We can make our own bespoke videos and soundtracks for our books.
I wrote about Iranian Living Room before, but it's a project we're still very proud of, for numerous reasons.
Enrico Bossan led the project from our side, curating and producing the work of young Iranian photographers. It says much about Enrico that, despite his many years in photojournalism, he can still find new ways to create work. In this case, he pointed out to me that Fabrica need not always pull young researchers to Fabrica—sometimes we can go to where they are, and act as a platform for their work. Particularly if it is difficult for them to move, as is the case sometimes in Iran. Enrico's indefatigable spirit, in returning to such a complex situation years after he first tried to produce work there, and his customary passion about the project, was an inspiration that drove us all forwards.
It also moves on aesthetically and intellectually from much previous Fabrica photojournalism, and is a quieter, more subtle, almost humble project—and it is all the more powerful for that (as indicated in the unprecedented reaction to it.) Again, it's more sophisticated in media terms, as it is Fabrica in a diffferent kind of "enabling mode". Thus it builds capacity in Iran, rather than the privileged West.
It was also Fabrica's first self-published book, and so was a steep learning curve for all involved. We're actively focusing on this business aspect of the work. I see sustaining such work through innovation in format or business model to be a creative act in itself, freeing creators from the sometimes stifling structural relationships they often work within. We're not there yet, of course—we still did not quite cover the costs of doing this project—but it is a huge step forward, and gives us experience and confidence that we will take into every publishing project from now on.
I like these little teasers the team made.
We will now look to self-publish everything: we already create the editorial, we already do the design, and now we can handle the transactions online, the fulfilment ourselves, as well as the communications. All we can't do in-house is print the things, but we have good relationships with good quality, local Italian printers. So why deal with the generally cumbersome, anachronistic and expensive publishing business, where distribution is a nightmare as much as a solution?
With every project we are looking to innovate in terms of format or medium as much as in agenda, or mission. With "Iranian…" it was in self-publishing and promotion. And we have sold out our (limited) run, which isn't bad for a first attempt.
It was also covered by New York Times, Welt am Sonntag, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Huffington Post, CNN, La Repubblica, Slate, Monopol, BURN, Dezeen, Corriere della Serra, Fast Company, and so on. Even the Daily Mail. At the time, Enrico and our comms team were deluged with requests for coverage, and we are still getting reviews, months later. (In particular, Enrico's interview with Die Welt was extremely nice, as was the review by the Daily Mail's India Online.)
Again, credit to Enrico, Nam, Marco, Mischa, Paola, Giulia, Federico, Angela, Barbara, Michela and the rest of the team for making it all happen.
(As readers of the previous piece will know, we were helped, inadvertently, by PayPal. Their clumsy blocking of our sales, due to dangerously lazy code and sloppy corporate practice as much as active censorship, gave us an opportunity to build on the story of the book, and make a broader political point about the cultural power of code. But you still have to know how to tell that story, how to deliver in front of an open goal. So this became an exercise in using the media as a medium, in a way. The blog entry provides the right format for unpacking a relatively complex story. It also gives a canonical reference point, a lightening rod for the storm of social media activity that crackled around it for a few days. (It's still those old points about unique URIs made in "Social Life of a Broadcast" almost a decade ago.) The end result was a private and a public apology from PayPal, and an active change in their policy and practice. The latter is more important of course, and as an unlikely outcome of the project, hugely important. It indicates that our work can genuinely make a difference. It is a small change, yes—it's hardly up there with Woodward & Bernstein, Glenn Greenwald & Laura Poitrus, or Errol Morris's Thin Blue Line—but nonetheless, a book project about Iran leading to the world's major online payments system publicly changing its system to prevent inadvertent censorship isn't a bad outcome.)
We have several more photojournalism projects in the pipeline—two are near completion, and a third not long after—and we will be self-publishing those too. By adding a designer or two into Enrico's studio, as well as coders, an ongoing dialogue between photojournalism and its formats should make for interesting outcomes.
Subtle work with integrity can generate serious column inches.
Fabrica can be deployed as a platform for others—we can work inside-out.
Experiment with production/distribution and editorial together.
Major breakthrough in terms of publicity.
(Use the book opportunistically as a Trojan Horse to change power structures.)