This May, a Berlin art book fair that smartly goes by the name Miss Read celebrated its 10th year with the release of an anthology called Publishing Manifestos. On the one hand, the book is a comprehensive guide—complete with a section entitled ‘WHO IS WHO of publishers, as they showed up in 10 years of Miss Read’—consolidating a decade’s worth of a single publishing fair’s output. On the other, it neatly summarizes a decade in which zinsters and artists around the world have been theorizing what it means to make books and self-publish today.
For the contents, editor and founder Michalis Pichler reached out to past Miss Read participants and asked if they had a manifesto or mission statement guiding their press. He also asked one simple yet loaded question: “What keeps you going?” Answers detail the urge to self-publish and the personal or political implications of doing so, as well as the financial imperatives and impediments of the practice. Publishing Manifestos also spans a light historical arc from the last 100 years, beginning with words from Gertrude Stein, El Lissitzky, and “bibliomaniaic of sorts” Jorge Luis Borges, but the largest chunk of contributions stem from the last 10 years.
In the introduction, Pichler gives context to the last decade of independent publishing, which he says has received an “unprecedented boost.” He describes how art book fairs are “spreading like mushrooms” as public interest in indie publishing continues to rocket. At last year’s New York Art Book Fair, for example, the attendance number reached a staggering 35k.
Significantly, the newer essays largely deal with the digital networks within which self-published books are produced, distributed, and contextualized today. Paul Soulellis’ ‘Search, compile, publish’ (2013) charts the development of his archive devoted to web-to-print artists’ books, zines, and other printed matter entitled Library of the Printed Web (a collection acquired by MoMA in January last year), which by 2014 would circulate primarily as print-on-demand publications, and also PDFs, ZIPs, GIFs, and server directories. Meanwhile, artist Eva Weinmayr’s ‘One Publishes to Find Comrades” (2014) explores the political potential of publishing; instead of viewing it as the act of consolidating thoughts into an end product, she suggests publishing is a way to initiate a social process, and interrogates the power of collective creation inherent to book making.
A central concern that echoes through several of the contemporary contributions is one that many will be familiar with: whether publishing activity should—or should not—pay for itself. Artist Tauba Auerbach, in her 2013 manifesto, determines that it is imperative to “devise a business structure in which the publications are affordable and their value determined by what one might get out of owning them, rather than from reselling them.” For Broken Dimache Press, the freedom of self-publishing does not equate with personal freedom—and making money is therefore “not the important outcome.”
Publishing Manifestos collects the sort of essays and manifestos that mirror the chatter and conversations that might be had a book fair, as stall-makers sat beside one another spend three or four days tirelessly swapping advice and printed matter; reminding one another why they do what they do. We’ve picked out a few snippets from the book below; think of it as a few overheard conversations at a book fair. To get hold of Publishing Manifestos yourself, head over to Miss Read’s 2018 website.
“I have this vision of feminist artists’ books in school libraries (or being passed around under the desks), in hairdressers, in gynaecologists’ waiting rooms, in Girl Scout Cookies…”—Lucy Lippard, 1976
In the 1970s, the fourteenth issue of New York’s Art-Rite newspaper asked a series of writers, self-publishers, and artists to respond to the question “Why are you attracted to artists’ books?” Answers came from Agnes Denes, Richard Tuttle, Kathy Acker, and Robert Cumming, as well as Printed Matter founders Lucy Lippard and Sol LeWitt. LeWitt attested to the lack of economic value tied to books during the ’70s (“they are not valuable except for the ideas they contain”). He writes, “It is the desire of artists that their ideas be understood by as many people as possible. Books make it easier to accomplish this.” Lippard found great implications in the form for spreading feminist ideas. “In particular [artists’ books] open up a way for women artists to get their work out without depending on the undependable museum and gallery system […] Artists’ books spread the word—whatever that word may be […] The next step is to get books out into the supermarkets, where they’ll be browsed by women who wouldn’t darken the door of Printed Matter…”
“The real power of digital publishing lies not so much in its integration of multiple media, but in its superior networking capabilities.” – Alessandro Ludovico, 2012
‘Post-digital print: a future scenario’ by Alessandro Ludovico
The 2012 essay, ‘Post-digital print: a future scenario’ by researcher, artist, and editor of Neural magazine Alessandro Ludovico explores how digital networking technologies—such as remote printing, networked real-time distribution, and on-demand customization—might make better use of print. E-publishing, writes Ludovico, still has a long way to go before it reaches “the level of sophistication which printed pages have achieved over the course of a few centuries.” The editor highlights the still pertinent fact that readers often choose printed matter over electric publications, and suggests how this might lead to a growing demand for networked—or even portable—printers. Combined with personal binding devices, these small “book machines” might allow readers to “‘teleport’ print publications from any location.”
“The book, as an object, gains strength as it gets recontextualized by its viewer, owner or bookcase in which it stands”— Erik van der Weijde, 4478ZINE, 2012
Artist Erik van der Weijde’s 2012 publishing manifesto for his 4478ZINE considers the formal requirements that his books should have for bringing out the best of his photographic series. While his 12 rules are specific to his own project, they’re also pertinent to thinking about the formal qualities of a printed book. “The fetishistic character of the printed matter may provide the extra layers to strengthen the iconic value of its images,” van der Weijde writes, considering how the fetishized status of print in our post-digital world might effect that images inside.
“To decide to make a physical [book] one must do so to the highest possible standards. Form matters, content matters—design & production matter.” –Ida Bencke & John Holton of Broken Dimanche Press, 2013
Broken Dimanche Press manifesto
“Books no longer hold a monopoly,” write Broken Dimanche Press in its 2013 manifesto, attesting to the fact that making a decision to produce a physical book is to work with “a form under attack.” The editors suggest there is a “beautifully melancholic poetry” in the fact that physical books have become “decadent” objects. It finds new and exciting possibility in this turn, asking, “Is there anything more wonderful than the luxury of the futile, the pointless, and the useless? That which cannot be read, understood, that which accumulates no knowledge, no power; that which cannot be sold. The unsellable object must be the biggest anti-thesis to commercialization”.
“A press has a self-imposed mandate to sustain itself”—Jan Wenzel, 2015
‘The Twelve Tasks of the Publisher’ by Jan Wenzel
Leipzig-based publisher and author Jan Wenzel determines ‘The Twelve Tasks of the Publisher’ in his 2015 manifesto. As well as learning the ins-and-outs of the craft–experimenting with the medium, printing, and the curating of a community—he emphasizes the numerous logistical imperatives of running a press. “A publishing house is unlike any other business. It is intellectual labor and an entrepreneurial game,” he offers in his tenth task. As well this necessary meeting of economic sustainability and intellectual expansion, Wenzel suggests that the book fair is the publisher’s central place of exchange. It is the task of the self-publisher to “stay at the book fair stand for four days, and talk through all of them from morning ‘til night with many different people about many different topics: authors, designers, exhibitions, circulation figures, discounts, future plans, and political disputes; about temporary injunctions, reprints, paper varieties, and review copies. This is the market: a large self-manifestation of society.”