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Paper Nets

(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.

For instance, here’s two MagCloud-related links for your RSS reader: Recent Issues and Featured Issues.

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…

Published in photography


  1. On the same track of thought:

    As I try and ramp up Mad Pulp Media I am increasingly aware that the digital versions (Kindle, Sony E-reader, whatever else is available) are the barebones versions for quick and easy reading…

    But the POD versions will have the full boat of content like a collectible edition DVD. Behind the scenes features related to the book. Pics, essays, commentary,etc…

    And I think that when you’re using POD you need to think that – what can we do to make it worth the price above and beyond the great main content you can find digitally? And how many different ways can we drive down the digital price (ads, subscriptions) to make the print version the absolute must-have?

    I like your thinking re: interactivity in the print realm. Maybe I should investigate doing Frankenstein paper dolls… excuse me, “Horror action figures.”

  2. Have you heard of Standpunkte? I hadn’t until today but it seems like they are on exactly the track that you want. Their first issue This Will __ This starts with a 2d barcode on the cover and goes from there. It seems like you can order them from here.

  3. Keith Keith

    Magazines are the perfect thing to read while you’re on the toilet. any toilet. But no one gears them towards that easy to digest, 2-5 minute time frame. Sure, there are bathroom readers out there but they aren’t cheep and kinda clunky. A bathroom reader mag would have maybe 10-12, 1 or 2 page spreads that tell you something weird, fun, creative or just out there, with a pic or two and room for notes (I always get ideas on the can). Just enough info to fill your time with something other than what’s falling out of your body and maybe with a punch to stay in your brain afterwords for at least long enough to have some bit of conversation (“I was taking a shit the other day when I discovered that cats have no sense of the passage of time…”). Make it short enough so you go through it once a fortnight.

  4. Warren Ellis Warren Ellis

    Tim, none of your links survived the posting for some reason.

  5. Jacob Warren Jacob Warren

    I’m working on a magazine through MagCloud as I write this. I’m looking into how many different things I can put into it without it being a book only those with ADD could appreciate.

  6. lampcommander lampcommander

    I usually partake in this site purely for the interesting/random things I find on its blog and message boards. But every once in a while I read something on here that really motivates me, sometimes outright inspires me, to create. This is one of those times. Thank you.

  7. I would also like to point out that I feel like there is still an awful lot of prestige placed on paper print. The wave of the future seems to be this great digital medium where anyone and their cousin can put whatever they had for breakfast all over the internet for their friends and family to read. However, 15 bucks for a server and domain name and enough time to write down a story you wrote about Whiskers, your cat, coughing up a hairball does not make you a successful writer. The idea of getting your work printed on the page, even if it is something like POD is so much more rewarding, and a step further in the direction of establishing yourself then just throwing up on the internet. Maybe I’m wrong; specifically with POD, because what’s the difference between POD and a Blogger account? I just don’t know that Print will truly die for a while because of the onus it has.
    It’s awfully late and this might not make much sense. Interesting article though.

  8. We (proboscis, a small London-based non-profit) developed a hybrid digital/paper publishing format back in 1999/2000 called Diffusion eBooks, and added a 3-dimensional storytelling format a couple of years later, StoryCubes. To read the eBooks (which are distributed free of charge) you download them, print them out and make them up into books – all you need is a pair of scissors.
    After the PaperCamp event in January I designed a whole series of downloadable notebooks for writing/sketching etc, the key being that they can be scanned in and made shareable. We’ve just deployed the alpha version of of eBook and StoryCube creating web app (bookleteer) – – and are very interested in exploring all kinds of uses for it, especially for things like comics. We’ve now got 4 different variants of the eBook (2 landscape + 2 portrait types) and support about 80 languages, including right-to-left ones such as Arabic. Drop me aine if you’d like to find out more.

  9. Anastasius Anastasius

    Print is dying. Just close the coffin already.
    I mean, just read your text again. The 2 best pro arguments you have is that one your books has a ruler and that you have something to do while you take a shit.

  10. Just saying, that for me reading a printed book/magazine has a quality of “firmness” about it, something I’m finding difficult to put into words. I can’t be the only one who gets an element of swimming in a surging tide when reading on the internet, little voice in the back of your head screaming theres something else there, just click it. Turning technology off stills that voice. I have tried weekends without any technology at all, and the feeling of well being it engenders is surprising. Here look at this stuff in this old book.
    I think people want/need/should have technology free time (i don’t want the internet on my phone thanks), and the ability to formulated a printed item that you can take with you into that space, something that uses the facilties this splendid technology can give us, that is a product/side effect of it, (like making the weekly output of a tumblelog into a picture-graph for example), is somehting I’m very glad you give thought to Mr Ellis.

  11. The sad fact is that shitting itself will all be handled digitally in the next three to five years, which doesn’t bode well for magazines.

  12. While I am often the guy who must remind others that NOT EVERYONE HAS READY ACCESS TO THE INTRAWEBZ, especially in these glorious economic times we may well be reaching a point where many folks cannot even afford a decent internet connection much longer.
    All said, I think I see what the article is suggesting. Like how everyone and anyone who can go online with regularity now has the comprehendible tech at their disposal so as to create their own website (even pseudo websites ala online communities). And so many make the attempt. What if as many persons who put so much effort into their blogs were to each and every one, reapply those efforts into their own rags? Let’s get everybody to edit and package their own print mags, hell yea.
    Why not? Because nobody is getting rich off of their blogs anyhow. (And as much as everyone wishes to eagerly plug in forever, the internet in general is NOT making money for the bulk of its users: fact)
    Culture runs in cycles anyway, so a leap to the past could be a renaissance, of sorts. Yes please, let’s learn the old ways, paste ups and doctor martin watercolours and overnights at kinko’s.
    Let’s turn mass creativity into a plague.

  13. […] hero of mine, Warren Ellis, had this to […]

  14. “I think people want/need/should have technology free time”

    I find this comment interesting. I hear this a lot from the generation ahead of mine (not that I will presume to know what generation you are from) and significantly less from my generation. I have had access to a computer since I was 5. At that time, it a was a machine running Windows 3.1 and it was bleeding edge in our neck of the woods, but we had it. I grew up connected to a computer in classrooms and at home (but no where near as much as my younger brother was so we shall see how he feels when he gets older).
    I have spent weekends away from technology and it makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like I have lost a major tool of information gathering and communicating. Any time I try to explain something or (god forbid) draw a visual aid (granted this could be my own short coming) I feel like I am missing an expressive tool. Conversely, I the amount of events that can happen in a single day on the internet is staggering. The amount of information travelling is insane and without that I would, again, personally, feel very out of the loop.
    I think this also goes hand and hand with individuals ability to read things off a screen. My parents can’t do it for more then ten minutes. My youngest uncle, 11 years older then myself, can do it for a couple of hours. I have virtually no time limit. There is no difference to me between reading off a page and a screen other than my ability to hold a page and my ability to read a screen in the dark.
    I do still think that print has a purpose. As was stated I completely believe that there are things you can do in paper that you can’t do in print; and as I said above I think there is validation in print.
    As far as a break from technology I feel like that will soon become asking someone to take a break from using their hands for a weekend; doable, but increasingly more difficult.

  15. […] only 7 people do it better than that one bearded mumbler who wrote Transmetropolitan.  In today’s episode, he’s talking about the lonely death of print, specifically magazines.  His pointing his […]

  16. […] Warren Ellis on magazines and their digital/physical formats. This paragraph nudged me in particular: 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. « adventure is born in adversities | […]

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