Artist Series: Antonia Pinter, Publication Studio (Portland)
by Asia Harvey
Patricia No and Matthew Stadler founded Publication Studio in 2009. No currently heads the Portland, Oregon chapter of the studio with Antonia Pinter. Publication Studio is a print-on-demand publisher with studios operating out of America, Canada and Sweden. The studios operate under the premise that books should be affordable to produce and accessible to procure. Importantly, Publication Studio believes in the integral role the public plays in the social life of a publication and in the engagement of the publisher, author and audience in the creation of the “public” for whom the book exists.
No and Pinter will discuss the founding principles and pedagogical interests of Publication Studio at the Vancouver Art/Book Fair this October. They will present a brief history of the studio and will highlight several book projects that illustrate the various successes and failures of print-on-demand. Themes of alternative models of distribution, the “new bookstore,” the redefinition of authorship and the social life of the book may be addressed. There will be pictures! Publication Studio would like to encourage conversation between presenters and audience at this panel.
Project Space: Can you tell me a bit about Publication Studio? How did the founders arrive at the print-on-demand model that your studios are known for using?
Antonia Pinter: Publication Studio was founded in 2009 in Portland, Oregon. We had arrived at a gap in the realm of publishing, where there was a quick shift in thought regarding production, distribution, circulation and the economy around books. We wanted to create a new economy, one where writers and artists we were excited about had a means to publish their work and have it be available and paid for. We wanted a direct economy as well, which was made possible through print-on-demand. We make a book only when it’s been paid for, eliminating material waste. This also means that we are able to publish a wide variety of titles regardless of how large an audience they might have, because we aren’t taking any financial risk by, say, investing in print runs of 1,500 books. We make books, one at a time and by hand, when a person wants to read that book and buys it. This allows us to work simply and to be as transparent as possible. Mistakes have been made, but we aim to be democratic and flexible. Print-on-demand lets us function in the ways we want, but it has also been the only possible way to exist: Publication Studio started out with zero money and no funding possibilities, as we are not a non-profit and aren’t eligible for public funding.
PS: Publication Studio defines publication as “the creation of a public.” Can you talk a bit about how you define a “public,” in this context?
AP: One of the simplest ways we create a public is by making a book only when someone wants it. There is a distinction to be made between the consumerism of books (e.g., Amazon.com) and the act of buying books (e.g., independent or used bookstores). We truly believe that when Publication Studio sells a book, the buyer wants that book, and will read and share it. The Publication Studio book buyer is invested in the book, and their purchase pays a direct royalty to the author and keeps our studio open. That kind of participation has a lot of agency, which in turn creates a kind of community. Publication Studio also hosts events (readings, launches, concerts, parties) around our books, which is another way we create a public around publication. We teach workshops, give presentations and lectures, open our studios to classes from elementary school to graduate-level programs, initiate special programming with various institutions, do residencies both nationally and internationally and have an open studio/storefront space where we encourage people to loaf around for hours browsing our books, talking to us, using our WiFi, etc.
PS: What kinds of challenges have you encountered using print-on-demand?
AP: With the kind of print-on-demand that we do (we actually hand produce the books instead of using an EBM), whenever we have an order for a book (either individually or a large bookstore order), we have to make it. We need to deal with equipment failures and we need to be timely in making and shipping the books. These are pretty pragmatic problems, but real ones nonetheless.
PS: How do ebooks and the digital commons figure into your publishing model?
AP: We embrace digital culture and are excited about the different worlds it opens up in publishing. All our books are available to buy as ebooks, and all our books are available to read for free—in their entirety—via our reading commons. This is one of the ways we create a public out of publication: anyone can annotate our books and read the notes of others, which creates a community literally in the margins of our books. In turn, this stimulates conversation between people who might have never shared their ideas about particular books that interested them. Ebooks also open up an exciting stage for design!
PS: Can you tell me a bit about the annual artist book fair you host in Portland and how this supports your mission?
AP: We started the Publication Fair in 2009 and this year will mark its 5th anniversary. Portland, Oregon is a special place that is home to incredibly smart and productive creatives. There is a huge love of books here and we thought it would be nice to get everyone in one room to say hello to each other and to create a site of mutual commerce. This is another way we try to create a public out of publication and to share resources and books. We end up going home with as many new books as we sell! Books make friends, after all.
PS: There are currently nine Publication Studios operating across North America and one in Sweden. Can you talk a little bit about Publication Studio’s expansion since it was founded? How transitory or stable are these studios?
AP: When we first started Publication Studio, one of our goals was to create a network of studios in various cities. Having studios in other locations would help with the general circulation and distribution of books, create a diverse catalogue and foster a bigger community—both in individual cities and as a larger “family” of studios. While each studio functions autonomously in terms of what they publish, we share a catalogue and the same means of production for bookmaking. Every studio is unique in what they publish and how often they release new titles, as well as how they host events and where they have studios. Some of these studios are linked to institutions, some take place from residency to residency. Some are open as short-term projects (we had one in Bordeaux, France!) and others have been open almost as long as we have. It’s amazing to see how other studios will present their books, the different ways that they will make, wrap and ship them. It’s also fun to have authors of books that originate at one studio do a reading or have an event at another studio.
PS: How does this proliferation of Publication Studios reflect the current state of artist publishing?
AP: The print-on-demand model of PS really resonates with artists. The idea of creating even just one book is pretty exciting to them. Developing an idea or concept, bringing it together into a publication and knowing that it’s possible to do all this in an inexpensive and timely way is pretty appealing. We’ve seen an enormous amount of artists’ books be published through our sibling studios in different cities, and the most exciting are the books that come from local emerging artists who can author a book without having a gallery in place to support a full monograph. Publishing becomes a step in their practice, rather than just a documentation of work.
PS: Are there any projects Publication Studio Portland is currently working on that you can share with us?
AP: We are excited about our REBIND project, where we asked 30 artists to re-imagine the cover of an iconic book. We then took their unique art interpretations and bound them over old paperback covers of that book. We currently have 130 titles rebound and will exhibit them all in Portland in mid-October.
PS: Who are your favourite independent publishers in Portland (or elsewhere) right now, and what do you like about them?
AP: In Portland, Lisa Radon just put out EIGHTS, a wonderful publication which she describes as being “an exhibition space on the page for readings and writings by artists and writers. Concrete poems share space with conceptual writing, visual readings, and text works and writings by artists.” We loved the first issue and can’t wait for future ones!
Elsewhere, Paraguay Press, the publishing platform of castillo/corrales in Paris, is a favorite. We deeply admire their intelligence and how transparent and communicative their practice is. Their bookstore, Section 7, reflects their taste and love of books… I mean, their selections are just awesome. Their SLOB series (Social Life of the Book) is informed by a lovely sensitivity to how we experience books individually and socially. Not to mention they’re so beautifully made, and a joy to read.