Dublin Book Festival 2012

The New Generation of Publishers: ebooks vs books, Dublin Book Festival 2012

There was a lively and sparky panel discussion last night in Smock Alley Theatre, as part of the 2012 Dublin Book Festival, when Kemberlee Shortland (Tirgearr Publishing), Antony Farrell (Lilliput Press), Eoin Purcell (New Island, Irish Publishing News, TheIrishStory.com) and I came together to compare experiences of working in digital publishing and to hazard guesses on the future of the industry. Eoin chaired the discussion and I must say, he played a blinder in prompting honest and stimulating responses from us, giving time to each of our distinct and lucid positions and steering the debate between us and our informed and ready audience.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to talk about the beginnings of THE SOUTH CIRCULAR, our experience so far and our dreams for the future of our ejournal. Preparing for the discussion, as it would place our work alongside such literary stalwarts as Lilliput Press and dynamic personae as Eoin and Kemberlee, was an extraordinary way to focus my mind on one particular aspect of our work which has become more and more important of late. Where to next? And how do we get there?

A lively debate also ensued on Twitter after the event and now seems a good time to finish a train of thought I began during the talk itself. It has since been suggested that I don’t actually like digital. I never said I don’t like digital. I said that ePub, the free publishing tool we use to produce each issue, has suited THE SOUTH CIRCULAR for starting out and for the time being. But that in order for our ejournal to compete on an international stage of digital periodical publications (like the McSweeney’s app, Letter to Jane, Moving Tales) we must gather a team of extremely talented, technologically creative practitioners; those who work every day in creative discovery via interactive design, graphic design, art direction and digital development. Those who are willing to consider the sociological, philosophical and anthropological consequences of the development of digital texts, what we now call eBooks. Those who are able to take the basic principles of text consumption, as it happens now and to think about and then create ways for the form to meet the challenge of the hypervoluminousness of digital.

Because I thoroughly agree with Craig Mod when he says the question is not ‘How do we change books to read them digitally?’ The more interesting question is, ‘How does digital change books?’

In order to bring these people together, in the hope that they may find a way to work together, I and my present team will continue to study the movements in these disciplines and will work towards an opportunity for collaboration. This is one of the huge advantages of working on a labour of love like THE SOUTH CIRCULAR; we can learn so much as we move towards a better format for our ejournal. Our aim is the same as any self-respecting literary publisher: to publish good work. It seems to us that the most expressively and coherent digital manifestations of this work are and will continue to be the textual products made for iPads, iPhones & Android phones. This is why we look at newspapers, magazines, other periodicals of short content. And so we applaud and we respect those publishers who are actively engaging with these coherent expressions as they are realized by interactive design, graphic design and digital art. And because we are not driven by sales or markets, we can afford to take the time to find the best digital form for the best textual content.