As a recent purchaser of the entire Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I – IV, via Amazon.com MP3 downloads, and for a mere $5, this is something I am constantly thinking about: that there are benefits to bypassing or overturning the traditional existing systems by which product gets to our audience (or constituents, or consumers). I am trying to keep up with industry news on NIN and Radiohead, and there are a whole slew of articles I haven’t gotten to read yet. Here’s an article in Wired, a dialogue between David Byrne and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, “on the real value of music.”
If I may link these music industry developments to the literary industry, can we realistically model ourselves after them, and are we willing to take the risks of taking production into our own hands? Trent Reznor recently expressed his disappointment about downloaders of the Saul Williams album The Rise and Inevitable Liberation of NiggyTardust! which Reznor produced:
Reznor had masterminded the Radiohead-esque plan of letting listeners choose between getting Williams’ album for free or contributing $5 for a higher-quality download. The overwhelming majority of the 150,000 downloaders had chosen the former option, which caused Reznor to glumly remark to CNET News in January that the idea “was wrong in my head, and for once I’ve given people too much credit.” [Full SF Weekly article here.]
Bill Knott recently commented here that while he makes all of his work available in pdf format on his blog, that his stat counter tells him no one or very few people actually take advantage of these free of charge bodies of poems. This does make me wonder whether people really want the product free of charge, or whether they want the product at all. Again I am thinking of buyers/consumers of poetry, and their determining factors in book buying. I refuse to believe that the poetry book is an endangered species. As well, I kind of don’t believe in always giving it away for free.
I know, I talk about this a lot, but it still nags at me, that what/who I am calling “traditionalists” would look down on these methods of artist maintaining as much control over his/her own product as possible, without compromising the integrity of the work. Think of the ways in which integrity is compromised in traditional manners in which poets seek book publication. Much of the eroded integrity, like artists taking out their frustrations on other artists, like compromising the edginess or emotion, or political or cultural positioning of one’s work in order to see its smooth upward movement beyond the slush pile and through editorial process, I see stems from the bleakness, cruelty, monocultural standards, and impersonality of these current editorial systems, and that as artists within these systems, we are relatively powerless.
Here is my disclaimer or confession: I say all of the above fully aware that I am still submitting my Diwata manuscript to book contests, and I am actively querying publishers, albeit more “indie” and “progressive” (in my mind) publishers who have produced work which I admire or respect. I am ambivalent about this system in which I consent to participate, but I am still fearful of what would happen if I were to completely give the system the middle finger. I am fearful I would lose credibility, and I am simultaneously critical of that credibility’s bases.
I am also banking on this alleged credibility, as I am interested and invested in building bottom up or “grassroots” structures for the publication of Filipino American writers’ and artists’ works. I’ve just sought advice from a local community arts member and attorney, on establishing a non-profit organization which would do just this: produce Filipino American literary publications based upon our sets of editorial criteria. In my world, it is clear there is a need. I am thinking of the existence of “ethnicity-based” publishers, Momotombo Press, Arte Publico Press, Kaya Press, et al, and you know what? Filipino Americans should have these kinds of resources available to us too.
Addendum: It’s not like I do not have role models here, working in a couple of different literary “worlds.” I see Juliana Spahr published by Wesleyan University Press, University of California Press, and Subpress/Self Publish or Perish; Susan Schultz at the helm of Tinfish as well as published by University of Alabama Press; Leslie Scalapino also on University of California Press and publishing other poets via O Books.