Publishing Studies

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Printing press on display at City Tech.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak with colleagues about what Publishing Studies means to me. I edited my thoughts into the following note.

Publishing Studies: Theory and Praxis

Publishing Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that encompasses rhetoric and composition, media studies, history of the book/newspaper/magazine/websites/etc., and practical skills including writing, editing, design, layout, production, marketing, business administration, etc. Publishing Studies programs prepare students for publishing industry careers.

Publishing Studies should be grounded in theory and praxis. Theory provides a foundation for understanding the field and its development. It gives ways of seeing and thinking about the process and purpose behind publishing. Theory helps one be a confident problem solver, an open-minded thinker, and a dynamic life-long learner who can adapt to changing work conditions and challenges. Balancing theory is practical skills. These skills are what help students build a portfolio, gain experience through internships and entry level positions, and obtain a job on their desired career path. Through their understanding of theory, students will understand that the skills they have when leaving a program will only go so far as the publishing industry changes. They can leverage their current skills to grow their skill set over time and be engaged members in their profession so that they know what new trends they should pay attention to and what new skills will keep them competitive in the job market.

Rhetoric

Publishing Studies is founded on rhetoric and composition. Publishing is all about communicating particular ideas to a particular audience using a particular (production scale/mass communication) medium. Knowing audience, rhetorical techniques, modes of communication (WOVEN=written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal), and the writing process are essential skills for anyone interested in the publishing industry. Furthermore, being a reflective practitioner–using journal writing and reflection–supports the acquisition, integration, and improvement of the use of rhetoric and composition principles in the work place. There is a lot of overlap in this regard (as well as in the tools employed in the publishing field mentioned below) with Technical Communication.

Media Studies

Media and materiality are really big components of Publishing Studies, because publishing is all about using mass communication media technologies to reach an audience. Important issues for Publishing Studies from a Media Studies perspective might include: the effect/affect of media on audiences, how does media change over time, how does media influence other media, what biases are built into particular media or how those media are used, and are there issues with particular media at scale (e.g., Facebook and Twitter’s role in Brexit and the 2016 US election). Aesthetics, design, layout, and UX are important, too, and they overlap (as do many aspects of theory) with practical skills.

History of the Book/Newspaper/Magazine/Website/Etc

Perhaps under the umbrella of Media Studies, the History of the Book and other produced media such as newspapers, magazines, websites, social media, and others, are key to a fundamental understanding of Publishing Studies. The field encompasses many different forms of mass communication technologies, and the intertwined histories of these media provide a useful context for how we are at this particular moment in publishing history while also revealing how the history of publishing is not a Whig historical progression, but in fact, contains many interesting dead ends and forgotten technologies whose time might not have been right but contained some aspects that were useful and might deserve revisiting in the present. Layered in these histories are issues of labor, capital, production technologies, world historical events, and societal movements, all of which have influenced the development of the publishing history.

Practical Skills

Praxis is tempered by theory. Theory is made meaningful by praxis. The two support one another and enrich one’s experience of the publishing field in a way that helps propel students toward dynamic careers instead of cookie-cutter jobs. Publishing careers include writing, editing, design, layout, printing, IT, programming, procurement, representation, marketing, fact checking, research, and business administration. All of these rely on a basic set of writing, communication, and interpersonal skills, and each branches off into a discrete set of current (but always changing) skills involving knowledge-based work (e.g., planning, research, summarizing, extrapolating, etc.) and tool-based work (e.g., Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, CMS, etc.). Each career path’s set of widely accepted skills (i.e., those skills that employers are looking for in employees) are those that should be researched and taught by faculty. Besides their course work, students can learn more about these through trade publications and books, mentors, and internships.

Taiwanese Publisher Who Printed My Dissertation Ruined by Inferno

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I was sad to learn that Zonghe Zhuangding, Ltd., the publisher who worked with Y’s father to print an exquisite hardcover edition of my PhD dissertation, “Brains, Minds, and Computers in Literary and Science Fiction Neuronarratives,” shuttered their business after their shop burned down. Zonghe Zhuangding provided printing and book binding services for publishers in Taiwan until the fire consumed their entire facility.

Y’s father insisted that we publish my dissertation after I defended it in 2012. Zonghe Zhuangding did an amazing job printing the book-version of my dissertation, which I had to layout with opposing running headers and other book-design features. The gold-typeface on the cover and spine look very impressive. And, the stitched-in red ribbon bookmark was a surprise bonus (see below).

After Y defended her dissertation last year, her father had her dissertation printed there, too.

N.B.: In Chinese, zhuangding means binding or book binding.

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PC Computing, August 1994

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The August 1994 issue of PC Computing was my go-to source for customizing my 486/DX2 66MHz system back in high school. I wanted to relive some of those tricks in my emulated DOS environments today, so I began hunting around for a copy to refresh my memory. After having no luck with nearby collections on Worldcat, I reached out to several eBay sellers who offer back issues of computer magazines. Seller sij167 replied that he had a copy that he would offer up, which I immediately purchased. It arrived very well protected this afternoon.

In this issue, the Operating Environments section is particularly helpful for building batch files to do a variety of otherwise tedious typing tasks. There are tips from “superstars,” including Bill Gates and Peter Norton. There are opposite-end-of-the-spectrum columns by John Dvorak and Penn Jillette. And, of course, the advertising! I wonder if I would get a reply if I send off a bubbled-in information request postcard?

