THE FUTURE (of books) (Oh.)

I have a really great joke I’ve been telling lately, when someone asks me what I’m studying in school. First I say, “Oh, I’m getting my masters in Book Publishing,” and he or she pretends to be impressed, and then I say, “It’s really too bad that the entire industry is folding.”

I tell pretty much the same joke about a lot of things. I like to talk, for example, about Portland “folding”; about the United States “folding”; about the ozone layer, “folding.” There’s a lot of weird stuff going on, and I spend way too much time on the internet, trying to figure out how to make beef tallow candles or construct a tepee out of tall grass. The reality of the impending apocalypse is something that my generation in particular is pretty comfortable with; it informs our skill sets, our political opinions, and, most importantly, our fashion sense. So when I start to wonder about the future of publishing, the first thing I have to consider is whether or not we’ll have salt to put on our radio-active cockroaches in 2038, let alone anything to read.

But, even when my outlook is a little more grounded, it still seems clear to me that whatever’s going to happen to the book trade in 20 years will be something of a mystery. I like to imagine that, despite all these weird new Kindles and kids who only have the attention span to read graphic novels (count me into that group, by the way), people will always be cranking out amazing writing, and there will always be an audience for it. The word “book” might evolve, its definition might do some major expanding, but the basic concepts will remain the same. I don’t see a lot of point in speculating about eReaders and web 3.0 and the depleted rain forests. I’m learning this business because I love words, not because I love books.

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Published in: on March 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Seth Tobacman Changed My Life

My best friend in middle school had radical lesbian moms. They took huge multi-vitamins that smelled like sulfur, and they held hands and thanked the Universe before dinner. Her biological mom had been an actress, and she had huge, expressive eyes and did makeovers with all of us at slumber parties. Her other mom was a photographer. She gave me her old darkroom equipment, and she took my best friend and I to San Francisco when we were 13. She brought us to an anarchist book store, and, without really understanding why, I bought a copy of Seth Tobacman’s You Don’t Have to Fuck People Over to Survive.

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The book made me crazy. It was my first “graphic novel,” and, more importantly, it was the first really dissident text I’d ever read. I’d learned from feminist-lite magazines like New Moon that Barbie was evil, and I’d been taught at my alternative charter school not to judge someone by the color of their skin, but Seth Tobacman made me political. His beef was with a system that went way, way beyond the cold-hearted advertising execs at Matel or the cops using fire hoses to knock down protesters in the South. The oppression, the way he Tobacman drew it, was pervasive. All-encompassing. Faceless.

Obviously, I related to this in a big way because I was on the verge of becoming an extremely angsty teenager, and it seemed to mirror the “oppression” I was beginning to experience from the adult world in general. Rules, which had gone largely unnoticed by me in the past and which I had followed intuitively, had begun to become tools of mindless cruelty. Social norms, also a former non-issue, were suddenly being called into major question. This is not at all to say that that Tobacman’s concerns were juvenile, but there is something that appeals to the adolescent mind in his desperate, heart-breaking drawings and, for want of a better description, poetry. 

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From “I SAW A MAN BLEED TO DEATH”:
I once saw a man bleed to death. That night people walked to the movies over his blood. I thought that because I did not throw up I was not upset. But later I found that the dead man was living inside my body.In face I was full of the things I saw on the street and could not control myself.I was not the only one. I saw that all my friends were eating each other. I had to do something.

 

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Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 7:48 am  Comments (1)  

Email Campaigns: For the Weak

This is hard for me to talk about.

I lived for 2 years in Brattleboro, Vermont. In the woods.

Now, before my East-ward adventure, I had prided myself on being sartorially authentic. My style was original, my apparel inimitable, my influences well-researched and varied. My vintage was actually vintage. I spent hours at the Goodwill Bins, and my look was inspired by cast-offs that charities could not even find it in their hearts to take. I confused a lot of people, but good art is like that: confusing. I got a lot of pleasure out of blurring the line in people’s minds between cutting edge and legally blind.

