Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Back List in Print

The University of Minnesota Press has launched a new series of books -- based on its extensive back list, going all the way back to 1925. Minnesota Archive Editions (MAE) is a collaborative venture between UMP, Amazon.com, Minneapolis-based BookMobile, and Google Books. As some industry news stories point out, MAE allows consumers to access rare, out-of-print titles from the publisher's archives 1) at next to no cost to the publisher, and 2) through digitized distribution channels that maximize profit for the intermediaries.

This initiative is the latest example (in a long, long list of examples) of what Chris Anderson has called the "long tail" of technology-mediated, consumer-oriented economics. Anderson's basic thesis is that digital information technologies have streamlined and made hyper-efficient the old distribution networks of bringing commodities from the factory to points of consumption. Today, at minimal cost to the producer (who agrees to digitize his wares) and with the simple click of a button (on the consumer's end), we get books, movies, and music downloaded onto our computer or delivered to our door. The so-called long tail suggests that this relatively cheap method of distribution makes "low" demand for products still profitable for the producer because it doesn't cost him much to make his goods available to consumer niches.

Although MAE doesn't promise to be the next iTunes, it's sure to fascinate the academic world with its back list, and will likely turn a modest profit from scholars and intellectuals purchasing previously out-of-print titles. I myself am looking forward to the reprinting of Charles Wharton Stork's Arcadia Borealis: Selected Poems of Erik Axel Karlfeld (1938).

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