for the next week. Hitting the road this morning and heading back to the PA. We'll be back to it (at least for a bit) on the first.



Recently I received an email from a friend, in reference to these “Limit Test” blog posts, where he asked me what I thought about the idea of editions and POD (print-on-demand) and ebooks. Are they the unlimited edition? Or does the idea of the edition no longer apply?

Those are interesting questions. The main thread of these posts has been about physical book-objects and their production, but this is an interesting idea that is worth pausing and considering. Does new technology provide an avenue for rethinking the edition?

POD books are set up so that once designed, they sit on a server somewhere, always available, and when someone orders one, a copy is printed, bound, and sent to the buyer. The advantages of this are obvious. But is that an unlimited edition? Is it really any different from a book mass-produced in an “unlimited edition” that goes through multiple printings, theoretically as many as it can until no one ever wants to buy a copy again? Is POD different because you can produce a single copy at a time, instead of thousands? Or is that just a question of scale? POD could also be used to produce unique books….

And then ebooks. Does the fact that they are not physical objects, but digital objects, exactly and endlessly repeatable, mean that the concept of the edition does not apply? One could, in theory, produce a limited edition ebook. There could be one master file from which x number of copies would be made, and all of those copies could have code inserted that would prevent them from being copied again. Or something to that effect. Someone will try this at some point, if they haven’t already. (And then there’s William Gibson’s Agrippa (a book of the dead).)

But what about an ebook in its (now) normal, infinitely downloadable state? Edition or not? One answer: it’s not a real thing, so the idea of the edition does not apply. That answer doesn’t quite work, because if an ebook could be made in a limited edition, then the idea does apply, whether it’s used or not.

Another answer: it’s the same as POD, the same as a mass-produced book that undergoes multiple printings. It is an edition, the closest thing that we’ve developed to the “unlimited edition.”

Maybe “unlimited edition” isn’t the right term. What about “not-limited edition” or “open edition?” As discussed in earlier post “unlimited” and “not-limited” editions are paradoxical terms. So maybe we need to throw them out all together—maybe there is no limit, no edition. An ebook that is not editioned is not limited. Producing multiple copies is not synonymous with “editioning”—which inherently implies a limit.

We can produce an object in multiple without “editioning” it?! What a relief! Thank you, ebooks!



This post is speculative in nature, a loosely connected brainstorming going off of the question at the end of the last post: What if the edition is not conceived in terms of a constraint at all, but as the generative prompt for the piece? (Side note: Are a “constraint” and “generative prompt” two different things?)

One example put forth in a much earlier post was the idea of a time-based edition: an edition consists of how ever many copies can be produced within a certain amount of time. And then the question: do just finished, “good” copies count, or does everything made within that time count? Do the traditional rules of editioning still apply?

[Thinking about more ideas, a bunch of possible ways to determine the number of edition come to mind: essentially random or found number systems. But that approach just limits the number. What I like about the time-based idea is that is has would influence how the object is produced and how the edition is selected at the end.]

The edition as a concept is interesting in the sense that it defines a “single” object as existing in multiple, both one and many. And not the theoretical multiple of the infinitely reproducible, but a multiplicity that can be defined, that actually exists simultaneously.

What if one counted number of images made instead of objects produced? And the entire edition was collapsed onto a single sheet of paper? (Like a Warhol “painting?”) What if the edition immediately displayed its variance?

What if the edition comprised every print that could be made until the matrix is destroyed through use? Or what about every print made after the matrix breaks down?

What if the edition contained every print that didn’t match the master of B.A.T.?

What if the print initially occurs as a single matrix printed on a giant piece of paper, that is then divided up later? What would determine those divisions?

What if atmospheric or situational variables were combined to produce the parameters of a variant edition? Ex: the amount of people in a given space, what the temperature is in that space, versus the temperature outside, might determine what colors or pieces are used on a particular copy of a single print. The “print” is an open-ended act that incorporates its own time and situation into its making.

This is from the colophons of the NewLights Press DIY series: “This is book number n in an edition whose limits will be determined by practical use and interest.”



The NewLights Press makes limited edition books. Those limits are determined by two things: 1) the amount of books that we can afford to make—financially, temporally, spatially, emotionally, spiritually; and 2) the number of books that we think will find a home eventually—the number that we can expect to sell/trade/give away. The size of the edition is the maximum number of copies that those two constraints allow. Preciousness or scarcity is something to be avoided. The NewLights Press does not make limited edition books. The NewLights Press makes books in small editions.

(Small, tiny even, when compared to mass production. But on the larger side when compared with other people & presses making books by hand.)

The NewLights Press makes books in small editions, and does not do reprints. No matter how fast that first run sells out. Again, this is not about preciousness or scarcity. It is mostly about the fact there just isn’t enough time to reprint the books—let’s do a new one instead. Let’s do a better one, let’s make the next book.

Limits on an edition are a practical necessity. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Are there ways in which the edition can be re-thought, re-deployed, re-made, re-produced? If the edition is considered abstractly, as a constraint or framework, how can we play with it? What if the edition is not a pre-determined constraint on the number of copies, but a pre-determined constraint that interacts with the process of production to make a certain number of copies? What if the edition is limited by time? Space? The weather? The text? Another text? The financial markets? The unemployment rate? What if the edition is not conceived in terms of a constraint at all, but as the generative prompt for the piece?



In some ways the unlimited edition is a paradox. There can never be an infinite number of copies of a particular book at any one time. The edition is only theoretically unlimited, through the potential of more & more reprints. But those will only last as long as the market for the book does. The demand, ultimately, will determine the supply.

So every edition, in one way or another, is limited.

The difference between the limited and unlimited edition is: 1) how they are conceived of at the outset, and 2) how they are expected or made to function in the world. In a limited edition, the book/object is made in an edition of x number of copies, and then that’s it—no more, no less. No matter how fast or slow they sell. The status of the limited edition is fixed, generally present and filled at the time of production. The limited edition avoids excess. The limited edition is also based on truth/trust. Its value is dependent on its scarcity. If it’s found that there are more copies on the market than are claimed by the object itself, the price and credit of the maker or publisher will shrivel together. The artificial destruction of the book/object, while it may increase the price, will also destroy the credit of the maker/destroyer. The limited edition is a cold, merciless act accepted in good faith in a cold, merciless world.

In an unlimited edition, the book/object is made in an edition of x number of copies, and will be printed again & again & again & again if there is thought to be a market. But the unlimited edition could also only exist in 5 or 100 copies as well. The status of the (unlimited) edition is contingent, tied to the world & its whims. The unlimited edition is only unlimited while the book is in print. If a book is in print, it is simultaneously stalled in, and caught up in, the process of production. The book in print is the book eternal, waiting forever to be finished.

The unlimited edition is eternally threatened. The edition could actually shrink, if the books remain unsold and are pulped. Most mass-market, unlimited edition books face this fate. When the book goes out of print, its edition can become severely limited, but often its value does not increase. The book out of print is the book untouchable, both scarce and forgotten.

Is it better then, to limit the edition at the start, and avoid the slaughter? Or is the possibility of infinity worth the gamble?



Looking through the Internet the other day, I came upon this (via Printeresting):

It’s the first post on the new “artists’ books” column on the Art:21 Blog. The intent here is not to critique the book or the post, but to use a brief part of it to talk about something else—the idea of the limited edition.

The Art:21 post mentions that the book "was printed as a limited edition of 1000” My first thought, when reading that, was well, that’s not really a limited edition. 1000 copies seems like mass production, compared to the scale that NewLights and many other book artists and small presses are working at. But 1000 is a limit (assuming they don’t reprint), however high it may seem. So one could, theoretically, have a limited edition of 10,000 or even 1,000,000. Is there a cut-off point on the number that takes a book from a “limited edition” to a “mass-produced object that only happened to go through one printing?” Are mass-market books that only go through one or two printings, by default, a “limited edition?” What is the purpose of a limited edition anyway?

To begin, we’ll start with this excerpt from an interview contained in Hanging Quotes: Talking Book Arts, Typography & Poetry, by Alastair Johnston. The interview is listed in the book as being with Sandra Kirshenbaum, but is, actually, her interviewing the author of the book, Alastair Johnston. Anyway, here are Alastair’s thoughts, circa 1991:
Alastair Johnston: […] I hate the term “fine limited edition” book.
Sandra Kirshenbaum: Oh, you hate it. Then why did you produce one? [laughs]
AMJ: Uh…
SK: It’s a joke, it isn’t really fine?
AMJ: No, it is a fine, limited edition book. I produced it because, in order to use the best possible materials in the book and because of the nature of the binding, which takes forty minutes a copy, I could only produce, realistically, a hundred to a hundred twenty-five copies. If I manage to sell out the edition, I will reprint it. But to me, the notion of a limited edition is anathema. I believe in unlimited editions because that’s what publishing is—getting a text out into the world. Having something so expensive or so exclusive that only a few people have it appeals to the worst kind of snobbery and the commodification of the book. It takes it out of the realm of information, which is what a book is, and puts it into the realm of collectability, which renders it as useless as a 1937 Edsel.
SK: So what you’re saying is that limitation per se is not a desirable trait in a book, only the natural limitation by a factor such as the amount of handwork or even the restriction of available funds.
AMJ: Right.
SK: But if you carry that idea to the logical extension, then isn’t it sort of antithetical for you to deliberately choose methods and materials that will result in limitation and exclusivity, snobbery and all the rest?
AMJ: Well, I’ve actually had a change of heart in recent years. Initially, when I started publishing, I would use cheap materials, of which the main single cost is paper and binding. And I would do books on the cheapest decent paper and do big editions, and try to get them out in the marketplace for under ten dollars. And people would ignore them. Generally, at that level, you’re trying to compete with the trade publishers. You also have distribution problems. And I began to realize that there was no point in putting up all that money and doing a thousand copies of the book if I only sold two hundred. So, therefore, why not spend the same amount of money and do fewer copies and charge a more realistic price for it. I’m still trying to make it affordable […] [1]

So that’s somewhere to start. To be continued.

