Vox: Sam Twyford-Moore
Print vs digital? I think we’ll eventually pound one of them into submission. Print will probably just bow out, sort of wounded and hurt after being told it’s dead so many times. Or digital will turn around and say, “Listen Jack, I’m a star” and die of auto-asphyxiation in some disgusting hotel room after letting it all go to its head. I don’t really care either way. It’s a bit of a boring conversation to me. Part of that boredom is because it’s like talking about the type of paper, rather than what is written on it. Which is to say, that we’re really caught up in the way we deliver information rather than the information itself. We’ve been acting accordingly – like tech-heads rather than writers – for a while now, and I don’t think I’m alone in looking forward to getting over this moment of technological transition and taking part in a deeper cultural discussion.
If we really want to get into that discussion though: one of the reasons that the debate is so incessant, is that we have literary journals – who for some reason seem to be caught in a much trickier position than mainstream books – that still have a foot in both camps, so it naturally becomes about the big VS thing we’re talking about. With some of the literary journals it feels like they’re just working on these websites out of some misguided sense of obligation and they are yet to offer content that differs from their print version. There are others – Overland, in particular, based on the strength of its blog – which I imagine would get on fine without a print version, but that very much depends on how switched on and online your readers are.
For now, those magazines will keep doing both digital and print and maybe the best thing is to do both simultaneously, but with equal creativity. The Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories – an anthology of fiction resulting from a monthly short story event held in Sydney – got it right when they produced an objet d’art hardcover book – with limited edition wrap around print, prose poem cover and individual design for each story – as well as releasing an app for the iPhone and IPad with a much more perfunctory layout. This version, however, included audio versions of the stories in the book, recorded and read aloud by their authors and so captured something of the spirit of the live event that the book is based on. That’s the best case of working on both sides of the digital divide.
Going Down Swining produced a really messy and risky Epub version of their literary journal, which turned out to be excellent and very exciting, but now they’re following it up with the regular print version. I saw a copy the other night at the Sydney launch, which was held, funnily enough, at Penguin Plays Rough. It came with a CD and lift-out poster, in a beautiful cardboard-coloured cover – and while I will probably buy it eventually, I didn’t feel the need to buy it right there on the spot as I once might have. Partly that had to do with the fact that I got to watch videos in the middle of that Epub issue, while this one remained stubbornly static when I picked it up. There will be a point when I can step back from this next-ness of technology, but for the moment there is an “… oooh, look at that!” level of distraction.
This is all hypocritical, holier-than-thou bullshit on my part though – because, ultimately, if I was sitting with a publisher, I’d probably still want them to commit to a print version of my book. If they said they would commit to a print version but with no ebook follow-up, I probably wouldn’t care all that much. So I am, in fact, invested in one over the other and far more conservative than I might otherwise like to think.