Distant Reading: Gone too Far?

Posted: July 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm  |  By: lilyantflick  |  Tags: , , , ,

The terms, 'distant reading' and 'digital humanities' have become commonplace in the new media and publishing landscape. These terms have been popularized and put to practice by the Standford Literary Lab which pursues literary research through quantitative and digital analysis. The Lab opened last year with the hope of clarifying any confusion within certain literary works through the means of quantitative analysis and computational mapping and modeling.

Founder and Italian literary scholar, Franco Moretti, hopes to utilize 'distant reading', to better understand literature through data aggregation rather than focusing on a specific text. Moretti posits that close, concentrated reading results in a weaker understanding of the true text and that in order to understand the broader context of literature, “we must stop reading books.” A recent New York Times article explains how the Lit Lab team put their practice to work by feeding 30 novels of a specific genre into two computer programs. The computers were then asked to recognize the genre of six additional works and both programs succeeded, one using grammatical and semantic signals, the other by word frequency. The results of such tests indicate that there are some hidden formal aspects of literature which people are unable to detect.

The idea of 'distant reading' seems slightly too distant for the field of literature. The new phenomenon is far too preoccupied with the quantifiable properties of literature, that it fails to recognize that which is incalculable and beyond measure. Perhaps the idea of 'distant reading' could contribute to the field of literature as a supplementary force to close reading. After all, literature can only be quantified and categorized up to a certain extent. Ultimately, a book is more so an art form than a science, requiring a human being to decipher its individual chapters, themes and undertones.

The Espresso Book Machine at Work.

Posted: July 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm  |  By: lilyantflick  | 

Check out the Espresso Book Machine at the American Book Center in Amsterdam. Book printing with speed and ease!

Theory on Demand on Espresso Book Machine

Posted: July 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm  |  By: outofink  |  Tags: , , , ,  |  1 Comment

According to the aim to test different ways to produce and publish ToD books, we experimented the Espresso Book Machine (here's a post about it) located in the American Book Center of Amsterdam. We printed a copy of Image, Time and Motion, edited by Andreas Treske, Ufuk Önen, Bestem Büyüm and I. Alev Değim. The all process take less than 30 minutes and the quality of the book is satisfactory. Compared to Lulu, EBM is more expensive: Lulu price for the book we made is 7.40€ versus 12.50€ of the EBM, without considering both platforms' shipping costs.

Theory on Demand: an interview with editor Margreet Riphagen

Posted: June 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm  |  By: morgancurrie  | 

Geert Lovink at the launch of Theory on Demand books #1 through #4

Margreet Riphagen is the Institute of Network Culture's project manager and the editor of the Theory on Demand book series. Here she explains TOD project's background and how it operates as action-oriented research - and also proof the exploding possibilities for publishing today.

Can you explain the ‘On Demand’ part of the Theory On Demand project?
We decided to begin Theory on Demand because people so often request books from INC, but we’re unable to charge for them. HvA (Hogeschool van Amsterdam, INC’s affiliated institution) has a complex financial system, making it too complicated for us to profit from book selling, and invoicing for a book costs more in terms of human labor than we’d earn by selling it at cost. If you ask ten euros plus shipping for a book, you have to handle enormous amounts of paperwork and accounting through a slow, central financial department.

So instead of shipping print books from INC’s Amsterdam office, we’re making our books available online as a PDF, so people can order a printed copy online and get the books shipped within their own country. We put the entire INC collection on Lulu and Open Mute, and on our website people can also download PDFs. In this way books that aren’t in stock anymore can still be downloaded and ordered.

Lulu’s services are still not very common, and people aren’t yet aware of possibilities of print on demand. But we’re anticipating that this will change soon. We also think we can begin meeting a demand for authors who have a lot of articles to publish and want to explore collecting them into a longer format. Geert came up with the idea that TOD would give authors the possibility to collect all their articles together for publication, especially since it’s hard to find a print publisher to do this.

Why do some of your authors have a hard time publishing with a traditional print press?
These are really specific topics that aren’t for a mainstream, wide audience. Also, an article by itself may not get any notice, but we can work with editors to make compilations. For example, we have a book about the Turkish perspective on new media in a collection of 20 authors. In the end it’s a nice book but individually they might have a hard time publishing their work.

Also, we’re here in case authors want to do reissues. With issue six, Tom Apperley [Gaming Rhythms: Play and Counterplay from the Situated Global], it was published before, but the publisher didn’t want to print a second addition. So we got permission to publish it again.

How do you select titles? Are you approaching people or do they come to you?
We haven’t had to approach many people; mostly authors come to us. There are three or four possible upcoming titles to publish. Patrick Lichty, Josephine Bosma, Sebastiaan Olma, Fran Ilich and Rasa Smite are scheduled to launch before the end of the year.

