Coffee House Press of Minnesota is a national treasure. Few independent literary presses can match its long record of publishing some of the finest fiction and poetry in America. I talked to publisher Allan Kornblum, associate publisher Chris Fishbach, and managing editor Antira Budd about the press's history and prospects, and about the challenges and rewards of independent publishing in general. Perhaps some budding literary entrepreneurs out there will be inspired by this great success story!
Shivani: Coffee House Press is one of the more established and prominent of the independent literary presses in this country. Could you please talk about the evolution of the press in its very early days and in its maturity?
Allan Kornblum: In December 1969, I was working the midnight-to-eight-thirty shift at the Grand Central Station post office in NYC, and attending poetry workshops at the St. Mark's Church Poetry Project. One evening, the workshop leader told us that we had been asked to help collate the pages of a mimeographed magazine. In one of the back rooms of the old church, we were greeted by a group of 2 x 6 foot tables, each with five stacks of 250 pages. When I completed my assigned portion, I sidled up to the editor, told him how much I liked his magazine, asked if he'd like to see some of my work. He looked off in the distance, sighed and said, "I've always thought poetry should be as hard to break into as the Longshoreman's Union." To hell with him, I thought--I'll start my own. I've always been grateful for that kick in the pants, which can sometimes be far more productive than well-intended encouragement.
I had already planned to attend the University of Iowa next year, so I told all my NYC friends that I was going to start a magazine following my relocation. And when I arrived in Iowa City in July 1970, I started looking for poets as lively as the ones I'd met in New York. By the end of August, I had produced the first issue of Toothpaste magazine. In September, I signed up for a class called Intro to Typography, hoping it would help me understand the publishing process when, in the future, some NYC publishing house accepted my first book. Instead I discovered the class was an introduction to letterpress printing. I was a bit put off at first--until I handset some type and pulled my first proof.
It was as if I had been struck by lightning and been reborn. For my class project I printed a little pamphlet of my own poems, which showed no signs of typographic talent or taste. But I had fallen in love with the craft, and was determined to learn. Over the next few years, I published seven mimeographed issues of Toothpaste, and three mimeographed books, while beginning to learn the craft and history of letterpress printing and small press publishing. During that time, I began to realize I would be able to continue learning about publishing for the rest of my life--a revelation with tremendous appeal to an idealistic young person. Today, I only wish I had a second lifetime to continue my studies.
I moved from New York, hoping that poetry would turn out to be my life's work, and hoping, as the song of the day put it, "to find somebody to love." By 1973 I was married, had purchased a printing press and (with family help) a house, and was starting to publish books under the Toothpaste Press imprint. During the next ten years I continued learning the craft of letterpress printing, while publishing approximately seventy books and pamphlets, printing another dozen books on commission, and knocking off well over a hundred broadsides, and countless posters for poetry readings.
By 1983 I had learned about editing, book design, marketing, publicity, sales, and bookkeeping. But when I finally sat down to do the math, I realized that if I were to continue as a letterpress printer, I had to move into the $300.00 per copy range, and cultivate rare book collectors instead of contemporary writers and readers who wanted a challenge. I know some great people who went the "rare book" route, and they have produced works of surpassing imagination and inspiration. It just wasn't the right road for me.
In May 1984, we closed out the Toothpaste Press imprint, and incorporated Coffee House Press as a Minnesota nonprofit, and later that month, over Memorial Day weekend, we exhibited our first fall list at the ABA convention at Moscone Center in San Francisco, with galleys of the new titles, and the last letterpress titles from Toothpaste. By fall 1985 my wife and I had sold our Iowa home and moved to the Twin Cities, where Coffee House served as the first "visiting press in residence" at the new Minnesota Center for Book Arts in downtown Minneapolis. Three years later, we moved into our own quarters, a block away. We began establishing our new identity with a continuing string of trade books, while holding onto the past for a while, with a secondary list of letterpress pamphlets published under the Morning Coffee Chapbook Series imprint. During our first ten years as Coffee House, we published thirty letterpress chapbooks, and three deluxe letterpress titles in the $300-$500 range, just to see if we could do it. The deluxe books each won citations from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, including a 50 Best Designed Books of the Year award.
