Live Minds: New Texts and Open Access from Punctum Books

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We have exciting news from our friends at punctum books.  Please read their press release (produced in full below) about their innovative approach to open access, reader patronage, and extending intellectual life beyond the university library system.

Someone, or some distributive collectives of someones, needs to take responsibility for securing the [necessary] freedom for the greatest number of persons possible who want to participate in intellectual-cultural life, and for enabling the greatest possible number of forms of such life, thereby also ensuring the creative robustness of the larger social systems within which we are all enfolded together, whether university, whiskey bar, apartment building, city park, subway car, kitchen, church, cruise ship, bedroom, or polis. A publisher is a person, or a group, or a collective, or a multiplicity, or a consortium, or a desiring-assemblage, who accepts responsibility for this.

(Eileen A. Joy, “A Time for Radical Hope”)

Dear Friends,

Today punctum launches a new platform for distributing our titles, which we are calling (for lack of a more elegant phrasing) Graduated Open Access. By way of how this all looks and works, we are also thrilled to announce the publication today of The Digital Humanist: A Critical Inquiry, written by Domenico Fiormonte, Teresa Numerico, and Francesca Tomasi, and translated from the Italian by Desmond Schmidt and Christopher Ferguson (more on which below). Our new platform is inspired by Library Consortium models such as Knowledge Unlatched and Open Library of Humanities, and it has been developed to assist punctum (and any other Open Access publishers who may want to adopt a similar model) in creating sustainable share economies that could be counted upon to better irrigate our growing (yet always threatened) Open Commons — not only with tender feelings, but also with the sort of resources that would give us some hope of more open futures.

More practically speaking, under punctum’s new Graduated Open Access platform, the downloadable PDF of each title published from this date forward will carry a reasonable fee ($5.00) for a temporary period of 6 months, after which period each title will be fully unlocked and made available for free download (all existing titles that are already completely open will remain that way). Each title will still carry a Creative Commons license that will allow it to be shared and distributed and remixed at no cost, with no restrictions (except that all further uses be non-commercial), and the bottom line is that, little by little, and with everyone’s help, the open archive of punctum titles will continue to grow in leaps and bounds. (We want to make clear here as well that punctum allows its authors to devise the copyright license that is right for them.) In addition, we are adding a series of subscription options that will allow readers to pay as little as $10.00 per month to access all punctum titles as soon as they are published, and to also affirm themselves as ongoing patrons of the Open Commons.

The primary idea here is that Open Access publishing won’t work without at least some reader support (and this will also eventually include the involvement of institutional libraries as well), and the current format of asking for a donation of any amount at the point of download — while we are grateful to everyone who has generously made donations — has not proven sufficient to address our growing needs. For example, we have a staff of 4 co-directors, a web developer, book designers, associate editors, proofreaders — all of these currently working on an ad hoc, volunteer basis, and we also want to be able to compensate authors as well. The labor that goes into design, marketing, and everything else that punctum does for its authors and readers requires support at a level far beyond what we currently enjoy. (We continue, as always, to also seek support from various institutions, such as universities, and foundations.) Open Access publishing will not survive, especially in the American context, without government, institutional, and foundational subsidies, and we at punctum very much want to avoid the author-pay system that appears to be endemic now throughout Europe, such that large sums of money are being set aside (such as by Research Councils UK, in the wake of the recommendations of the Finch Report) to pay commercial and university presses to publish open-access monographs, edited volumes, and journals at exorbitant rates that are based on exceedingly bloated “business-as-usual” pricing structures. We believe that this poses a potential impediment to access to publication for many authors and projects, and we hope our readers will be willing to lend some small support to the sustenance of Open Access publishing. We should be willing to pay reasonable prices for things we really want and need (whether that is a book, a journal issue, a song download, a TV series, a software app, and so on), unless we want to live in a world where companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon own all of the content and all of the tools and toys and don’t ultimately care how any of this relates to democracy and a thriving Open Commons, and who will quickly dump any platforms for making content available if it doesn’t suit their ever-evolving-at-hyper-speed business plans.

To put an even finer point on this, unlike in Europe and in other countries, there are no explicit funding mandates in the United States, either at state or national levels, for the cultivation of Open Access publishing within the so-called “academic” scene (although there have been calls from within institutions such as Harvard and the University of California to move in this direction). Currently, many university publishers and Digital Humanities Centers are looking to foundations like Mellon for help with developing the initial infrastructure for projects such as Manifold Scholarship, a joint project between University of Minnesota Press and CUNY Graduate Center’s Digital Scholarship Lab, and Luminos + Collabra, University of California Press’s new Open Access Monographs and Mega-Journal platforms. In the case of the latter, it is hoped that long-term sustainability will be achieved through a combination of authors+home universities, libraries, and the publisher itself sharing the cost of producing the titles up front, and/or through Article Processing Charges. And thus the troubling question obtains, especially in the American context where state legislatures are slashing budgets for higher education and university managerial technocrats are increasingly uninterested in helping to sponsor experimental, speculative, and “useless” scholarship: If there is, for example, currently no money to be had for say, creating more tenure lines or reducing class sizes or supporting faculty development (such as through travel grants, reductions in teaching loads, and the like) or making tuition affordable for all or adequately compensating graduate student assistants, and the like, then where is the money coming from to sustain these new publishing initiatives into the long term? The answer is: from nowhere … at least, not right now. And let us be emphatic here: as stated above, we at punctum are adamantly against the author-pay system, as we believe that does severe damage to the health of what might be called the biodiversity of Public Thought.

More troubling still, as Gary Hall and Janneke Adema (Open Humanities Press) have recently written, “Open access is currently being positioned and promoted by policy makers, funders and commercial publishers alike primarily as a means of serving the knowledge economy and helping to stimulate market competition. This version has become so dominant that even those on the left of the political spectrum who are critical of open access are presenting it in much the same terms: as merely assisting with the ongoing process of privatising knowledge, research and the university” (for a critique of this state of affairs, see the shortly forthcoming punctum title Knowledge, Spirit, Law by Gavin Keeney, and for one of its neoliberal manifestations, see Palgrave Open). At a conference this past summer that Hall and Adema convened under the rubric of “RadicalOA,” there was a lot of emphasis on publishing as a practice of care (of persons, of ideas, of relations), on the technological fragilities of the Open Access enterprise and the Digital Humanities more largely, on the ways in which we need to guard against technological determinism and overly simplistic “catching-up” narratives tied to the privatization of everything, on the precarious labor practices involved with Open Access publishing and how to be more mindful of and strategic about that, on how we need to resist “prestige” ranking systems, on cultivating writing as risk/adventure, on promoting invention/intervention over “innovation” (a term toxified through its use within capitalist ventures), on how to resist the neoliberal uptake of Open Access by commercial presses while also collectively strategizing how to survive that state of affairs, and somewhat interestingly, everyone seemed invested in preserving the print book while also exploring new platforms for digitized interactive-networked forms of scholarship and publication (and we at punctum believe this hybrid approach is a valuable stand against the hyper-aggressive planned obsolescence of everything that seems endemic within neoliberal capitalism).

So this brings us back to why we are launching our new Graduated Open Access platform — because we are working on futures, and not on profits that exceed what we need to be comfortable, and because these futures can only be realized through Mutual Aid. Emphasis on the Plural. We must aid each other; we must help each other to realize our life works. Further, there is no, and never can be, just one future. Of necessity, certain futures will materialize and others will only emerge partially and still others will be suppressed, outright stomped upon, etc. Our job in the present is to try to keep all options in play and to maximize what is possible over what is determined in advance (usually by the powerful) to (supposedly) not be possible. This is an ethical, as well as a political, project, and it is not one that could ever be made to be “profitable,” although it could be sustainable if enough persons — in the administrative towers of academe, in the state legislatures, in the gilt halls of the (hopefully socially-minded) privileged, and also in the streets — banded together to make it a reality. And this is why we are hoping our readers will embrace the new platform, and thus aid us in fostering a more rowdily vibrant and promiscuous Open Commons (on which front, see also Eileen’s essay “Let Us Now Stand Up for Bastards: The Importance of Illegitimate Publics”).

