Print-on-demand is a new production method based on digital print that has revolutionized the book world. Allowing for very small print runs down to one single copy the availability of book titles no longer requires a physical stock — in contrast to traditional print runs. This has fundamental effects on the production of printed matter and its contents.
Contemporary experimental artists and writers who have adopted print-on-demand publishing praise the method's low financial risk, creative autonomy, and independence from trade publishers. They embrace it as a means of self-empowerment and democratization—although (or, maybe, precisely because) it has been discredited by the literary establishment as a vanity enterprise and by book lovers and designers irritated by its low production values.
Drawing on some of the most notable examples of the genre, this research project investigates how print-on-demand facilitates an astonishing variety of forms and aesthetic approaches and how it functions as a critical media practice that continues avant-garde, underground, and counterculture traditions and also responds to our post-digital age in compelling us to re-conceptualize our understanding of the book and publishing.
Our collection of artistic print-on-demand publications is a curated library but open to submissions. At the end of our three-year research, it will be preserved and made publicly available in future years as special collection in one of the prime European universal and research libraries: the Bavarian State Library. In addition, it will be published on our website and in a catalogue. In combination with conducted interviews with the artists and analyses of the print-on-demand platform economy and politics, it will be an important resource for the study of print-based experimental publishing, art and literature in the post-digital era.
Both this homepage and our collection is a work-in-progress. Our database went online on March 16, 2021 with the first 50 titles of our collection. In the months after that, the rest of our collection, which will include over 200 titles, will be entered little by little. So keep checking back, there will always be new things to discover. During this time of growing the collection, we are also still open to recommendations and submissions. We look forward to your feedback!
The research project (2019-2022) is a collaboration of Free University of Berlin, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and the Bavarian State Library, funded by German Research Foundation. It is led by Andreas Bülhoff and Annette Gilbert (FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg).