FR Digital Publishing Project

This loomio group is being created to have a conversation about digital publishing for Freerange Press, within a wider discussion about digital publishing and the opportunities and challenges it brings. I've written a few hundred words below that layout the basic challenges, opportunities and a kind of first brief.

The traditional publishing model is breaking down. Starting in the seventeenth century with the increased access to the words of the bible and the reformation that emerged as a result the industrial scale printing and distribution of books has long had a democratic and powerful cultural importance in terms of the diffusion of knowledge and ideas. However, digital means of distribution and production are becoming increasingly dominant and while the printed book is still popular and wonderful, it is starting to fade as the agent of change and power it once was. This is creating both problems and opportunities, especially for a small cooperative publishing company operating in a remote country in the middle of the ocean.

The main problems are:

  1. Digital publishing is still evolving and there are multiple competing formats to deal with - this creates lots of work and a lack of quality control.
  2. Print media is static and so enables, nay encourages, beautiful layout and quality control. This makes the experience of reading it pleasurable and also enables added value to be associated with the works - design. Digital media has some of these qualities, but it is more dynamic, requires different skill sets, and often involves a different form of control (more user, less maker)
  3. Digital publishing modes have emergent financial modes. There are many competing places that sell books from small boutique online stores to the large corporates of Amazon, Google and Amazon. It is difficult to work out where the market is, and how to access it. Further the online ethos is frequently one of expecting free access to products, and while we support this at Freerange, we also need to work out how to pay our contributors and continue to keep the ship running
  4. The digital audience is often fractured; there are many ports of distribution. The digital realm is massive and it is difficult for chance encounters…(how to move beyond the echo chamber?

These three reasons, and our love for the printed word, have led us to largely concentrate on physical print, with pdfs, as a free online subsidiary to the printed version. This has worked relatively well, but there remains a huge opportunity here.

The main benefits of digital publishing are:

  1. Accessibility - people with various kinds of disability can much better access our content and participate in the conversations that are produced by it.
  2. Access to global markets and conversations - we’ve got pretty good as selling books in NZ, through a small number of books stores by developing good relationships. But have not worked to access the larger publics that are also interested in the issues and topics we are publishing on. (see the challenge!)
  3. Costs associated - less (or more) difficult to fund - costs the same whether you produce one or many.

The proposal:

That we work with designers and developers to come up with a way of distributing content digitally that
A. keeps design and quality control as central concerns,
B. enables a way to make money while also encourages open source and commoning,
C. promotes accessibility across a variety of formats and domains.
D facilitates discovery and searchability amidst the noise

This brief might be met by developing new software, or finding existing systems that work together, and it might even involve the development of a new web interface for FR generally (which is something we need to do too). It might lead to the development of a new product outside of Freerange, or just tailer something for us.

Happy to see where the conversation goes.