All entries for August 2010

August 25, 2010

Essential Definitions

Some riffs off the chord sequence set by Georges Bataille, in his Critical Dictionary.

A Book

A device for determining correlations between time and thoughts. E.g. the rate at which seeds planted in childhood can blossom into: werewolves in sundappled glades flirting with vampires wearing duck's asses; arguments urging the ascent/descent of creationism along the staircase of human progress; warnings about the dangers of sexual relations with one's mother / one's siblings / egg-laying land mammals / people dressed as animals / people imagining one dressed as an animal / a shark.

Essential characteristics include: multiple facets containing legible squiggles that can through time be made partially illegible, thereby enhancing the Hyper-Mysteron Rating of a Book (Harrumb); limpeting procedures allowing the attachment of facets; portability (when one is able to carry away); transportability (when one is able to be carried away by). The depth of a Book's squiggles are measured in Meanings per centrimetre of Subtext.

A Magazine

When a book-related phenomenon lends itself to transition measurement in any of time's directions, periodically released.

Editor

With lasers for eyes, these golems are said to be forged in dark caves by magi descended from the first human shamans. Their primary function: to create books and magazines. First recorded instance discovered near Hasankeyf approximately nine millennia ago. They are thought to be excellent gardeners, able to manufacture seeds in their stomachs which excrete into political and artistic movements. Many Editors have clocks instead of hearts, whips instead of hands and in their skulls a switch that allows them to turn all moral decency on and off at will.

Contributing Editor

Peripherally constructed Editors in the formation of a pentagram, carrying a natural protective incantation. Smaller in scale to full Editors, the magi often inject these creatures with holistic levels of relevant seeds, permanently infecting them with Book DNA according to need.

Advisor

Ancient Editors, their maturation marked by the smell of Book dust. Through time an Editor's skin naturally manifests tattoos from their creations. These tattoos can be harnessed and recorded by adolescent Editors given the correct cyphers, yet the process is costly; Advisors bear fruit once per year at most.

Designer

Beings whose skin is a non-Newtonian liquid, born with multiple hands. In the presence of an Editor, a Designer will melt, allowing their internal organs to be reforged according to need; hands will transmute into crustacea, legs into wheels, or in the case of incompetent moulding, mallet heads and tree stumps respectively. The brain must remain at the top of the reforged Designer form, with eyes radiating in all directions, to allow efficient operation.

Marketeer

Winged messengers made from woven speed. The surface of their hands can perfectly meld with the surface of books so as to deliver the produce of Editors and Designers without causing damage. They have many mouths and their ears function as radiowave antennae, allowing a psychic affinity with Designers. Naturally the Marketeer is a gregarious being, yet they also occur in isolation. Their wingspeed increases in packs, but the frequency of radio waves produced by individuals' antennae is not always consistent, causing disruption to their subvocal communication.

Polarity's Team

Editors: George Ttoouli, Neeral Bhatt, James Brookes

Contributing Editors: Zoe Brigley, Luke Kennard, Simon Turner, Theo Chiotis (TBC)

Advisory Board: Peter Blegvad, Frank Key, Carol Watts

Designer: James Harringman

Marketeers: Michael Wilson, Alexandra Szydlowska


August 18, 2010

Small is Beautiful, or Strategic Map for the Reconstruction of Atlantis

Micropublishers have been undergoing a minor revolution in the past decade or so. Digital printing techniques came of age with print on demand publishing – the principle of being able to print one copy of a book per order. This cut away the need for advance print runs and storage, hence the need for predictive publishing, capital forecasting and warehouse overheads. The quality isn't quite level with traditional print techniques yet, however, and digital print has been fast overtaken by the e-book market and digital readers, from i-pads to Amazon's Kindle.

The effect on the book industry is to streamline more clearly the function of certain books and retailers. Mainstream bookchains attract general readers and non-readers, with a strong market hold on the idea of books as gifts, with two sales peaks in the year, around summer holidays and Christmas buying. Meanwhile, digital books, more disposable, less user-friendly in ease of reading experience, tap into the functional, necessary end of the book market: text books, manuals, reference texts and so on. This streamlining creates more space for small, focused task forces, with well-defined readerships, to leap in and start doing good work.

This is a gross simplification, but the big issues for people starting a niche audience magazine are finding out where they fit in and how to reach their target audience. Not only is digital printing still behind in terms of quality, but decent paper is harder to source, or non-existent. Many ink-based printers are reducing their overheads, particularly in labour costs, by standardising their processes, from, for example, the availability of acid-free paper, to a publisher's ability to include image inserts in a primarily text-based book, or the sizes available to publishers. Some print on demand servicers, like Lightning Source, have a set list of formats which they can produce books in, and that's your lot. Even the glue for perfect binding isn't as good as it was. Standardisation is a subtle thing, and publishers who can afford to vary the size and shape of their books from the norm will stand out on a shelf.

If you take a long-running small press like Enitharmon Books as an example, you can see how micropublishers are better able to specialise for niche audiences than larger, commercial houses. They run a line of excellent traditional (in terms of publication quality, size shape, and relative to what larger houses output) poetry books, alongside top quality, limited edition art books, 'coffee table' books. The poetry goes for a fairly standard £8-£12 for a single-author collection. The art books for £100-£500, perhaps, depending on size, production costs and so on. The art books sell extremely well relative to their limited runs and prices (last time I checked, anyway), paying for themselves and feeding into the poetry list.

Sure, it's not worth talking about profit margins in these presses. The work is half the reward and the most these passionate (perhaps even fundamentalist) publishers can hope for is to break even in most cases. Yet they're operating in a way that the publishing industry used to a few decades ago, before entertainment corporations, largely driven by the huge profits of the film industry, began moving into book publishing and raising the stakes to 15-20% growth. Micropublishers have lower profit margins, of 0-5%, which gives them greater flexibility in content, greater opportunity for risk, and ultimately, greater rewards should that risk-taking be rewarded. Essentially, they're terrorists, waging guerilla warfare and often winning the battles over top slots at Christmas, or on major prizes like the Mann Booker.

Some micropublishers try to mimic the corporate methods of the industry – the big end of the wedge. They employ things like the 'long tail' model, trying to develop backlists in a short space of time, building a large, low- and slow-sale range of titles and a smaller proportion of good sellers, to guarantee a degree of turnover and allow them to monitor growth effectively. Established presses are bolstered by an archive of dead, a corpse-ridden army of syllabus-listed writers and their estates, which ensure a steady stream of sales. It's the long tail method on a larger scale. The fast-build up of titles by newer micropublishers like Salt Publishing don't have the brand loyalty or reputable writers to shift units in sufficient numbers, bu they're trying and proving that reach is not impossible.

Salt's main strength is their competitive, sharp PR. They make waves, picking up shortlistings and prizes on major awards, hit national and specialist press outlets and they're challenging mainstream, established presses on their own terms. A side example, from the microbrewing industry: Brewdog make all the right moves, employing creative marketing and quality of product to catapult themselves far beyond the scale of their operations into great financial success.

Polarity doesn't have the business, marketing, or PR acumen to achieve this, or the time needed to really pull something off that will make the magazine sustainable in the short term. Arts graduates rarely have a decent business head. All this business talk doesn't really mean much to people who really just want to put out something strange, something they want to read. The drive behind what we do is cultural, not financial, like with many small arts magazines.

I'm reminded of a story (posted by Frank Key, Polarity advisor) about Peter Blegvad (also a Polarity advisor) being kicked out of cult band, Henry Cow. The reason: being asked to write a political song, and coming back with some flippant lyrics about “a woman throwing raisins at a pile of bones”. Give me that song, that woman, those raisins. Make the bones those of a Jabberwocky, the woman Eurydice, have it happen in an underwater parthenon, witnessed by Architeuthis, in a sprawling, sea-slug-laced, puce sargasso. I am the audience for that song, and if it doesn't exist, I'll make it myself. This is what drives us to create the magazines we want to read. We are the architects of Atlantis, of the utopia the world hasn't yet provided. Money, at some point, might catch up with us.


August 11, 2010

Eponymous Introduction

Writing about web page http://www.polaritymag.co.uk

George Ttoouli introduces The Rhizomatic Angel

Welcome through the velveteen arches of this sanatorium under the sign of a broken hourglass, hosted by the editors of Polarity Magazine UK, George Ttoouli (Main Ed. & Prose), Neeral Bhatt (Art Ed.) and James Brookes (Poetry Ed.). Polarity is the magazine of the New Surreal; we’ve set out to fill a hole in the soul of today’s culture-kestrels. That sounds catchier than it means.

We’re attempting to synthesise the best parts of magazines like Georges Bataille’s Documentes, and contemporary mags like BOMB, The Believer and McSweeneys. Why? Because in the UK there isn’t anything quite as beautifully produced, contrary, untimely and entertaining out there. Each issue is themed around two falsely polarised ideas so as to create a weird artefact of ideas, creative work, interviews, essays and archival material. And, as a bonus, each issue comes with a free supplement, an artefact+ that props up the issue.

The first issue, Death vs. Taxes, has work by artists and writers new and established, as well as a free pamphlet proposing a system of taxation on thought, in order to help pull Britain out of recession. Really it’s an excuse to let all the weirdest parts of our ids out into the world, a call to arms to people like us, the start of some kind of critical mass. The feedback’s been good from readers so far, but don’t take my word for it – go take a look yourself.

This is both a social experiment – using the internet to facilitate a small press project – and an aesthetic crusade. The internet levels the playing field of traditional ideas of authority (hence, as Deleuze and Guattari pointed out a couple of decades ago, it’s a form of rhizome). You could merrily be reading a review of, say, Noam Chomsky, thinking it's all high quality for appearing in an established broadsheet; but it's followed by 40 extremely lucid reader comments that tear the ideas and standpoint apart, point out its biases. And so you pop up indie opinions, or other established writers who blog about the same subjects. Who do you listen to, trust?

There’s room on the internet to establish a base and grow, in the way most micro-businesses grow, slowly, patiently, according to limited resources. Polarity's aim, then, is to use the internet to create something that will save us from the boredom of the same-old-names cycled and recycled around mainstream magazines who aren't the strongholds of authority and opinion that they once were. (So, an angelic mission as well as a social experiment, even if the angels have huge, flaming swords and no interest in traditional ideas of angels).

Small scale ventures can survive, with a little ingenuity and a lot of quality, time and energy, by harnessing the internet in ways that cost little money. We’ve a small band of supporters – market research and content from Michael Wilson, Alexandra Szydlowska and an excellent designer, James Harringman – but at the moment we’re short on time and energy. The quality is out there, artists creating work that is immediately arresting, rewards revisits, and sits within the pages of a magazine you won’t want to throw away at the end of the year to clear space for whatever disposable, mainstream airport literature you've picked up, that will end up pulped into the foundations of a runway, or stretch of motorway.

We’re still in a kind of beta phase, testing out the design, the aesthetics, our ability to promote online, our ability to scare ourselves and others. We’ve a small business brain attached, from prior experience in small press publishing, and we’re learning new technologies as we go along. The real strength is our passion for Polarity, the desire to make it work, slowly. As long as there’s new content coming in, we can find the best ways to get the work out there, reach people, build a community, step by baby step.

Further reading

Gists & Piths – co-edited by George Ttoouli & Simon Turner

Iguanodon Studies – Neeral Bhatt’s critical art blog

James Brookes' online hovel

The Believer

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern

Documents

Story of the Eye

Some extracts from the Critical Dictionary / Encyclopaedia Acephalica


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