

There are just a few tweaks to the text and a quick scan of the paper galley proofs, and it’ll be released into the wilds. While are plan was to make it available for everybody’s Christmas wish lists, the end of the semester and some delays caught up with use and now it should be available in early 2019.

That being said, we do have the cover ready, though! Katherine Cook provided the cover image, and we continued with Andrew Reinhard’s basic cover design. Katherine Cook’s illustration evokes Shawn Graham’s editorial in the volume, “Citation as an Act of Enchantment,” which discusses the role that citation plays in I stuck with bright, non-primary colors and decided to go with this rather pastel purple.

Stay tuned both here and to The Digital Press page for publication!

Cover Epoiesen2 DigitalFinal

Three Things Thursday: Epoiesen, The Bakken, and NDQ Supplements

It’s the end of the semester and that means a time to look back, but also to look ahead to the break and beyond to various little projects on my slate for the next couple months (and beyond!).

While I have a good many odds and ends of my own to wrap up in the near future – including a peer review, an article draft, and the first words of a new book – I’m also looking forward to doing some work with projects from The Digital Press. 

Here’s what’s going on in that department. 

1. Epoiesen 2. Last year, I had the privilege of publishing a paper version of the first volume of Shawn Graham (and co.)’s journal Epoiesen. I thought of it as the Epoiesen annual and it is a total gem of a volume. (Download it here or buy it for $10 here). Over the next month or so, we’ll complete layout of Epoiesen 2 which will include this brilliant comic, Sympathy for the Devil, by H. Laurel Rowe.  It’ll also push us to continue to explore the relationship between print media and digital media in how we think about academic and artistic content and to consider the work of mediation to be part of the creative engagement with the content as well as the field of publishing archaeology and art in a digital/analogue hybrid world. We already have a great piece of art for the cover of the volume thanks to Katherine Cook

2. Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958–2018. Kyle Conway and an impressive gaggle of scholars are working in this project right now. It is a republication of the 1958 Williston Report, a relatively obscure, but nevertheless significant report on the impact of the first Bakken oil boom on communities, the economy, and infrastructure across western North Dakota. The book itself will interleave chapters from the Williston Report and updated chapter from a range of authors on related topics recontextualized in light of the 21st century boom.

3. North Dakota Quarterly Supplement 2. I’ve started to think a bit more seriously about the North Dakota Quarterly supplement series. 2018 saw the publication of a small poetry collection call Snichimal Vayuchil as the first NDQ supplement. For 2019, we’ll have another small volume of translated Maya poetry thanks to Paul Worley connections in the region and tireless energies. This should appear in early 2019 as NDQ Supplement 2. 

This past week, I received an email from an author inquiring whether I might be interested in publishing a collection of short stores. This got me thinking about whether I should formalize the NDQ Supplement series as annual volumes that either expand or focuses in some way what the Quarterly already does. I’m sketching a plan out in my head that could include collections of stories, essays, poems, or even complete novels or non-fiction works that are available in a range of different (and varying) formats from open access to more limited, print-on-demand formats. 

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more on all these projects over the next few weeks as I get some momentum. I can’t promise that any of them will be available for the holiday season, but there’s always a chance a few of those industrious elves can help me get more done than I expect!

Book Release: Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America

My friend and colleague Richard Rothaus has this thing called “New Book Day!” I’m stealing it for today to announce the publication of Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America.

3_Protesting_CoverThis book brings together The Digital Press’s commitment to the public humanities, to innovative and responsible digital, open access publishing, and to our collaborative publishing model. The book brings together a wide range of perspectives on history, philosophy, ethics, and practice to bear on protesting, race, and patriotism. Eric Burin’s expansive introduction is cited almost exclusively with over 300 hyperlinks to articles on the media, which have all been made permanent using Perma.cc to prevent link rot. Moreover, the book is available for free and almost all the content is available under an Creative Common CC-By 4.0 license. Finally, this book would not have happened without the time, energy, and encouragement from our contributors and, in particular, Eric Burin, who pushed and, at times, pulled this book into its present form.

