Pressing Issues: Recession Era Indie Publishing by Hannah Kahng

Despite the economic climate and whatever bleak circumstances could engender movies like this, Milano Chow and Megan Plunkett, recent graduates from Barnard and Pratt, respectively, have been running their own independent printing presses.

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STORIES BY YANYAN, published by Medium Rare.

Despite the economic climate and whatever bleak circumstances could engender movies like this, Milano Chow and Megan Plunkett, recent graduates from Barnard and Pratt, respectively, have been running their own independent printing presses. Granted, they both have side jobs—Milano works for Art on Paper and assists Matt Keegan, and Megan does freelance design and helps out at Dispatch Gallery—but the two are able to produce ’zines and journals during a time when many are trading creative production for economic stability. I met with the two at Milano’s house in Williamsburg to discuss the dilemmas of post-grad existence and independent publishing.

Hannah Kahng So tell me about the presses that you run.

Milano Chow Medium Rare started in 2008, maybe around August, and it kind of happened by chance. The summer before I applied for this grant through Barnard called the Trust Entrepreneurial Grant, and they offer it to every underclassman except for seniors. The idea is that you have a full-time internship during the summer, and through it you learn to run your own business, and then they’ll sponsor you with this grant money. I didn’t expect to get it, but I ended up using the grant money to finance the project. My grant essay was about independent publishing and its role for young artists. Since then, I started budgeting and buying supplies and approaching people to do projects, and it grew from there.

Megan Plunkett The press that I run is called Kingsboro, and I started it with my friend Dan in ‘07. We started it when we were at school, at Pratt. We didn’t have a budget or anything, but I worked in the print center, so we could noodle around and get a bunch of free stuff, so there wasn’t a huge cost for us in the beginning. We do a self titled journal called Kingsboro Press. We’ve done five issues. We do sporadic artists projects and ’zines also.

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HK So do you use your own money for Medium Rare now?

MC Kind of, it’s supposed to be self-generating, where all the money made from previous books goes back into the original budget, but it’s kind of tricky. There’s a waiting period to make money back, so I have to toss some of my own money in and hope it comes back soon.

HK Is the cost to keep running Kingsboro Press high?

MP We [Dan and I] do Kingsboro with our friend Jordan, so we split everything between us—the cost upfront—and we hope we break even once sales come through. It’s difficult but it’s do-able. You don’t need a lot of money to start something or make something that’s good, you just have to have a will to do anything, whatever out it’ll cost—

MC —And Google everything beforehand.

MP Definitely.

MC Compare prices, and make lots of friends at coffee places, and finagle your way into things.

HK Do you make all your stuff here?

MC I try to keep it as self-contained as possible, to not rely on other people and to cut middle men. I bought a printer, and I do the black and white editioning by myself. The only time I have to go to an outside source is when I do a certain type of binding that requires special gluing or if it’s a color edition, then I’ll send it off to a separate printer.

MP One of our old professors had this machine called a Rizzo, and it’s sort of like an old fashioned printer, so we’ve been using that for a while. Usually we’ll get to use it for free because Dan will do design work in exchange for using it. For other stuff, we’ll use Xerox, just from a cheap copy center. I think the next thing will be to get a used copier, but that’s for the future. But we’ve never sent anything out to a printer—it’s less controlled and its nice to have everything small print, hand-done.

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Jordan Awan, Megan Plunkett and Milano Chow.

HK You know how there have been a lot of clothing companies that have recently started making ’zines for their labels?

MC Like Urban Outfitters or something?

HK Oak has an Oakzine, and the skate company Ambiguous has one too. They’re actually more like small magazines.

MP Like small lookbooks or something?

HK Some have photos of parties and photos of people wearing their clothes.

MC Are they taking the format of the ’zine and using it to sell their stuff?

HK Yeah. What do you think of that?

MC I’m against corporations doing that. Because there’s this false pretense of “independent,” but there’s just a big company behind it. But I guess, in reality, it’s not something I’d get angry about—

MP —I haven’t seen it, but if it’s a conceptual lookbook, that sounds cool, but don’t really want to access it. Like Milano said, I’m wary of companies as far as to the kind of compromises you’d have to make. It’s ending up like a posturing, and very insincere, but I feel like—

MC —also I feel like its hard for artists: I’ve done some illustration work in the past, and it’s not selling out, but you have to support yourself.

HK Yeah, and you’re still doing something you enjoy.

MP I feel like that’s been a struggle for me too since I got out of school. When you look at other publishers making independent work, you see there are so many models of how to do it, but you have to find what’s right for you. There must be some way to exist where you’re not just agreeing to get money from a corporation, but you’re also not starving because you will not compromise on anything. Maybe even now, this is a time where things are changing, and there are going to be new modes of support.

MC I think you just have to have your own principles and stick by them, whatever they may be, even if that’s, “I want to make a lot of money.”

MP Yeah, it goes both ways. I guess it’s up to the intuition of whoever is making the decisions—that’s all you really have—your feelings. If you’re fine with it, fuck everyone else over, but as long as you don’t feel like you’re making a shitty compromise.

Medium Rare site:

Milano’s favorite links:

Kingsboro Press:

Megan’s favorite links: