dexter sinister and just in time publishing 09.01.2006, 8:41 AM
posted by ray cha
Deep in Manhattan where the lines between Chinatown and the Lower East Side blur, the basement of a non-descript building houses a graphic design firm / publishing house / bookstore. The entrance is easy to miss, with a small spray-painted trumpet, taken from Thomas Pynchon's The Crying Lot of 49, marking a handrail. However on Saturdays, hinged metal basement doors are left open, signaling that "Dexter Sinister: Just-In-Time Workshop & Occasional Bookstore" is open.
Dexter Sinister is the moniker that designers David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey adopted last spring to describe the various forms their work takes. I've known David for a number of years, but haven't talked to him in a while. A few Saturdays ago I stopped by Dexter Sinister catch up with him to see "Just in Time Workshop" in action.
Before stopping by, I checked out their website, and saw that they are playing with and pushing against traditions of publishing in some interesting ways.
From their site:
"In the basement at 38 Ludlow Street we will set up a fully-functioning Just-In-Time workshop, against waste and challenging the current state of over-production driven by the conflicting combination of print economies-of-scale (it only makes financial sense to produce large quantities) and the contained audiences of art world marketing (no profit is really expected, and not many copies really need to be made.) These divergent criteria are too often manifested in endless boxes of unsaleable stock taking up space which needs to be further financed by galleries, distributors, bookstores, etc. This over-production then triggers a need to overcompensate with the next, and so on and so on. Instead, all our various production and distribution activities will be collapsed into the basement, which will double as a bookstore, as well as a venue for intermittent film screenings, performance and other events."
The Occasional bookstore sells copies of works of their own, their colleagues, and work put out from other small presses. The inventory consists of a handful of these titles at a time, which can fit on one shelf in the corner, in my estimation without irony. In fact, the bookstore's size precisely fits the overall Dexter Sinister ethos.
Further back, I saw a mimeograph, an Apple Image Write printer and an IBM electric typewriter that were all lined up in a row. David noted that he does not overly romanticize the mechanical age of print technology with these similarly monochromatic tan-brown machines. This is, his interest is not in retro for retro's own sake. Rather, when printer technology was mostly mechanical (rather than computerized,) designers and publishers could tinker, fix and modify their equipment. Car enthusiasts have noted a similar loss, as automobiles have become increasingly computerized as well.
Dexter Sinister produce their books in small runs that are meant to sell out. Further, their publications tend to be highly selective, limited, and personal. However, they aren't gatekeepers. Instead, the overall impression is that they are interested in supportive projects that matter to them. For instance, Dexter Sinister now produces "dot dot dot," the design periodical that Stuart co-edited and designed while living in the Netherlands. When the print runs do sell out, they can issue re-prints in any number of printing options depending upon the circumstance, if they want to, or not.
Some of their publications are printed on their mimeograph. While being well designed, the printing is fast and inexpensive, but avoids feeling overly cheap. Although, the final result reminds me of the pirated textbooks I encountered in China in the mid 90s. Inexpensive doesn't necessarily mean boring and poor quality. Rather, it provides another design constraint under which to find new solutions. They're also experimenting with lulul.com and have done born-digital projects as well.
What's really interesting to me is that DS and the institute share many ideas in common. However the execution of these ideas and solutions are entirely different. Although, the institute's foci are often pointed at the digital, we certainly support the future of print (despite the fact that we get asked to comment or qualify the position of "death of print" quite often.) Distribution of digital media via the network is one vector. Small run, niche, highly curated, print publishing is another. In both cases, we have run into the failures of the current economic models of many traditional kinds of publishing. I'm reminded of the analogy of water, flowing down a mountain, seeking a path of minimal resistance. Similarly, information "wants" to intrinsically find its expression by the easiest pathways.
Later in a follow-up email exchange, we were talking about these various new modes of publishing. David noted that, "it feels like some particular in-between moment, just in general, with an overall apocalyptic vibe. It's definitely the end of something and I suppose the beginning of something else." Exactly.
Gary Frost on September 1, 2006 5:41 PM:
I just had a very lively conversation with a book materials manufacturer. We discussed exactly this incubation niche of print production. Few models are out there, but the market drivers are neither libraries or retailers...the new market drivers are specialized readers. Converging momentum is represented by pioneer Amazon and now Google Book Search.
ray on September 2, 2006 8:55 AM:
Yes, I agree. Niche print publishing of this nature is another aspect of the long tail. Dexter Sinister isn't trying to find that coffee table art book hit of the holiday season. And it's the new models in print publishing that are really quite interesting to me right now.
Gary Frost on September 5, 2006 10:01 PM:
The future must be apparent all around us. Amazon demonstrated that Google Book Search would work ten years ago. The reason that the Amazon demonstration is considered innocuous is that the delivery is by paper. Here a fast rate of change quickly demonstrated where no change will occur. Innovations with the shortest incubation forecast the future. Endless incubation, as associated with e-books, indicates extinction.
Trends indicate that the legacy of on-line book search and digital text itself, will be more print. Both from the functionality of the computer interface as a manuscript mode as well as from new selection processes that allocate more print prone content to paper and more screen prone content to on-line resources.
If "90% of publication will be on-line by 2010" (a publisher's prediction at an ALA meeting in the mid 90's) then the print libraries will double in size by that date. And those libraries will present the book at its best in full synergy with screen based reading services. A strange arithmetic is at work increasing print production as its application narrows. A stranger natural selection is intensifying the role of print as the screen environment mutates and destabilizes.
Poppy Whatmore on July 31, 2007 11:35 AM:
I saw an exhibition of your publications at the Store in London, April 2007. I was very interested in the text concerning Jannis Kounellis Untitled (twelve living horses), written by Germano Celant, Rome, Italy, 1969 - a section of an unpublished book you were exhibiting. I would very much like to know the origin of the text, or if you have any more material concerning this subject.
ps. Do you have a direct telephone line?