Below is the official press release. We hope that you enjoy this book!

~

Press Release

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce a timely, relevant, and path-breaking new publication edited by University of North Dakota History professor, Eric Burin.

Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st Century America spotlights the demonstrations associated with Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player who in 2016 began kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to discrimination and injustice.

The volume opens with an extensive Introduction by Burin that situates the Kaepernick-inspired protests within the context of the distant and recent past, and then carefully analyzes the demonstrations themselves, the causes they symbolized, and the disparate reactions to them.

Bill Caraher, the publisher at The Digital Press, remarks: “Burin offers historical perspectives both on Kaepernick as an activist and on issues of racism, mass incarceration, and criminal justice reform, and this sets the book apart from treatments in the media that tend to focus on the contemporary response to the protests. To my mind, Burin’s Introduction is the definitive work on Kaepernick and the protests at present.”

The volume continues with thirty brief essays penned by a diverse array of authors, including scholars, veterans, sportswriters, coaches, and others. Each describes what he or she sees in the protests. Some view the demonstrations as part of the quest to secure the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Others discuss the legal landscape of dissent, the revival of athlete-activism, the tactics of protesters, or counter-tactics of their opponents. Still others share their perspectives as individuals literally “in the arena.” These observations, together with Burin’s far-ranging Introduction, provide a panoramic and contemporaneous account of the latest chapter in a freedom struggle as old as America itself.

Protesting on Bended Knee is a first draft of our history,” observed Burin. “It’s history written in real time.”

Burin added that the volume seeks to foster civil dialogue about important issues. “By offering diverse viewpoints and historical perspectives on the protests, the book provides common ground for constructive conversations about race, dissent, and patriotism,” explained Burin. With this goal in mind, the Digital Press at UND has made Protesting on Bended Knee available for free as a download at https://thedigitalpress.org/protesting or as a low-cost paperback from Amazon.com.

Protesting on Bended Knee officially launches on October 16th, the fiftieth anniversary of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s famed protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Burin said the timing was not coincidental. “The book has a bifocal perspective, with one eye on the present and the other on the past. Like the publication date, the section headings, artwork, and even fonts have historical significance,” noted Burin.

In 2017, Burin edited another anthology with contemporary relevance, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College. That volume was also published by the Digital Press at UND, which serves “to publish timely works in the digital humanities, broadly conceived. Whenever possible, [it] produces open access, digital publications, that can attract local and global audiences.”

Eric Burin is available for interviews.

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The Joy of Voting

There’s a lot going on over the next month at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. If you want to be in the loop follow The Digital Press on Twitter

This week, the Digital Press kicked off a collaborative project with Dr. Eric Burin in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota and Citizens University, a non profit leader in civic engagement. The project is called The Joy of Voting and it looks to “reinvigorate a culture of voting” or at least remind the public that voting can be a joyous experience. Grand Forks, North Dakota is one of four cities in the U.S. with a Joy of Voting program along with Akron, Charlotte, and West Palm Beach

The Digital Press is working on only one little aspect of the Joy of Voting project in Grand Forks, which focuses on soliciting and publishing online memories of how voting was a joyful experience. Check it out here:

Joy of voting grand forks e28093 2018 10 09 13 54 58

The Joy of Voting website and Facebook page will be updated daily with a new memory of voting as a joyful experience. Depending on the response to the page, we might put together a little digital book celebrating voting in Grand Forks.     

Three Things Thursday

It’s Thursday and the week is racing toward its inevitable conclusion. I have three quick things on my mind as I struggle to get focused enough to push through teaching and a writing day tomorrow before a weekend full of layout for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

There’s a lot going on in the world, and most of it seems bad (or frankly terrifying). From the Kavanaugh hearings to Presidential alert buzzing my phone yesterday, it feel like all I can do is bury myself in either esoteric nonsense or projects that I feel like I can control. These introduce enough clutter to my brain to keep me from becoming too preoccupied, demoralized, or panicked. Maybe this kind of escapism, when recognized at scale, is part of the problem with society; maybe, for some of us, it’s the only way to stay sane. I worry that my own inability to deal effectively with what’s going on in society today is symptomatic of the problem.   

That being said, I will keep doing even if it looks more and more like I’m fiddling while Rome burns…

1. NDQ Volume 85. I am excited that the first volume of North Dakota Quarterly under my term as “Editor-in-Chief” has gone off to the copy editor. This will be a interstitial volume between NDQ publishing as an independent publisher and as an independent “little magazine” published by the University of Nebraska Press (UNP) (this is an open secret still and there hasn’t been an official announcement yet). In other words, NDQ is out of the publishing business, but still in the content producing business. This is good for us financially and in terms of workload. University of Nebraska Press has production capacity and economies of scale in terms of printing and distribution. It means that I can focus my attention on working with our genre editors on content and with Nebraska to expand our readership, contributors, and subscribers. 

The publication date for this, if we can get it into UNP’s hands by November 1, will be early 2019, which isn’t too far from the 2018 date for the volume.  

2. Digital Ephemera and the Archive. One of the interesting things that has come out of the conversation with University of Nebraska Press is the digital future for NDQ. As a public humanities and literary journal (as if these two things were really different), I always have felt that it was more than ephemera. As such, I pushed for the digital archive of NDQ to be made available via the HathiTrust and had always seen both paper and digital distribution and archiving to be part of the journal’s future. In fact, I had imagined that digital subscriptions, particularly for our institutional subscribers, might be more appealing and easier to manage. In effect, I had imagined that the digital form of NDQ would be the archival format and the paper format would be more ephemeral.

This, of course, represents a pretty significant inversion of how I’ve seen publishing. It used to be that paper versions of books and journals were for the archive because the material nature of paper made it relatively easy to preserve when compared to the changing nature of bits and bytes. Today, however, paper appears more and more as a novelty or for the sake of nostalgia or for reasons completely separate from its traditional place as an archival medium. People discuss the feeling of a book, its scent, and even the way in which paper helps us engage the text in a less distracted way.

The digital form is the archive, which I suppose makes some sense, as most of our publications today are born digital.  

3. Bakken and The Digital Press. One of the little things that have vexed me about Amazon.com (among the many, but this was a little one), is that it never connected my two books on the Bakken through it’s “Frequently bought together” feature. 

It was pleasant surprise this week, then, when I noticed that The Bakken and The Bakken Goes Boom were finally connected. It is now possible to buy both The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (2017) and The Bakken Goes Boom (2016) together for less then $30. That’s less than ONE DOLLAR a day or less than your favorite coffee at Starbucks.

I was sort of bummed to hear that The Bakken wasn’t selling very well (or it was selling well, but in very low numbers). I think of it as a kind of accessible experiment in understanding complex, industrial landscapes. Even if you aren’t super interested in the Bakken, maybe you’ll be interested in my approach:

IMG A908BF4B5F47 1

 

 

The Digital Press: New Books, Social Media, and Downloads

This fall looks to be an exciting one for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.

First, we have two new titles that should appear in the coming weeks: The extended digital version of Hugh Goldring, Nicole Burton, and Patrick McCurdy’s The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet which was originally published by Ad Astra Comix (and you can buy the print version here). There’s a great interview with the authors and creators of this work in the LA Review of Books. You can find the link on the book’s page at The Digital Press.

Beastcoverdraft

We’re also very close to having Eric Burin’s edited, Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent and Patriotism in 21st Century America. We’ve published some previews to this book already, and there’s a great interview with Eric on the book’s page at The Digital Press.  