And thus we also think it is important to underscore (yet again) the core mission of punctum books, and why we also think what we are doing is truly different from any existing university press and even from most experimental academic presses (although we have our allies and heroes, such as Open Humanities Pressre.pressMediaCommons Press, and Meson Press, among others): We are an Open Access press, not just because we make our titles broadly available to the public (to readers) without exorbitant fees and high paywalls (although we do do that, and it matters, especially in the context of public universities where research should never be shuttered from the public), but because we are dedicated to opening up access to the means of publication for authors who otherwise might not find a publisher, either because their work does not fit within a readily recognizable current disciplinary paradigm, or because they want to experiment with the forms and styles of academic writing, or because their work engages in disciplinary mashups that would make marketing their work overly difficult and so on. It’s a question of personal freedom and how the publisher (however defined: university-based, independent, etc.) is an agent of both sustenance and change. It’s about recognizing that the university, and especially the humanities, should be the haven par excellence for the weirdos and for the weird and for the care and curation as well of “seeding” new publics (in Michael Warner’s words, public-ation as “the poeisis of scene-making”), around which persons, who otherwise might become marginalized, suppressed, lost, etc., can “groupify” (in important counter-cultural modes) with others who share certain predilections, values, orientations, affinities, etc.

And the reason why we are hoping you will want to help us with this is because we have been working so hard for about four years now with no external support whatsoever to secure the space that is so necessary for others to do exactly the sort of work they want to do (as opposed to doing the work they are often subtly, and not so subtly, coerced into doing), and at a time when more traditional university and commercial academic presses are simply not adequately wired to help provide for such space that hasn’t already been deemed in advance to be “profitable,” “marketable,” “trending,” “dominant,” etc. Because the future of academic publishing cannot be just one thing, or one wagon, that we all have to get on (or risk being left behind), and it won’t be secured by funneling all of the money into corporate entities (such as commercial academic publishers like Taylor & Francis) that have no real concern for the public commons other than the profits to be gained thereby, and because we don’t want our work to be shaped by forces that have no regard for the the singular desires that lead us to our work in the first place.

And so (as mentioned above), we are also thrilled to announce the publication today of The Digital Humanist: A Critical Inquiry, written by Domenico Fiormonte, Teresa Numerico, and Francesca Tomasi, and translated from the Italian by Desmond Schmidt and Christopher Ferguson — The Digital Humanistoffers an indispensable critical introduction to the core technologies underlying the Internet from a humanistic perspective. It also provides an invaluable cultural critique of computing technologies, by exploring the history of computing and examining issues related to writing, representing, archiving and searching. The book raises awareness of, and calls for, the digital humanities to address the challenges posed by the linguistic and cultural divides in computing, the clash between communication and control, and the biases inherent in networked technologies. A common problem with publications in the Digital Humanities is the dominance of the Anglo-American perspective. While seeking to take a broader view, this book attempts to show how cultural bias can become an obstacle to innovation both in the methodology and practice of the Digital Humanities. Its central point is that no technological instrument is culturally unbiased, and that all too often the geography that underlies technology coincides with the social and economic interests of its producers. The alternative proposed in the book is one of a world in which variation, contamination and decentralization are essential instruments for the production and transmission of digital knowledge.

Vive la Open Access.

In Loving Solidarity, Andrew Doty, David Hadbawnik, Eileen A. Joy, Chris Piuma, and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

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