Future Publishing: Visual culture in the age of possibility

This is Project 5 of the International Association for Visual Culture (IAVC). This project is constituted as a collaborative and Open Access forum on the possible futures of publishing. The project is published on-line and simultaneously across a number of distinct scholarly, creative, and critical research platforms: the College Art Association’s Art Journal website, the open-access journal Culture Machine, The Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture (IMCC, University of Westminster), the IAVC, the journal of visual culture’s satellite website, Vectors: Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular, and the Modern Language Association Commons.

Project 5’s origins are in a panel we organised in New York City in June 2012 for Nicholas Mirzoeff’s ‘Now! Visual Culture’ event, the Association’s second biennial conference. In this event’s network of relations and expectations – in the places between NYC, this non-conference, and Occupy – we watched the fermentation of something that felt new and offered new ways forward in our understanding of visual culture, and also in the ways in which it is distributed, accessed, engaged with and acted upon.

The ‘future publishing’ that we discussed coalesces around the emerging moment in the history of technologies and the adaptive strategies deployed by the disseminators of information to accommodate them. The opportunities and challenges that they seed have extraordinary implications for the distribution and consumption of information; perhaps the most radical since the development of moveable type and its consequent market in reading.

The release of easy to utilise, freely available publishing software presents both challenges and possibilities for publishing as a practice and an industry. The ability to develop and distribute multi-touch interactive ‘text books’ at no cost through iTunes, for example, at once supports and restricts ‘open source’ publishing projects and is symptomatic of developments across the sector. The development of new technologies and new platforms for dissemination like the Kindle/tablets means that both traditional formats and networks require rethinking.

Some of the questions we consider include:

  • How will changes in format impact on content – the medium is the message?
  • What are the challenges for the publishing industry in generating sustainable business models that support author activity?
  • How will these new market conditions impact and inflect ‘open source’ publishing models?
  • What are the consequences for the distribution of research and how will it maintain or re-imagine its integrity across and through less formalised, deregulated networks?
  • How will authors generate income?

The panellist’s engagement with these and other questions are appended here, and we extend a huge debt of gratitude to Katherine Behar, Gary Hall, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Tara McPherson for their insights, as well as their willingness to formulate and realise Project 5 as a model of a paradigm for future publishing.

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On 11 January 2013, Aaron Swartz was found dead in his New York apartment, having apparently taken his own life. He was 26. A web programmer, co-founder of Reddit, and advocate of free-data, Swartz had been arrested in July 2011, and was being sued for downloading and attempting to release 4.8 million academic articles from the digital library JSTOR. He was arrested in July 2011, charged with data theft-related crimes, and was due to stand trail in April 2013. If convicted he faced over 30 years in prison. On January 9th 2013, JSTOR announced that the archives of more than 1,200 journals were now available for, as Library Journal puts it, ‘limited free reading by the public’. Such free reading amounts to three articles every two weeks. We have a long way to go.

Mark Little and Marquard Smith

Future Publishing