David Wilk Interviews Charles Bernstein of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine

April 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

charles-bernsteinPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how they believe publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics.

Recently, the series has expanded to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing.  I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the past, present and future of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.  Some of my latest interviews reflect my interest in the history of independent literary publishing, an area I have been involved in for a very long time.

Charles Bernstein has been a poet, editor, theorist and teacher of poetry and poetics, and is best known as a leader of what has become known as the LANGUAGE school of poetry. Between 1978 and 1981, Charles and poet Bruce Andrews edited the truly extraordinary journal they called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, that has become one of the most influential literary magazines of the last half century.  That magazine, which circulated a relatively small number of copies during a relatively short period of time (13 issues), helped to establish and define what was then mostly an outsider and alternative challenge to contemporary poetry and thinking about reading poetry and which has now become a fixture in modern poetry and poetics. All the issues of the magazine are available online here.

Since that time, Charles has taught and continued to help establish influential organizations. He was the David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the SUNY Buffalo and Director of the Poetics Program, which he co-founded with poet Robert Creeley. At SUNY, he co-founded the Electronic Poetry Center and is currently the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University Pennsylvania. He also is a co-founder of the outstanding and wonderful poetry audio archive at UPenn called PennSound (there’s a Writerscast interview with Charles, Al Filreis and Michael Hennessey here).

Our conversation about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E continues my effort to document at least a small portion of the creative work of independent literary publishing of the late 20th century, that has been so important to the development of contemporary literary culture.220px-Cover_of_L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E_magazine_(February_1978)

The anthology mentioned in the talk, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (Poetics of the New), was published by Southern Illinois University Press, and is in print and available.9780809311064Note to listeners: as with all these historically based conversations about literary publishing, this is a relatively long listen, at about 48 minutes.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews CLMP Director Jeffrey Lependorf

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Jeffrey Lependorf has an unusual perspective on publishing.  He is the Executive Director of two nonprofit organizations: both the New York City based Council of Literary Magazines (CLMP) and the Berkeley, California based Small Press Distribution (SPD).  CLMP provides support services to and advocacy for literary magazines and independent literary presses, while SPD provides distribution and sales services to the same general constituency (though not always the same presses and magazines).  Both organizations have been on the scene for many, many years and their identities and services have changed significantly over time.

While the overall publishing industry has undergone sea changes in physical retailing and wholesaling that have created challenges for commercial publishers, those changes have caused massive disruption for hundreds of smaller literary presses and magazines, mostly by reducing their retail viability and forcing them to look for other means of reaching readers, including innovative approaches to digital publishing and direct to consumer sales.  Independent presses and magazines may be quietly creating some incredibly valuable and interesting approaches to connecting with readers that could provide long lasting benefits for them, and models for larger publishers to emulate.

In this conversation, I took advantage of Lependorf’s unique perspective to discuss the past, present and future of independent literary publishing, both books and magazines, as well as some of the digital initiatives they have undertaken, and the specific activities of both the organizations he operates.  It’s worth visiting both the CLMP and SPD websites.  If you’re interested in what independent publishers are doing, CLMP has alot of information; if you’d like to see the books and magazines (and ebooks) that independent publishers are producing, visit SPD, where, it is important to note, you can browse and buy thousands of unusual and important publications directly (even though they also distribute to retailers like Amazon, B&N and many independent bookstores).  Support independent literary publishing by buying their books whenever you can.

By the way, Lependorf has another career as a composer and performer whose work I also admire.  Amazing stuff from an amazing person!

ALERT: this is another relatively long podcast, just over 43 minutes, but I believe it’s well worth your time.

Publishing Talks: David Wilk Interviews Adam Hodgkin

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses. How will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and its economics?

I hope these Publishing Talks conversations will help us understand the outlines of what is happening, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Adam Hodgkin is one of the three publishing and technology experienced founders of Exact Editions, which started as a digital publishing solution for magazines to run on the iPhone (and of course now on the iPad as well).    Exact Editions enables magazine publishers to sell “in-app” subscriptions, and notably, preserves the notion of the designed page, something that has been a concern for many publishers of illustrated books as well.  I’ve been reading the Exact Editions blog for some time and have been impressed with Adam’s understanding of the emerging digital publishing universe.  Something he wrote recently caught my attention immediately, as I have long been interested in the ways that authors, publishers and readers will learn to connect with one another in the online environment.  Here’s what Adam wrote about the Apple environment upon which EE is built:

“The Apple e-commerce system works extremely well in my view and with the freemium method that we are adopting at Exact Editions it works in a way in which the ratios between ‘sampling’ and ‘purchasing’ are extremely informative. And as we get more data and get on top of it and learn how to do SRO (SampleRevisionOptimisation – a bit like SEO and it will be an equally dark art) the business of presenting the right amount of content to optimise sales will be established. We currently recommend working at about 8-15% exposure, but its guesstimatory at this point. Amazon must know quite a lot about this from their system, but I am not sure if they have issued any guidance to publishers.

The Apple system is better than most physical bookshops because it can put ‘samples’ in the hands of thousands (many thousands) of potential subscribers/purchasers much more efficiently than can be done with printed paper pages. The economics of this are pretty compelling even if the ‘sample’ to ‘purchase’ ratio is as low as 1%. And in most cases its quite a bit higher than that.

Will probably blog something a bit more informative about this in the next few days. But just let me say that I am simply ASTONISHED by how much more takeup there is for the iPad than for the iPhone. More in absolute terms, by quite a margin, even though there are maybe 40X as many iPhone/IPod touches in the market than iPads.

The iPad is turning out to be a hugely strong reading environment. Absolutely no question about it. And its darn easy to buy stuff on it that you might want to read.”

I thought it would be interesting to talk to Adam about Exact Editions and some of the things he and his colleagues have learned through the experience of working in the Apple environment, not only with magazine publishers but now as they are expanding into working with book publishers as well.  My discussion with Adam covered his background and experience in traditional publishing, technology, and some of the lessons learned by the Exact Editions team in their work in digital publishing apps and proved to be as compelling as I had expected.