Florian Cramer on “The Art of Hybrid Publishing”

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Source: Hybrid Publishing Lab
Julia Rehfeldt —  September 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

Florian Cramer is an applied research professor and director of Creating 010, the research centre affiliated to Willem de Kooning Academy and Piet Zwart Institute at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. He also works for WORM, a Rotterdam-based venue for DIY avant-garde culture.

Hybrid Publishing Lab: What recent changes do you see within the intersection of DIY culture and hybrid publishing?

Florian Cramer: My colleagues Alessandro Ludovico and Silvio Lorusso would be the better people to ask because they’re much more in touch with contemporary practices and projects in this particular area. What I generally observe is that hardcore DIY publishers go back to print, particularly DIY printmaking including stencil presses, Risographs and silk screening. Experimental hybrid digital/analog publishing seems to be a domain mostly of graphic designers – which no longer means DIY in the narrow sense of the word.

HPL: You developed a toolkit for publishers, can you briefly explain the focus of this project to our readers?

Cramer: It’s not only for publishers, but also for designers, authors and editors. The focus is (a) on e-books and e-book technology, (b) on publishing in the arts, which encompasses everything from theory books to artists’ experimental publications but in most cases means visually oriented publishing. We found that in the field of the arts, there is hardly any existing e-publishing know-how. Yet publishers feel a great urgency to switch from pure paper publishing to hybrid paper and electronic publishing for a whole number of reasons: costs, distribution and outreach, but also new opportunities provided by the electronic publishing; even if they just boil down to a museum offering, instead of one heavy exhibition catalogue, customized e-books with a number of works selected by the individual buyer, or to a publisher selling single poems instead of a poetry volume.

Our toolkit consists of a handbook that gives everyone, regardless their level of previous knowledge, a step-by-step technical and editorial introduction into publishing electronic books. It is meant for small publishers who cannot simply outsource such work to external agencies and focuses on new editorial workflows that make it easier to simultaneously publish in different media (such as paper book, e-book, web site). The handbook covers different typical publication scenarios. Next to this handbook, our Toolkit includes a number of self-written software utilities. Very likely, it will also provide a user-friendly interface for command-line Open Source software that we recommend as a hybrid publishing document processing tool.

The development of this toolkit partly needs to be understood from a Dutch cultural context where Gert Lovink and me work as applied research professors in the system of higher polytechnic education and therefore do hands-on R&D in collaboration with publishers and designers. There is a major crisis of arts publishers in the Netherlands because most of them depended (directly or indirectly) on public arts funding; funding that has recently been slashed by the government. This urges everyone to radically rethink the way they work. Obviously, electronic publishing is not a panacea. Hybrid publishing can even make things more complicated and, in the worst case, more expensive. So we’re looking for pragmatic, working solutions – not snazzy design show-off work that may create wow-effects but will not be a workable model for real life, in an area of publishing where books rarely have editions of more than a few hundred or few thousand. Focus on showcase projects has been the achilles heel of all electronic and multimedia publishing efforts ever since the CD-ROM in the 1990s.

We eventually want to take our project beyond the Dutch context and continue our critical R&D in a wider European context. But the toolkit will be published in English and, by the way of eating our own dog food, made available in different digital and analog formats.

HPL: What was your experience when developing it?

Cramer: We greatly underestimated how little publishers are familiar with computer technology outside the established Microsoft/Adobe toolchain, and what a culture shock it was for them to be confronted with new workflows that have their origin in Open Source, scientific publishing and the World Wide Web (such as, for example, a simplified markup language like Markdown). Many designers, publishers and editors hope that hybrid publishing is an issue that could simply be resolved with an additional export button in InDesign, but this is and will never be the case. We also saw that other comparable projects, often initiated by artists, designers or media researchers, started with bold promises but failed to deliver because they had either underestimated the complexity of the matter, or constrained themselves to solutions that only work on one particular technological platform (such as Apples iPad).

HPL: Which book will you always have as an analogue copy in your bookshelf?

Cramer: Obviously, George Maciunas’ “Flux Paper Events” (published by Edition Hundertmark in 1976). And, by, implication, all artists’ books, bookworks, design books and visual books for which the medium of paper and the form of the bound codex is indispensable. – On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of thousands of conventional paperback and hardcover text books in my home library and replace them with electronic books, for the pragmatic sake of gaining space, and always having my library with me as searchable files on one USB stick; despite the obvious usability and durability advantages of paper books.

As a matter of fact, the question of analog vs. digital publishing is not one of mutual excluding alternatives; it’s not about “either/or” (as most of the publishing industry still believes) but about “and-and”. This is why our toolkit isn’t called “electronic publishing toolkit” but “hybrid publishing toolkit”. For the same reasons, I’m convinced that we’re living in post-digital times where analog and digital coexist, and get hybridized. Just like true music lovers own their music both in digital and analog form, on vinyl *and* as mp3 files, I would advise publishers to target book lovers who want their reading material on paper *and* as an epub or PDF file. This could, btw., be good business, too.