But combining a letterpress printing with a small, rapidly growing literary publishing house became complicated and counterproductive. Although no press release was ever produced to announce the change, by the end of 1994 we had completed our last letterpress title. Our identity was continuing to evolve, as it has ever since, but we had established our reputation in the literary and publishing communities as one of the top small literary presses with a strong multicultural list, and as one of the presses that might prove to be a survivor.
And survive we did. Today, we have an outstanding staff, and we're in the middle of a carefully planned leadership transition. Chris Fischbach will become publisher in July, and I'll continue at the press as founder/senior editor, gradually reducing my hours over the next decade, while doing some writing and consulting. Meanwhile Coffee House Press is poised for continued growth, with a new website, a redesigned database, and a backlist that provides half our annual book sales income. I look forward to watching Coffee House grow under a new generation of leadership. Nothing is given, but if my health holds out, I'll be celebrating the press's thirty-fifth anniversary in 2019, my fiftieth year in publishing in 2020, and my wife and I will celebrate our fiftieth anniversary in 2022. I look forward to popping a lot of champagne corks.
Shivani: What were some of the most difficult challenges you had to overcome before CHP hit its stride?
Kornblum: I was an English major, who in turn hired other English majors, and invited yet other English majors to join our board. And there we were, running a small arts organization that grew ten-fold in ten years. Although I had already served my own kind of apprenticeship during the Toothpaste Press period, I still had a lot to learn about the publishing business, about scheduling, staff development and supervision, business management, and fundraising, all while the press was growing by leaps and bounds. Realizing I was in a growing business and developing all the skills I needed on the fly--that was quite the challenge.
Shivani: Is it fair to say that most of the important/innovative poetry in this country is being published by independent presses?
Chris Fishbach: Yes, this is a fair assessment, if only because probably 99% of the poetry actually published in this country is by independent presses. But "important" and "innovative" are very different terms. I'd say that all or most of the big houses are publishing some important work, since what they publish is work that is respected and read by many people in the poetry world who are respected by other poetry readers (how is that for circular logic?). But innovative? It depends on whom you ask, I suppose. But since you are asking me, let's just say that I tend to not look to the big houses to find out what is innovative these days. Sometimes I wonder if "important" and "innovative" are even what I care about when I read poetry.
Kornblum: I think it's fair to say that the major publishing houses are staffed with gifted professionals who would love to publish more poetry. But to the people who pay their salaries, thinking a year ahead is long-range planning--building a backlist of poetry that might take five-to-ten years to start making money seems ridiculous. So a few senior editors might get to pick a few poetry books, but they would love to do more if they could. However the money-people do have a point--poetry books don't sell the kind of numbers needed to pay the rent and make the payroll. As a result most poetry books are published by nonprofit literary presses that receive donated income to cover a portion of their costs; they're published by university presses, which are also subsidized; and they're published by very small presses that publish one or two books a year, and don't know how to reach the review media or get their books into the stores. Of course when I began publishing, back in the 1970s, we were all in the same "micro press" boat; now there's a top tier of small indie presses that are routinely reviewed in PW, LJ, and on the best of the internet sites, and have national distribution to indie booksellers, to the chains, and to Amazon. Coffee House was among the presses that contributed to the development of that tier, and we work hard to remain worthy of our reputation. But we respect our colleagues at the major houses, and are not arrogant enough to believe that true editorial wisdom is the special province of the small indies.
Shivani: Let's talk about some recent books that have especially struck me. Dear Sandy: Letters from Ted to Sandy Berrigan is a new book of Ted Berrigan's letters to his wife Sandy. It's one of the year's most important literary events. Tell us how this book came into being.
Kornblum: Coffee House has been associated with the New York School poets from its inception. Personally, I actually had a class with Ted Berrigan in the spring of 1970, just before I moved to Iowa. Ted had just moved back to New York from Iowa, and as I later learned, the woman I wound up marrying did some babysitting for Ted and Sandy in Iowa City. When Ted died shortly after we made the transition from Toothpaste to Coffee House, we published Nice To See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited by Anne Waldman, which included poems, stories, essays, and drawings by Ted's many friends and students. Later on, we wound up becoming the primary publisher for Ron Padgett's poetry, and so when Sandy Berrigan talked to Ron about turning these letters into a book, Ron turned to Coffee House.
