Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
By LANA POPOVIC
With the digital revolution looming, a sense of helplessness and inevitability has seeped into the nooks and crannies of the publishing industry and lodged there. The print book is dying; behold its death throes and hear its piteous cries, as ebooks cannibalize print sales.
In the decades to come, publishing houses will wither and die, like tender spring buds scorched by global warming.
Doom is upon us. Wallow in the doom.
Yet against this woe-stricken backdrop and accompanying emo soundtrack, publishing initiatives are finding new ways to keep the print book relevant. One of these is an innovative, UK-based “purveyor of fine fiction”—& Other Stories, a non-profit collective that publishes fiction and literature in translation, based on recommendations gathered from the reading groups they organize and manage.
In return for this excellent power trip, subscribers help by emphasizing gaps in publishing, thereby giving rise to an ultimately personalized literary experience. Established by translator Stefan Tobler, a self-described Brazilian Englishman born in the Amazon, this non-profit organization relies on UK Arts Council funding, as well as subscription income, to publish translations and high-quality literature—often quirky choices that the market wouldn’t have gained access to otherwise.
So far, they have published only four books, including Juan Pablo Villalobos’s Down the Rabbit Hole (long-listed for the Guardian’s 2011 First Book Award), All the Lights by Clemens Meyer (translated from German), Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, and Open Door by Iosi Havilio (translated from Spanish).
As a non-profit, & Other Stories is shielded from the financial imperatives that drive for-profit publishing houses, leaving it free to pursue its own publishing goals while upholding a commitment to being green:
We use Forestry Stewardship Council paper from a UK printer, and once we have enough subscribers we plan to use local UK-sourced and -made recycled paper; the office’s electricity is from a renewable energy provider) and ethically minded (for example, we bank with an ethical bank, the Co-operative Bank).
Whether this particular venture is viable remains to be seen, but there is something uniquely appealing about a model so open to the opinions of those outside of the publishing industry. Could this pave the path to a new incarnation of the traditional publishing house, a crowd-sourced paradigm in which books to be published are determined by the many rather than the few?
While I believe that we should always rely on gatekeepers, arbiters of taste that prevent the market from being flooded with low-quality work, we are on the threshold of a future in which ebooks are poised to overtake print books. The stark and undeniable reality is that print books are likely to become souvenirs, remnants of a bygone age, and those of us who cherish and cling to books as objects will surely be delighted to participate in any process that will help ensure their continued existence.
Image Source: andotherstories.org