Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pull and push styles of publishing

Access to a printing press on my arrival in the UK was a joyful experience as the Shah's censorship in Iran had denied me the chance to use a proper press. Up to that point the best I had been able to use was a duplicating machine that used "stencil" sheets to reproduce pages at a poor quality by turning a handle. As the runs where short, the same publication was read by many people, there was only a small improvement on my school magazine of one copy posted on the school gate. But in the UK I had found a way of having long runs at minimal cost. You could get a copy in the hands of each student at the university.

I took delight in learning about the mechanical process of printing. How the signatures (sections) could be gathered and folded etc; how we could most effectively match plate and paper sizes to reduce the costs. That is why I insist that all new staff at Intellect visit our printers and at least have an idea of the printing process. Sometimes a small change to the number of pages or the size of a publication makes a significant difference in the costings. Thus an uneconomical proposition can turn into a successful project with creativity on the production side.

As I gained confidence and understood the potential of this new technology I began to understand that the notion of what "publishing" was for me was changing. While at school my publication was a single sheet of paper on the wall, here I had many copies of the same material duplicated. Before I had to bring the readers to the place where the magazine was, now I had to take the magazine to where the readers were. While before I had a record of the reader's reactions now I did not.

In today's jargon my school magazine used a "pull" technology while my university magazine used a "push" technology! Pull the audience to your publication or push yours into their hand. This blog and many other web-based publications remind me of my school magazine. As there is one central copy of the publication you can be sloppy with spelling and grammar as you can go back and correct it. You can also go back and see the reactions of the readers who could be bothered to comment. With the printing press you need to get everything right before you duplicate and when people mark their copy of your publication you have no way of seeing that.

Which system do I prefer? I am not sure!

I think it is a good discipline to strive for excellence and try and get it just right before pressing the "publish" button. But I also think it is good to be able to see a trace of the reader's reactions or at least know the pages were most read. There can be a more intimate relationship with the pull technology while a better quality with the push technology. I presume it will be horses for courses at the end.

And what about Apps that can change the content you see depending on your location or your user profile? Well that is another challenge altogether that I am just getting my head around.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Publishing as a passion

When I was at school in Iran there was a tradition of producing a magazine like publication on a large sheet of paper, which was pasted on the wall to be read by the pupils. Despite the fact that neither my handwriting nor my spelling was any good I started producing such a magazine at my school.

I was a thin, shy kid and was not comfortable joining in the conversations in the playground but would pick up the chatter among the other kids to feed into the following week's magazine. I would also recycle some the teachers' more interesting words in the magazine.

I would get a great rush of excitement as my schoolmates awaited for the magazine to be posted on the wall at the start of the week. They would add their own comments and graffiti and I enjoyed the interactive nature of the medium. My poor spelling was corrected by small pieces of paper being pasted with correct spelling over the original. Some times the corrections were corrected! Once I saw a teacher doing the correcting. Another time a teacher told me that if I could not spell properly I should not be doing the school magazine!

By the end of the week the magazine looked nothing like the original sheet I had pasted on the wall at start of the week. For one thing it was thicker in most places and for another it had grown to twice the original size.

I am not sure why this project appealed to me so much at such a young age. Maybe the shyness or maybe because my other hobby was to use the same large sheets of brown paper to make kites which I could sell to rich neighbors. The same table, the same paper, pen and glue was used for both.

The "weekly news" posting in the kitchen at Intellect's Bristol office reminds me of that school project each day.

As the editor of my school magazine I was entered into the national student competition in Tehran. Each team was given a day to produce a magazine with equal amount of resources. My school had not won this competition before as it considered itself focused on academic excellence, journalism was not considered worthy of attention.

When my team came second in that competition that achievement pleased the school and my school fees were waved that year. However, I believed we could have done better with a little more preparation. Instead of reentering the competition the following year I set myself the task of coaching a new team to enter. They won the first place that year with such ease and margin that it surprised everyone.

It became clear to me that I could achieve excellence through supporting others when I may not be able to do it myself. In a strange way I was comfortable with that.

When I arrived in England in 1975 for my university education my first port of call was the office of the student union's magazine office. I explained that although my English was not yet good enough for me to write for the magazine I could at least assist with the layout.

Those were the days when the magazine was laid out on a sheet of paper called the Camera Ready Copy (CRC) using "letterset" typefaces. This was then turned into a metal plate that was used on the printing press in the basement of the student union to produce 8 page sections that were stapled together.