... in publishing

The jetlag society [one possible future for the book]

11 Jul 2011 | 296 words | art publishing books ebooks

the jetlag society unbound book

The Jetlag Society is one of the projects that was on display at the graduation show of the Sandberg Institute last weekend. The Jetlag Society consists of a video installation (on display in the rather amazing vondelbunker) and an unbound book (above).

“The Jetlag Society is an unbound book on how technology influences time, space and our synchronization with the world. While bound books have weight, smell and are above all tangible, it’s digital form can be quick changing and endlessly linked to other relevant information. The Jetlag Society is a name, a feeling and an unbound book that makes the idea feel timeless, interconnected and constantly in motion” (from the Jetlag Society, In • Preface 00’00”)

The unbound book consists of the front and back covers of a book that have been individually silkscreened. the actual text is available at at read.thejetlagsociety.net for online consumption and as an .epub or .mobi download. To access the text you purchase the unbound book which comes with login credentials (in the form of a silkscreened captcha) that enables you to access the content at the website).

I actually quite like the concept of making you buy a physical fetish like object that enables you to consume the the actual text on an e-reader of your choice. It makes me feel much less guilty when purchasing an ebook, gives you all the satisfaction that well crafted objects give you and maintains one of the most important properties of physical books: that you can pull it out of your shelf and show it to people when you refer to something in it…

The Jetlag Society is the final exam project of Sandberg students Brigiet van den Berg (NL), Nikki Brörmann (NL) & Simona Kicurovska (MK)

Publishers are stupid

06 May 2010 | 629 words | books copyright ebooks publishing stupidity

So imagine this scenario: you are on an isolated tropical island that does not have a bookstore, you are out of books, but you happen to have an electronic reading device with you that is wirelessly connected to the internet and that is tied to you credit card account (which is not maxed out). This should constitute one of the most ideal business cases for selling books to this particular individual, but for some reason the publishing industry does not seem to be willing to cater to this scenario.

Two months ago while on vacation i found myself in this very scenario (aggravated by the fact that i had left my copy of Salinger’s ‘the Catcher in the Rye‘ with 30 unread pages to go on the ferry boat that took us to the island). Unfortunately for me (and the rights-holders) you cannot buy an electronic copy of ‘the Catcher in the Rye’ from the international kindle store run by amazon. instead you can get about 13 different books that deal with the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in some form or another (reading helps, studies of the book etc) but the original text is notably absent from the international kindle bookstore. The most likely reason is that some publisher has decided that it is somehow not in his/her interest to to sell the book to people like me1.

So instead of reading the final chapters of ‘the Catcher in the Rye’ i was forced to read the the New York Times (which is available via the kindle no matter where you are) for 7 days and once we were back on an island with a second hand bookstore i purchased a 2nd hand copy of the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and finished the book. Of course all of the money i spend on that second hand copy (which was more than the price of the original paperback that i had left on the ferry) is going to the owner of the bookstore and none of it is is ending up in the pockets of the publishers or the author (who is dead so in this case the stupidity of the publishers does not harm the author).

Obviously there real danger to authors is not that people who are unable to obtain ebooks because of rights-issues will turn to second-hand bookstores. Instead it is more likely that they will turn to file-sharing networks and other sources for unauthorized copies instead. Already there are more unauthorized ebook editions than there are books on the international kindle book store and the only reason why this has not yet become a real problem is that only a few people own specialized reading devices. This of course will rapidly change over the next couple of years.