So, when I got to Vermont, I was somewhat perplexed. There was no…shopping. One could not simply go to the Bins and procure an ensemble for $1.29 per pound; in fact, one could not simply go anywhere. If one were in possession of a little extra money, one was expected to spend it on handmade crafts by local artisans, or maple syrup, or autumnal foliage, or whatever. Textbooks? I don’t know. I studied zines. Anyway. Point is, I was used to a full wardrobe rotation on a weekly basis, and about a month into the semester I’d completely tapped out the paltry offerings of the local thrift store.

I was desperate. The circumstances were foreign and bizarre. I did something that could never be undone.

I received, in my MacMail Inbox, a free shipping offer from Urban Outfitters. Yes, they had my email address. Yes, I had ordered clothing from them once or twice before. But this time, it went beyond the discounted underwear and quirky accessories that had tempted me in the past. I answered the call of Pre-Fabricated Hipsters everywhere, ordered several, pre-fabricated hipster outfits, and when I was asked where I had gotten them, I lied.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 7:12 am  Comments (2)  
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25 Things Julian Smith Hates About Facebook

I found this on Michael Hyatt’s blog. (Irrelevant, but how much of a babe is Julian Smith?)

Published in: on February 18, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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2 Places From Which I Would Accept Employment, If Pressed

1. Soft Skull Press: Rad, punk press in NYC founded by Sander Hicks in 1992 as a guerrilla publishing operation. He ran it under-the-table at the Kinko’s where he was employed. 

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From the website FAQ:

Q. What does “Soft “Skull” mean?

To be perfectly honest with you, we’re not really sure. Sander says in an interview somewhere that it’s kind of “punk” sounding. It’s certainly memorable. But we sometimes imagine that it has something to do with the softness of a baby’s skull as it emerges from its mother’s womb, and the beauty and fragility of a new thing emerging into the world, full of promise and righteous yowling.

Enough said.

2. Bitch Magazine: I’ve been reading Bitch since I was a wee feminist-in-training (Dear Diary, I’ve decided to spell “woman” with a “y” from now on.*), and I can always count on the mag to explain to me why I find certain pop phenomenon so disturbing, or to call out products I had considered innocuous on their shady subtexts.

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Awesome recent example, this article about the Twilight books, taglined, “Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-infested Twilight series has created a new YA genre: abstinence porn.”

*actual excerpt from my 5th-grade diary


Published in: on February 16, 2009 at 6:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Actually I Just Use MacMail for Everything

When I was a young lady, I left Portland to attend an outrageously expensive liberal arts college. It was very scenic, and I had some wonderful professors, and I smoked a lot of cigarettes and learned how to play BroomBall. But on Graduation Day, I walked away with more than a plastic cup of champagne and a dress made out of streamers. As a token of gratitude for my $60,000+ of tuition, the college informed me that I could keep my school email address for life. I was, needless to say, underwhelmed.

The weird thing is that almost two years have passed, and I still use the stupid thing. “At Marlboro.edu,” I tell people. “Like the cigarette.” I also use my Portland State account, and have TWO gmail accounts – one for business (school, this blog, harassing people about giving me internships), one for pleasure (porn. I mean, newsletters).

But more and more, I’ve been letting Google take over my life, and lately I’ve been using their GoogleDocs a lot (check them out, it’s so fun!). Eventually, I want to streamline everything into one technology which is then surgically implanted into my wrist, but for now, because I check all of my accounts between five and 100 times per day, I like to make the process as time-consuming and complicated as possible (This creates an illusion of being busy and productive. Try it!).

Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 10:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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I Need a Tiny Computer to Get a Job to Buy More Tiny Computers

Clearly, I need an iPhone. Or an iTouch. Or a GooglePhone. Whichever. It’s important to my future career as a Young Professional* that I be able to access important information with one gentle flick of the index finger, that I can read important manuscripts on the train (I’ll be in New York at this point, duh), and that I can listen to current, ironic\socially conscious hip-hop while I burn stress (and calories!) away at the gym.