A note about the magazine’s title: The Wikipedia page for the magazine lists it as “PC/Computing.” The magazine’s logo is styled with a slash between PC and Computing as shown in the photo above. However, the magazine’s masthead page lists the magazine as “PC Computing” with a space separating PC and Computing, as does the footer on odd number pages throughout the magazine.

The Postnational Fantasy: Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics, and Science Fiction Forthcoming from McFarland Publishers

I’m happy to announce that Masood A. Raja, Swaralipi Nandi, and I have signed a contract with McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers to publish our forthcoming edited collection on postcoloniality and science fiction tentatively titled, The Postnational Fantasy: Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics, and Science Fiction.

I would like to thank our wonderfully brilliant contributors who have submitted their work to be a part of this edited collection. And, I would like to thank my co-editors, Masood and Swaralipi, who have helped me nurse this project from an afternoon office conversation into a book that is nearing materialization.

I have included a brief description of the project below. As the publication process develops and a finalized table of contents is available, I will post it to dynamicsubspace.net and Masood will post it to his blog here.

The Postnational Fantasy: Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction places itself at the nexus of current debates about nationalism, postnational capitalism, the reassertion of third world nationalism and its cosmopolitical counterparts, and the role of contemporary Science Fiction (SF) and fantasy in challenging, normalizing, or contesting these major conceptual currents of our times.  This new collection of essays, thus, brings together, in one volume, the interplay of critical and theoretical insights both from Postcolonial and Science Fiction studies.

In a way SF and Postcolonial Literature both have traditionally dealt with the question of the other.  Thus, while SF has been traditionally concerned with the issues of the alien and the ontological other, the leading postcolonial works have usually focused on giving voice to the silenced colonized others.  Just as the SF writer must ‘train’ the reader in his or her imagined setting, so does the postcolonial author feel the need to inform the reader while attempting to represent the postcolonial subjects. This combination of representation and didactics, crucial to SF and postcolonial writing, can therefore be an interesting starting point for bringing the two overlapping fields of artistic endeavor together, as both have a lot to offer in theorizing and debating the national, the postcolonial, and the cosmopolitan in the era of high capital. As of now, not many critical texts attempt to rewrite postcoloniality through a textual and theoretical reading of contemporary SF nor has there been a worthwhile attempt in postcolonial studies to incorporate the contemporary SF in the cultural and political debates. It is, therefore, one of the goals of this volume to enrich both Postcolonial Studies and SF studies with a nuanced borrowing and intermixing of their primary texts and modes of interpretation, which would, we hope, enrich both fields of study by sharing their common and particular modes of reading and responding to the texts. Important also in our study would be the nature of representation itself, but especially the affective value of the texts in generating and foregrounding the questions of feelings invoked by the SF and the postcolonial text, and the impact of this emotive state on the issues of national, postnational, and cosmopolitan identity formation.

eBooks and Librarys

I know that there has been a lot more interest in eBooks following Amazon’s introduction of the Kindle and Kindle DX, but I was surprised to hear that ebooks, while only making up 3% of the book “publishing” market, represent the fastest growing segment of the book market according to this New York Times article.  I wonder if ebooks are beginning the logarithmic rise that mp3s did not too long ago to (almost) replace CDs.  MP3s were around for awhile before the firebrand RIO PMP300, and the style-and-function conscious Apple iPod took the stage and catapulted the digital audio file technology into something more than just a new technologically mediated way to listen to music.  The iPod with iTunes added a streamlined system for selling, distribution, and portable playback of purchased songs.  This, combined with rampant file sharing and a proliferation of inexpensive portable mp3 players, catapaulted mp3s over the walls of the compact disc stronghold.  Now, the rows of CDs for sale in big brick-and-mortar stores are dwindling.  Will the same be true in the near future for books and bookstores?

Amazon and Interead have reading devices and online ebook stores.  Many folks are scanning books and making them available online.  It seems like history may be repeating itself with books following the music model of going online–bits and tech replacing words on a published pulp page.  I’m weary of this transition, because I like controlling the bits that I own.  However, Amazon’s ability to remotely change the way a Kindle works (as in the case of the text-to-speech feature that was killed) leaves me concerned about who controls the device after it is purchased.  

Those concerns aside, what does the ebook mean for libraries?  Ebooks are much cheaper than books, which would give a library the ability to purchase more of them to satisfy their readers.  But, I don’t think the big ebook companies (like Amazon) or publishers want ebooks to follow a lending/reselling model that we’ve enjoyed with real books.  With a real book, I can lend it to a buddy, or sell it to someone else.  Additionally, lending and reselling may take place indefinitely for the life of the book.  This is not possible with the current offering of ebooks.  Amazon prohibits lending, and Interead allows you to trade books four times (kind of like Apple’s iTunes model of sharing songs–read more here). Additionally, there is the initial cost of a reader.  Electronic paper displays on ebook readers are much easier on the eye than traditional, backlit LCD, but this is a new and apparently costly (I wonder how much of this is licensing and not materials production) technology.  The point of libraries is to make reading available to a wide audience, but a greater shift to ebooks may marginalize libraries and their patrons.  What solution might the publishing industry offer libraries?  What should folks like us demand of the publishing and tech companies in the long term as books transition to the digital realm?  This seems like another case of the haves-vs-the-have-nots, and those persons with access to technology will make off with the spoils.  However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the homeless (this is not to say that all homeless experiences are the same) have computers and get online (read more here).