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Newsletter future ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 6:24 PM, March 4, 2013 [Permalink]

It was in the autumn of 1990 - just about a year after I sold my first woodblock prints - that I began publishing a newsletter about my life and work. I named it Hyakunin Issho ('A Hundred People Together') because my work at the time was structured around making the Hyakunin Isshu ('A Hundred Poems from A Hundred People') print series, and I was shooting for a total of around a hundred collectors.

After the poetry series was over I of course continued issuing it, and just kept the same name, coming to think of the 'hundred people' as simply representing my collectors in general, and it has appeared without fail four times a year since then ...

But the New York Times isn't the only publishing company wrestling with how to move their publications into the digital age, as I too have to try and figure out what to do with my newsletter ...

I have referred to Hyakunin Issho as a 'newsletter' but that's not strictly accurate. In Japanese we refer to such a publication as a 季刊誌 ('seasonal magazine') and - at least in the early years - that perhaps better describes what I was trying to do with it. Yes, it carried news about my affairs - exhibitions, new series, etc. - but it always also had plenty of 'background' information on matters related to my work, including visits to craftsmen who were supplying my tools, and other such stories.

Back when the only printing option was offset, publishing each edition was a very expensive - and very time consuming - proposition, involving much typing and re-typing, and layout with rulers wax sticks and red rubylith film.

Moving to a computer for layout saved a huge amount of time, but offset printing in such small quantities (usually around 500 copies) was still expensive, not to mention the huge costs of postage. A few years back I switched to digital (on demand) printing, which meant much less waste on unneeded copies to get the print run up, and this helped a great deal with the expenses (which come to a total of about 7,250,000 yen over the life of the publication (around $90,000)).

But at this point, it's not the money that is causing me concern or confusion; I long ago decided that the newsletter was an 'investment' worth the cost. What I'm puzzling over now - myself and the New York Times both - is what it means to run such a publication in the wired age.

  • Does it still make any sense to put ink on sheets of paper, stuff them into envelopes, and send them off all around the world ...?
  • Does anybody really care about news that arrives every three months - and not as part of their Facebook perusal over morning coffee?
  • I wrote many years back about visiting (for one example) the paper-maker. But the current list of people receiving my newsletter has almost no overlap with the subscribers back in that day, so should I do another story about him?
  • All the content of the newsletter goes online on my website [English | Japanese] at the same time that it is published on paper. Isn't this perhaps enough?
  • This very blog that you are reading - hasn't it replaced the newsletter?

What I'm having the most trouble with is separating my own personal preferences (I'm an old dude who likes to read stuff on paper) and modern practical realities (it's all 'instant' and on a screen). I do occasionally get emails of this sort: "As usual, your newsletter goes great with a cup a java and some sun streaming in a window," but that's simply to be expected from a particular reader of an age and temperament similar to my own.

So I would very much appreciate some feedback on this please - particularly from any long-time readers who might be seeing this post. Let me know your own thoughts on what the newsletter means for you, and how you think it should be handled from here on in ...


Following comment posted by: Charlie C on March 4, 2013 11:42 PM

Dave - I think you're a year older but I like the printed "thing" (with coffee, sun, etc.) as much as anyone. But I also know what it takes to do such a publication in print. Personally, I think your blog covers it all, especially if you occasionally throw in the extras like staff news, supplier updates, expansion woes, and trips back to Canada, eh? I don't think you'll lose any "old" patrons if you ax the newsletter. Your time & energy demands have changed dramatically over this past year. Change happens. Do whatever keeps you healthy & happy.

Following comment posted by: Anita on March 5, 2013 3:03 AM

I treasure my collection of your newsletters; it's a remarkable record. Although today I do my reading almost exclusively onscreen, even reaching for my Kindle instead of a book, I'll never not cherish print on paper.

I am, of course, much older than you and can claim experience with hot type in my amateur journalistic past. I once worked summers at a weekly newspaper where type was set using a linotype machine with white-hot molten lead pouring into the machine to create lines of body type which were racked into columns. Headlines were picked letter by letter from drawers of display fonts and assembled by hand upside down and backwards in flat trays, fitted tight with slugs until finally the paper was laid out according to plan and could be 'put to bed,' ready for the press, that rolling monster 'baren.'

As for the future of the newsletter, I would miss the newsletter but would be willing to let it go in favor of your investment of time in the success of your business. After all, we already have that remarkable print record of the past. Perhaps it truly was all prologue and making woodblock printmaking relevant to a new generation is the most important thing you could be doing now. If doing so brings success to crown your career, that only helps to confirm the rightness of what you have been about these many years. The view forward is very exciting.

For my vote, although I would surely miss it, you could let it go as we have done with the hot type, hot wax, ruby film and exacto knife. (Well, maybe not the exacto knife.)

I am looking forward eagerly to the next print in the Arts of Japan series. I also want to thank you for reprinting the "Girl on a Bicycle." That little image always raises my spirits and I feel, in some strange way, that "she" is me!

Following comment posted by: Serge on March 5, 2013 3:46 AM

Hi Dave,
It is nice to receive your newsletter and to read about "behind-the-scenes" stuff. For example, I like Sadako's corner. But at the same time, your newsletter has evolved in parallel of your blogs, so in truth, there is not much "new" stuff in the printed version.
With the success of the Ukiyoe Heroes, the staff issues and the current workload, it would make sense to stop it and rely only on the blogs. Instead of just letting it die, you could think of a last/goodbye "looking backward & forward" issue, going out with a bang and the right way to close a chapter.....
All the best as always......Serge

Following comment posted by: Dave on March 5, 2013 7:34 AM

there is not much "new" stuff in the printed version

That's actually only true of the most recent few issues, which really have become 'news' letters - full of updates on what is going on these days in the workshop. In the old days, the publication was full of much more rich content ... stuff like this, or this. News was also there, but because things moved so slowly back in those days - exhibition once a year, new series only once every few years, etc. etc. - it didn't intrude on the other content. These days it's the other way around!

Maybe the 'solution' to this is to split them apart completely: leave the news stuff to the blog/web side of things, and turn the newsletter into an actual magazine, with better production values and deeper content, perhaps including stuff by outside contributors.

Following comment posted by: Margaret Maloney on March 5, 2013 3:48 PM

This twenty-something really enjoys the printed newsletter. I do most enjoy the parts that haven't already been covered on the blogs, but I like it all! Every time it comes, I sit down with a beverage and read it cover to cover. Part of that is its length: substantial enough that I don't read it on the elevator up from my mailbox, but short enough that I can always make time for it on the day it arrives, even if I'm busy.

The archivist in me also tends to think that it's best to have it down on paper; which, as you know, can last a very long time!

Following comment posted by: Dave on March 5, 2013 5:32 PM

There's another (major) factor involved in this decision that I neglected to mention above - the number of off-line collectors that I have.

These people are in Japan, are not so young, and have been supporting my work for a long time (a very long time in a few cases). Dropping the newsletter, or switching it to a completely digital format, would essentially 'abandon' these people. There are not a lot of them - a couple of dozen at most - but they are important to me, and I can't ignore this part of the equation ...

Following comment posted by: serge on March 6, 2013 2:51 AM

...."Maybe the 'solution' to this is to split them apart completely: leave the news stuff to the blog/web side of things, and turn the newsletter into an actual magazine".....

I like that idea. If this turns into a real magazine, then comes the cost of it. Would it then be a "gift" for your collectors/subscribers and payable for the others? Ot would you accept advertisements? And other contributors?
To become a publisher would be another venture. And the idea has potential....
But to come back to the original question, do not get distracted from your work, even if you need to "reward" your collectors, japanese and overseas.
Kind regards.......Serge

Following comment posted by: George Jarvis on March 9, 2013 5:06 PM

I certainly enjoy the printed version, read it cover to cover, usually twice, once in English, once in Japanese. I have all the copies received in a nice fat file in the bookcase. Besides just the printmaking, from the hints about the economic life of an artist to raising bi-cultural kids, it has always been deeply interesting. It would be missed, but the blog and other resources you have kept on the net will keep us well informed, I think. The magazine idea also sounds good.

Following comment posted by: Julio Rodriguez on March 12, 2013 7:29 AM

I also enjoy the written newsletter and have save them all these years going back to 1998. Sounds like you can't really stop it since you have the old subscribers that won't have access to an online version. How about an option to 'go-paperless' like many of the companies are doing now with bills ? Just give the subscribers an option and see how many takers you get....

Following comment posted by: Dale on March 13, 2013 7:29 AM

Why not just continue to post the digital version for those who have the equipment to read that format AND do a print version for those loyal subscribers of yours who do not have access? Since you have print on demand capability, the 'hard' copy version cost should be very small and could be mailed as usual. Meanwhile, all the rest of us who can read your newsletter via computer or tablet or smartphone can simply go to your website and print out or read the latest edition of your newsletter. I, like most of the others offering their opinions, much prefer a hard copy with that morning cup of coffee or afternoon tea, but I don't have any issues with printing out my own.

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