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The problem is (aside from lack of funds, since I’m sure this blog will start generating revenue soon, as promised by this video) that I’m afraid of buying something that is doomed to become outdated. This happened with my MacBook. At first, I loved it, and my friends were all really jealous and we took about ten thousand PhotoBooth pictures, and it was so fun. But then it got dirty really fast and something weird happened with its hard drive and its battery died so now it has to be plugged in at all times and therefore is for all practical purposes not even a laptop, so much as a Totally Annoying Thing That I Hate. 

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Still, when Bernadette Baker and Gretchen Stelter from Baker’s Mark came to talk to us about being rad literary agents (a very possible Future Career of mine), Gretchen had just gotten a Sony Reader and the general feeling seemed to be that soon important manuscripts will all be transported electronically, and you will be a total dud\fool if you don’t have some kind of device to read them on. But as cool as the Reader and the Kindle are, you can’t use them to watch your Pilates podcasts, and they don’t have apps. And Tom tells me that everybody’s going to be reading books on iPhones pretty soon, which reports from GBS about Google making its books available on iPhones and from the NY Times about Kindle books becoming accessible from “a wide range of phones,” both seem to confirm.

So, 

1. Will future employers take me seriously if I buy an iPhone and program my ringtone to this YM song? (and yes, I am one of the mesmerizing young ladies singing vocals at the end of the track)

2. What is the most professional\enviable SmartPhone for a young, would-be publisher? If I use it to read, could I consider it a “textbook” and pay for it with my student loans? 

3. Do I run risk, through this potential purchase, of becoming a GigaPet (my Number One Worst Fear), or, slightly worse, selling out the publishing industry by embracing new technology rather than continuing to champion actual, physical objects? Is it possible to appreciate old things and new things? Is it okay that sometimes I wish I had a TV\actual wireless internet that isn’t stolen from my neighbors, in order to watch House, MD in bed?

 

 

*(this is also an exciting career choice for me because I’ll finally be able to apply the fashion knowledge I’ve acquired from years of reading Lucky. Converting day-wear into evening-wear in 3 Easy Steps is kind of irrelevant when all of your clothes are actually pajamas.)

Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 6:55 am  Comments (3)  
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Michael Munk’s Portland Red Guide

My parents are hippies.  My dad talks exactly like Richard Cheech and my mom doesn’t know how to wear make-up. They met at Reed College in The Sixties (heard of those?) and have lived here in Portland, Oregon ever since. It’s only been thirty-five years, but a lot has changed. Driving around the city with them is like getting a guided tour the past.  “Oh that’s where we lived next door to the Hare Krishnas,” my mom will say, pointing at a row of newly-developed condos.  

For sure, the neighborhoods have shifted, ethnically and economically; there are more people now, from more places. North Portland, which has had some serious rep issues in the past, as a place where people of color (gasp! in Portland?) live, and also one of the last to be bought out by Californians, has gentrified itself into the yuppie-friendly “Historical Mississippi” in which I now reside. Southeast, the exclusive turf of radical Reedies in my parents’ day, is now inhabited only by young people who are too square to move to North Portland, though I believe it still holds the world title for Most Prayer Flags per capita.

But, frankly, this kind of petty history bores me. The NY Times may be obsessed with Portland’s shifting demographics (read this, or this, if you can stand it), but I’d rather read about Portland’s real past.  Which is why I was so pysched (and this was before I worked for Ooligan Press, mind you), when my dad handed me a copy of Michael Munk’s Portland Red Guide, a truly radical look at how Portland has changed, and grown.

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The Red Guide appealed to me because I’d rather read about Marxists and Wobblies than editorials about the new light rail (but what does it mean?), and I’d rather get a comprehensive understanding of Portland’s place in the Civil Rights Movement than sit around patting myself on the back for making mundane observations about my role in gentrification. I may have grown up here, but Michael Munk digs up the kind of dirt that reminds all of us what Portland can be about — more than a small city with a low cost of living and a robust music scene, a place that has more to offer than perfect Americanos and eco-friendly toys that teach visual tracking. It’s a place with a history of social dissent, renegade radicals, and political visionaries. 

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Comments (1)  
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Free Labor: Ooligan’s Secret Weapon

Part of the business plan here at Ooligan Press is that, for all of the challenges we face in securing funds for decent PPB or creative book launches, there’s one thing we’re supposed to get for free:  Labor.  From acquisition to copyediting, from cover design to marketing, all of us busy little bees are, at least in theory, pouring our hearts and souls and tuition money into the press, receiving in exchange a comprehensive, hands-on publishing education.  It’s a simple, elegant solution, so long as everybody holds up their end of the bargain.

Unfortunately, the problem with not paying your staff is that it’s easy to lose track of them.  At a recent FOOP (Friends of Ooligan Press) meeting, it was brought to my attention that we actually don’t know how many students we have at Ooligan.  This information came up in light of an oft-heard observation that labor keeps coming up short next to the official number of enrolled students.  It may well be that some percentage of these officially enrolled students left the program without graduating, and were therefore never removed from the list. It also may well be that there are students who are actively enrolled but simply choose not to work.

If the discrepancy is caused by the latter, our business model is in trouble, and so are our students.  Taken for all it has to offer, the program functions both as an internship and a formal education, but if a student doesn’t actually participate in the work groups, he’s getting the degree without the experience.  This not only jeopardizes his chance at getting a rad job, but Ooligan’s reputation as a teaching press.

So what do you all think?  My impression is that working for Ooligan is not formally “required.”  

So, should it be?

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 9:30 am  Comments (5)  
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Are Direct Sales Part of Reality?

Marty Asks:

Why would anyone ever buy books directly from the publisher?… Do you think that book publishers can expect to see significant, ongoing growth in direct sales through their web sites? Does it matter?

To answer the first part: Right now, there is no compelling reason. As discussed, the stellar growth of Amazon clearly indicates that readers are just as comfortable clicking books into virtual shopping carts as they are pulling books off of actual shelves. Nobody’s bummed on buying books online, but what are the odds of publishers becoming viable competitors with Amazon?

In class, Marty mentioned that a publisher doing 5% of their business through direct sales (as in, purchased through the company’s website),would call its direct sales healthy; robust even. And as we’ve gone over, again and again, readers (even publishing students) don’t care about publishers. We look for new reads based on content, reviews, bestseller lists, recommendations, and only very rarely imprints.  

Take Ooligan, for example.  Let’s say that a reader for Deer Drink the Moon stumbles upon our website.  She likes what she sees on the homepage, so she clicks through to the booklist.  She finds a psychological thrillers, some historical fiction, some Croation translations, and the autobiography of a politician.  In other words, barring a fantastic coincidence, she’ll find nothing she wants.  

Now let’s say she goes to Amazon.  After she types in the title and reads the customer reviews (well, in this case, review — we’ve gotta get on that), she’ll be prompted to check out a book of poetry by Mary Oliver; Swordbird, a similarly-genre’d read for 4-6 graders; and a John Steinback novel, Cannery Row.  What the Steinback has to do with anything, I’m not sure, but these results are still a lot more likely to interest our reader.  

And, of course, the book is at Ooligan’s site for $19.95 and Amazon’s for $14.99 (or $8.88, used).  But let’s not dwell on that.

My point is that unless publishers publish in very specific niches, and a reader can expect a specific kind of product from them every time (like Harlequin, for example), there’s no reason for a reader to even visit their website, much less purchase from them. The McSweeney’s of the world should keep on focusing on readers, and, if bookstores disappear entirely, expect rising direct sales.  Ooligan, unless we reform our list, probably should do neither.

Published in: on February 1, 2009 at 2:42 am  Comments (1)  
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