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Re: <nettime> Means of production: The factory-floor knowledge
t byfield on Mon, 25 Mar 2013 05:48:40 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Means of production: The factory-floor knowledge


morlockelloi {AT} yahoo.com (Sat 03/23/13 at 12:18 PM -0700):

> "Desktop publishing", now 20+ years old, had the same false premise.
> Ability to typeset and print at home did not change publishing world
> much. The same big publishers are making the same money today, and
> choose what they want to print in pretty much the same way.
> 
> What changed is that you don't have to go to the post office to get
> tax forms - you can print them yourself.

Normally, I like your comments a lot, Morlock. Even when you go too 
far out on a limb, your brevity and crankiness serve as a cantilever 
to balance it all out. But in this case you're way off the mark.

What's happened to publishing is like a case study in actor network 
theory. Lots of disparate factors intertwingling in ways that had a 
catastrophic effect on the industry. The _Thor Power Tool Company_
Supreme Court ruling forced many publishers -- hence everyone they
touched from vendors to distributors and bookstores -- toward a 
much higher-velocity model. The globalization of related businesses 
like paper production and printing had the usual effects offshoring, 
with disparate effects: increased adoption of color printing, more
of a 'gambling' style because shipping delays became a bigger factor 
in responding to market successes, etc. And then there are the other
phenomena we all know but are hard to pin down: proto-DIY movements
(from mimeographed newsletters like YIPL to fanzines broadering out
from music to [where DTP comes in] 'style'); the intensification of
licensing and merchandising across media from the '70s on; all the 
M&A nonsense of the '80s/'90s; and even, yes, changes in telephony -- 
for example, the rapid fall in the cost of long-distance calls. All 
of these things, and many more, helped to drive different aspects of 
how publishing changed. 

So, in that sense, you're right to discount DTP's impact on publishing, 
because (a) it's just one piece of a much larger puzzle, and (b) when 
you hear parochial technodeterminist explanations (e.g., "DTP destroyed 
publishing!"), that's when you should reach for your revolver. Having 
said that, though, the other puzzle pieces made DTP less of a trojan 
horse and more like a zombifying virus: once it got in the door, all 
hell broke loose -- and very much because of its peculiar affordances. 

More specifically, most print publishing was organized -- notionally, 
at least -- around internal distinctions between editorial, production, 
and marketing. You can't watch five minutes of some 'newsroom drama'
without bumping into a crusading journalist telling the sales-obsessed
boss to fuck off; and while no one really wants to watch movies or TV
shows about book publishers (ugh, what, a film version of _Foucault's 
Pendulum_?!), that same tension between idea(l)s and markets was the 
heart of the matter. And while it was all rather boring in its own way, 
the 'drama,' if you will, of publishing revolved around the semi-ritual 
transfer of material objects from one group to another: editorial > 
production > marketing. DTP dematerialized those objects and made them 
more 'open' -- open to intervention by other parties (marketing and 
production) had greater say in editorial policies like acquisitions 
and 'editing,' open to more 'distributed' production by a penumbra of 
freelancers, open to a gray-goo-like process of constant emendation 
(*designers* ended up with the authoritative version of a book), etc.
DTP wasn't just the output; it was the nexus of a much wider range of
practices and arrangements surrounding print production.

I think  DTP had a *much* bigger influence on publishing than the net 
has had, even to do this day (modulo Amazon maybe, but they're hardly
a 'bookseller' anymore). Which is why publishers are strangely late to
join the copyright frenzy. It's strange, if you think about it: you'd
think that 'piracy' would have proceeded from least tom most bandwidth-
intensive, and that *texts* would therefore have come before music,
but it didn't.

> Self-printing objects may somewhat shift the consumer supply chain, in
> some cases, from fully finished objects to raw material + design, but
> the value will not shift any direction but down - take photographic
> prints as example. What you used to have done in one-weeek, then
> one-hour photo shops, today you can print, but you don't, because it
> lives as bits on the disk and the wire, and pixels on the screen. Are
> you empowered because of that? No, you are not, and the actual value
> of photographic skills went down the drain.

More and more, I find that something very strange -- and strangely 
unremarked -- has happened. People don't really know how to listen to
music or watch TV or read books or look at pictures now. It used to 
be simple: there was a pimitive temple to the music gods called a 
'stereo,' and you'd turn it on and listen. Other media gods had their 
own temples: TVs, photo albums, etc. Sure, it's convenient to have 
your entire media library everywhere always; but my zeitgeist detector 
is giving off a faint warning signal that people are having a harder 
time with this than they realize. As in, their refrigerators may be 
IP-enabled, but they still need -- anthrpologically spekaing -- a 
place to put pictures of the cousins; and the wood in their fireplaces 
may come from Estonia (because it totally makes sense to chop down 
Estonian forests and ship them around the world as firewood), but 
they can't get it lit because Kindles make really crappy kindling. 

A lot of what people say about 'media' and 'technology' is really 
disorienting because the speakers -- I mean the people, not the USB-
or Wifi-enabled things  -- are disoriented. 

> Once billions of 'tards can print objects at home, the value will go
> down the drain. You may bury yourself in coffee mugs, gun receivers,
> dildos, jewelry - it will all be worthless, as photo prints are today.

China my China.

Cheers,
T


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