The Little Graffiti and Name-Writing Book Distributor and Publisher That Could

Since the dawn of contemporary graffiti (and later street art) there’s been a proliferation of hard copy and on-line publications on this subject.

Some of the original hard copy efforts were zines; self-produced publications, resembling magazines, that were sold at independent book shops, or among graffiti writers and nerds. These creative efforts were generally not done to make money, but to share graffiti-related content (i.e., photos and information about writers, places, and techniques) among practitioners and aficionados. Meanwhile the producers of these creative efforts were lucky if they were able to recoup the costs of production.

By the same token, a handful of scholarly publishers (including university presses) occasionally acquired and published books on graffiti (or more commonly street art).

Likewise art world book publishers such as Abrams Books, Phaidon, Prestel, Schiffer, Taschen, Thames & Hudson have released a handful of books on name writing, graffiti, or more usually ones that integrate both graffiti and street art, featuring well-known street artists like Banksy or books that provide a visual overview on a theme (i.e., urban art in a geographic location).

Smaller publishing houses such as Dokument Press, From Here to Fame, Gingko Press, and Laurence King Publishing also occasionally print books on graffiti, street art, and/or the work of a well-known graff writers or street artists. Few publishers, however, have specialized on both publishing books on graffiti and distributing this material to eager customers. It’s not clear why, but I suspect that acquiring, editing, printing and distributing monographs on this topic is not that profitable.

But then there is Hitzerot. Based in Berlin, Germany, and started in 2015 by Sascha Blasche (34) and Steffen Köhler (38), both former graff writers and graff book enthusiasts, Hitzerot is an enigma, among book distributors and publishers. Since their founding, they’ve not only sold 200 different titles centered around graffiti or name writing, but they currently have 140 of them in stock. That’s not all. Hitzerot has published 28 books, 9 magazines and a handful of prints to hang on the wall.

According to their website, “Our stock consists of must-have evergreens, extensive monographs, limited zines, important major releases, scientific readers, print editions and of course a broad variety of our own Hitzerot volumes.”

Although it has a rather large on-line presence, Hitzerot, which was named after a legendary, now banned and obsolete, type of red spray paint, once popular among graffiti writers in Berlin is physically located in a relatively nondescript storefront that also doubles as a warehouse in Moabit, Berlin. The small space is crowded with boxes upon boxes of books, shelves filled to the brim with books, a loft for additional storage, and a counter. Even though the space had a toilet, there was no heat which Sascha said helped keep the rent low.

A little background. Sascha, who grew up in Lichterfelde in South Berlin, is a former illegal graffiti writer. Steffen, on the other hand, was raised in Neubrandenburg, and moved to Berlin in 2007. He initially worked in graphic design and in art direction for an advertising company. Although he used to do graffiti, he is more interested in taking photographs of this type of urban art.

In 2012, Sascha started publishing Auri Sacra Fames, a magazine focusing on the Berlin graffiti scene, and did a total of five volumes.

When Sascha was working on the magazine’s first issue he asked photographers and “spotters,” as they often call themselves, for material to better convey an authentic overall picture of the graffiti scene. A befriended photographer introduced Steffen to him and Steffen kindly provided photos for the first issue of graffiti on trains and walls in Berlin.

According to Sascha, “There were lots of graff related magazines at the time.” But there was a lot of intransparent curation among people who produced these publications. In particular, they publish the work of their friends or people they personally know. He notes, “I used to have a section in each of the magazines that would focus on certain areas and populate from each. This strategy was designed to reduce favoritism.”

Sascha adds, “There were lots of magazines at the time. The idea of starting a publishing house came out of the magazine as a way to distribute other graffiti related publications.”

Although the idea of establishing a book distribution/publishing house came out of the magazine, it was not really connected to this representative focus Sascha had for the magazine. He states that, “It was more like another project back then where I could bring in my knowledge of running a small online shop knowing how to distribute the magazine and my contacts I made during the years of publishing it.”

Steffen also suggests that, “The idea was to combine several good and well thought out publications in one shop instead of having them all in different small simple online ones. Back then (and it still to this day) it was common to create a shop like BigCartel, a very simple, easy to handle shop system, for each new publication someone did. We thought to build a proper online shop with more photos of the product and a deeper insight through the text (review-like) would be a good idea. At first for our own publications, but very soon we started listing other people’s publications we like as well.”

Their first effort was a photographic book on painted trains in Berlin with a different approach as the documentation style, as you can find in Sacha’s magazine for example. It was called Farbzüge (which might be best translated as “coloured trains.”

Although Sascha is more interested in old-school graffiti writing and writers, Steffen leans more toward new school graffiti practices. Regardless, both of them know what is happening with graffiti, not only in Berlin, but Germany and around the world, including who the players are, who is hot, who is active and who is inactive, the locations and the styles of the past, and which ones are emerging.

Sascha and Steffen have worked out an equitable division of labor. Sascha primarily takes care of writing advertising copy, including descriptions of books, proof-reading, order fulfillment. Steffen, on the other hand, supervises the website’s backend, conception and layout, the identification and implementation of new technologies, and methods to improve business processes. Both admit that order fulfillment, preparing new releases, maintenance of the website, and responding to inquiries eats up a large part of the day.

Meanwhile some times of the year that are busier than others. They are always very busy just before the UNLOCK book fair (an annual meeting where publishers meet and display their merchandise).

Typically Hitzerot tries to release one or more new books just before or at this venue. To these ends, they are presenting two new books at the UNLOCK book fair. The first one is Theorie des Style/Theory of Style which is a re-issue of the 1996 book of the same name. They are going to release the book in both English and in German versions.

The second one, in which Steffen is one of three co-authors/editors, is Daniel Weissbach aka COST aka DTagno, I features the work of the iconic German based graffiti writer and street artist (1976- 2020).

From the beginning, neither Sascha nor Steffen draw a salary out of the business. Instead they try to pump the profits back into the running of Hitzerot. That’s why both of them work half time in other jobs to be able to keep Hitzerot running.

Steffen admits that, “we could distribute or produce a lot more street art books, or ones about popular street artists like Banksy, or mainstream graffiti books, but we want to spend our time on books that focus on interesting graffiti and name writing. We want to pick the gold. We want to distribute titles that are hard to get. Hitzerot won’t be any good if we watered things down.”

In short, in addition to wanting to invest all their time into the business and not depend on part time jobs, they want to distribute the books that they like.

Some of their future plans include being more efficient in distributing books and magazines that would allow them to bring out more of their own titles as a publishing house.

Sascha states that, “most graff writers constantly read all the graffiti surrounding them, to see who’s up and who’s good. And publications and the ‘afterlife’ of graffiti as/on photographs and its publication are important parts of the whole graffiti game. Moreover graff writers would rather be famous (among fellow writers) than rich.” And that is why Sascha and Steffen see their roles not only as book distributors and publishers, but as curators and archivists too.

According to their website, they  “constantly kept our eyes open for interesting content and the most relevant titles. Our mission from day one has not changed: We are aiming to offer you the highest quality publications with a graffiti context out there.”

Must Academic Criminologists Write Books?

A frequent debate exists in many academic fields regarding the best venues for publishing ones scholarship. In the field of Criminology and Criminal Justice, some criminologists wonder if is it better to conduct research, write, and publish a book in the field, or disseminate the findings from their efforts in the context of one or more chapters in scholarly books or articles in journals.

Unlike some disciplines (e.g., Engineering, Health Sciences, Mathematics, Medicine, Science, Technology, etc.), however, criminology/criminal justice often sees scholars gravitating towards book publication as a common practice and a way to demonstrate their expertise.

Although this is an important question, it also begs several others and often involves a series of cost-benefit calculations that need to be made.

To begin with, there are numerous academic criminologists who are not only successful in their career, happy, and they have never authored, co-authored, edited, nor co-edited a book.

Also there is a time and place in one’s academic career to publish one’s work in each of these venues. And with the exception of turning your dissertation in to a book, there is stage in one’s academic career when it makes most sense to  devoting your resources to publishing in each of these venues. Let’s take a closer look what I mean.

Departmental, college, and university expectations about publications for merit pay, tenure and promotion

When determining what and where to publish, academic criminologists need to take into account personal interests, institutional expectations, and career objectives.

Understanding the unique criteria set by departments, colleges, and universities is crucial, particularly regarding merit pay, earning promotion and tenure, being awarded research grants, and employability elsewhere.

Most institutions of higher education operating in advanced industrialized democracies are relatively transparent about the requirements that instructors and faculty need to achieve to be considered for merit pay, tenure and promotion. This information, is usually available in a faculty handbook located on the institution’s website.

However, there’s considerable variability in how different academic entities value various types of publications. While some colleges and universities equate all types of publications regardless of prestige, others employ metrics based on field-specific rankings.

For instance, highly ranked journals like Criminology or Justice Quarterly, or university presses may hold significant weight in some departments, while in others, self-published blogs may be considered equivalent (a publication is a publication). That’s why many scholars scrutinize rankings before submitting their work, recognizing the relative impact that publishing in different venues may have on their careers.

Considering career stage is often paramount, as expectations can vary widely between early-career academics and established scholars.

Additionally, it’s essential to acknowledge diverse perspectives on publishing norms, including contrarian views that challenge conventional evaluation criteria.

Not all books are created equal

If writing a book is what you ultimately decide to do, then there are additional decisions to be made.

First, junior colleagues are often counseled against writing a monograph early in their careers. The rationale behind this advice is that the considerable time and effort required might be better allocated towards activities such as producing peer-reviewed articles, enhancing teaching ability, engaging in service commitments, prioritizing personal well-being through activities like exercise, a hobby, and nurturing relationships with loved ones.

Second, sometimes young scholars are advised to try and carve up their dissertation into publishable articles. In many respects this approach is better said than done. Not all dissertations are amenable to being divided into separate parts. The individual chapters may be very general (as in mainly mini literature reviews) or too esoteric.

Third, if you are going to publish a book then it is important to consider the different types of books, publishers, and the quality of the press. The publishing landscape encompasses a spectrum of entities, ranging from textbook and trade publishers to university and scholarly presses. Some publishers at the university, commercial, and textbook levels specialize in publishing books on Crime, Criminology and Criminal Justice. And it’s worth spending some time looking at their lists otherwise you are probably going to waste your time (and become frustrated) submitting your work to publishers who are not interested in your work.

There are all types of books, including scholarly works, textbooks, sole-authored, co-authored and edited volumes. Each format carries its own set of advantages and disadvantages. And if you have a co-author or co-editor then additional considerations need to be taken into account. Thus it’s essential to discern which type of book and publisher best aligns with your objectives and audience.

Fourth, while some criminologists have successfully self-published books, occasionally resorting to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to cover production costs, I advise against this route. With few exceptions and contexts, if a book has merit, publishers should be responsible for covering the upfront expenses.

Fifth, it’s also a misconception that editing a book is inherently simpler than doing your own research and writing, but this is illusory.

Sixth, another highly touted strategy involves integrating some of your previously published articles and chapters in scholarly books, into a cohesive volume. However, executing this strategy, just like carving up your dissertation, is easier said than done and demands meticulous planning and execution.

Seventh, certain ideas may not lend themselves well to book-length treatments, particularly those of a narrow scope.

Finally, and perhaps most important, it’s imperative to dispel any illusions of achieving runaway bestseller status with your book. I recommend delving into insightful blog posts by thought leaders like Seth Godin and Tim Ferris, who offer sobering advice to people who are inclined to think this way.

Parting words

When all is said and done, the most important thing is to stop overthinking and take action. Conduct thorough research, write up your findings, and promptly submit your work to an appropriate publishing target. Too often, we get bogged down deliberating where to publish, delaying the completion of projects we started months (even years) ago. Difficult as it is, we need to break free from this cycle and commit to finishing what we’ve started. Take the leap, submit your work, and hopefully you will reap the rewards of seeing your efforts come to fruition.

What’s wrong with fixing it in the mix?