Editing these letters brought up a lot of very interesting issues. Do you reproduce every typo the author made in a love letter written in the heat of the moment, or do you fix the typos as the author would have, if he were there to supervise the book? I'll let Chris talk about those discussions, and the extremes he went to, including a trip to New York to look at some of Ted's other letters at the Columbia University Library. Chris and Ron worked hard to earn the starred review the book received from PW.
Shivani: Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Awards. What is your history with Karen? Can there be broader readership for works of this experimental nature?
Anitra Budd: One of our authors said something I found very enlightening about so-called "experimental" literature (as an aside, I worry that the term "experimental" has too much baggage to be truly useful in discussing literature, but that's another story). A reporter, after hearing the description of this author's admittedly complex novel, said "Wow, that sounds really complicated." The author immediately responded "No! It's not really complicated. If you like Lost, you'll like this book." What struck me about her answer was the idea that while people routinely bemoan the lack of readers for innovative literature, millions of viewers religiously tuned in to a television show that was incredibly complicated and, dare I say, experimental in its storytelling. I'm sure that many of these people didn't consider themselves consumers of experimental media; they were just drawn to a well-told, well-paced mystery with complex characters. Could these viewers apply the same fervent attention to experimental literature? I'd like to think so. I think part of the challenge we face as a publisher is convincing readers that words like "experimental" and "innovative" can encompass a wide range of artistic expression, and shouldn't automatically signal "too intellectual" or "unrelatable."
Kornblum: History: In January 1989, Karen sent me a query letter along with a first chapter of a book she called O Matacao. That sample chapter introduced a Japanese man who promptly fell off a cliff. When the man awoke, a little ball was floating six inches in front of his head. And it turned out that the ball was going to be the narrator for much of the book. I was captivated immediately, and asked for the entire manuscript. I didn't hear from her. After a while, I actually dug out her query again, and sent another letter asking for the complete manuscript again--that's how much that sample chapter had impressed me. It finally arrived later that fall, and I brought it with me when we drove down to Iowa to visit my in-laws for Thanksgiving. On the way back to the Twin Cities, my wife took a turn at the wheel, and I started reading the manuscript. With every page, my excitement grew. I wanted to share the energy, and started reading aloud to my wife. I kept thinking about how much I had loved V by Thomas Pynchon, when I read it in high school, and I wondered how I had gotten so lucky to have a manuscript that great, sitting in my lap. After some editing and a title change, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest came out on our fall 1990 list, and we sold out of the first printing of 3,000 copies in the first three weeks. I Hotel was Karen's fifth book, and that sense of excitement I had back in 1989 has never gone away. Karen and I are only two years apart; and all four of my grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe, while all four of hers immigrated from Japan. So, to some extent, I think of her as a favorite, distantly related cousin, as well as a gifted author with an international vision, who has honored us by giving us the opportunity to present her work to the world.
Readership: Your question begs a return question--how broad is broad? Karen's third book, Tropic of Orange, was published in 1997, and since then, we have sold 20,700 copies. I Hotel has sold more than 10,000 copies in its first year, helped along with that boost from the National Book Awards recognition. Had the book won, we would definitely have doubled that number quickly. No, those aren't best-seller numbers, but there isn't a publisher in New York that would sniff at those sales--and for experimental fiction, those are eye-opening numbers. The major publishers have a little secret that most people don't know--other than brand-name authors, most books don't sell more than 5,000 copies, and that's at Random House as well as at Coffee House. I'm not going to moan about living in a world that doesn't value experimental fiction, when people are still being evicted from their homes every day. I have no complaints about our audience. Readers are out there--it's part of our job to reach them.
Shivani: Among your best recent poetry books are Steve Healey's 10 Mississippi and Julie Carr's Sarah--Of Fragments and Lines. Very different aesthetics. How do you come to consensus at the house about which books to publish?
Fishbach: We don't always come to a consensus. However, when Allan hired me, fifteen years ago, part of the interview process was a discussion of which poets I admired and why, so he knew that there was a certain shared aesthetic between us. However, we do have differing opinions, and there are poets on our list that would not have been Allan's first choice, and vice versa. But for the vast majority of our poets, we agree. I'm lucky that for the past ten years or so Allan has more or less trusted me to acquire whichever poets I wanted.