Our upcoming Conference on Publishing between Open Access, Piracy and Public Spheres is up for registration now. You can read all Interviews here.

Read tomorrow the introduction interview with Gary Hall, co-founder of the open access journal Culture Machine, and co-founder of Open Humanities Press.

make book

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Make is a popular free software tool that helps programmers compile their code into programs. Increasingly the tool is finding new uses in publishing workflows to compile prose text into electronic formats like epub and PDF. The INC subgroup has been using make in their hybrid workflow to produce multiple formats of the Society of Query reader. While not a “killer app” with a pretty graphical interface, make represents a distillation of practice that suggests future tools for creating flexible, editable workflows where tweaks and workarounds are the norm.

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From print to what?

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Changing work patterns in electronic publications
in the arts and design sector_by Joost Kircz

The Toolkit project aims to assist smaller publishers in the art and design sector to make their first steps in producing their books and periodical through digital means. This aim turns out to demand a fairly complicated road to final success. First of all, changing over from print on paper to digital media is not the same as, say, changing from an old-fashioned manual typewriter to an electronic typewriter. The change implies a rethinking of the whole production process from author to reader.
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INC project update: Hybrid Publishing Workflow test

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On the 12th of September the Institute of Network Cultures subgroup organized a meeting to test  the initial results of their research. Their project focuses on optimalising the publishing workflow for print and electronic publications – developing a “hybrid publishing workflow” that will make it easier and more sufficient to publish for several platforms and formats. For this purpose they have researched and developed several tools, and created manuals and visualisations that will make this process accessible for a larger audience.

During the test day the tools and manuals were tested by several people that each represented a certain role in this workflow: editor, designer, and developer. Thanks to Andre Castro (developer and designer), Gert-Jan van Dijk (Uitgeverij Duizend & Een) and his multimedia designer James Fitzpatrick (Machined Arts Amsterdam), Menno Grootveld (Leesmagazijn), Geert Lovink (INC), Margreet Riphagen (INC), and Caspar Treijtel (UvA, University Library) we gained insights in the parts that still need to be developed further. The results of this test day will be implemented and published on the blog as soon as possible.

The results of this test day will be implemented, and published on the blog as soon as possible!

INC subgroup Testmeeting 12th of Sept

INC subgroup Testmeeting 12th of Sept INC subgroup Testmeeting 12th of Sept

Wanted: intern with interest in e-books and digital publishing

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For the further development of its electronic publication strategy – combining digital and print books and other media – the Institute of Network Cultures is looking for an

Intern with a strong interest in digital publishing
3-6 months, 4 days a week, starting January 2015

You will be producing international publications in the field of online media in different formats (print, PDF, epub). A strong command of the English language in reading and writing is necessary, as most of the publications are in English. We are looking for someone with a keen interest or background in new media, writing & editing and/or the book industry. It is possible to do research for a thesis within this internship.

The Institute of Network Cultures (INC) is a media research center that actively contributes to the field of network cultures through research, events, publications, and online dialogue. The INC was founded in 2004 by media theorist Geert Lovink as part of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam). The institute acts as a framework sustaining several research projects, conferences, meetings, with a strong focus on publications. For more information see http://networkcultures.org/. For an overview of all INC publications go to http://networkcultures.org/publications.

We are looking for an enthusiastic, energetic, inquisitive and precise (former) student with a demonstrated interest in the field of digital publishing and a desire to learn about books, e-books, and new media. In addition, you have strong writing and communication skills. Knowledge of WordPress, html, and social media management is a plus.

Internship duties include:

• Digitizing existing publications;
• assisting with the production of new titles, both print and electronic;
• editing manuscripts;
• preparing documents (text, images, etc.) for electronic publishing.

The intern will be a part of a small team within a large institution. Other tasks within the team may include:

• Attending meetings;
• communication and PR;
• researching and writing blog posts;
• collecting and reviewing interesting and relevant literature;
• assisting in other running projects in the INC;
• being part of the crew at INC events.

We offer:

• The opportunity to be part of a dedicated, informal, and inspirational organization with extended international networks;
• experience in the front line of new developments in publishing;
• a chance to enhance your writing, editing, media, and research skills;
• a compensation of € 400 a month.

For further information you can contact Miriam Rasch, publications manager at miriam@networkcultures.org or +31 (0)20 5951865.

Applications: if you are interested please send your resume and cover letter to miriam@networkcultures.org before November 1st 2014.

