Monday, July 1, 2013

ANNOTATED Manifesto for the new .PDF press

This is the annotated manifesto for the new .PDF press. You can read the final version HERE.

What follows below is the text of Noel’s Manifesto, with some of Anna Moschovakis' initial queries (in red) and Noel’s responses (in green), followed by a short exchange between the two.

MANIFESTO for the new .PDF press

Firstly, as of June, 2013, many small poetry presses already make their chapbooks and/or books and broadsides available for free .PDF download. Some of the notable presses include:, (go to Chapbook Genius),,,,,, and

These are all great projects, and all quite distinct: Beard of Bees appears not to have any paper books (less overhead, though of course there is still the labor of editing and design -- though the design is pretty basic). Eclipse is only online. Dusie is a case where the labor is contributed by the authors, so Dusie as a press is doing publicity and distribution -- still a lot of work! --  but not creating the PDFs. Hangman does give away free .PDFs to go along with their limited-edition chaps, but they don’t do full-length books. Broadsided is a broadside press.

Yes, for the purposes of this manifesto and for The New Heave Ho Press, I'm making a case ONLY for the publication of .PDFs in 8.5 x 11" one-sided format. I'm just acknowledging that other presses are already doing this in some form or another.

The new .PDF (Portable Document Format) press recognizes that poetry-as-text/manuscript will rarely, if ever, have any commercial value as such. The value of poetry-as-text/manuscript should not be confused with the value of books of poetry as visual and literary art objects, or the value of the ideas and thoughts of the poet herself. Because poetry-as-text/manuscript has no inherent commercial value, it can be, in all senses, free. The New .PDF Press seeks to make as much poetry free and available as possible to encourage the free exchange of ideas in poetry as widely as possible.

Online .PDF publication allows for instantaneous publication and distribution that puts complete creative and editorial control into the hands of the author, or author AND publisher, while recognizing the historic advantages of aesthetic, political and philosophical collectivism/affiliation that a “press” or imprint offers to a community of writers/artists and readers.

The new .PDF press adheres loosely, but not dogmatically, to the principles of “free culture” ( as outlined by Lawrence Lessig.

.PDF publication is the fastest and easiest way to make new/timely/ephemeral work available.

.PDF publication does not in any way seek to undermine the financial viability of small presses publishing physical books. On the contrary, when done in conjunction with physical publishing, it seeks to promote the work in advance of the book, i.e. .PDF publishing can complement physical publishing in the same way that .mp3s still complement vinyl/CDs. Physical books have real physical, labor and distribution costs, and real value. The new .PDF press operates on the principle that poetry-as-manuscript (even if designed) should not be confused with a poetry book. In other words, a .PDF is a .PDF and a book is a book. A .PDF published on a new .PDF press, is a non-monetary delivery vehicle for poems.

I guess I would take issue with the idea that a “.PDF is a .PDF” -- when it comes to the embodied labor, .PDFs can vary very much one from another.

Yes, when you're talking about a .PDFs of documents for books, there's definitely layout and design costs and labor. But what I'm talking about is, as you've already noted, really just .PDFs of manuscripts already laid out as poems by the author. Obviously, this raises other issues about what the press is actually offering. And I've already had one author change her mind because she wanted the book to be in a printable e-book format so it could be purchased in book format at a print-on-demand site like Lulu. What a .PDF press offers, ultimately, as I stated above is: collectivism/affiliation, some editing, some design, and a certain amount of publicity as determined by each press.But it's not, for the purposes of this manifesto, about books.

An existing poetry press that already publishes books and wants to make some or all of its catalog available in .PDF format and/or become a new .PDF press in part or whole will likely have to consult individual authors and may have to get legal advice. Published authors who want to make their books available in this manner should approach their publishers and work out terms to make their existing works available either at the site of the publisher or an outside site. If a .PDF version of an existing book can be made legally available through the press or outside it (i.e. a separate website), it should do so in a way that benefits the press, the author, the work and the reader. Such agreements will undoubtedly have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Hosting digitally browseable chapbooks (such as ISSUU books) on one’s own site, while aesthetically pleasing and in no way discouraged, is not the same as .PDF publishing because it limits distribution.

The .PDF (rather than the eBook, particularly in its various DRM manifestations) is the best format for delivering poems-as-manuscript widely and freely because it is almost ubiquitously available and because formatting is not subject to the vagaries and costs of coding, and because it is almost ubiquitously understood as an easily created and downloadable format; i.e. the barriers to entry are minimal. Anyone who has access to either Microsoft Word or Google Drive (or the open-source Word alternatives, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and NeoOffice) can create a .PDF of their poems/book. Likewise, almost anyone who has access to a computer can download a .PDF.

The new .PDF press offers all the advantages of the distribution model of digital media while retaining much of the aesthetic and economic impulse of the low-budget chapbook or zine press, particularly as it manifested itself in the “mimeo revolution” in the 1960s and 70s, the zine/xerox publications of the 1980s and 90s, and the hybrid letterpress/small press/internet publication revival of the 2000s. As such, the new .PDF press invites and encourages the person downloading texts to print and bind them in any way she see fit so that .PDF publications have as great a physical/archival distribution as possible. These downloaded and printed versions will eventually become useful and necessary archival artifacts of the new .PDF press, but are not its ultimate aim.

The new .PDF press begins from the belief that, in spirit and philosophy, poetry as a medium has never been wholly compatible with copyright law. As such, the new .PDF press is post-copyright. Its economy, insofar as it has one or that it matters, works on the honor system (as does public radio/television). Authors themselves can still reserve copyright in book form, or license its physical reproduction (amended by NB 7/1/2013). through a creative commons copyright, but the intent of the new .PDF press is the widest possible distribution and publication of poems-as-manuscript as possible. Limiting that (i.e. putting a .PDF of a manuscript behind a pay wall or trying to enforce traditional copyright on the Web) is, ultimately, counter to that aim.

People who choose to pay for works they have downloaded will do so voluntarily. But, as in public radio/television, not all people will pay. All voluntary payments for a specific download should go either directly to the author, or have separate payment buttons that allow payments to be made to both directly to the author and to the press (amended 7/1/2013). The press itself can also certainly solicit donations for the costs of its operation (server space, editorial time, any design, etc.), but such costs will likely be minimal and labor will, as it is now with most small presses, continue to be voluntary. An existing non-profit press making .PDF publications available should also be able to leverage this fact in the solicitation of grants.  

All this sounds great, but there are some contradictions in what you are saying. If the author has no rights to his/her work, how can all voluntary payments go to the author? It seems the payments will go to whoever posts the .PDF, and that could be anyone.

Again, it's based on an honor system, the ethics of which I'm hoping to outline here, but which can't be strictly enforced. I realize it's murky, but payment for anything digital on the internet is a murky realm. Again, if poetry-as-manuscript has no inherent value, then what is the cost to the author and/or publisher who enters into that realm knowingly?

Even if you do assume that the person posting will be the author, I don’t see why any proceeds shouldn’t be split with the press, if indeed it is a press that has done some work on behalf of the author and the text. (Agreed. Amended above, 7/1/13.)  If the author wants to design his own book and forego editing or affiliation with a press that has devoted itself to building an audience, then that’s a different story. When a musician sells her own CD, she has often paid up front for a producer, a recording studio, a masterer, etc etc. So those people have already been compensated specifically for the work they did to help produce the album. In that case, they worked for a fee, and the author collects all the proceeds partly as a way of paying  herself back for what she has spent out of pocket. She often also pays a publicist, by the way to compensate for not having a label.

I assume you are thinking that the publisher would not be left out in the cold here because the publisher would be getting grants to cover its overhead (if high) or would be willing to work for zero compensation (if the the overhead is low). But your point about non-profits is not necessarily so simple. Many grantors actually dislike presses that are volunteer run. UDP receives less money from the NEA than some other presses of similar size, in part because our budget does not reflect the labor costs that are donated. Grantors also want to think that an enterprise is sustainable, and they do not think that a press which is all output (donated labor) and no income (sales) is sustainable. They assume people will burn out, and they don’t want to put a lot of support behind something that they think will fizzle.