As for the titles you mention, the answer is not that easy since Julie's book came to us through the National Poetry Series. We chose the judge, Eileen Myles, because we admire her work, but she chose the book. We think it's a great book, but it might not have even been submitted to us, had it not won that contest. Maybe it would have.
A large portion of Steve's book engages in documentary poetics, and if you look carefully at our list, there is a strong strain of that here. Ed Sanders, of course, but also Brenda Coultas, Mark Nowak, Paul Metcalf, Anne Waldman, and so on. That, and you can also trace Steve back to the New York School if you take a slight detour through Northampton.
Budd: Some of our greatest strength stems from having editors who have been associated with the press for a long time: Allan, our founder, still acquires and edits books; Chris has been with the press since 1994; and I've worked with the press in different capacities for nearly a decade. Because of all this experience, we each have a very strong and intuitive sense of what a Coffee House Press book is. We also trust each other implicitly--because of that trust, I always understand why we make the publishing decisions we do, even when, as Chris says, a title isn't necessarily my first choice.
Kornblum: Answer 1: Chris and I agreed on most of the books we selected over the years. But Chris and I had a spoken agreement that we could each pick at least one book a year that the other didn't like. That way we avoided "committee think." And now Chris is developing a similar working relationship with Anitra. At Coffee House we have fostered a culture of mutual respect, and given our staff room to work and grow. That was always a priority for me, and I can tell that Chris feels the same way, as I watch him conduct staff meetings.
Answer 2: Chris once told me that he sometimes envisioned Coffee House as an ever-expanding table, with all our authors seated, reading their work to each other in an ongoing conversation. Well, if all our authors represented one aesthetic, what would they have to talk about? We believe there's room for an endless variety of writers and writing styles at our table, along with endless refills made from freshly ground French roast.
Shivani: Andrew Ervin's Extraordinary Renditions, a collection of loosely linked novellas, was one of the year's most memorable books of fiction. Did you work closely with Andrew on editing the book? How did the book come to your attention?
Fishbach: I worked very closely with Andrew on this book. However, I have a policy of not being public about the extent of the editorial process between author and editor. It's like the doctor-patient privilege. If he wants to discuss that, he should feel free to.
The book came to my attention in a very old-fashioned way. Andrew approached me at a bar during AWP and asked me if I would consider his book. I asked him to tell me about it, he did, and I said yes, please send it. I read it, and then I called his agent and told him we'd love to publish it. Not a very exciting story, really, but I guess it's important because as an editor I want to be known as being approachable, not hidden away in my office, protected by assistants and interns. Everyone at Coffee House feels it's important for us to be out in the world.
Budd: Without revealing too much about the editing of Extraordinary Renditions, I can say that throughout the process Andrew exhibited one of the traits that is most common among our authors: he sweated the small stuff. I've heard horror stories from industry colleagues about authors who feel that copyediting and proofreading is somehow beneath their concern. This couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to Andrew, and to our authors in general. He gave just as much attention to the placement of a comma, or the choice of one word over another, as he did to every other part of the editorial process. It's this level of professionalism and attentiveness among our authors that makes it really easy to love my job.
Shivani: Two important veteran poets you have recently brought again to prominence are Ed Sanders and Bill Berkson, the former generally classifiable under the Beat category and the latter under the New York School. I cannot think of two poets more worthy of broader acclaim.
Kornblum: Well, of course we're pleased that you feel that way, as we do. But since you didn't supply a question, allow me to ask one, and then answer it. Why is a small indie press taking the financial risks involved in publishing major selecteds and collecteds, the kind of book that used to come from Knopf, and Harcourt?
First of all, Knopf still does publish major poetry books, as does Penguin and HarperCollins through Ecco Press, among others. And small presses aren't new to major titles--New Directions published Patterson by Williams, and The Cantos by Pound. And of course Shakespeare and Company published the first edition of Joyce's Ulysses. We have examples to draw on.
As to Coffee House: We have told a number of our authors that we believe in them and their work, and will be there for them throughout their entire career--if they want us. But if we want them to make such a commitment to us, we need to be able to meet their publishing needs as their careers advance. Taking on titles like the Sanders and the Berkson books is simply the fulfillment of part of our mission. And we're by no means the only indie press capable of publishing major collections in addition to the more typical 90-page poetry book. Good indie presses can now provide career-long support to writers.
But beyond the internal capacity to print such books, indie presses are taking the necessary steps to assure their long-term survival. Copper Canyon Press, Graywolf Press, BOA Editions, and Milkweed Editions, are all in their second generation of leadership, and Coffee House Press is in the process of completing a leadership transition right now. This development, in part, is a reflection of the maturation of these publishers' boards. They have realized the responsibility publishing important books entails, and by seeing their organizations through leadership transition, they have secured a portion of our literary patrimony for future generations. At Coffee House, we're pleased to be participating in this process.
Shivani: A young African American poet with great technical verve is Akilah Oliver, whose A Toast in the House of Friends you recently published. What is unique about this collection?
Fishbach: I love how Akilah transforms her grief about her son into a gathering of language that feels new, that walks the line between spoken and written traditions, that combines memory and anger using various cultural artistic traditions to make something new. I love the way her language interacts with the visuals. I love how it's a book of the city that feels authentic. I love that it's a book that feels like it can do something, that it can both be read as a wonderful work of art and as a tool for change. I love how she fits into the Coffee House list that triangulates around Anne Waldman, Brenda Coultas, and Quincy Troupe.
Shivani: Perhaps your best-known recent book is Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Along with Blood Dazzler, you also published, at the same time, Andrei Codrescu's Jealous Witness and Raymond McDaniel's Saltwater Empire. Again, three distinct styles, the last belonging to language poetry, yet unified by the theme of Hurricane Katrina. These three seem to have been the most important poetry books dedicated to the disaster.
Kornblum: It was a responsibility to publish those responses, and a pleasure to hear such distinctly different voices and perspectives. At times, Andrei Codrescu seemed shocked that he could be shocked by a government, after growing up in Stalinist Romania. He almost wanted to go back to being jaded, to being bemused by inaction and corruption wreaking havoc with people's lives. But the scale was so large, that Katrina just blew away his Eastern European cynicism.
Patricia Smith grew up in Chicago, another city defined in part by water, and in part by political corruption, just like New Orleans. But Patricia didn't react to Katrina's victims--rather, they inhabited her, they spoke through her, they screamed through her. Each time she reads those poems, those people live again.
Ray McDaniel was the only Gulf Coast native of the three, the only one who had the smell of that sea in his nostrils from birth. I heard such a deep, resigned pain and sadness in his voice, as he went back to the place he once called home...but this time it wasn't just difficult to recognize because "you can't step into the same river twice" or "you can't go home again"--this time home, in all its complexity, simply wasn't there.
Shivani: In light of these and other successes, what can you say about the abilities required in the current economic and cultural environment to make a success of an independent press?
Kornblum: The e-book represents evolution, not revolution. But it does present a new set of challenges, which are certainly compounded by the current economic and cultural environment. I mentioned my love of the history of the book--I believe it might prove helpful to consider the values and innovations the Renaissance publishers introduced when they created the printed book, as we know it, between 1450-1600.
SPEED: Handset type may seem slow and clunky today, but it was the internet of the time, producing multiple copies of books at what seemed like lightning speed. This is the only value that the printed book has, in fact, lost forever to the new media.
ADVOCACY: The Renaissance publishers believed fiercely in the importance of the books they published, and their capacity to change the world. Today, major houses only publish books if they believe they can make money from them. Not quite the same thing.
ACCURACY: Suddenly it was possible to proofread a text, make corrections, pull a second proof, and make a final round of corrections before printing. Today we have not only taken this advantage for granted, major houses have practically abandoned editing and proofreading to save a dime and increase their profit margin.
ARCHIVE-ABILITY: Print a thousand copies of a printed book, and odds are, even through fire, flood, or the ravages of war, a copy will survive somewhere, somehow. How much confidence can we have that books published in e-book format only, will be readable in twenty-five years, fifty years, a hundred years? I own books that old, and I don't need an upgrade to read them.
ACCESSIBILITY: Computer access, internet access, or a reliable source of electricity--none of these are required to read a printed book. In a second-hand bookstore, all of history and literature are available very inexpensively--and in a library, books are free. We are in danger of recreating the world of haves and have-nots in this exciting information age. The printed book continues to remain more accessible on any income level, than any other form of information.
BEAUTY: A mass-market paperback may not be a thing of beauty, but a well-printed book can lift the spirit at a glance, like the best works of art. Goodness knows our spirits need lifting these days.
