On Monday, July 25, 2011, we posted here on our blog about a exploratory project we called a "bootleg book". This particular bootleg was a paperback book version of the summer 2011 issue of Artforum magazine. Taking its name from a special, extended section in the issue on Abstract Expressionism, the book was titled Acting Out: The AbEx Effect, and was intended to demonstrate how the writing in art magazines might take a wholly other, and possibly effective, form.
We created the book by scanning the printed magazine, digitizing the text and redesigning it into a one-hundred-eighty page, black-and-white book-friendly layout. We printed five copies, four of which we sent to the editor, executive editor, design director and publisher of Artforum. It felt like a triumph.
Two days later, we received a letter from a lawyer representing the magazine. The letter made clear that Artforum considered the book copyright infringement and they demanded we remove all related materials from our website. This was crushing. Not only because we had a lawyer threatening us (even if in a professional tone) but because of the unexpectedly, and unabashedly negative reaction we provoked from Artforum itself. It was never our intention to do any harm. Nor was it our intention to spend the rest of our days arguing the finer points of copyright law or in so doing, to pick a fight with the magazine. So, we removed the post. No more bootleg.
The basic idea behind the book was to demonstrate that art writing that traditionally lives in only one form (in this case a large-format, glossy magazine with ads) can easily and perhaps beneficially live in another form as well (a small paperback book with only black-and-white images and no ads). We thought that creating the actual physical book and calling it a bootleg would be the most interesting and attention-getting way of distributing this fundamental idea. We used Artforum because it's so unlike a humble paperback book, and because their summer issue had this great, book-ready special section. We could have chosen another art magazine though, as our point wasn't about the specific content, only about the form that content takes. Obviously, the choices we thought were the best, were also the most troublesome.
For the blog post itself, along with a description of the how and why of the project, we used six pictures of the printed book itself instead of straight images of the layouts and cover. This let us focus on the physicality of the object itself, which again was our point: that content can live in different objects, different forms.
At the end of the post, following the book images and description, we wrote: "We've sent a few copies to the good folks at Artforum, but otherwise, if you're interested in seeing a copy yourself, you'll need to email us and we'll see what we can do." We wouldn't do this again. At the time, we honestly (if, in hindsight, also naïvely) thought that Artforum would really like the book concept and, with their approval, wouldn't mind us sending out a handful of copies to interested folks. We thought this might be five or six copies, and though ultimately we got thirty requests before the post was taken down, this is still pretty paltry compared to a magazine circulation that must be in excess of 25,000. Of course, we also honestly thought we'd hear from the magazine's editor instead of its lawyer, so obviously our judgement is not to be trusted.
The other big lesson learned was that we needed to be more clear that—despite its physical reality—this was only a conceptual project. Most people understood this, but not all. We received a number of emails from individuals interested in getting a copy of the book not because they thought it was an interesting publishing concept but because they wanted to read the summer issue that way. Still, though we weren't expecting to hear from them, these readers are the exact customer base we wanted to convince Artforum existed, and as it turns out, they do.
This, in the end, is maybe the hardest part about taking down the post that shared our bootleg idea. People were interested. Interesting people with good ideas were excited by concept and wanted to talk about it further; book and magazine publishers wanted to learn how it was done and how it might be applied to their own projects; and art scholars, critics, students and general readers were interested in seeing and reading content this way. Luckily, it's still a good idea.
Contratemps Over Ad-free Artforum Bootleg
Arnet, July 27, 2011
Reviewing Artforum's Advertisements
New York Observer, July 28, 2011
Andrew Russeth and Sarah Douglas
Massive Links! ... Artforum Responds (Legally) to Intervention
Art Fag City, July 28, 2011