Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out of print

I've thought for a long time about how to make publishing books more a part of a closed-cycle ecology.

As the wireless reading device is still relatively non-existent, we really only have an industrial model of publishing: thousands of tonnes of books and draft manuscripts annually depopulating forests and by extension, releasing carbon into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas. It's a pretty fucked-up industry, like water bottled in plastic, that few seem to be critiquing.

Books I've published in the past use materials such as vegetable-based inks and recycled and chlorine-free pulp, however, production is still industrialised. Finsbury Green is the printery Ian and I generally use, and while they are leading the transition in cleaner technologies, I'm not convinced this will make all that much difference to the mammoth task we have of dismantling our toxiculture.

I think that change has to come from writers, who now have to decide their level of output, material use and distribution method – especially if we consider that transportation is an assault on the landbase that supports us. It helps when writers are also the publishers and distributors, like David Prater, a poet and early advocate of online publishing. He edits Cordite and knows first hand how much paper and ink has not passed through his office in the past ten years.

However, where the digital age has the potential to reduce pulp consumption on the planet, there's still the problem of digital hardware and the capitalisation (toxicology) of new technology – new equipment is upgraded while old equipment is offloaded as non-compostable waste.

Then there's the materiality of books – their objecthoodness. Words and Things (2004) is an anthology of chance, concrete poetics and mutable literatures I edited, contributed to and co-produced with Ian Robertson. It includes Richard Tipping, Peter Tyndall, Peter O'Mara, Marie Sierra, Jeff Stewart, Aleks Danko, Alex Selenitsch and Geoffrey Baxter. It's now out of print and the 600 copies we manufactured are out in the world ready for some sort of decomposition.

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