Announcement: The Post-Digital Scholar Conference

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Publishing between Open Access, Piracy and Public Spheres

12.11. – 14.11.2014 | Lüneburg, Germany

New media is dead! Long live new media! For three days, publishers, researchers, programmers, designers, artists, and entrepreneurs will discuss how research and publishing in the humanities have changed over the past decade. The conference will explore new tools for gathering knowledge, examine platforms for multimedia publishing, or collaborative writing experiments.

Participants will focus on the interplay between pixels and print, and discuss open and closed modes of knowledge, in order to seek out what this elusive thing could be: post-digital knowledge.

Please register here, participation is free of charge. This website will keep you updated and you can download the conference poster here.

The Program of the “The Postdigital Scholar Conference” is chaired by:

Mercedes Bunz – Head of Hybrid Publishing Lab
Nishant Shah – International Tandem Partner at Hybrid Publishing Lab
Michael Dieter – Research Associate at Hybrid Publishing Lab
Andreas Kirchner – Research Associate at Hybrid Publishing Lab

John Haltiwanger: Free Your Objects (And Let The Subject Follow)

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A post by Mathijs Weijers

John Haltiwanger was the third speaker of session 2, which focused on publishing workflows, tools and platforms.

His talk aimed to give the audience a better understanding of the recent work of Gilbert Simondon on cybernetics theory. Simonodon’s work shines a new perspective on Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics, originally published in 1948, but it is often hard to grasp by readers. Hence, Haltiwanger wanted to offer the audience a clear analysis of the essential terms of Simondon’s vocabulary on cybernetics.

Haltiwanger warned that he is not an academic, and that he became interested in the topic when doing his master’s thesis in New Media and Digital Culture at University of Amsterdam: “I had to make a decision about the format the thesis should be published in: PDF, HTML or .doc?”. Choosing the right format seems to be very easy but actually can be problematic, as each has its own specificity. PDF might have a clean interface but it’s hard to archive and be read by machines – HTML would do that job better. Word Documents are, in his opinion, standard formats that are required in the academic environment but have little benefits and reduced usability. There is furthermore the issue of proprietary formats. While he used the open-source Libre software to write his thesis, when exporting to PDF it crashed. These inconsistencies are harmful as “knowledge is too important to be locked in proprietary tools”. Thus, the thesis topic soon revolved around the very format that academic publications can take, Haltiwanger joked. Yet, this is why he believes that understanding the vocabulary for discussing the cybernetics theory of Simondon is important, as users are forced to simplify or even weaken the content of what they are working on in order to get a desired format. Whilst there are so many format options, Haltiwanger argued, “we are constrained by liberty”.John Haltiwinger photo

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Joost Kircz: Going Electronic

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A post by Mathijs Weijers

Joost Kircz was the first speaker of the 2-day conference “Off the Press – Electronic Publishing in the Arts”, organized by the Institute of Network Cultures. From 2006 till 2013, Kircz was a part-time lecturer on electronic publishing within the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam), and currently he is involved with the Digital Publishing Toolkit research project. He regularly publishes his findings on his personal website, www.kra.nl.


Kircz’s presentation was about the various technical requirements and design standards that different types of electronic books need. “Electronic book publishing in the Arts is a multifarious adventure. On the one hand, electronic publishing is already an unclear notion and on the other hand the notion ‘Arts’ is something nobody agrees on anyway”, Kircz mused. He then introduced The Digital Publishing Toolkit, a project initiated by the Institute of Network Cultures in partnership with Knowledge Center Creating 010 of the Hogeschool van Rotterdam, and a number of publishers: “with this toolkit we want to be able to refrain from deep philosophical preoccupations and – as this conference will prove – are able to develop methods and techniques that help publishers, editors and authors to use electronic means to recreate old works and to create novel ones”. He argued that we must see Electronic Publishing as complimentary to print publishing and not just a change from paper-to-screen. What publishers need, and what the toolkit aims to provide, is easy to use, open source software (more about the Digital Publishing Toolkit, which is due to be release by the end of this year, can be read here). Continue reading

Angie Keefer: The difference between the two

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Angie Keefer is a writer, artist, and co-founder of The Serving Library, along with David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey of Dexter Sinister.

The Serving Library, as described by Keefer, is a cooperatively-built archive that assembles itself by publishing. It releases e-publications of the artworks and texts under PDF format, for free, for a period of six months, after which the latter are printed and sold.

However, Keefer’s presentation specifically focused on the house font of The Serving Library – Meta the Difference Between the Two Font – which is based on Tex a typesetting language – and how it’s digital origin relates to possibilities in design. She allowed the audience to delve into the video titled “Letter & Spirit”. The 18-minute production presents both a history and a philosophy of fonts by simultaneously playing with the animated typing it uses to convey the message.

You can find a PDF of her original presentation here: Presentation Angie Keefer.