Pbk cover mock up Outline

What makes these two books even more exciting is that we hope that they’ll push The Digital Press over the 5000 download mark (and this doesn’t count the download that were registered from other platforms like Archive.org or copied and shared by our readers) We hope that the release of The Beast and Protesting on Bended Knee will help us achieve this goal!

Finally, and most importantly, The Digital Press has always used social media to keep our readers updated on our latest releases. We don’t ask for emails or anything like that (although we do have an informal back-channel email update when a new book comes out) and we certainly don’t keep any records of who downloads or buys our books. It would be great if you could follow us on Twitter (@DigitalPressUND) or on Facebook

Publishing Hybrids

One of the best parts of book production is that it’s a pretty intensive operation. Once a book going into typesetting, it tends to occupy all of my attention until layout is complete. In my experience, layout does not accommodate multitasking and any interruption (four-legged or otherwise) invariably leads to mistakes, delays, and problems. (And as someone who is not prone to be attentive to details, even the smallest interruption (like searching for a new album or fixing a little problem) can let an error slip into the final text.

In short, the attention required to layout and produce a book is, for me at least, delightfully un-modern, despite the fact that it usually involves sitting in front of a computer rather than setting movable type. This experience got me thinking (once again) about the modern publishing process as a distinctly hybrid process. This hybridity, at least for me, emerges both from my process and from the nature of publishing in a digital world. 

Here are three quick thoughts (before I have to put the final touches on a book!):

1. Publishing as Craft. My colleague down at the NDSU Press takes students in her publishing class to work with a series of letterpresses and movable type presses in Braddock, ND. The point of the trip, from what I gather, is to emphasize the craft aspects of publishing which stem from the deep integration of all aspects of book making from the moment a manuscript comes into our hands as publisher to the moment it leaves as a completed book. Of course, in practice, most publishers outsource various aspects of book making – from copy editing and review to layout and design – but generally this outsourcing happens internally with the publisher maintaining control over the process. 

With the re-emergence in small-scale publishing, like The Digital Press, the publisher – as an individual rather than as a corporate entity – takes on even greater control over the entire production process. Moreover, with digital publishing, even the most frequently outsources function of the publication process – printing – tends to be done in-house. In other words, digital work, despite its tendency to fragment processes into bite (byte!) sized entities also encourages the processes of publishing to be more smoothly integrated with, for example, editing, design, typesetting, and printing all taking place in the same digital environment (and often at the same workstation!). This kind of integration is typical to craft practice and challenges a view (that I myself have spouted) that digital practices tend toward dis-integration and the logic of the assembly line or the supply-chain.

2. Finding Focus. I’ve been playing with various little applications for my phone that encourage me to remain focused. I have a busy fall semester and my attention span, which is fragile in the best of circumstances, is doing me no favors (while I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve checked the football scores, responded to two emails, let the yellow dog in and out twice, had a brief conversation with my wife, and reflected on the absence of interesting “Explorer-type” watches from micro brands). While my writing process, which focuses on sentence level execution, tends to endure my scattered approach to life, integrated workflows like typesetting and layout suffer when I get distracted. (Just forwarded another email to colleague…)

For example, texts have flows. Each section of text has to work with every other section. Chapters start on odd number pages, so each section must have an odd number of pages. The first page of each chapter, should have the same design, which means that the most complicated chapter title and the least complicated chapter title must all work within one’s design parameters. Changing one chapter title, for example, requires that we change ALL the chapter titles. Changing one element of layout must extended to the entire book. A change in one section cascades through the entire production flow. Blank pages must be added or removed to make sure that the spread aligns with the binding (for tightly-perfect bound books, the inner gutters and margins must accommodate the binding) and that chapters begin on odd number pages. 

This process requires sustained attention because any change must be reproduced the same way throughout the book. Modern layout and production software does help streamline this process of course, but since every manuscript, section, and text will be slightly different, there is inevitably small adjustments that must be made by hand. For example, a text block might be extended a few millimeters to prevent an orphan line or a hyphenated word eliminated if it causes confusion or a strange rhythm in the text body.

