Self-Publishing on Anime/Manga – Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed the standard way of publishing one’s writing – through a for-profit publishing company or non-profit university press – and the alternative of self-publishing. But, are those the only options open to someone who is interested in writing a book on a topic related to anime/manga, and getting that book into libraries and/or to readers?

As of right now, largely yes. But potentially, there are other options. Publishing, after all, is a combination of a technical or industrial process and a business model. Until recently, the technical process needed the business model – publishing a book cost money, and more money than an individual could commit. Print-on-demand and electronic distribution of books has made the technical process a lot easier to deal with. The business model that involves submission or commissioning, peer review and editing, and finally, promotion and distribution is harder to work around through technology alone. The whole point of a publishing house is not just to operate the printing or production machinery, it’s to organize and package knowledge.

And, to think of it, there is no objective reason for there not to be a “third way” between working with an established publisher, and self-publishing. The solution that Jonathan Gray (Media and Cultural Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison) proposes is of “publishing collectives” – that is, groups of scholars (or anybody else interested creating and distributing knowledge in a particular area of study or about a particular topic) taking control of publishing from established publishers.

The collective or group would be able to “guide” the publication process – invite and evaluate proposals, supervise peer review, interact with authors, promote the results or the final products  – so, essentially, leverage numbers and knowledge to do more than a single author ever could, while not having to chase after the scale of operations of a for-profit publisher.

In fact, to think of it, the frameworks for collectives of this kind already exist. The Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), for example, already publishes a peer-reviewed, open-access scholarly journal that has been very much welcoming to writing on topics related to anime and manga – including my own (Fighting the fan sub war: Conflicts between media rights holders and unauthorized creator/distributor networks, Transformative Works and Cultures, 5). Another one is the Fandom and Neomedia Studies (FANS) Conference, which, so far, has published two issues of The Phoenix Papers: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Fandom and Neomedia Studies. And a third option for this kind of project could be to have it housed within one of the non-profit organizations that promote Japanese popular culture by organizing and managing conventions, such as the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Popular Culture (SPJA), the corporate parent of Anime Expo

There is no structural reason that would prevent the collective from publishing not just journals, but full books. The logistics would, of course, be complex and involving – but not an outright barrier. Although, it must be said that when recently, Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson, the editors of Transformative Works and Cultures (both currently independent scholars, but with long and established records as published authors) collaborated on the essay collection The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, they published it through a “traditional” university press.

One obvious question that does come up when thinking about this kind of “publishing collective” is simply “why would anyone want to be involved in one?” The motivations could be several, from just the desire to contribute to the production and distribution of knowledge in general, to the desire to be involved in what Sean Leonard has described as a “proselytization commons” – “[a space] where the media texts and the ideas of a movement are held in common and are employed to advance a directed cause”, to the desire for the very real (and practical, and transferable) experience that comes with working on and managing a complex publication project.

Another question, and one that is perhaps harder to answer – is whether this kind and level of effort in general is worth spending on a format that may be in decline. Is the 200-page book something that is still useful to the humanities in general and to anime/manga studies in particular? Though as far as that goes, answering this kind of question is at least feasible by analyzing how scholars actually use books, and whether, for example, there is a marked difference between the kinds of resources (books, book chapters, journal articles, etc.) that anime/manga scholars referenced in their own work in, say, 2003 – and 2013.

So, will an “anime/manga studies publishing collective” come about any time? I don’t know if one will, I think that as a small area of study that can rely on the work of enthusiasts with experience in scholarship and scholarly publishing, anime/manga studies certainly presents a logical place where collectives of this kind can develop.

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