The Free Speech Coalition takes publishing to the people.

Book Makers 

The Free Speech Coalition takes publishing to the people.

Stephen Blackburn waited more than a year to see his first book published. Each One Teach One: Up and Out of Poverty: Memoirs of a Street Activist, co-authored with homeless-activist Ron Casanova and published by Curbstone Press in 1996, was hailed by Booklist as "an eloquent voice for Americans too often ignored or scapegoated."

When it came to his second book, The Extinction of Rhinos in Mexico: Nine Tales of Life and Death, Blackburn had less patience. The author opted to publish the book himself, using a fairly new system called print-on-demand publishing.

Most POD services operate through the Internet: Writers send in their manuscripts along with a small fee, and the books are published to order -- circumventing the process of submitting the work to a large company and waiting for an editor to decide that a book has possible financial merit. The traditional system "ends up being a form of market-driven economic censorship," Blackburn says, "because it means that offbeat or quirky ideas usually won't get a fair chance at being published."

POD has turned out to be surprisingly popular, Blackburn says, and companies offering it have found themselves overwhelmed. "Nobody guessed there were all these authors out there waiting for their chance," Blackburn says, adding that POD "has opened up book publishing in a way that is revolutionary -- maybe the modern equivalent of Gutenberg's press."

Blackburn joins Melissa Hoover of AK Press Publishing Collective, comic-book designer Rav Powell and Jennifer Osborne, editor of Kansas City's Urban Transcendence on May 12 for Culture Under Fire's Facing the Corporate Media Monster: Publishing DIY, a roundtable discussion centering on economic censorship in the world of publishing.

As Blackburn says, "Free speech does not mean anything if no one can hear you."

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