The printed book cannot compete with the internet for speed, but publishers can and should own all those other values. We should believe in the books we publish, and publish books we can believe in; those books should be carefully and responsibly edited and proofed; printed with materials that are made to last; available as possible to readers; and designed with the same care their authors take, on every single page. Those are the values that should drive every publisher, corporate-owned or indie.
Are indies better positioned to take advantage of the rapid changes going on in publishing and bookselling? Maybe--new ideas reach decision-making levels at an indie press when someone walks across a room and knocks on a door; at the major houses, new ideas have to make their way through several levels of management, and major initiatives need approval from the money-people, and the legal department. Advantage indies.
But if a new initiative falls through, the major houses have backlists that provide more than 50% of their annual income in sales and subsidiary rights. And those same money-people who can slow things down, can provide the resources to cover the cost of failed initiatives without putting the entire house at risk. Advantage majors.
Publishing is one of those places where art and commerce meet, and a press that forgets to mind the store in the excitement of the moment, can lose the store, and hurt their authors and their readers in the process. Indies need to take advantage of their ability to be nimble, control the costs of new initiatives, and live up to the values that made the publishing industry the heart of the marketplace of ideas, and the expression of the yearnings of the heart.
Shivani: Can you propose structural reforms, in the publishing and bookselling industries in general, to make independent presses more viable?
Kornblum: I have heard this question from many small press publishers over the years. "Why can't we," they ask, "demand that Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or Baker & Taylor, or RR Bowker, change their way of doing business, in order help indie presses?"
This year six of the twenty finalists for the National Book Awards came from indie presses; the Pulitzer Prize for fiction went to an indie press; indies have never been more visible in the publishing world. But we still don't have enough financial clout to insist that that the industry be remade for our viability. Rather than imagine telling the major publishers and chain booksellers how they should change for our convenience, we need to know the industry inside and out, and find allies to help us face the challenges that we are actually all facing together.
Shivani: What is the future of reading in America? Is there a danger that technology is becoming an aid to closure of thought rather than its expansion?
Budd: Suppositions about the future of anything are usually pure fantasy, so I won't add mine to the pile. Let's just say that I'm excited about the future of reading, whatever it may hold. No matter how many predictions I read about the coming extinction of the American reader, I still see people glued to books and newspapers and Kindles whenever I'm out and about. Maybe I'm biased because we're based in Minneapolis, which has a reputation for being a very literate city.
When it comes to the question of technology and reading, I do have one big concern: a potential gulf between the digital haves and have-nots. I don't want to live in a world where the information in books is only accessible to people who can afford (and are comfortable using) an e-reader or a computer. I also worry about the increasingly pervasive attitude I sense in our industry that technology, in and of itself, is automatically a good thing (and I say this as a person who loves technology). Without an initial focus on finding, acquiring, and shaping the best possible work, worrying about whether that work is simultaneously released as a e-book or paired with a custom app feels like putting the cart firmly before the horse.
Fishbach: The future of reading in America is up to readers and writers. It's not up to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Google. It's not up to panelists at BEA or Frankfurt. Anyone who tells you they know what the future will be like is trying to sell you something.
Kornblum: I believe that anyone who lasts longer than a few years in publishing has to have an optimism gene that overrides cynicism, regardless of evidence. I believe that as soon as humans began using language, one person turned to another and said, I have a story to tell. The desire to tell a story, and the desire to hear it, is imprinted in our genes. I believe the pleasure of experiencing that story on a printed page has also been imprinted in our genes, and it's not going away soon.
I also believe the words ascribed to Mark Twain and William Gladstone: There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics. Finally I believe one should always be wary when declaring that the younger generation is going to the dogs.
In other words, there will always be new readers in America. But I am equally confident that there will always be people who will use whatever media might be available, to oversimplify complex ideas for money, power, and the glorification of their ego. In every generation there have been moments when it seemed as if such voices would drown out all reasonable discourse--but they never do. That doesn't mean such people can't do serious damage--they can. But don't blame technology.
And do be aware of how the professional researchers in many fields are using internet-supplied input from amateurs for many kinds of research, ranging from biology to cosmography. Think about how many people have contributed to Wikipedia, and the Internet Movie Database. We're just beginning to discover what might come of linking the world electronically. I can't wait to see what comes next. But then, I always liked a good story.