1. Alastair Johnston, Hanging Quotes: Talking Book Arts, Typography & Poetry, (Austin: Cuneiform Press, 2011), 143-4.



The book continues to take shape. Yesterday I found out that I have more time than I had initially thought. So now it can be really shaped, shaped well. I want to really write this one, construct the text of this one. But these things, of course, take time, take it away, away. The base layer of the text is there, so now it’s a matter of starting to insert it into its contexts, it spaces, its form, and seeing what happens. And more shaping as a physical thing. And more shaping as a textual thing. And at some point the light will hit it just right—


& this is where we can begin, thankfully. The pages of the book turn, and in them we recognize our own days, each one folding over the one before. The space between them is essentially a non-space—the fold of the gutter, the impossibly thin fore-edge—these are the dreaming spaces of the book, the times when text and pages sleep and pass into the next day. If only we could always breathe so calmly. The book is our ideal self, our ideal time, perfect and uneventful, artfully arranged and bursting with light and meaning. Our lives, unfortunately, are chaos, overwhelming fragility, no meaning beyond the raw and gorgeous fact of what is &

—light again, again; in the creaking, stirring; movement begins; again; another morning; like the last; but better, always better; the raw and gorgeous fact of what is; the light, the window, the bed, the warmth, the cold, the creaking and stirring of bodies to movement; suspended in the air; stripped to the bones; exposed to the elements of the morning; suspended; hanging; above; on top; and pushing; pushing through; this terrifying machine begins again; again; this ascent; and hovering; above; and exposed; the cold; the warmth; this light against these objects; raw and gorgeous; this paleness in the air; it moves, barely; bare; the windows covered; still dreaming; still suffused with sleep; with paleness in the morning; against these piles of days; now slight, now slightly stirring; the past is there, but gone; gone; bare and now moving away; bare and now huddling close; to the warmth; the warmth exposed to the cold; this light; fantastic and soft; clutching and pushing; suspended; bare and scraping; this clerestory; constant in its explosions; this clerestory, suffused with light and meaning—

& this is where we can begin, thankfully. The pages of the book turn, and in them we feel a ghost image of our own days—an image flattened, thin, tattered, and marred with frantic scribblings. The book, always empty, always pointing away, like a window or a dream, reminds us of the fullness of our days. They both repeat, but these things in which we live, chaotic as they may be, are thick and heavy, a volume to each sagging page. The book is our phantom self, a fragile extension of our time-soaked consciousness back into our object-laden world. We use it as a lens, a filter, to view our own duration. But it will never supplant the breath, the heartbeat, the raging silence of our mornings. The book is lovely, but it is not love. For it we feel nothing but sadness—shabby, sagging thing that it is &

—the window, the mirror, the door; closed and secure; bashful; the blushing of the light; uneven; pushed to one side; pushing; suspended; that paleness exposed in the pushing of the morning; gorgeous; white and brown and blue and gray and white and cold; the light; this shabby entreaty; this breath; again; again; everyday; this heartbeat; quickens; this is terror; love; exposed to the raw light; a string of windows; a string of days; a thread of text intertwined with pale legs in the morning; text bare and scraping; worship; worship bare and scraping; this clerestory, this scriptorium; another day’s dream is written in pale ink and paper, this light on these objects; immaculate; the constant scriptorium; the writing of trembling pages; white and warm; the constant scriptorium; these are days, already turning; always turning; there is no stopping, no going back; just pushing further into the light; shabby thing that it is; the ceiling; the floor; illuminated; illuminated again; and shaking; and shaking; and shaking; the cold; the cold exposed; the cold bare and scraping; against warm sides; ribs and spines; folding—




We will be back to our regular erratic blogramming soon, but first I just wanted to thank everyone for the support, compliments, and kindnesses last week. It was our strongest release-week yet in terms of sales (just about half the edition). But even better than that was all of the communication, with friends both old and new, that surrounded the release. It’s always so enjoyable to be a part of the swirling world once again. Distribution, and the creation of a community through that, is definitely one of the most fun and most important parts of this endeavor.

Here is a nice, thoughtful review of What You Will by Michael Cross, on his blog, The Disinhibitor. Michael is a poet, editor, printer, and publisher from Oakland, CA. & he’s a really smart guy.

& I think we’ll end with a pre-viewing of the next book. The offset pages came in the mail last week: