Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

15 JULY, 2011

How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made

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From the Middle Ages to the Digital Age, or what sheep skin has to do with content curation.

As we ponder the future of publishing, it’s worth revisting its past — not from a Better-Nevers perspective of romanticizing a bygone era in order to bemoan technological innovation, but out of a more philosophical reflection on the incredible craftsmanship that went into early “publishing” and how we can reintroduce this respect for and value of the art of publishing as we straddle these new digital platforms.

In this fascinating short documentary, part of The Getty Museum‘s excellent Making Art series on ArtBabble, we get to see the astounding patience and craftsmanship that went into the making of medieval illuminated manuscripts — remarkable books painstakingly written and decorated by hand, coveted as some of the most precious objects produced in the Middle Ages.

For more on these marvels of the written word, you won’t go wrong with Christopher De Hamel’s A History of Illuminated Manuscripts — though, regrettably, not an illuminated manuscript itself. And, in the meantime, perhaps we should consider what the new vehicles of patience and craftsmanship are for creating value in today’s greatest feats of publishing — journalistic integrity, curatorial sensibility, information discovery.

via MetaFilter

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06 JULY, 2011

Concord Free Press: Free Their Books and Their Minds Will Follow

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Free press, priceless words, or what Paul Revere has to do with the future of grassroots publishing.

We’ve previously explored tomorrow’s merchants of culture, the literati’s meditations on the future of the written word and, most recently, 7 platforms changing the future of publishing. Today, we turn to the delightful and unusual approach to publishing of the Concord Free Press, whose experiment to “free the books” dares us to interact with books more like we do with stories — as social artifacts given freely, widely shared, and fluidly circulated.

Wielding original fiction by the likes of Scott Phillips, Gregory Maguire, and Wesley Brown, the unorthodox Massachusetts-based project, operating under the motto “free their books and their minds will follow,” is rethinking the goals of publishing as it pushes us to imagine how we can harness the power of stories for purposes beyond the commodification of culture. Founded by writer Stona Fitch, Concord Free Press publishes limited quantities of its first-edition paperbacks and gives them away for free.

CFP’s latest paperback, ­Rut by Scott Phillips, sports a bold cover design and “$0.00″ price tag. (We also couldn’t help but swoon over CFP’s ever-clever logo that silhouettes a reading-and-riding Paul Revere.)

By taking a copy, you agree to give away money to a local charity, someone who needs it, or a stranger on the street. Where the money goes and how much you give –that’s your call. When you’re done, pass this novel on to someone else (for free, of course), so they can give. It adds up.”

In this short code of conduct, the CFP lays out some admirable new goals behind monetizing the written word. It pushes us to engage with our social responsibility and re-circulate our stories to create connected communities, a fine addition to our running list of collaborative consumption tools that empower us to have more by owning less.

And it pays — CFP’s books generate between $45,000 and $50,000 per title in donations, and those are just the donations that people actually report.

To generate more support for its authors and free books, the same folks behind CFP recently launched the Concord EPress, where fans can catch up on electronic versions of any of the “given-out” titles they missed in paperback. Digital editions of previously printed titles are available as a Kindle downloads, with the proceeds of each $7.77 ebook being split two ways between the author and CFP’s free paperback program.

If you’re as blown away by CFP’s mission as we are, you can support the project with a tax-deductible donation.

Cindy Chiang is a thinker, tinkerer and strategist curious about how design and technology can engage with human emotions, cognition and creativity to change the world. When she’s not in wonder or wanderlust, she’s working on growing her creative toolbox. She currently works in Philadelphia and lives on trains, planes and BoltBuses.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

28 JUNE, 2011

7 Platforms Changing the Future of Publishing and Storytelling

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Cutting out the middleman, or what the Nobel Peace Prize has to do with harnessing the potential of tablets.

