Posted By jatyler - 20th February 2012
On the heels of several phenomenal releases, including Chiara Barzini’s Sister Stop Breathing and Gary Lutz’s Divorcer, Calamari Press has capped their recent release stint with ARK CODEX ±0, a stunning book of art and text that drives toward the beginning and the end, the biblical and the minute, a ship of textual / artistic coding afloat in these thick communal waters. The following is an interview Monkeybicycle conducted with Derek White, publisher of Calamari Press.
MB: Let’s start here:
≪Don’t believe a word edgewise to anyone claiming authorship≫–the ark writes itself.
Can you talk to us about how ARK CODEX ±0 has no author?
DW: It’s not hard to figure out who the “author” is, it’s more that i just wanted to de-emphasize the role of author & give the reader more credit. It seems strange & vain to “claim” authorship of a book, if you stop to think about it. The author is the book, the book wrote itself. If there was human intervention, the author became detached from the book upon completion. From the reader’s point of view, the author shouldn’t matter, it’s just a distraction that leads to prejudice. In fact the reader becomes the author—the book becomes subject to your own interpretation. Any beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
MB: Interesting. And as such, Calamari Press has released ARK CODEX ±0 under a unique structure, one that allows readers to download the dbook (digital book) from the press’s website and donate if they wish. Can you talk to us about the decision to release this particular title in this specific manner?
DW: The primary book object is the physical paper book, but since it’s in color it’s expensive to print, so i wanted to give people that couldn’t afford it a chance to experience it. With the book, you can put a “price” on it, that is at least based on the production costs, but it’s harder to put a price on a digital file. The “pay what you want” model is not really unique, Radiohead used it for In Rainbows & lots of people have done it since. As you might expect, lots of people download it & no one wants to voluntarily pay (in fact, since i posted the link, over 6500 people have downloaded it so far & 0 people have paid—a hard business model to sustain). From the book’s perspective this is a success, as this is probably a lot more readers than would get the real book. As the publisher, I can only hope that some of those that read the dbook will buy the actual book.
MB: Wow. The news that 6500 people have downloaded ARK CODEX ±0 so far and 0 have donated for that download is both tremendous and horrible: beautiful to have so many readers, terrible to hear that they aren’t supporting it with even just a few bucks. With this in mind, will Calamari Press release more books under the “pay what you want” structure, or does the lack of return on your investment prohibit further use of this model?
DW: Obviously I didn’t start a small press to make money, i don’t think anybody in their right mind would, so I’m just happy to have more readers, that’s what’s important in the end. But yes, it is disheartening, it is disheartening that in the past 10 years people have expected to get art—music, movies & books—for free, & they don’t consider the implications of what the lack of support will do to the quality of art. I think the quality of music has suffered as a consequence—only big commercial acts are able to “make a living” at it. But there is no sense lamenting, it’s just what has become of the world in this digital age, it’s nothing anyone can change. Whether i put out more “pay what you want” dbooks, i can’t say—it depends on the author. As a publisher, it is my responsibility to sell as many books as I can (and also try to at least recoup my costs) & by giving away the dbook, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot as those people are not so likely to turn around & buy the “real” book. But a dbook can certainly be a lot more affordable. And p.s., thanks for being the first to pony up for the Ark Codex dbook!
MB: Our pleasure! What is that rate? Let’s see, 1 in 6500…so now ARK CODEX ±0 has received dbook payment from .0153% of those who downloaded. Ouch. You are right though, this is really just a symptom of our digital world, the ‘something for nothing’ mentality, but we don’t want the art to suffer, so we tackle this new digital environment as best we can. So instead, let’s talk a bit about the artistic approach of ARK CODEX ±0. At one point, I held my finger on the ‘page down’ key and let the images of ARK CODEX ±0 scroll by, and it added up to a kind of strange movie that in fact does tell the ‘story’ of the text, only in a different way. How do text and art meet / function in ARK CODEX ±0 as you see it from a publisher’s point of view?
DW: I’m not really sure how to answer this question. There are images, scanned pages, and sometimes the images have text mixed in, and there’s text too, below the scanned pages. Sorry, I’m just not sure what else there is to say.
MB: In other words, are we meant to see the images as illustrations of the texts at the foot of each page, or are we meant to read them as a conversation between one another? And, as you say, there is also text mixed into the images, and I’m curious if we are to read those texts in tandem with the rest, or…? It may all be unanswerable semantics I suppose, but I basically want to know if you see the ARK CODEX ±0 as a readable narrative, in the linear sense?
DW: It’s ink on paper, that’s all i can really say. I’m not sure there’s really a difference between text & image in Ark Codex ±0 or how they relate to each other. Any interpretation or meaning is up to the reader, however you want to read it or read into it. In my mind there is a narrative, maybe not linear, but structured—though i can’t speak for how another reader might interpret it.
MB: Well put: bottom-line, it is all ink on paper. Thanks for the time sir – and we hope that the .0153% rate is much higher the next time we chat. ARK CODEX ±0 is well-deserving of the 6500+ downloads, but certainly merits more return. In any case, the people are reading, and as always, we thank you for publishing such intense and brightly burning books.