So far it’s a bit random. The first two or three Theory on Demand books were from people closely affiliated with INC. The very first is Geert’s PhD thesis [Dynamics of Critical Internet Culture (1994–2001)], and we asked Joost Smiers to publish his book [co-written by Marieke van Schijndel: Imagine there are is no copyright and no cultural conglomorates too…Better for artists, diversity and the economy. an essay]. Geert often finds interesting work, and sometimes with my advice we come to a conclusion to publish something.

The main condition is that the text is finalized with footnotes in one document. It’s more this formal criteria than the content itself that decides if something is ready to be published. We are trying to make helpful and clear guidelines so that people can send texts that fulfill the style guide. We hardly edit right now. We want to do more to prepare manuscripts, but at the moment we don’t have the resources. We ask the authors to send a completed and properly formatted text based on a style guide we’ve created. Then we convert it into a format that a designer made specifically for this series.

Now that people see we’re giving authors a chance to publish, we have a lot of requests to publish books both in English and foreign languages. Currently we’re prioritizing English texts to have it a bit more mainstream and because we are more able to edit these contributions, but in the future we’ll begin issuing different languages.

Geert Lovink and Joost Smiers at the launch of Theory on Demand books #1 through #4

Aside from the INC affiliation, what value does TOD bring to a work that an author may not get by self-publishing?
The jacket design and layout, for one. It’s always nicer to send something beautifully designed than a word doc or PDF, even though it’s the content that matters.

We’re also creating a small, centralized library where a lot of new media theory can come together, and this potentially brings in more traffic. We issue TOD along with other INC publishing series like Network Notebooks and the INC readers, so people can find a lot of interesting information on one website. And we provide the PDF to Lulu so authors don’t have to do it. There’s also an ISBN number for each book added to the central ISBN number collection.

We also do a little bit of promotion, such as book launches if the author is available. With the book we did recently for Andreas Treske on Turkish new media critique [Time and Motion: New Media Critique fromTurkey, Ankara (2003 – 2010)], all the people included will use that PDF to distribute the book among their own network.

Do you see this ever becoming a profitable model?
For academics, universities, and high schools, the books can be useful, but I don’t think it will be profitable on the normal book market because it’s niche. But people who are interested in it are willing to pay a small amount for the books. I conducted a survey and found that with the INC Readers people don’t mind paying 10 or 15 euros for them. I’m not sure how prices will evolve for printed book compared to online PDFs and e-reader formats, but that would be interesting to research.

We want to make nice files for e-readers, which demands a different technical process for a different medium. We could potentially make money from downloading for an e-reader. But also here it is difficult within the current infrastructure of the HvA to gain an income from this.

For me it’s interesting to see where this goes, if we’ll start getting weekly request for authors of their books or authors being published. But we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We applied for some funding to turn our publishing projects into a research program – not only about print on demand, but also the future of ebooks. We can use TOD to gather logistics on why people order certain books.

When we published van Kranenberg’s Internet of Things, for instance, we asked people when they requested the book if they could tell us where they’re living so we could get a geographical picture of where the book were going. I’d really like to get a plug-in that shows were people are living who are downloading the PDF’s. If more people are downloading TOD in western side of world, maybe we should publish something focused on the eastern part. We could map out which topics are hotter in various countries.

So besides experimenting with the new possibilities, we can conduct research on the project. It’s action-based research – doing by practicing.

Publications Overview in EPUB format

Posted: June 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm  |  By: outofink  |  Tags: , ,

The publication overview is now available in EPUB format. This release represents an experiment on employing open standards for INC digital publishing.

The catalogue includes INC Reader series, Studies in Network Cultures, Network Notebooks, Theory on Demand and some miscellaneous titles.

Download EPUB from here.

Considerations on EPUB standard

Posted: June 18, 2011 at 4:17 pm  |  By: outofink  |  Tags: , , , , , , ,  |  1 Comment

With the intention to test and eventually adopt open standards for the ToD project, we made some experiments on EPUB. In order to understand clearly how this format works, we developed a publications' catalogue using Sigil. This software includes both a code editor and a WYSIWYG one, which has useful formatting tools (such as bold, italic, indents, text-alignment, lists), but it doesn't have a button to create links.

Sigil interface

Read the rest of this entry »

Book Publication as Community Formation

Posted: June 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm  |  By: lilyantflick  | 

Digital distribution and affordable print on demand technologies are now a fact of publishing. The inefficiency of traditional print models are no longer a cause for concern as writers can now easily reach and establish a global readership.

In his talk entitled “What is Publication?”, Matthew Stadler, the founder of Publication Studio discusses how a book gets from publishing to publication? He describes publication as the creation of a public, which is an essentially political act.
Publication is created through deliberate acts: circulation of texts, the formation of debates to talk and contend in physical space and the maintenance of a digital commons. It is this space of conversion surrounding a given book which beckons a public into being. This can now occur quickly and easily.

