October 19th, 2009 | photography
(I started writing this this afternoon, and it’s turned into a huge random braindump. Oops.)
Once again listening to THE SPOILS by Zola Jesus, while I wait for Baron Mordant to post me the new Mordant Music. With the autumn’s biggest bumblebee hanging around the top of my netbook in some confusion.
Feels like the year’s winding down, doesn’t it? I find myself unaccountably bored with culture, temporarily. Feels like not enough people are doing enough stuff. I think maybe I mean print and net culture: I’m finding terrific music still. Like this wonderful album. Hoping Nika untangles herself from higher education sooner rather than later, perversely, so I get more of this sound.
I trolled through Print-On-Demand (POD) magazine service MagCloud the other day, bought Mal Jones’ POTBOILER there, which I’m looking forward to, and a couple of other things on spec. I should have bought a copy of APEX SF, and probably will another time, but (perverse, yes) I didn’t like the cover. (And you’re all bored of me talking about covers.)
MagCloud should be a huge resource for someone like me, and it’s no real fault of MagCloud’s that it’s not yet. It’s about the awareness and uptake.
I keep peering at it and thinking, what can I do with that? Without, of course, becoming a publisher, and having to disburse money to other people, creating for myself a nightmare of inefficiency and lost time. (The most valuable resource any writer has is time.) That said: I keep wondering. What can a one-writer magazine look like? What does a magazine do? You associate "magazine" with disposability: but on the other hand, I’m a hoarder, and magazines will live on a nearby shelf or stack for years in my office. Perhaps it’s simply a modular presentation. Perhaps it’s a tract. These things need considering.
8×11 pages are big, and take work to fill. A 20-page MagCloud mag would come out at USD $4 before you added your mark-up, and it’d cost around USD $1.40 to mail it out to me, currently. That’d make a fascinating Dogme MagCloud, wouldn’t it? 20pp, $1 markup for a total $5 object, so that’s a hair under six and a half Yanqui dolla to get it to my door.
But: with MagCloud and other POD operations, it’s dead cheap (to the point of almost being costless) to experiment, and the single biggest headache of publishing — physical distribution — is solved for you.
(That is the fascinating problem Newspaper Club presents: they’ll ship your pallet of newspapers to you, but getting rid of them is entirely your problem. Which makes them either a hyperlocal object or the subject of much envelope-stuffing. Which is a pain. I kind of love the work their blog is doing to reduce expectations, a sort of "no, really, we’re far more rubbish than we look.")
The worst thing that can happen is that people think your magazine looks shit and so don’t order it. And you’ve lost nothing. And those people might be wrong anyway. MagCloud is the enabler for niche publishing, after all. Someone there is publishing a quarterly magazine all about the history of the Mafia in America. At least two people are serialising odd-looking novels.
Here’s a possibility to turn around in your head: print isn’t dying, so much as it’s becoming much less interesting and useful. Buying a magazine that’s two-thirds ads is not interesting, nor it is often terribly useful. Buying a magazine that’s two months behind the internet is neither interesting nor useful. Buying a magazine that is simply shitfuck ugly is neither interesting nor useful. Buying a magazine so bereft of content that it doesn’t outlive a single sitting on the bog is neither interesting nor useful. Right there, I’ve tagged a lot of magazines on your local newsagent’s shelf. But that does not eliminate all magazines.
If the magazine is dying, but there is yet this lovely and efficient service that lets you make your own magazines, perhaps the onus is there to rethink what the magazine does and can do. I mean, think about that for a minute: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to re-invent the magazine.
Maybe this line of thought spears off a little into Papernet territory. Asking questions like "what work does the paper do" and "how do we talk to the paper?" Which sounds wanky, but if you’re to rethink things, start from the ground up. One of the best things about the Field Notes notebooks is that the outside edge of the inside back cover has a ruler printed on it. I’ve found myself using those rulers more than once, at home and outside. How are people going to operate your magazine? Do you print dotted lines down the inside edges of pages, to show where people should cut them out for remote operation? Create spaces for people to write their own notes on the pages? Interrogate the whole idea of the magazine.
And — and here’s a thing — how about, just for the hell of it, you think about making material you can’t find on the internet? Sold on the internet, unfolded in the physical world. Just as a stance, as a point for consideration, why not unplug the work and enjoy the physical magazine as a thing that isn’t networked and doesn’t require electricity to read. Because… because, sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to fetishise the physical every now and then, for one thing, but because…
The other day, writer Melissa Gira Grant was hanging around in a coffee shop in New York, and twittered that she was there. And if you went to visit her, she’d spend five minutes reading to you from her diary — on the condition that you recorded none of it on the net. No twitter, no flickr, no blogging, no nothing. The exchange for her time was to keep the experience physical, not digital.
Which I think is an interesting point. And a magazine is something that I, in any case, take away from the computer to read.
This went waaaaay off track somewhere, and I’m not sure where, so I’m just going to press Publish and to hell with it…