Depending on whom you ask, these are either the best or the worst of times for the written word. As with every other branch of traditional media, the Internet has pushed the publishing industry to a critical inflection point, something we’ve previously discussed. Disrupting the mainstream marketplaces for journalism, literature, and the fundamental conventions of reading and writing themselves, here are seven startups that promise to reshape the way we create and consume ideas.

BYLINER

Byliner, whose beautifully designed site officially launched last week, is easily the most ambitious of the initiatives featured here. The startup is both a publisher, via its Byliner Originals subsidiary, and a discovery platform for longform nonfiction, offering Pandora-like recommendation functionality. The site is already loaded with more than 30,000 pieces, is searchable by author, publication, or topic, and allows writers to create their own pages and interact with audiences.

The startup’s first original offering, Three Cups of Deceit, tells the story of the now-disgraced Nobel Peace Prize nominee and bestselling author Greg Mortenson. National Book Award winner William T. Vollman penned Into the Forbidden Zone, a gripping, Gonzo-style report that had the author venture into Fukushima, Japan with only rubber kitchen gloves, a face mask and a self-procured radiation detector. Other longform exclusives from marquee names like Mary Roach, Mark Bittman, and Buzz Bissinger are forthcoming.

THE ATAVIST

With the tagline, “longer than an article, shorter than a book,” The Atavist considers itself a “boutique publishing house” that turns out bespoke nonfiction and narrative journalism for digital devices. It launched at the end of January with Lifted, a piece by founder and editor (and regular Wired contributor) Evan Ratliff, about one of the most elaborate bank heists in history. The Atavist‘s angle is to present “a new genre of nonfiction, a digital form that lies in the space between long narrative magazine articles and traditional books and e-books.”

Offering original content from well-established journalists and reporters, The Atavist also adds supplementary audio, video, and other contextual info to its selections, which are specifically designed for iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Nook.

UNBOUND

Bringing a crowdfunded model to books, the U.K.-based Unbound has been called the Kickstarter for publishing. Launched at the beginning of June, its idea is straightforward: “Publishing without middlemen. No gatekeepers. Just authors and readers deciding between them what books get to see the light of day.”

Currently only offering a curated selection of both fiction and nonfiction projects, Unbound hopes eventually to open its platform for other authors looking to self-publish. Most exciting for us at Brain Pickings among Unbound‘s first six selections: a potential iPad version of a gem we featured just a month back, The Cloud Collectors Handbook. With only 22 days left to earn funding for production, you can give to author Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s project here.

RED LEMONADE

Bringing the social networking paradigm to publishing, Red Lemonade aims to create a community of writers and readers around fiction and narrative nonfiction. The site’s mission statement stakes out an editorial position, as well:

We avoid labeling what we do but it tends to be risky, socially charged, misbehaving stuff. Red Lemonade is for the writers other publishers are afraid of.

Although Red Lemonade features titles by established (and excellent) authors Lynne Tillman and Matthew Battles, anyone can create an author profile and then annotate existing work. While it remains to be seen whether the website will reach the kind of critical mass necessary for sustained critical input, we’re excited by the works on display so far.

40K BOOKS

So called because its e-titles take 40 minutes to just over an hour to read, 40K Books presents a series of original novellas and nonfiction essays in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Milan, Italy-based startup impressed us early on both with its price points — 99 cents per purchase — and its strong selection of sci-fi and speculative fiction — including a few fantastic stories by Bruce Sterling — and practical pieces on publishing and the creative process.

Read our full feature on 40K Books here.

THE DOMINO PROJECT

Partnering with Amazon’s Kindle Singles initiative, marketing guru Seth Godin started The Domino Project in early 2011 as a series of manifestos on changemaking. The stand-out so far is author Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work, a powerful instruction manual on how to break through your creative blocks. We’re also totally revved for tomorrow’s release of Derek Sivers’s Anything You Want.

Read our full review of Do the Work here.

