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The One Big Organism That Is Publication Studio
Remember Portland-based Clear Cut Press? They published a series of books, art-object-like, to generate “a long-term conversation that makes a community of readers (and therefore a market) that isn’t reached through the national book review organs or most bookstores,” as told to Selah Saterstrom in 2006. Now-cult titles like Robert Glück’s Denny Smith and Lisa Robertson’s Occasional Work and Seven Walks from The Office for Soft Architecture were among the excellent works published before the press closed up shop in 2007.
Nowadays! Novelist, publisher, and co-founder of Clear Cut Matthew Stadler is onto another venture with Publication Studio, a new print-on-demand press that’s the “brainchild” of Stadler and publisher Patricia No. They recently sold their ten-thousandth book, and folks are already abuzz about Dodie Bellamy’s experimental memoir the buddhist. Stadler talks to Bookforum about the new independent press, its philosophy and origins:
I finally got sick of how much rigamarole stood between the books I loved and broader publication. I don’t mean the editing, vetting, design, and production of the books. That stuff is essential. I mean the sales meetings, print-runs, warehouses, distributors, and returns. All that rigamarole. I wanted certain books in print, so I found a set of hand-operated machines that print and bind perfect-bound books one at a time, a wonky old rig called an “Instabook” that a guy in Mexico invented in the ’90s. Gabe Stewart at Vox Populi in Brooklyn had a used one he was getting rid of. My ten-year old and I flew to New York and drove the thing back to Portland in a rented mini-van. . . .
I was broke and my friend Patricia No was unemployed, so we figured out the machine together and set-up shop in a borrowed storefront and just started making books. The first was a novel by Larry Rinder, the ex-Whitney curator, and we sold a lot of them. We were lucky to know talented people who wanted to make books with us. Dodie Bellamy, Stacy Doris, Luisa Valenzuela, Matt Briggs, Roy McMakin, Rafael Oses, Diana Balmori, Ari Marcopoulos, Ruby Sky Stiler, Chris Johanson and Johanna Jackson, Matt Keegan, Lisa Robertson, David Horvitz, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and Larry, among others. The business model was simply to publish what we love and sell enough books to not go “broker.” Eventually we built up enough sales that we were able to move into our own permanent storefront. That took about eight months. By then we had about thirty new titles in print, mostly art books.
The press now looms large, having a determined online presence as well as imprints and machinery for the making (in addition to publishing, PS does rebinding, book trimming, and printing, among other services) in six cities, including Portland, Berkeley, Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles, and what they call “the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor, or MRCC—a centerless terrain in the middle of North America across which the studio’s equipment meanders unpredictably.” It’s certainly a new way of thinking about publishing; as Stadler told Bookforum, this kind of footprinting began because “[w]hen our friends started to see the books we made circulating through other parts of the world, a handful of them went out and got machines like ours.” But there’s more to it:
How does print-on-demand fit with Publication Studio’s philosophy?
Key to our method is that we only make a book for someone who wants to buy it. No more waste. Traditional publishing is driven by print runs: You take a guess and invest in a pile of books, then you’ve got to sell all those books to make back your investment and continue. It’s why publishing has seasons and all the drama of launches and release dates and returns and remainders. Books have to sell and get out of the way before the clock turns forward to the next book. That’s not the case with print-on-demand. We invest money in the conversations around the book, whenever and wherever they grow. We cultivate the social life of readers and writers. We make our money as the conversation grows and readers want to buy books. With print-on-demand, one book sold equals $5 profit for us, and $5 for the writer. In traditional publishing, even at the smallest scale, one book sold equals a $2000 loss. . . .
You also try to encourage discussions of the books, online and off.
We make money by selling books, and we sell them when people see that the books are great. So, we’ll do anything we can to help spread the news, including a “free reading commons,” which is something we started in 2009, an online environment where anyone can read and comment on our books for free. Some of our writers opt out, for various reasons, and it’s their prerogative; but most are excited and we believe that the commons stimulate sales rather than undermine them. People buy books because books are an awesome technology. Online reading does not undercut that.
What are some of the other ways you try to make people aware of your books?
We organize dinners, parties, concerts, puppet shows, symposia, an annual Publication Fair, which put our writers and artists at the center of vibrant conversations. We respond to interest and support it, and we get excited when others are excited. That’s how a public gets built. A public is more than a market, though it includes that. But building publics is what we do.
We for one, for many, are fans of their Tumblr, which includes images and video of the studios in progress, gallery showings, readings, and team bookmaking (they even tore apart and rebound into six pocketable sections George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual, because their copy’s binding was on its last life!). You might also check out artist Oscar Tuazon’s I Can’t See, published by another independent, cooperatively run publisher called Paraguay Press–Stadler was a contributer to this beaut too, along with Ariana Reines, Karl Holmqvist, Eileen Myles, Cedar Sigo, Philippe Pirotte, and others. There’s obviously a lot more to be said about this new mode of publishing. . . .