Kristopher Young: Too Cool to be a Robot

I’ll be blunt: This is my first interview. Journalism always seemed a little too reality-bound for me, so I just never went there. But I think I really liked doing this interview — that may just be because my subject is so cool, but if it works out well, maybe I’ll try to track down other cool people and harass them with long-winded questions, too. ;)

Welcome to the Interview of Kristopher Young, whom I ended up conversing with because he was tolerant of my colorful posts & emails praising his novel. Not that one can praise his novel colorfully enough, mind you — it’s called Click and if you follow that link to Amazon, you’ll see nothing but glowing reviews, and for good reason. I’ve mentioned his book before (I believe I called it “Chuck Palahniuk with the volume at eleven, and perfect noise-reduction”, and I stand by that) — but what I didn’t mention, because I didn’t figure it out until Kris kindly shoved my nose in it, is that the author is also the entrepreneur behind Another Sky Press.

Another Sky Press is truly a special development in publishing — it may even be revolutionary, which is obviously what Kris is after. The company sells print copies for “cost plus a voluntary donation”, and it gives away free electronic copies of everything online. (Nice, well-designed .pdfs, too, with no DRM-y crap at all.) Besides Click, the company currently has an anthology and some art available (including a coloring book that makes me drool), and claims to have plans to offer more books, music, short-stories, and the gods know what else, all in their unique, consumer-centric fashion.

Whatever you think about Kris’ decision to offer his almost-certainly-would-have-been-a-conventional-bestseller to the public this way (I ask him what he thinks about it in the interview), you have to admit that closing your eyes and envisioning a world where most art is published the way Another Sky is suggesting is a pretty, pretty picture indeed.

You just don’t get better than idealistic, forward-thinking businesspeople…or at least that’s what I thought, until I met one who’s also a jaw-droppingly good writer. Hmm, is this guy for real? Well, I can’t say for sure, but if he’s a construct, his AI is fantastic. I mean, check out how well it answered all these questions about Another Sky Press and Click and even some other stuff I threw in just to trip him up in case he was a robot!

[Click to read the entire interview in all its glory!]

ME: So, let’s start with the basics. When did you start ASP [Another Sky Press], and how long did it take you from idea to reality? Did you have help?

KRIS: The core idea that is Another Sky Press has existed in one form or another for a decade. It’s been a dream of mine; my beliefs on technology and media taken to their foregone conclusion. I’m an idealist, or perhaps an extremist – but I do my best to live by those beliefs and hold myself accountable when I don’t. So when information became digital, when that first MP3 played through my speakers, my mind instantly took to deciphering the impact on culture and society. What does it mean if everything can be ‘free’? Others sought to capitalize with the digital revolution; I sought (and seek) to remove commerce (as we know it) from the equation. Get rid of the middlemen. Fix the broken system that plagues the entertainment/culture industry.

That’s not to say I don’t want to make money from my work (writing Click, for example, was a tremendous outlay of energy) because I do – everyone needs to eat. Art isn’t ‘free’ for the artist – it represents time and energy and expenses. But I can’t ignore the fact that now that Click is complete it doesn’t really cost me anything to share it with others, and in fact, sharing it with others can ultimately aid in my long term goals. ‘Lost revenue’ is a ruse; people who read Click for free and choose not to contribute aren’t lost revenue since they never would have purchased it in the first place. I choose to view those people as ‘Gained Fans’. More readers means more people contributing to the grass roots success of both Click and Another Sky Press. Someone who reads Click ‘for free’ and spreads the word effectively pays for it via helping it gain exposure. Besides, not everyone can afford to buy a book, and it makes me happy to make it available to as many people as possible, regardless of their financial standing.

The ‘second’ answer is that once Click was finished, I had Another Sky Press up and running rather quickly. I think ASP was born in or around October 2005, and was fully functional (if a bit ugly) shortly afterwards. The site is built upon a slightly modified WordPress install, which is open-source Blogging software. [note from PD: This site uses WordPress, too. It rocks.] That community has been indirectly helpful to a great degree, simply by providing such great software and plug-ins.Many people, both friends and strangers, have taken to both Click and Another Sky Press and have offered varying degrees of help. The logo, for example, was done by Steven Spikoski, a friend of a friend. I had help with site design and coding from Michael Fields of Black Market Culture – he’s come through for me time and time again. Christine Barnum has also helped tremendously. She was visiting Portland to attend a vegan cooking class; we had a mutual friend so she ended up reading Click (and falling in love in the process!). The rest is history, and she’s been so incredibly supportive of ASP in so many ways. Dayna Crozier, my editor, helped make Click everything it could be. I’m lucky enough to count Jesse Reno as a close friend, and he nailed the cover of Click. While he was reading it, he would ask ‘do you have any ideas?’ and I never really did – I just knew he could do it. And then, maybe a few weeks after he finished reading Click he told me he painted the cover. And yea, he did. It’s perfect. The entire novel is in that cover. There are more; a kind soul named José Joaquín Atria stumbled across the site and translated entire essays on the theory behind the site to Spanish so that he could share it with others he knew. An artist and writer named Chris Roberts found Click and has become an incredibly supportive fan of Click, and has lent his own brand of energy and talent – for example, he will be doing the cover of our upcoming anthology, Falling from the Sky. Craig Quackenbush, an old acquaintance, was so energized by everything ASP stood for that he jumped on as editor for that anthology. And of course, we’ve got about forty authors that have been accepted into that anthology (we received a ton of submissions). It’s all a great help; there’s only so much one person can do.

That said, anything I can do myself, I will. I taught myself InDesign and Photoshop during the process of getting Click to print. I believe in DIY, but I don’t think that means something should look ‘unprofessional’. I wanted everything about Click to be pro, from start to finish. I handmade every single chapter head. I painstakingly learned about stuff like leading and kerning. It’s important to me to have everything done right, and I’m very happy with how everything is turning out.

ME: In ten words or less, what is your ideal goal for ASP?

KRIS: Brevity is not my strong suit. Even in the mission statement, I couldn’t reduce it to just one.

How about: ‘Succeed to the degree that others follow in its footsteps.’

Or perhaps – ‘To be taken for granted.’ In many of the signed copies out there, I’ve written: ‘Everything we take for granted was once considered revolutionary’. That would be a grand society (or at least, a strong step towards one).

ME: If ASP only accomplishes a tiny part of the goal you have in mind for it, what do you hope it achieves?

KRIS: Another Sky Press is a fully functioning meme. It is my hope that the very knowledge that something like Another Sky Press exists will force people to reconsider their views on commerce and culture and that the concepts will replicate and evolve.

ME: What made you decide to use ASP for your own work, rather than a traditional publisher? Do you feel like you “gave up” your spot on the bestseller list to do this?

KRIS: I had more than a few fans of Click telling me I was making some sort of huge mistake, that Click deserved a wide audience, etc.

There were three major issues with going ‘mainstream’.

First, if I didn’t move forward and put the idea into practice, how could I ever expect anyone else to? How could I even live with myself?

Second, if Click is as good as they were saying (and I do fully believe in Click), then that’s exactly the kind of project that needed to launch something like Another Sky Press. It would be a sin to let an idea die simply because the content wasn’t up to par.

Three, I really wanted nothing to do with mainstream publishing. We have very different goals.

Was it a challenge? Sure, I suppose. We all question ourselves. It was a hell of a lot of work. The specific act of uploading the novel to the ASP server was still a bit difficult, that ‘here goes nothing!’ feeling of releasing something that core to my being. I suppose some small part of me wanted the accolades of a more mainstream success. But ultimately, watching the swells of grassroots support has been far more invigorating than the mainstream hype factories could ever be.

Besides – who ever said I gave up anything, grin? Click is finding its audience, and will continue to do so as the word spreads. Grassroots is more powerful than advertisements. Word of mouth works. It can be slower, sure, but it’s also far more pure. People talk about Another Sky Press and Click because it resonates with them, not because its got advertising dollars behind it. It makes me feel good to know Click will thrive completely on its own merit, that Another Sky Press will succeed on the strength of an idea.

ME: Besides stories, what are your three favorite things?

KRIS: Love. Beauty. Inspiration. And my two cats. [Note: See, he answered with five things. An AI wouldn’t have made such a glaring error…or would it? ;) ]

ME: Does ASP have an operating philosophy? Do you model your work in and on the company after anything in particular?

KRIS: Anti-greed. Integrity. I grew up on stuff like Dischord Records. They always had that text on the back of their releases ‘This CD is available for seven dollars PPD direct from Dischord Records’ or whatever. Everything about them has always rung true to me – the integrity, the DIY ethic, the refusal to rely on mainstream media. I consider Another Sky Press a descendant of ethics-based companies like them – an evolution allowed by the advances in technology that make ASP possible.I’ve always held to a simple rule – if I learn of a better way to do something, I try to adapt to that new way. So as I work through potential ideas (i.e., while developing the concept behind ASP), I force myself to take my ideals to their conclusion. For example, if it can be available for free (and thus allows more to read it), then it must be. By staying true to myself, and my ideals, I will never put myself in a compromised position where I have to feel like I’m defending myself.Sometimes it’s not as clear, and in those cases I simply work to keep it as pure as possible. The occasional hypocrisy is inevitable in our society, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to address it. For example, we recently started selling merchandise. This was a very difficult decision for me. Part of me hates the idea; but at the same time, it provides a tangible way for someone to support ASP and what it stands for. The solution? Everything is confirmed no-sweatshop and is available at cost. We use CafePress simply because of a sheer lack of time and resources to make them ourselves.

ME: Has ASP been as profitable as you’d planned on it being by this point in its development? Why or why not, do you think? Do you see it as a viable business model for other publishers yet?

KRIS: It’s on the right path, which isn’t to say I think it’s viable yet. These things take time; word of mouth can be Slow.

A book is such an investment – not only of money, but time. A book can sit on a shelf in the ‘to-read’ pile for years before it’s actually read. So in that regard, acquiring new fans (and the required vocal ones, no less) is a time consuming process. There is no magic bullet.Combine that with presenting people with a new paradigm and you’ve got a serious undertaking. We could live in a society that embraces such a system (and if I have my way, we will) but right now it’s still a struggle. Some people who know about Another Sky Press still purchase it through traditional means (bookstores, Amazon, etc.) But everyone who comes across the site will be exposed to the idea… and that in itself is a beautiful thing.To that end, I’d only recommend it as a ‘business model’ to someone who has a DIY soul and is resilient in the face of adversity. Patience is a virtue (though I can’t claim to be particularly patient – I like to get things done).

ME: You’ve written a fantastic book. Is writing books what you plan to keep doing, or is publishing more important to you? Do you still write?

KRIS: Thank you.

It’s strange – publishing is of very little importance to me. Spreading the idea behind Another Sky Press IS important to me, but running the press itself isn’t exactly my cup of tea. I’d rather be writing. I’d rather be doing all sorts of other things, actually. But I want the idea to succeed in the way that I want Click to succeed, and I know that making that happen requires my energy, so I will give it my energy.

I find some time to write; not enough by any stretch, but I’m working on it. I recently completed a short story entitled ‘The Photographer’ for the anthology Falling from the Sky, and quite a few more are in various states of completion. I’m also working on another novel, though that’s definitely going slower than I’d like.

ME: If aliens find this article and read it, what would you like to tell them?

KRIS: Abduct Bush.

Thanks, Kris. Thanks for your fantastic work both as an artist and an entrepreneur, and for taking the time to prove to us that you’re definitely one of the most advanced AIs on the planet — er — not to mention the kind of person that America is lucky to have and could use a lot more of. ;)

Hey, people — Another Sky Press is a worthy endeavor that looks like a lot of fun and is supported by a lot of labour-of-love by smart, cool people. If you think you can help — especially, at this point in time, if you can help code systems to do micropayments and/or ratings and recommendations for their webpage — or if you’re interested in helping or participating in another way, don’t hesitate to speak up, here or through Another Sky Press directly. Viva la grassroots!

-PD

About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut, and life-partner to polyphasic sleep. Rabid fan of as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the wall).
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