Once upon a time, a printing press was a large, mechanical monster which took enormous amounts of money to buy, days to set up for a single publication, and being caught handing out flyers would likely end you up in jail. Despite this, underground printing presses gave a crucial edge to many radicals of the time – anti-slavery activists, labour organizers and others. Today, an inkjet printer costs almost nothing. Mine cost less than buying the two ink cartridges it came with alone, and I could easily have spent just as much on the USB cable. Not that it’s a good printer by any measure – you get what you pay for – but it proves a very important point: we now have an ability to print or distribute radical literature which goes beyond anything our ancestors could dream of. Two recent posts on infoshop.org really go to demonstrate how many of today’s trendy internet technologies can be used.

The first link goes toward Steal This Wiki, a collaborative online attempt at updating Abbie Hoffman’s classic Steal This Book. Sadly, they’re in dire need of fundraising, so spread the word. The project has a lot of good information. The printing section, in particular, caught my eye, as did their downloadable and printable versions of the whole wiki as a book.

The second story comes from theanarchistlibrary.org, who have just released a fresh torrent file for the spring of their entire collection in printable forms. In this manner, they not only can run a website warehousing radical literature, but can spread it in physically reproducible forms. And not only that, but they’re releasing it on bittorrent, an incredibly efficient decentralized file-sharing protocol,. By combining all of this, they allow anyone, anywhere, to print off any number of titles in their library as many times as they wish.

Many predicted that the internet would kill “the book”. But it isn’t dying, it’s changing. Large monolithic publishing companies are being replaced by a more decentralized network of printing, and authors now have the ability to send their work directly to readers, free of charge. Now the question is up to us: what do we want to print?