I wrote this manifesto in April 2013 after asking Ugly Duckling Presse if they would allow me to publish the .PDF version of my book Uselysses (UDP 2011) online. During the discussions, I asked Anna Moschovakis, an editor at Ugly Ducking Presse, for feedback on the manifesto, and what ensued was a lively exchange about the labor, costs and nature of publishing. Some of the changes that resulted from that exchange are included in this version of the manifesto, but you can read the complete annotated version and our conversation HERE. UDP has simultaneously launched an initiative to make available author-approved .PDF versions of its published books on its website, uglyducklingpresse.org: the first group of free downloadable PDFs (available July 4, 2013) will include Noel Black’s Uselysses. The New Heave Ho press is my first foray into new .PDF press publishing. The first books published will be my new full-length manuscript La Goon, and my wife’s MFA thesis Time Pieces. Some future publications I hope to oversee and realize: a progressively edited anthology of avant-comic and satirical poetry, .PDF scans of past publishing projects including selections from Angry Dog Press and LOG Magazine, and serialization of my novel, The Bad Poets. I’m open to submissions on a rolling basis and will also solicit. All queries and inquiries should be sent to darksandal at gmail.
—Noel Black, July 2014
MANIFESTO for the new .PDF press
Firstly, many small poetry presses already make their chapbooks and/or .PDF version of their books and broadsides available for free download in some form, whether it’s a .PDF version of a physical book, a downloadable version of a print-on-demand book, or a straight-to-.PDF manuscript. Some of the notable presses include: Beard of Bees, Publishing Genius (go to Chapbook Genius), Troll Thread Collective, Eclipse, Dusie, H_ngm_n, Little Red Leaves, and Gauss PDF.
For the purposes of this manifesto, “new .PDF press” will refer to online presses that publish manuscripts, proofs or facsimiles of books, generally in 8.5” x 11", one-sided .PDF format for free download, with or without a recommended donation.
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” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Culture_movement) 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 (while fully acknowledging that there is still labor involved in its production, some of which will likely be contributed by the author), and a book is a book. Because of the nature of the internet and the ease of duplication and reproduction, a the value of a .PDF published on a new .PDF press can be suggested by the author, but must ultimately be determined by the reader/downloader. Payment should, then, can be solicited, but should remain optional.
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, still involves heavy amounts of design and cannot be downloaded.
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. 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 and on the honor system. 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. 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/proofs/manuscripts available may be able to leverage this fact in the solicitation of grants, particularly when accounting for the actual cost of the labor.
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 and links back to the original site of publication along with links or buttons to make contributions both the author and the original press should be included.
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-as-manuscript/text.
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/English 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.