Saturday, April 10, 2010

Taking Wing...Once Again

It's been an up-and-down ride for Corvus Editions, in its first, exploratory year. But a combination of my growing confidence in the general soundness of the project and my growing dissatisfaction with the options have finally pushed me to "quit the day job" at Borders, and give Corvus another year—this time as a full-time business. I know things have been rather quiet on that front, as I've been reinventing myself and the business in a variety of ways. But I've been working steadily at new pamphlets, attending book-fairs, finding new supplier and honing some new skills. I expect the full transformation of the project to be complete around June 1, but in the meantime a lot of new features will be evident. The pamphlets will be almost entirely printed on 100% recycled paper—Eco Paper "Cane Fields" (75% bagasse (sugar-cane waste), 25% farm-raised eucalyptus) or New Leaf 100% post-consumer waste—with 100% recycled cover papers incorporating agricultural waste (banana, palm, mango, lemon and coffee), also from Eco Paper and New Leaf. A few projects will use other non-tree papers (hemp, lokta, mulberry, elephant dung(!), etc.) as I match up the right papers to the right projects.

The most exciting and demanding element of the reinvention has been my long-promised and much-delayed entry into hand-binding. The 4 & 20 Blackbirds line—all hand-bound in editions of 24 copies—is now a reality, with the release of Mme. Oscine's Songbird #1: "The Whisper-Song of the Catbird." The Songbirds will all be writings by radical writers, on subjects we don't usually pay much attention to. This first issue collects an exchange in Bird-Lore magazine, inspired by J. William Lloyd, who had a question about the "melancholy" song of a catbird, and elicited a really remarkable collection of responses. Anarchist bird-watching is certainly a niche interest, but, so far, there's been a lot of enthusiasm for the project. Future Songbirds will cover 19th-century aviation theory, library cataloging schemes, etc. And 4 & 20 Blackbirds releases of a little more conventional sort will start to appear in the new future, beginning with an edition of Emile Pouget's Sabotage.

I've been redesigning covers, correcting texts, and adding titles to the catalog. Check out the Corvus Shop to see what's new.


Kevin Carson said...

The best of luck with that, Shawn. If you don't mind my asking, is it safe to infer that you're pleased with the results of the business model so far? I've mentioned Corvus as an example of a low-overhead microenterprise in my "Homebrew" ms, and I'm interested in how this works out.

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Kevin, this is really a leap of faith. From a business standpoint, Corvus is not quite in the black, and is therefore slow in making the very small capital investments that would increase efficiency and product quality. Right now, even the attempt would be impossible if I wasn't in a rent-free situation. The basic model (the high end of low-end publishing; broad, deep catalog; POD production; etc.) is unquestionably solid in a dollars-and-cents sort of way -- assuming that a real consumer base emerges at some point in the not-too-distant future. It's not clear, one way or another, at the moment, whether that will occur. Microenterprise still largely lacks a context, even in the lives of nominal mutualists and counter-economic activists. I'm waiting to see if the "fans" of the project will become the sort of consumers of the products and services offered that it needs to be a business. To be honest, my reasons for a full-time commitment are more a matter of my own stubborn personal and political commitments than they are based in evidence that the work will be supported.

Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, Shawn. I just made a post about it.