I’m not saying that .PDF presses as you propose them are unsustainable or undesirable --  I think they are both. But I don’t think that grantors can be depended upon to make up for sales revenue for small presses that are more labor-intensive than the .PDF presses you are proposing.

I agree that the press should be able to get proceeds of donations, and perhaps I’ll amend that in the manifesto. Perhaps what would be better is to have two separate donation buttons: one for the press; one for the author. What I take issue with is having to manage the funds going to the author for the sake of time and efficiency. In other words, why not allow the author to get paid directly? But that should be left up to the discretion of each press in either case.

Again, I think we're talking about very different kinds of publishing. Just because a book isn't physical doesn't mean that making it available in digital format online isn't a form of publication. My press, The New Heave Ho, will certainly offer a certain amount of copy editing, solicited feedback on the manuscript, a limited amount of design, and some publicity based on, again, a network of affiliations, much of it based in social media and email. Is this enough? I don't know. But I know that when I published the Angry Dog Midget Editions in the early 2000s, the only publicity I could offer was the fact that everyone in the series would get a box set and then we did a series of readings on both coasts. Those books all involved huge amounts of volunteer labor, typing, printing, stapling, assembly and mailing. I just don't want to do any of that anymore, and you don’t have to if what you want is access to poems more than books. Of course I love books, too, and I hope that some of the .PDFs I publish here will get picked up elsewhere for physical publication. But I'm willing to volunteer to do the labor involved to get, as you say, "manuscripts" out into the world if means more access and an amount of labor that I can manage with kids and a job.

I would never suggest that online-only publication is not publication, or that Angry Dog Midget Editions wasn’t an awesome and generous project! I’m simply upholding the value of the labor that goes into the act of publishing. The distinction I’m trying to make is between books that have benefited from lots of labor from a publishing entity and books that are in effect self-published to a platform provided by a publisher. I do not mean to draw a line in the sand between physical books and digital books. Production costs are only one aspect of the cost of publishing. Also, I think it’s interesting to think about the distinction between what you are proposing and the practice some poets have embraced of publishing their poems directly to Facebook or to their blogs, which in effect also rely on social media to do the work of “distribution.” In our conversation on the phone, I mentioned that what you’re proposing is something like a gathering of posted poems, a curated playlist of manuscripts, almost like a radio hour that features demos.

Yeah, that's a good analogy.  

The new .PDF press seeks to work around the economic constraints of traditional press/publishers while not in any way diminishing them, their value or their history. To the extent that a new .PDF press publishes physical books or designed eBooks that require physical labor and physical distribution, the press will, of course, have to make such traditional agreements/contracts with its authors as it deems necessary.

It’s conceivable and probable that a work published on a new .PDF press will be picked up by a separate press and published in physical form, particularly where a new .PDF press does have its own physical publishing operation. Such decisions should remain entirely up to the author and that press. The new .PDF press does not seek to inhibit its authors in any way.

The new .PDF press is best-suited for the publication of poetry and other non-commercially viable work, or work that has been released from its potential commercial value by its creator (see Kiril Mededev’s It’s No Good, much of which was originally published by the author on a livejournal blog free of copyright and then collected and republished free of copyright in a collaboration between n+1 and Ugly Duckling Presse in 2012). Again, the new .PDF press recognizes that poetry’s commercial worthlessness is also its greatest value.

An author should be able to request the removal of his or her work from the website or blog of a new .PDF press, but it is contrary to the philosophy of a new .PDF press. The more a work is downloaded, copied and republished elsewhere (with or without permission), the more likely it is that the poetry will find new readers.

Republication of a poetry .PDF at another press with or without permission (particularly outside the borders of the country in which the work was originally posted to the web, or in translation) should be encouraged, though it is preferable to seek permission.