Bob Stein, the founder of the project, Socialbook.com, touched upon this at the Unbound Book conference. He explains how the book is a place where readers and authors congregate. With SocialBooks, he hopes to build an interactive ecosystem for publishing that assumes that books are places where people gather.
The concept of the publication community as mentioned by Matthew Stadler is similar to Stein's notion of perceiving the book as a place where the public congregates.

The nature of the public here is not one-way, but rather an ongoing, reciprocal conversation. Stadler explains how publications require the willingness to listen and change depending on needs, context sensitivity, equanimity without hierarchy, transparency and finally, relationships and conversation. All elements are essential for both the creation of a viable publication and also for an effective social reading platform.

As more realize and take these ideas into account, the easier it will be to produce an abundance of literary works and subsequent reading communities and publics.

Bob Stein at the Unbound Book Conference: "Social Reading is No Longer an Oxymoron".

Matthew Stadler of Publication Studio.

Flat World Knowledge

Posted: June 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm  |  By: outofink  |  Tags: , , , , ,

Flat World Knowledge represents a revolution in the field of textbook publishing. The model is characterized by a mash-up of all the current tendencies concerning the book in the digital era: multimediality, e-learning, print on demand, social reading, text customization, etc.

YouTube Preview Image

First of all, Flat World Knowledge gives free* access to textbooks which are generally very expensive. Those textbooks are under creative commons license, this means they are totally editable by the instructor, who can, for instance, make the concepts easier, change the examples, delete chapters, etc. Students can choose the way they want to study: reading online using laptops and e-readers or purchasing the books from the print on demand service, whether in full colours or in black and white. In addiction students can have access to podcasts and other extra contents. Flat World Knowledge allows social reading: students may ask questions online, discuss texts through multiple highlights and notes, chat with other readers.

Everyone takes advantage from this system: students save money and have at their disposal up-to-date learning tools, teachers achieve more involvement in the educational program and have control on the textbooks' “shelf-life”, choosing whether to upgrade the book to a new edition or not. Books' authors get higher royalties.

In the e-book vs printed book debate, Flat World Knowledge confirms the advantages of hybrid solutions, in which all means works together. Furthermore it gives a clear example of the digital technologies' potential if applied to specific book's typologies.

* Online version is for free, PDF download is already quite expensive, but it's possible to download single chapters.

More information in this article by David Weir.

YouTube Preview Image
YouTube Preview Image

The Public in Publication Studio

Posted: June 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm  |  By: morgancurrie  |   |  1 Comment

Matthew Stadler has written a detailed day-in-the-life story in Design Observer about his innovative publishing studio...part printing press, part community event project, part hybrid store front business that, here's hoping, may soon become a settled model of what bookmaking could look like.

The entity calls itself modestly Publication Studio, founded by Stadler, former editor of Nest Magazine and publisher of Clear Cut Press, and Patricia No in Portland, OR. What I find so intriguing about their model is that paper book printing seems to draw license and energy from what we normally attribute to digital practices: instant on-demand replication (they have their own hot-glue perfect binder in the store - you can walk in with a thumbdrive and walk out with a fresh book), they like to issue texts composed of nothing more than a clever image mashup pulled from the web like someone's tumblr page, and they mess around with the murky terrain of copyright by reissuing out-of-print works without going through (the often defunct) publisher. When its so easy to hotglue a spine onto a printed-out pdf, printing might be the next hum drum home brewed act of piracy after the torrent download.

Or sort of. Those are debatable statements. Operating a perfect binder is no easy task, and PS has mastered it as a craft. Which is also why their business model works, even if they offer their books online for free: people want the book objects, they have simplicity and style, and they're the embodied effort of something much larger, a dedicated community of book lovers, of books as more than texts.

PS has grown affiliated offshoots in cities like Toronto, LA, which act less like franchises and more like forks thriving in their different contexts. Each 'sibling studio' contributes books and events to the overall catalog and can publish and profit from selling books originated by any other studio. This concept also seems derived more from what today is attributed to digital culture than from older proprietary models: the more that's shared, the more everyone gains.

From Stadler's article:

We make books as a kind of public space; and we extend that space into a digital commons (all our books can be read free and annotated online); we also host the social life of books. Our storefront is the nexus of all of that — home to the social, digital, and physical business of literature.

TYPE TOWN: 60 Years of Book Design in St. Gallen, Switzerland

Posted: June 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm  |  By: lilyantflick  | 

Internationally renowned designer and professor, Jost Hochuli and Swiss typographer Roland Stieger come together on June 16th 2011 in New York City to reflect on the past sixty years of beautiful book design as well as discuss the future of design in the Swiss town of St. Gallen.

The talk will be moderated by the trendy design blogger, SwissMiss. Designers Paul Shaw and Aswin Sadha will join the discussion as featured guests of AIGA/NY.

A Book Design in St.Gallen exhibition is also on display at the AIGA National Design Center. This exhibition recalls the history and age-old traditions of book design and typography in Swiss workshops.

The show is open to the public from June 16 to July 22, 2011.


For more info, please see here.