All this requires focus because each change ripples through the entire manuscript. It is a distinctly un-modern kind of focus that reminds me a bit of archaeological work at the end of a field season when things must be done in a particular order to a particular deadline. Even the most efficient project likely finds that certain tasks must fall to the project directors who are responsible for the field season and its results. 

3. Digital and Print. The main project that I am working on right now is Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent and Patriotism in 21st Century America.  This is, on the one hand, an edited volume with over 20 individual contributions. On the other hand, Dr. Burin’s introduction runs to over 80 pages in the book and close to 20,000 words (without citations). This is a mini-monograph. 

Dr. Burin’s introduction also includes over 350 hyperlinks that stand in for footnotes or other citation systems. This is appropriate for the topic, Colin Kaepernick’s protests during NFL games and the subsequent events, that is being reported in the online, mass media and is still pretty lightly covered in traditional printed academic sources.  

Unfortunately, as I have discussed elsewhere, hyperlinks are a less than ideal mode of citation for academic work. First, they only work in online, digital contexts where the reader can click on the link and go to a resource. Second, they tend to be fragile even in a digital context and break down as media-makers disappear or social media accounts are deleted. Third, if the account is deleted or the webpage removed from the live internet, it becomes difficult to identify the author, context, or even topic of the reference from the hyperlink alone. Unlike a traditional citation that is both humanly and machine readable (ideally), hyperlinks send readers to a web address and may or may not offer much information on the nature of the destination. In this context, then, the publisher (and the author) becomes responsible for preserving both the link and the destination as much as is practical. 

For Dr. Burin’s book, we used Harvard’s perma.cc to archive the online sources that he referenced in his article, and converted the 350+ hyperlinks to rather tidy perma.cc links. To make these links available to reader both online and offline we added endnotes throughout his chapter and these endnotes included both the original hyperlink and the perma.cc link (unless we felt pretty good about the nature of the original hyperlink (e.g. wikipedia pages or very well established publishers whose sites tend to be resistant to this kind of archiving (like the failing New York Times)). For the casual reader, the mass of endnotes at the end of the chapter are a dense and probably incomprehensible block of web addresses.

PBK Book Draft0 pdf 2018 09 24 06 28 41

But for anyone looking to dig deeper into Dr. Burin’s arguments or who finds a dead hyperlink in his text, this material is vital to keeping the academic infrastructure of the work alive.

The use of hyperlinks to web resources embraces the dynamism of the ephemeral web and allowed Dr. Burin to build an argument from sources that appear and change as quickly as the situation. The use of endnotes and perma.cc allowed us to create the kind of stability that would give such a 21st-century work persistent value as an interpretation of a situation as it unfolded. 

Publishing as a kind of hybrid process involves a tremendous amount of stress and work over rather short periods of time and echoes the kind of ebb-and-flow of the premodern work week documented by E.P. Thompson in his famous “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” (Past and Present 38 (1967)). Dr. Burin and I are already discussing a celebration (complete with craft beer, of course) at the conclusion of this hybrid project which will offer just the catharsis necessary for The Digital Press to gear up for the next book on the docket.  

Now, I have to get back to work!

 

Workflows, Hybrids, and Design at The Digital Press

This weekend was largely turned over to work on two upcoming projects from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. When I first started the press, I swore that I keep things small, avoid having two projects in production at the same time, and build slowly. 

Last year, I broke that rule and this fall, it seems like I’m breaking the rule again. I’m in production with Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee project and with Patrick McCurdy and Ad Astra Comix on the expanded, digital version of The Beast. Fortunately, the projects are both super cool and they’re challenging me to refine my craft as a publisher, develop new workflows, and think more about the nature of books. 

