“Generative art” is a blanket term for any creative work produced in part through programmatic or algorithmic means. “Playful generative art” makes use of highly technical disciplines—computer programming, statistics, graphic design, and artificial intelligence—to produce chat bots, digital poetry, visual art, and even computer-generated “novels.” These pieces may be motivated by serious social or political issues, but the expressions are decidedly unserious, often short-lived or quickly composed. Creators working in this medium are rarely artists first—as programmers, designers, game developers, and linguists, they use the tools of their trade in unexpected and delightful ways. Generative art also has much to teach us about issues at the intersection of ethics and technology: what is the role of the artist in a human/machine collaboration; what is our responsibility when we design programs that talk with real people; how do we curate and study ephemeral digital works? Digital artists, writers, technologists, and anyone interested in media studies are invited to attend.
“Only nerds would want more episodes about print culture” tweets the scholarly duo behind the podcast Witch, Please.
Hannah McGregor (Ph.D., Literary/Theatre Studies, University of Guelph) is one half of that duo, and Publishing’s newest Assistant Professor.
Blending public scholarship and cultural phenomena is the magic that makes the fortnightly podcast so beloved by its 3500 listeners. To Hannah’s surprise, it also proved to be an asset in the job market, particularly with the publishing program at SFU.
“Marcelle [Kosman] (Hannah’s partner in the podcast) and I were aware, when we started the podcast, that it was a potentially risky move. We’re proud of the work we do, but it also doesn’t always look or sound ‘professional.’ We get drunk, we make dirty jokes, we cry about an owl dying. We knew that certain kinds of university departments would look at Witch, Please and dismiss us as serious academics. But we also came to the decision that those kinds of institutions would probably not be the best fits for us, anyway. The Publishing program values the things I value: experimenting with new forms, building things, public engagement, and of course pushing against the limitations of what constitutes scholarly production.”
Pulling examples from the Harry Potter series, the podcast explores issues such as print culture and propaganda (through the evolution of simplistic narrative into the emergence of critical thinking). By following, for example, the texts Hermione chooses to read and her realization of the ways words can be used to advance the ends of particular political forces in the wizarding world, the listener becomes more aware of the critical thinking process.
Does that mean students can expect a new course on Harry Potter? Maybe.
“There’s been some talk of a possible podcasting course — I would love to (re) introduce students to the medium of podcasting through the framework of media studies, while also teaching them how to produce their own podcasts. I wonder what a Harry Potter publishing course would look like… perhaps an analysis of the book’s publication and circulation history, alongside engagement with its vibrant fan production community (since, as we all know, fan production is itself a kind of publishing). Oh, and a whole unit studying the rise and fall of Pottermore and what that can teach us about authors attempting to seize control over fan communities.”
Hannah is also quite aware of, and involved with, the power of the public space; the enormous power of social platforms for sometimes unheard voices, as well as the virtual power of anonymity.
“On a historical scale, the digital space is still a very new kind of public space, and I think we’re all (users, creators, scholars) trying to figure out how to navigate it. And one of the most troubling dimensions of digital space has been the enormous amount of abuse and violence that women, trans people, queer people, people of colour, and other minoritized groups have faced when trying to carve out a chunk of that space for themselves. At the same time, digital publishing platforms and social media have turned into radical tools of community organization and alternative storytelling. I’m interested in how women navigate this space — both its risks and rewards — and how we might teach students to interact with digital tools and platforms in more conscious and critical ways.”
Most recently, Hannah was a full time instructor in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, but knew, that with her background in Canadian Literature and the digital humanities, coupled with her drive to explore digital publics, there were likely many more academic niches to explore.
“I’ve always fit uneasily into a certain version of English studies. I’ve always been drawn to the kinds of academic work that raise eyebrows — that’s what got me interested in digital humanities, and it’s what drew me to making an academic(ish) podcast. Publishing, with its fundamental interdisciplinarity and interests in print culture, the publishing industry, book design, and alternative methods of scholarly communication, to name a few, feels a little bit like the academic home I never knew I was missing.”
