Traditionally, academic publishers fulfill several key steps in moving a manuscript to publication. Once they receive the manuscript, they coordinate peer review, offer editorial and even content suggestions, and perform copy edits, layout pages, and, most importantly, produce the final publication (before distributing and marketing this product from which they take a cut).
In other words, the publication process is creative, generative, and adds value, but also tends to be distinct from the process that generated the manuscript. In other words, a wall exists between author and publisher that helps establish publishing as separate from writing and to justify the role of publisher as playing an economically independent role in the process of knowledge creation. To be clear: this system works and has worked well for over a century.
In some cases, this wall is good, like when an author relies on a publisher to manage peer review or copy editing. In other cases, the wall is awkward like when the book is not just the end result of the author’s creative process or the vessel that allows the hard work of the manuscript to become manifest. When the book in totality is the product of a single creative vision that extends from the content of the book to its physical form, publishing draws upon earlier traditions of craft where authors and publishers were often interchangeable.
This past year, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota has been working with Micah Bloom to bring his remarkable book, Codex, to a wider audience. The original version of the book was designed to complement an installation that focused on the destruction of books by the Minot flood of 2011. It featured a series of remarkable photographs of the aftermath of the flood that critically engaged how we consider the destruction of books as both intimate objects and disposable commodities. We worked with Micah to add nine critical essays that engage the books and his art in new ways. Micah then produced a book about books that integrated the new essays with his photographs in a unified design.
We prepared 20, numbered, signed print versions that we will circulate to local institutions through the generous support of the North Dakota Humanities Council. We’re also going to release the book digitally under a CC-BY-ND license this fall. And because you can never have enough books in enough ways, we’re also going to produce a trade paperback for folks who want the experience of the paper book at a low price.
It was thrilling to receive photographs of the book this week! Be sure to stay tuned for more on this project.