The first challenge that I faced this weekend was publishing a series of essays on Colin Kaepernick originally written for the web. As a result, they had hyperlinks rather than traditional footnotes or in-text citation. The links were embedded in the text, which I received as a Microsoft Word file from the book’s editor, Eric Burin. Moreover, Burin was working on a massive introductory essay (that may well initiate the field of Kaepnerick Studies) that has over 400 embedded hyperlinks instead of traditional scholarly citation.

I had two concerns with these files. First, I needed to check and, wherever possible, stabilize the links by making them as persistent as is possible for the web. Second, I needed to make these links visible so that when the book appears in paper form someone can follow the citations back to the original source.

Workflows

I devised a simple workflow to extract the URLs from the Word files. First, I converted the .docx format to markdown (.md) using the remarkable and powerful Pandoc. Then I opened the markdown versions of the documents in Word and used a little visual basic that I cribbed from the internet to convert all the URLs to hyperlinks:

Sub ConvertSelectedURLTextsToHyperlink()
  Word.Options.AutoFormatReplaceHyperlinks = True
  Selection.Range.AutoFormat
End Sub

I could then select all the hyperlinks in the document and paste them into Perma.cc, where I have a professional account for The Digital Press. Perma.cc allows me to convert all the various URLs into stable and permanent URLs as a batch which it then outputs as a .csv file. 

Once I’ve dropped the original hyperlinked document into InDesign, I can swap out the original URLs in the document with the new stabilized version. There should be a way to automate this, but I don’t know how to do it. 

More significantly, I decided to insert the permanent URLs as both hyperlinks, for the digital version, and as footnotes for the print version. 

As a little aside, anyone with a serious interest in publishing, learn how to code. I wish I know how to automate parts of this process, but I simply don’t have the coding skillz necessary to do it!

Hybrids

Protesting on Bended Knee is a hybrid project that will appear in both print and digital forms. Things like hyperlinks present both a technical challenge for the paper version of the book, but also presents a challenge for how we engage with a text. Hyperlinks constantly tempt the reader to move beyond the linearity of the text and embrace the dynamism of textual meaning emerging from a series of relationships between words, sentences, and other texts. The book in contrast disciplines the reader to follow an argument, page-by-page, from from start to finish. From a technical standpoint, citations are still allude to the relationship between the text in a print book and other texts and the reader is still free to follow these connections, but the book does little to facilitate or encourage it. Instead, citations stand as a kind of infrastructure supporting the text, but also conveniently set to the margins of our vision. 

My current compromise is to include the perma.cc, persistent links in footnotes, but to eschew formal citation. This isn’t ideal, in that these links lack the legibility and transparency of formal footnotes, but they at least point the reader to places where the text has been linked in a conventional way. I guess this is the think with hybrids. They reflect the instability of their form and refuse to map easily onto their constituent parts.  

In the end, this is what the pages of Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee look like. 

Protesting CoreyWilliams copy

Design

If you’ve been following my work on Protesting on Bended Knee, you’ll know that I’ve already messed about with designing the book. I got some feedback from Chris Olsen our graphic designer and tried to give the page a bit more of a contemporary look with more white space. I’m not sure that the updated design is a cool as the one that Chris proposed, but maybe it’s getting there? I wanted to retain a certain house style for this book, but not at the expense of making the book look good.

Designing the expanded content for The Beast is a good bit more fun in some ways. First, the book will only be digital. So I felt less pressure to produce a functionally hybrid text. More importantly, though, I can try to play a bit with making sure that the book looks good in digital form. I’ve decided to use a sans serif font that looks good on screen. I also played a bit more with the graphic element of the book because I don’t have to worry about how the headings will look when printed. At the same time, I did maintain the page as the basic unit for engaging the text largely because The Beast itself, the comic, is paginated and it makes sense for the essays to follow this form as well to lend cohesion to the book.

This is my page for The Beast. I quite like it.

0Conway TheBeast copy