Her belief that theory and practice are essential pedagogical partners aligns perfectly with Publishing’s unwritten mandate that courses be a blend of hands-on practical and academic theory.
Courses such as PUB 101, in which students critically assess and explore digital publics, while building their own online identities exemplify Hannah’s pedagogical underpinnings.
“From my perspective, the most urgent task of postsecondary education in this new digital landscape of publishing is not only to teach students to use the tools and technologies and platforms, but to engage with them critically. It’s one thing to learn how to make a podcast — to study examples, experiment with different audio editors, learn how to layer music and voice and sound effects — and it’s another thing to historicize podcasts within several centuries of serial media, to ask how their entry into today’s media ecology is impacting other media like radio and audio books, to politicize the question of who produces and consumes this new medium and why. If you want to be someone who can not only work in but also meaningfully impact these emergent digital publics, you need to marry theoretical and practical understandings of how they work.
“The most important part of teaching for me is conversation: the classroom is a space where students are actively engaged in conversation with me, with each other, with the things we’re studying. Prioritizing conversation can also help students to become more comfortable with collaborating, first with each other but ideally with people outside the classroom as well. In the past I’ve incorporate community service-learning into my courses, through which students learn that what we’re doing in the class is actually relevant to the rest of the world. Another major tenet of my teaching philosophy is creation. The essay has its place, but I much prefer to incorporate non-traditional forms of research-creation into my classes; I’ve had students build websites, write and print choose-your-own adventure books, design interactive fictions, and create online exhibits. Next up: podcasts, which beautifully incorporate all three of these tenets—conversation, collaboration, and creation!”
A natural collaborator, as her work as Director of the Modern Magazines Project Canada demonstrates, Hannah is eager to build collaborative relationships — with colleagues, across departments and faculties, and with communities outside the university.
When not immersed in her love of teaching and research, Hannah sings women’s barbershop and already has her eye on a new chorus in town.
And while students may not be engaging in much singing, they should expect “a lot of jokes, a lot of Harry Potter references, and a valiant ongoing attempt to teach critical theory through memes. (Ahem: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-t0tbC95sUH4/UJGn4eAdP6I/AAAAAAAAAC4/dQ9MpoTheY4/s1600/althusser.jpg). They should also expect someone who is really, really excited about their ideas and their passions, who is committed to making the classroom a safe and inclusive space for everyone, and who likes to list things in threes.”
Our Faculty’s FCAT blog has a new showcase of Dr Juan Alperin (@juancommander), who has just been awarded a three-year SSHRC Insight Grant for “Understanding the Societal Impact of Research Through Social Media.” The proposed project seeks to create an empirical and methodological basis for the systematic analysis of the societal impact of research through the engagement with scholarly documents on social media.
On March 6, 2015, the Master of Publishing candidates presented their final magazine projects to faculty and industry guests. This year’s batch of magazines included a digital-first news magazine for young urbanites, a wedding magazine for men and an bsurdist cultural satire magazine.
Envisioning the Future of Publishing—Ambit Publishing, a student project from Pub401, taught by Juan Pablo Alperin—guest post by Holly Vestad, English major, publishing minor at SFU
It seems all student papers and year-end projects in publishing courses have a common theme: envision the future of publishing.
It’s not difficult to understand why the industry is going through significant change, and the Internet certainly needs no introduction. The future of print may remain a mystery, yet one group of students, when assigned the task to envision the future of publishing in Juan Pablo’s course Technology and the Evolving Book, ran with the assumption that print will hold an important place for decades to come.
Although the rest of our classmates designed elaborate and impressive business structures and new mediums that align with an increasingly techno-centric world, Karen La, Lauren Madsen, Alison Roach, Caili Bell and I (Holly Vestad) stuck with something perhaps seemingly more simple, yet infinitely more complex; a viable business plan for a print-only publisher.
The result of our research was Ambit Publishing, a theoretical publishing house whose central objective was to create brand loyalty.
Establishing brand loyalty was the most basic aspect of our thesis for the project, which sprang from our own noticeable lack of loyalty to any one specific publisher. As self-proclaimed bibliophiles and publishing students, we found ourselves to be the perfect market for publishers to reach out to in order to increase loyalty, and yet we felt unmoved by their efforts.
In order to establish loyalty for Ambit, we knew we needed to know our market inside and out. With research we discovered a niche market in Vancouver of affluent book lovers. From the information we knew about this market, we designed the company; our logo, clean aesthetic, mandate, book cover template and book synopses were all designed with these readers in mind. (Our full report can be seen here.)
To increase our brand recognition we decided all of our books would have the same cover, with only a central image that would change from title to title. We hoped this design repetition could work to increase tribe mentality amongst readers by helping them feel connected to Ambit’s aesthetic.
In addition, we created Ambit merchandise in the form of book totes and stickers with the intention of handing them out for free to our readers in the early stages of the company’s growth to help spread the word and gain that loyalty we were after. And we knew that if we could establish this loyal tribe, then authors would be attracted to the opportunity to promote and sell their book through the network of loyal Ambit readers.
Another significant aspect of Ambit’s business structure was that it explicitly positioned itself against Amazon. Ambit books would only be available through ambitpublishing.ca, our shop front or local retailers—no copies would be available for purchase on Amazon.
Ambit was designed with a specific hyper-local niche in mind; the global coverage that Amazon provides was not necessary. Our goal was to stay simple by tackling a local market and thriving within it. We also knew that explicitly defining an enemy would help to build tribe mentality. The very public battle between Hachette and Amazon only helped our case; Amazon’s true ugly and powerful colours really blossomed in 2014. Ambit positioned itself as a way for readers to stand against Amazon by supporting writers and a small, independent local publisher.
The financial aspect of Ambit is the area we think still needs the most help; although we created profit and loss statements, a financial statement and advertising budgets (as seen in our final report), we were worried of the projections for the second year. Regardless, we truly believe the structure behind Ambit provides a successful model for reader, author and publisher alike.
SFU Master of Publishing candidate Shed Simas is running a crowdfunding campaign to launch a Literary Speculative Fiction publishing house.
Onça Publishing, BC’s newest literary speculative fiction publisher, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the release of its first title, a special limited edition of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The campaign will help establish the company in the market, secure its financial future—and create one beautiful book. The Indiegogo campaign can be found at http://igg.me/at/onca-classics and will run until December 3.
Onça Publishing’s edition of Stevenson’s classic gothic novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, will be a collector’s item printed to the highest quality standards, and the publisher aims to raise $11,000 for the book’s release. Successfully meeting the campaign goal will mean Onça can cover the cost of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s production and move into publishing new fiction starting in Fall 2015. Campaign benefits include copies of the book itself, exclusive artwork and even a permanent discount on the Onça Classics series, which will feature other classic books like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that bridge the literary/speculative genre divide.
Onça Publishing was recently founded by Shed Simas, a graduate candidate in Simon Fraser University’s Master of Publishing program who has worked for a multitude of BC publishers, including Ronsdale Press, Tradewind Books, Douglas & McIntyre and Harbour Publishing. Simas is branching out and starting his own company in order to expand the market presence of literary science fiction and fantasy in BC while promoting high quality printed books.
Canzine, presented by Broken Pencil, is underway at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in downtown Vancouver today from 1-7pm. As a celebration of zines, their makers, and the ideas they give life to, the festival has drawn makers from all over the Pacific Northwest. This is the story of Portland-based zinemaker Jillian Barthold’s story as told in her own words.
I actually just moved to the Pacific Northwest from Chicago, and I was researching zine fests that were over here and I saw Canzine. I was like, “Well I’ve never been to Canada.” I love to travel so I thought I might as well go.
Earlier a couple of really young girls came by, and they liked something so I just gave it to them. Their mom was saying, Zine culture is really important because you should get paid for your artwork but also be willing to give it away. She was like now you have to make something and give forward to someone else. I think that’s a really important thing for us to do as humans.
I used to make zines when I was little, but I didn’t know they were zines obviously. I would just draw and then staple things together because I liked books and magazines.
There is a really big zine community in Chicago, which is where I went to college. So I got into it there.
Pity Party, Micheal Heck—his work is really awesome. I think we have very similar styles and when I see him do something awesome I want to do something similar but different.
I do a lot of illustrative stuff….I’m not always drawn to the long writing.
I really love the folding and the cutting and the putting together of it. I find it therapeutic to make something from start to finish.
There’s Still Time to Make It to Canzine West
Saturday November 8, 2014, 1-7pm
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings St.
Admission: $5 (includes the latest issue of Broken Pencil magazine)
Juan Pablo Alperin (BMath, MA) is a multidisciplinary scholar with over eight years of experience in online scholarly publishing. He recently joined the Publishing@SFU faculty, teaching “Technology and the Evolving Forms of Publishing” (PUB 802), “Technology and the Evolving Book” (PUB 401), and Publication of Self in Everyday Life (PUB 101). He is a collaborator on the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University and kindly agreed to the below interview.
Hometown: La Plata, Argentina
Research interests: Scholarly communications, social media metrics (altmetrics), Latin America, publishing technologies
Technology and the Evolving Forms of Publishing (PUB 802)
Publishing@SFU: This is your first semester at SFU, briefly tell us your career path? Where did you start? How did you get here?
My path to become a professor in publishing was a meandering one. I did an undergraduate in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, a six month stint teaching and working in high schools across Uganda. Upon returning from Uganda, almost by chance, I ended up doing a Masters in Geography (also at Waterloo), where I worked on a Geographic Information System (GIS) for helping education planners in Peru.
Ready to leave academia and being a professional career, I came across an opportunity that allowed me to develop innovative technologies in a non-corporate setting. I accepted a position as the sole software engineer in a medical journal based out of a research centre in Toronto. The journal was a pioneer in Open Access, powered by the Open Source software Open Journal Systems, and it gave me the opportunity to be creative with software solutions to publishing problems.
After a year of living in Toronto, I returned to my native Argentina and worked as a researcher and systems developer for the makers of Open Journal Systems, the Public Knowledge Project. As I focused more on the research aspect of my work, I started a doctoral program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, which lead me to being a professor here at SFU!
Publishing@SFU: If you were going to design a program to be “Juan Pablo”, what courses would be in this program?
These five courses would probably be a good first semester in the “Juan Pablo” program.
Introduction to Scholarly Publishing: To understand most of what I do it is essential to understand the basics of how we communicate and disseminate research.
Open Knowledge: I am a strong advocate for Open Access and Open Source, and with these “Open” models comes a culture of openness that drives much of the knowledge ecosystem around academia. You can actually already take this course, as a MOOC, offered jointly be SFU, Stanford, UBC, and KNUST.
Global Higher Education: The reason I am motivated to work on scholarly communications is because I feel that strengthening research culture can have a positive impact of systems of higher education around the world that, in turn, can have positive impacts on all sorts of social and economic development. Research is only one output from a system of higher education and anybody wanting to be me would need to have that broader contextual understanding.
Data Analysis and scripting with Python: I love the Python programming language and I find it useful for all sorts of tasks. From Web Scraping, to data analysis, to small automation tasks on your machine. Its useful for programmers and non-programmers alike! I do all my bibliometrics and altmetrics analyses with Python.
Bibliometrics and Altmetrics: I do a lot of analysis of the production, reach, and impact of research. This involves traditional bibliometrics (coauthorships, citation networks, etc.) and more recently altmetrics (social media metrics).
Greatest professional achievement: I am proud of how I managed to gain a broad understanding of scholarly publishing in Latin America in a very short time.
Most marked characteristic of your teaching style: This might be my brutal honesty. I have high expectations of students and make it clear to them when they are not rising to the challenge. I do my best to do this in an encouraging way, but you have to ask the students how often I succeed.
Qualities you most appreciate in students: This is a little cliché, but I like students to be self-motivated. While I see it as my job to inspire students to care about the subject matter, I appreciate and thrive on their own motivations for learning. I do not like it when students are simply “Doing School”.
Alternative career: I have always had the dream of setting up a small hotel in the Patagonia or somewhere else beautifully isolated. My wife would take care of greeting the guests and making sure they were comfortable, and I would make them delicious sandwiches and espressos.
Lesson to live by: Do not be afraid to say what you think or ask for what you want.
Juan Pablo is an instructor in Publishing Studies, with research interests in new media technologies and scholarly publishing, and he leads several research and development projects aimed at improving the quality, impact, and reach of scholarly publishing in Latin America.
His expertise include editorial workflow management, indexing, XML production, software development, scholarly communications, Web technologies, and social media metrics. He complements his professional experiences in publishing with a background in Computer Science (University of Waterloo) and Education (Stanford University).
Page Two, a literary agency with a twist, celebrates its first anniversary. Run by publishing veterans (and MPub alumni) Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White, Page Two represents authors seeking traditional publishing contracts but also atypical authors who are looking for innovative paths to publishing.
Jesse and Trena have 30 years of combined experience in the book publishing industry, and they worked together on the management team at D&M Publishers Inc., which at the time was Canada’s leading independent book publisher. Their personal career paths have instilled in them a commitment to high-quality editing, design and production, areas where the traditional publishing industry has excelled, and they bring that professionalism to all their projects.
Regarding Page Two’s origin says Trena, “we wanted to offer authors options and support them in publishing successfully and professionally regardless of which model they chose to publish under—whether traditional or self-publishing or some hybrid of the two. We felt deeply engaged by publishing innovation and wanted to create a new kind of publishing business model. The premise was that we wanted to be ultra-nimble, so we built a business that can be flexible as publishing continues to evolve.”
The focused, yet nimble, nature of Page Two is apparent when looking at their strategic publishing projects over the first year. Jesse and Trena act as traditional literary agents, brokering book deals between authors and publishers. They do consulting to self-publishers on everything from their book concept to distribution options and sales and marketing strategy, and often clients also hire them to assemble a team to produce their self-published books or, in the case of organizations, to help establish their publishing programs.
There’s nothing self about self-publishing and there’s little tradition in the way that authors traditionally publish these days. Trena and Jesse must draw on their diverse experience in all aspects of book publishing—editing, licensing, sales and contracts—to service their clients’ needs. The two provided the following example from the past year:
“Two of our authors had Globe and Mail bestsellers, and two, Michael Pond and Maureen Palmer, were on the B.C. bestseller list for about two months for their book, The Couch of Willingness. Two of those books were hybrid deals that we set up: the authors chose to self-publish and we brokered trade distribution deals for them with publishers. It’s that kind of arrangement that best highlights the creative ways we serve our clients. We’ve also been busy doing outreach to independent booksellers for the Association of Canadian Publishers and helping the Association of Book Publishers of B.C. with an ebook marketing project. And we just hired a talented project manager, Carra Simpson, who is also a graduate of the MPub program. Maybe our biggest success is that we’ve been really busy. There’s definitely a demand for our services.”
When asked what the year ahead brings, Jesse said, “we’re very excited to have just landed a contract with a US organization helping them establish a publishing program. We will be doing much more of this type of work — helping non-publishing organizations produce and monetize books.”
And somewhere in between their packed schedules and the end of the year, the team at Page Two plans to celebrate their first anniversary with a party to show their appreciation to the many people who have supported and worked with them over the last year. For the immediate ringing in of a new business year, this busy duo (now trio) will just have time for a toast over cocktails.