TED BOOKS

Of course Brain Pickings was first to the birthday party for TED Books, a nonfiction flash publishing imprint with an editorial vision matching TED’s world-class lecture series. All titles are under 20,000 words, and for $2.99 you can collect Cindy Gallop on sex, Nic Marks on happiness, and Gever Tulley on the dangers of dangerism.

Read our full feature on TED Books here.

Although these seven startups are thrilling, they barely touch on self-publishing, a phenomenon undergoing its own sea changes and seismic shifts. Regardless, for now we’re excited to follow the words, wherever we can find them.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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23 MAY, 2011

The Medium Is Not The Message: 3 Handwritten Newspapers

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What Indian calligraphers have to do with disaster relief in Japan and free media in Liberia.

Since their invention in the early 17th century, newspapers have remained one of society’s most important sources of what their name promises — news. Today, we hear various tonal cries of the “print is dying” chorus daily and it’s easy to get caught up in the Marshall McLuhanism that “the medium is the message. Today, let’s consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the medium is not the message, that “print” can mean many different things, and that in the end, the oldest of technologies can be the most innovative. Case in point: Handwritten newspapers.

THE MUSALMAN

Since 1927, The Musalman has been quietly churning out its evening edition of four pages, all of which hand-written by Indian calligraphers in the shadow of the Wallajah Mosque in the city of Chennai. According to Wired, it might just be the last remaining hand-written newspaper in the world. It’s also India’s oldest daily newspaper in Urdu, the Hindustani language typically spoken by Muslims in South Asia. The Musalman: Preservation of a Dream is wonderful short film by Ishani K. Dutta, telling the story of the unusual publication and its writers’ dedication to the ancient art of Urdu calligraphy.

Thanks, GMSV

ISHINOMAKI HIBI SHIMBUN

Last month, I mentioned a fascinating reversal of the-medium-is-the-message as one Japanese newspaper reverted to hand-written editions once the earthquake-and-tsunami disaster destroyed all power in the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture. For the next six days, the editors of the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun “printed” the daily newspaper’s disaster coverage the only way possible: By hand, in pen and paper. Using flashlights and marker pens, the reporters wrote the stories on poster-size paper and pinned the dailies to the entrance doors of relief centers around the city. Six staffers collected stories, which another three digested, spending an hour and a half per day composing the newspapers by hand.

This handwritten newspaper joins a running log of historical instances in which journalists have adapted to disaster situations. During the Civil War’s Union siege of 1863, a scarcity of newsprint in Vicksburg, Miss., led editors of The Daily Citizen to print on wallpaper. Its final issue, now part of the News Corporation News History Gallery, declared: “This is the last wall-paper edition. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.”

Japan’s incidental project has since been acquired by Newseum, the museum of journalism in Washington, D.C.

THE DAILY TALK

Minuscule literacy rates and prevailing poverty may not be conditions particularly conducive to publishing entrepreneurship, but they were no hindrance for Monrovia’s The Daily Talk, a clever concept by Alfred Sirleaf that reaches thousands of Liberians every day by printing just once copy. That copy just happens to reside on a large blackboard on the side of one of the capital’s busiest roads. Sirleaf started the project in 2000, at the peak of Liberia’s civil war, but its cultural resonance and open access sustained it long after the war was over. To this day, he runs this remarkable one-man show as the editor, reporter, production manager, designer, fact-checker and publicist of The Daily Talk. For an added layer of thoughtfulness and sophistication, Sirleaf uses symbols to indicate specific topics for those who struggle to read.

The common man in society can’t afford a newspaper, can’t afford to buy a generator to get on the internet — you know, power shortage — and people are caught up in a city where they have no access to information. And all of these things motivated me to come up with a kind of free media system for people to get informed.” ~ Alfred Sirleaf

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

In related news, don’t forget the fantastic Newspaper Map, which I raved about the other day — an amazing tool for exploring and translating over 10,000 of the world’s newspapers.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.