If someone (especially in the U.S.) republished, in any money-earning form, Cecilia Vicuna’s SPIT TEMPLE without thinking it important to ask UDP for permission,

This is where things get trickier for me. My instant reaction is personal. If someone (especially in the U.S.) republished, in any money-earning form, Cecilia Vicuna’s SPIT TEMPLE without thinking it important to ask UDP for permission, I would conclude that that person seriously misunderstands the labor involved in editing -- and translating, and writing! To be clear, I’m not against the distribution of photocopies or scans of a book that I’ve edited or published. But that’s different from another press republishing an existing book under its own moniker.

Again, I'm coming at it from the perspective of the work being made available first as a .PDF on a new .PDF press. And again, this isn't mandatory. If an author and/or her press wants to retain copyright for any print editions, that’s not a problem. It has to be voluntary and all involved have to agree that it's in the best interest of the book and the author to do so. One of the books I plan to publish is my wife's MFA thesis, which both of us put a ton of work into and which was laid out for Lulu by a friend of ours who did it as a favor. I fully acknowledge all the work that went into that by all of us, but I also feel that it's incredibly important that the work get out there because we're far from New York and San Francisco and Chicago and LA. It's a way to join the conversation. And I could dive into all the class issues and women's issues involved, but I think I've already stated them in the manifesto itself.

Ok, so you aren’t talking about the republication of a book. Still I don’t understand the parallel between Press #2 picking up a .PDF published by Press #1 and publishing it in book form for sale, and you publishing your wife’s thesis under your own PDF press. But I also feel this is a very abstract counterfactual -- the point is, if I actually saw a Korean bootleg version of a UDP book, I would probably be delighted. Not so much if I saw one in Barnes and Noble published by one of the multinationals.

Yeah, I can understand that. I’m not sure there’s a way to answer all these questions without addressing them on a case-by-case basis.

The new .PDF press recognizes both the demise of the bookstore generally, and the lack of poetry bookstores outside major metropolitan areas. It also recognizes the limited degree to which libraries, particularly in less urban areas, can make small press works available to its patrons. As such, the new .PDF press serves also as a kind of decentered library, i.e. a way for a potential reader (or book buyer) to discover poems free of cost. As such, the new .PDF press further democratizes distribution and makes poems available to geographically isolated readers who cannot otherwise afford to buy many books. As such, poets can also be made more free to make their homes in areas outside overpriced urban centers/university towns without forfeiting access to poetry culture and community. Similarly, the new .PDF press also encourages new regional aesthetics and poetics that can be shared internationally.

The new .PDF press also seeks to bypass the MFA/Phd. system as a gatekeeper/gentrifier of poetry culture and publication by making as many poems available to as many people as possible outside those gates. As such, the new .PDF press encourages amateurism and a more truly free exchange of poetry.

The new .PDF press is economically progressive, feminist, queer and revolutionary in that it eliminates almost all barriers of entry to publication and readership for all people in all socio-economic situations.

Because any new .PDF  press will be a global press, it should seek to publish women and non-caucasians in greater numbers than it publishes men of Anglo or European descent. The new .PDF press encourages translation by its very nature.

While a new .PDF press may make its books available in any form it wishes or sees fit, 8 and 1/2 x 11 .PDFs (in the US) intended to be printed one-sided and stapled along the left margin (for western/Egnlish language books) are encouraged for the sheer ease of home or library printing. Doing so will encourage those who wish to own/read a physical copy to do so and become a volunteer analog archivist of the work in the process. All other elements of design should be left up to the press itself, though it should also be noted that color costs more to print than black and white.

Blogs, Tumblrs, etc. are encouraged as websites for new .PDF press publishers because they are generally free and easy to design.

Authors who wish to get paid for their work should have their own paypal account or bitcoin wallet and provide a link for the publisher to include in the post so that those who download a work may voluntarily pay the author. A suggested contribution amount should be agreed upon by the author and publisher.

Everything else is open to interpretation, modification and mutation on press-by-press basis.

This “manifesto” may be republished, translated, shared and amended (without deletion) on a press-by-press basis. Please feel free to copy this, make annotations of your own and send them back. Or you may simply comment below. Please also feel free to grab the ".new PDF press" button, put it on your own site, and link back to this manifesto, or not.

Hey Noel,

Most of my early reactions to your manifesto were to my impression, at first, that you were drastically minimizing the labor that goes into getting a book ready for print as a traditional book (from acquisition to editing, design, proofreading, promoting, fulfilling orders, etc). I feel protective of this type of labor, for obvious personal reasons, and I felt compelled to make sure that you understood the distinction between posting a .PDF that comes more or less directly from the author and fully editing / designing / producing a printable file. But I feel like these are all very granular discussions. Really, you’re talking about increasing accessibility to poetry and doing it through affinity groups. And that’s something I support, for sure.    

I hear all this, Anna, and I hope I addressed this in your comments within the manifesto above. We're really talking about two different kinds of presses. One starts out as a traditional imprint with all the labor involved in producing books and then, maybe, begins to make some of its labors available in .PDF format for free. The other begins as a .PDF-only press, in my case, and takes on slightly less labor and produces no physical product. And I do acknowledge that even with a .PDF press, there is still a lot of labor involved, but part of why I wrote this manifesto and why I'm starting a .PDF press after many years of putting out small chapbooks is that I'm trying to minimize that labor without sacrificing the connectivity and access. And I really like your idea of calling it a "manuscript" or "proof" press. It makes it clearer what it is you're offering as a publisher.

These are all things we discuss regularly at UDP, believe me. I understand that there are lots of ways in which musicians have played with various models. But it seems to me that one of the most successful models now is when musicians create their own labels or form tiny labels with other musicians. That’s not the same as a small press, which generally does not publish its editors but serves others. Maybe the small press boom is ending. I think very tiny, chapbook-only presses can thrive. UDP has tried to do something different from that, reach a wider audience, and it just may not be possible in the current climate, with the model that we’ve been using. It’s one of the reasons we are taking the leap and making what we’re calling “documentation” of our books available for free (when the author agrees). I should make clear here that though I’m referencing UDP a lot, I’m participating in this conversation with you as a friend and not on behalf of UDP. Other UDP editors might have different views on all of the above.

I don't think the small press boom is ending. I think there will always be a demand for the objectness of books that can be shared with the demand for access to the poems themselves in the same way that many music labels still press CDs and Vinyl while also making music available in mp3 format. I'm still thrilled that Uselysses was published by Ugly Duckling. But there are also many netlabels that only distribute music in digital format. I think there's room for all.

The problem, which may be a purely practical one, is how to keep funding those kinds of projects! It’s a real struggle, and it’s easy to burn out when you’re constantly having to ask for money as if you’re a charity, even though you’re making things that sell reasonably well to the intended audience, small though it may be.

One more reaction that I had, which is in effect moot since you’ve explained that you don’t plan to use InDesign to design your books, but which I’ll include for the record, is this: I found  that your manifesto ignores the fact that PDFs are themselves proprietary (Adobe), and that one of the big overhead costs that presses have is paying for the endlessly updated versions of Adobe (several hundred bucks a pop) that we need in order to create press-ready PDFs. InDesign isn’t free, but it’s the industry standard, and in my experience its use is pretty hard to avoid if you want to have your book printed and bound (at least at any of the affordable companies in the U.S.). You might want to mention that, ar at least admit that it’s less than ideal. Is there not an open-source version that you could get behind? What about an .rtf press?

Yes, but it's free to make a .PDF version of a document created in Google Docs, for example. Of course, if you're talking about anything more complicated that line breaks, it gets proprietary and complicated, but I'm not talking about that. Ultimately, it's up to each publisher what they want to put into it, and up to each author if she wants to make her book available in that format. It may turn out that I end up publishing only my own manuscripts/books, or only those of close friends. We’ll have to see.

Google is problematic too, of course … but that is another conversation. Anyway, it would be great to compare notes/revisit our conversation 6 months or so after we both launch and have seen what the response has been. I’m certainly glad that you encouraged us to push this initiative (offering free downloadable PDFs) that we’ve been debating internally for years. So thanks for the conversation, and … onward!


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