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Left publishing at an impasse

When I began to move leftward my journey was trail marked by a succession of left bookshops. I came from the  Baby Boomer perspective that you could read your way into a new identity. And left books -- by registered socialist types -- were seen as an extension of the avaunt garde and Bohemia.

In fact they were. For a time there Modernism's offspring was having a passionate but illicit affair with stranger danger gang of Marxism.

So the template that the New Left worked from was a written one: left bookshops, left publishing, left newspapers and left journals.

But over time that  easy  positioning of the printed word -- of advancing your agenda in hard copy -- has receded  somewhat as newspaper and book publishers -- the boss cocky millionaire types like Rupert et al  -- know so well.

The locus of interaction has shifted  and, let's say, it no longer is only  positioned over the counter in a lefty bookshop  or across a card table at a protest gathering.

We can regret this -- but them's the facts.

But in my coal face experience there are many on the left who won't accept that these changes  are occurring and adhere to the view that the only real political  text worth the sharing  is one on paper. Part of this preference is sustained by the complication that online text after one thousand words or so  is hard to read in a single sitting.  So hard copy looks good as an option. 

I have no argument with that.

What then happens is that because there is such a strong publishing culture on the left some accommodation is engineered and layout skills are given their deference enough for folk to share their written work as pdf.

If you don't know, pdf is primarily a printer's format -- the best way to get exactly what you laid out, where you laid it out (pictures, headlines, graphics, etc),  printed on paper.

The problem is that it isn't very good as a reader's format as it presumes a  hard copy stage and the pdf page is presented on your computer , in effect, as a slide show of photographs of pages.

I should point out that the left isn't alone in their use of pdf. Publishers still use it and you'll find millions of pdf books packaged as 'ebooks' for online sale and download. For large format books such as coffee table works, comics and manuals with many illustrations it is still rules the market place and illustration preference.

The complication is that the most useful way of getting the pdf text off the  desktop computer screen at the other end is still to print it.

Now with the burgeoning growth of ebook apps, ereader software and portable devices -- even mobile phones can read some ebook formats  -- pdf is an extremely  cumbersome sentence for  all the  text the left offers.

The irony is that the left's library is overwhelmingly made up of dense text. Just go visit the Marxist Internet Archive  to see what the catalogue offers. It's all words.

There's no pretty pictures at all.

That Archive is now beginning to offer its books in  epub, mobi and odt formats -- as well as pdf -- but I fear it is almost  alone in doing that.

So what to do about this? 

I think there is a case -- indeed  a  potential niche -- for an online left bookshop that offers left texts in formats other than pdf. My experience with platforms like Smashwords  is that the potential to create an  online independent publishing house  is opportune. You can charge whatever you want or offer freebies and build up a catalogue that will be much broader choice than any stall at any protest rally or any wall of dog eared pamphlets in a bookshop. You can link various texts  for study purposes to a syllabus  and, if required, append learning   to presentations (aka  powerpoints). 

On top of that you 'may' get some items in your catalogue taken up by the big online bookstores.

And when you charge you make money. You have a bona fide retailing outlet in the same way that the once upon a time well patronised left bookshop was. Here's a sample from a single author/publisher -- Lenny Flank -- which carries a few radical texts in the (rather eclectic)  catalogue.

For the rest of us -- the lefty consumers -- what we get is going to be so much cheaper (or free), easily accessible,  and in the formats of our choosing. And it's always going to be there downloadable any time as a ready reference.

The result will definitely be that more of this stuff will move ('off the shelf')and more of this stuff will be read because the audience is going to be so much larger than those who visit a hidden away bookstore or singular card table.

I personally think that there is also a case that left journals  could also be offered in a range of ebook formats as well as in hard copy. That may seem anathema -- but let's just say it's early days. But look at it this way: a journal  offered in a range of ebook formats (other than pdf) can be sold and subscribed to in the way an online web page cannot. Example option -- one of many. In fact the left press would have an ebook format advantage over the bourgeois media in that it is not advertisement driven  and any reader of online newspapers will tell you that ads kill the experience of news monitoring. (eg: individual newspaper apps on iPad for instance are brutal in-your-face advertising trolls).

Them's are apple's worth liking.
If you have not been exposed to ebook mode click here -- -- and see if your desktop has an ereader. For a great free one, Download Calibre. You can also run Calibre on a USB stick!

1 Com:

Anonymous | August 31, 2011

Thanks for this great, well thought out & explained project proposal, count me in, perfect online collaborative proposal, count me in on this project to establish ourselves as the number one online, multi lingual left publisher in this brave new wwworld..... Lara Canberra

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