Three Lessons from Transmit Culture: “Portland’s Publishing and Maker Communitites”

On Tuesday, May 3rd, Ooligan Press put on its third “Transmit Culture” panel of the 2015-2016 year, which explored our publishing community in a “maker” context.

The term “maker” evokes diverse pursuits from mobile-app making enfants to overalled artisans sliding ceramics into kilns. For all intents and purposes, this panel referenced both sides of that gamut and everything in between, but put special emphasis on making books–only appropriate considering the historic DIY book and zine culture that’s thrived here for so long.

Photo courtesy of @AlanScottHolley
Photo courtesy of @AlanScottHolley

Asst. Prof. Kathi Berens hosted the panel which included Kelley Roy of ADX Portland, Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing, Rick Turoczy of the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), and Charles Heying, a PSU professor and author of the Ooligan Press Book Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy. ADX is a workspace and resource locale where people can craft and build products as well as take classes to build their skills. PIE is a “startup accelerator” that touches the tech realm, but wasn’t defined as precisely as I would have wished. Microcosm’s mission focuses on “empower[ing] readers to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them.” As the book’s title implies, Charles Heying has spent a lot of time studying the maker culture in Portland and was an excellent addition to the panel.

The conversation touched on some widely applicable entrepreneurial/business lessons that could be distilled to fit the publishing industry:

  1. Embrace niches: Joe Biel of Microcosm pointed out that developing titles into specific pieces conscious of their specific audiences is an important way for a press to make money. “4,000 books are published every day…the niche-ier the book, the better the sales.”
  2. Value oneself and one’s work: Kelley Roy consistently drove the conversation forward with optimism about the value of lovingly and skillfully made artifacts. She said that people constantly complain about two things: being busy and being broke. “Let’s not be broke,” she said, “let’s thrive!.” And one of her most emphasized suggestions for how to do that was for artisans to take time-spent into account when figuring out a price for their products.
  3. Be intentional about preserving place: a conversation arose over fears that the “Portlandia” effect had brought so many people to the city and that it was at risk of losing its identity and becoming just like any other city (and not in good ways). In a panel that had been so full of optimism, this was the most anxiety-riddled topic, but the panelists encouraged community engagement and creative thinking to come up with ways to Keep Portland Weird.

“Makers” is such a broad title for a number of different modes of creating and manufacturing that even defining the term itself could take up an entire panel. In the future, I would love to see the topic revisited and refined, and I think its an important continuing dialogue for the homegrown publishing culture that’s so prevalent here.

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