In 1997, jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogany (1958-2017) composed and performed a catchy melodic song titled “Fix It in the Mix.” Not only does the piece narrate the story of the challenges encountered during the recording of a song, but it also satirizes the music production process, highlighting a growing tendency (and perhaps an over-reliance) to address mistakes or shortcomings during the post-production phase.

Although initially appearing convenient, failing to rectify issues in the creative process as they arise can result in significant challenges later on. This dilemma is not unique to the music industry; it’s a common practice observed across various sectors, including construction. In this industry, stakeholders such as customers, architects, building inspectors, contractors, and subcontractors often identify imperfections and problems throughout the building process. These concerns are typically communicated to the contractor or project manager, who frequently assures other stakeholders that the issues will be addressed during the punch list process.

Similarly, in the publishing field, authors, contributors, and editors may identify gaps in arguments, missing, incomplete, or misidentified documentation, and problematic citations, but propose that they will be addressed in the final edit or in the proofs.

Why does this “Kicking the can down the road” exist in the creative process? 

The allure of fixing it in the mix is multifaceted. First, addressing issues immediately after their identification may inadvertently prolong the creative process and project. In construction, for instance, the required subcontractor or tradesperson may not be readily available, leading to unnecessary project delays and additional costs. Similarly, in the film and broadcasting industry, where studio and personnel time is expensive, the entity funding the project aims to minimize expenses.

Second, contractors, publishers, or producers may be reluctant to disrupt momentum. They seek to maintain the pace of progress and avoid halting ongoing momentum.

Third, creators themselves may be perceived as unnecessary dilettantes or perfectionists. They may prefer to take their time to ensure their approach is thorough, precise, reflects integrity and comes closest to their original idea of what the final product should look, sound, or feel like.

Why is “Fixing it in the Mix” a bad strategy? 

Once the musician reaches the mixing stage, the contractor addresses the punch list, and the authors review the proofs, a shift occurs in the dynamics among all parties involved. Initially, most primary actors involved in the creative process are exhausted from the process, perhaps even with each other.

Furthermore, it’s often discovered that neither the contractor, director, publisher, nor production engineer took adequate notes during the creative process regarding missing items (or if they did, the notes are incomplete or indecipherable). Some may hope that the customer or creator either overlooks or forgets to bring up these issues at the end, as they simply want to complete the project quickly and move on to the next job.

Consequently, it typically falls upon the customer or creator to remember, remind, and inform the contractor, recording engineer, or production company that it is their responsibility to implement the promised changes after the fact.

Unfortunately, during the final stages of the project, when reminded of these issues, contractors, production companies, or recording engineers may exhibit selective amnesia.

Alternatively, these actors may assert that the items left for the punch list or post production stage are now too difficult or costly to address at then.

Moreover, contractors, production companies, and recording engineers may try to minimize the value added that the requested changes will have on the final product.

Finally, in many cases, the problem may be too advanced to resolve without the alteration being noticeable in the completed product, and thus overall project quality. For instance, adding a bass player to a recorded song where none existed initially, installing a new window in a wall that has already been bricked up, plastered, and painted, or incorporating five new paragraphs in the proof stage, could disrupt pagination, indexing, and quotes provided to printers.

What is the solution to fixing it in the mix? 

Creators should not feel powerless in the face of these dynamics. If it is absolutely not possible to immediately fix things as the job progresses, here are some suggestions about dealing with the fix it in the mix challenges.

To begin with it’s important to keep detailed notes about the problems that arise so that you can refer to these issues when it comes time to remedy them. These notes should be stored in an easily accessible place (e.g., a computer file) located in a properly labeled directory that makes sense to you.

Periodically share these notes with everybody connected to the job. This has two effects. It forces the team members not to slack off during the production process and gives them a heads up that you are going to insist that they need to be addressed during the post production phase.

That being said, on the other end of the spectrum is the notion of slow productivity, currently popularized by Cal Newport.

In essence that argument is that sometimes if you are going to be doing great work, you need to slow down and work on a systematic basis. This is not possible for every type of creative activity, but it is an option worth considering.