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the Periodical, a manifesto of sorts

A number of people I’ve spoken to about the Periodical have asked me to explain more about the vision behind it. Why is it necessary now? What are we hoping to achieve? Why should people subscribe? So I’m taking this opportunity to share my thoughts, hopes and aspirations – both as a rallying cry for others who partake of the same spirit of independence from the mainstream and want to participate, and also in the hope of getting the ball rolling to attract some subscribers.

Publishing as a Conversation
Over the years Proboscis has been exploring ever more conversational forms of sharing our stories, knowledge and experiences – always seeking to make work that is reflective and inspirational, not a full stop. The form of the book and traditional publishing – requiring lengthy processes of commissioning, editing, design and production, not to mention financial capital – seems so often to be an end point. The finality of the published word, of the authoritative edition underscored by the exclusivity of the world of publishers, editors and writers. What our Diffusion eBook format and the bookleteer self-publishing platform have striven towards is to offer an alternative to these. Not a replacement, but another path.

When I originally conceived the Diffusion eBook in 1999 I wanted to create a hybrid that would disrupt the monopoly of the screen: a publication that would be distributed digitally, but would find form in being printed out, folded, cut and made up into a physical book. Something that could bypass whatever physical barrier that might prevent either a traditional book or purely online text from reaching whoever wanted to read it. We designed our eBooks so that they could be samizdat for the digital age. Email them, photocopy them, burn the files to CD-ROM to share. Use the cheapest, most long-lived and reliable medium we have (paper) for communicating what we value in a way that privileges what is being communicated, not the fetish of the mode of communication. With bookleteer we have extended this original concept into the world of mobile and social media. The physical eBooks all have links to their digital selves, both as QR codes and human readable links. We have bridged not just the digital and physical but the handmade and the industrially produced too through the Short Run printing service which makes high quality professionally printed and bound books available to all at very low cost and in low numbers (from 25 copies).

the Periodical : a space of oddments and all sorts
So what is it we are trying to achieve by selecting one eBook a month, printing it and sending out to subscribers? My vision is that we will not just send out beautifully printed books to paper fetishists and analogue recidivists but that we will build up a vibrant community of writers, thinkers and makers who feel empowered to respond – not just to read the eBooks published via bookleteer or those printed and posted out, but to make their own publications as ripostes, as new tangents or simply because they’ve been inspired to share their own stories, experiences or creations. The Periodical should be an incitement to a publishing riot. Everyone is invited, though not all will respond and even fewer will be selected to have their eBook printed and distributed. But it will be different. Not a magazine, nor a ‘best of’ compendium. Entire eBooks, selected for printing and distributing once a month.

This is most definitely a space for the eccentric and eclectic; for those who are seeking without always knowing what they are searching for; who value the off-beam, the esoteric, the strange and unfamiliar. As an editor of journals, books and essays over the past 20 or so years I have always tried to commission different voices, not just those people I already know and with whose work I am familiar. There are always threads of enquiry in my search for new people to work with, it isn’t random, but the patterns are perhaps best discerned over the long years and not in the more time-proximate juxtapositions which throw different people together in a particular issue or series of eBooks. Tracing these patterns is a job for another day, another post (perhaps by someone else) but, simply put, everything I have commissioned, every project I have devised and led, has been motivated by an attempt to push the boundaries of what we know, how we know it and why we value these experiences. This questing for new perspectives, to experience things through others’ eyes and senses, this drive to follow instincts and not follow the herd will be the engine of selection for the Periodical.

Why Now?
September 2012 is the twelth anniversary of the publication of our very first series of Diffusion eBooks, Performance Notations. Over the past 12 years, we shared almost 500 eBooks on our Diffusion Library website many of them new commissions as well as books by partners and collaborators for their own projects. We are also seeing some dramatic changes across society and culture. The public goods which we have enjoyed here in the UK since the end of the Second World war and birth of the Welfare State are being eroded and displaced. Our social and cultural heritage is being looted by freebooters and buccaneers in the name of economic efficiency and profit. The work Proboscis has commissioned and freely shared over the past 12 years through Diffusion and now via the tools and platform we are making freely available through bookleteer are our own modest contribution to the Public Good, to the commonwealth. the Periodical is a simple way to seed a loose community of like-minded people around the theme of sharing what we value in ways that evade being a full stop. That are an incitement, a provocation, and invitation or an inspiration. I hope we are able to attract enough participants to not just make this a sustainable project, but that can help us grow and expand what bookleteer can do, that might enable us to devise new projects and commission new works that are as ambitious as anything we’ve done before.

What Kind of eBooks?
Next week we will be deploying some major changes to bookleteer (see here for details). Non-users will be able to browse all the eBooks and StoryCubes which users have made and shared publicly on the site. There are some gorgeous publications that have been created over the past 3 years to give a sense of what is possible, some of which will be considered for early issues of the Periodical. I am also inviting an eclectic group of friends, colleagues and fellow travellers to commit to making and sharing at least one new eBook on bookleteer over the next year for inclusion in the selection pool. I’ll be posting about who they are and why they are taking part in this project very soon.
Update : check out the new bookleteer Library page to browse what people have made.

Subscribe to the Periodical
To launch the Periodical we need at least 100 subscriptions – if you would like to receive a beautifully printed eBook once a month (more if we can also raise sponsorship for new series of commissioned eBooks too), then please subscribe here.