If the publishing industry does not get its act together and makes sure that we can purchase all books on whatever platform we like right after they have been published regardless where we happen to be, it will find itself in exactly the same position as the music industry is finding itself for the last 10 years. Of course they are free to do so should they really want to end up there, but since they have been warned it would be nice if they could refrain from the disgraceful whining that we have had to endure from the music industry for the past decade. The choice is theirs…

  1. Ok, there is an even more likely explanation: the book is probably not available because the rights to do so rest with a bunch of different publishers for different territories and so there is no-one who can make it available an online bookstore that covers multiple territories. as far as i am concerned this still counts as being stupid. ↩︎


16 May 2009 | 830 words | media publishing technology

Spend the last two evenings at the print/pixel international conference on the current shifts in print and online media production (warning: most dysfunctional conference website ever) organized by the research project Communication in a Digital Age at the PZI in Rotterdam. Most of the discussions were (not surprisingly) on business models for print publications and the role of print journalism in the current technological and economic climate. Unfortunately the whole thing has not really resulted in much new insights (& all the speakers i really wanted to hear did not show up).

At times the discussion reminded me very much of the discussions around file sharing of music from a couple of years ago. At that time the music industry was claiming that they needed to be in control of distribution (and thus eliminate file sharing) because they had a god-given task to do the (expensive) discovery of new artists and transforming some of them into stars, which could only be done as long as they were able to extract enough surplus from distributing recorded music.

Now the print people are structurally repeating the same argument: self distribution via the internet must be limited because (small) publishing houses use parts of their revenue in order to filter the quality texts from the much bigger reservoir of general text production. The argument goes that in order for this quality filter to survive, authors must continue to publish through publishers instead of relying on internet distribution.

Of course this line of reasoning is not only stupid but also incredibly arrogant. If i was a publisher i would rather invest my energies into figuring what i have to offer to authors and readers once the perfect shitstorm of cheap generic electronic paper reading devices1 and wide available of e-books on the file-sharing platforms breaks loose. judging from the discussions at print/pixel it appears that very few people are seriously preparing for this inevitable scenario.

The entire event reminded me of a passage in the first half of David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest‘ (which i have almost finished reading by now). It describes a fictional future scenario in which the digital revolution re-structured the economics of entertainment (=news) in a completely different way from the situation as it was discussed at print/pixel2. When it was published in 1996 Infinite Jest was situated in a near future that roughly corresponds with the current present (predictably wikipedia has an entire section of the ‘infinite jest’ article devoted to the question which year in the book corresponds to which year in the Gregorian calendar).

In the scenario described in Infinite Jest, television has been replaced by the a entertainment mechanism for entertainment products (called cartridges) called InterLace. InterLace is also the name of the company that has complete control (i.e a monopoly) over the distribution of entertainment cartridges. People pay for the on demand consumption of cartridges (and those who can’t afford it re-watch old cartridges all the time). In the book the emergence of InterLace is described in a term paper written by the main character Hal Incandenza, a marihuana addicted junior tennis player (pages 410-418 in the back bay 10th aniversary paperback edition).

According to Hal’s paper the shift from Network television to cable television and then to InterLace as the dominant entertainment medium started when advertisements on network television got so repulsive that people viewers abandoned network television in favor of cable television which offered more choice and less advertisement. While the cable TV stations rested in their new found popularity, a video rental chain owner called Noreen Lace Forché bought up the production facilities of the bankrupt TV networks and used them to produce content for InterLace which offers pre-produced on-demand entertainment. From the consumer perspective the appeal of InterLace over cable television is that one has complete control over the choice of programming (i.e one can select from a huge library) without any advertisement. In the scenario described in infinite Jest this is a business proposition that people are happy to pay, which not only puts broadcast and cable television out of business but also eliminates most of the advertising industry.

Now the obvious difference with the the current reality is today there is no monopoly provider of entertainment (or news) products that can afford to set a price for access. Instead we have the open internet offering free access to almost all entertainment (or news) and one of the very few business models that offers some relief to producers is online advertisement. Makes me wonder if we would not be better of in the infinite jest scenario, paying for our entertainment and news and being spared of the advertising onslaught…

  1. In the short term this probably means jail-brokenkindle’s that display standard .pdf and .epub files. ↩︎

  2. The free availability of news in real time all over the internets undermines the very structures involved in producing these news and in the long run will affect the quality and diversity of the news available. ↩︎

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: