Here is a blog piece I came upon in April of this year and was published on the old blog: http://blog.nosadigital.com. I thought it only appropriate to republish even though so much has happened in such a short time.
This blog piece comes from the Guardian Newspaper on the 14th of July 2009. The piece written by Sam Jordison is titled "Can a new publisher flourish?" With most publishers battling one another on price and new digital formats, can a new publisher thrive in this jungle? We must also not forget the issue of digital rights management (DRM) when it comes to eBooks. Publishers not ready for these issues will not last long in the market place. Not to mention an unwillingness by customers to pay the same price for an eBook as a print book. Anyway, enjoy the piece; your comments are most welcome.
Last weekend, I drove down the Suffolk coast to Aldeburgh to witness the launch of an increasingly rare phenomenon: the first book of a new publishing house. This new venture is Full Circle Editions, set up by Bloomsbury co-founder and Harry Potter discoverer-in-chief Liz Calder, together with TV producers John and Genevieve Christie and a former editor of the Bookseller, Louis Baum.
The book – called The Burning Of The Books – is also a collaborative effort; between the poet George Szirtes and the artist Ronald King. It's printed on creamy tactile paper, complete with luxurious fold-outs. Genevieve Christie sells it as "wonderful writing in a lovely form" and the prints spread out about the room certainly looked good. The Guernica-influenced pictures, etched in white and black (heavy on the black) have a dark kind of beauty. I wasn't really in a position to judge the poem – a busy room full of noisy, bread-stick munching paragons of the chattering class is no place to form an opinion about such an involved work – but it did have a certain sombre weight and words that would – at the least – be worth more detailed study.
But I was there out of curiosity about the new publishing house as much as the physical product. There's an inherent interest in all these big names getting together – especially now, when publishing is so mired in difficulties: when small presses such as the much-loved Dedalus are lurching from crisis to crisis, bigger houses are announcing job losses every other week and cynical marketers are attempting to stifle the variety and independence of publishing outlets yet further by locking us into dependence on purchasing hubs such as the Kindle – a device with fire-based säuberung embedded in its name and repression in its DRM-infected software.
Setting up a new publishing house in the teeth of recession seems therefore almost like an act of rebellion – especially when the house in question is dedicated to the promotion of the value of books as objects, and whose first release is – significantly – a reworking of Elias Canetti's book-destruction nightmare, Auto Da Fé.
Certainly Liz Calder sounded defiant when I was introduced to her. Full Circle Editions, she said, is emphatically not "profit oriented, market driven or celebrity ridden." Meanwhile, she and her fellow directors want to "produce beautiful books without marketing people telling you that you can't do it." It sounded to me like she was releasing some of the vexations built up at the head of what became one of the biggest commercial publishing operations on planet earth, and she agreed that she was realising a "frustrated ambition".
If you were to look at it cynically, you could describe this publishing operation as something of an indulgence. You might also get that impression from the party's location in sleepy, prosperous, comfortable Aldeburgh: Bloomsbury-on-sea, but without the museums. And it would be all too easy to form a prejudice about the appearance of the crowd gathered for the launch: a dignified selection of prosperous white-haired men with shirts tucked into neatly pressed trousers, and elegant women in the not-too-flowery flowing dresses favoured by the ageing intelligentsia.
Finally, the limited print run and marketing of the books has a taint of hobbyism about it too. But I'd prefer not to be cynical for once. Who, after all, would forbid someone like Liz Calder an indulgence – especially if the net result is an attractive, intellectually provocative book that maintains a sharp edge and dark heart in spite of its cosy origins?
So I found myself warming to the event, even if it did give me a sudden, bleak vision of the possible future of book publishing: one rather like the past we're supposed to have escaped, in which worthwhile paper books are the exclusive play-thing of a well-to-do elite, and, in the place of the church, DRM-wielding gate-keepers control access for the rest of us.
Then again, if the cartoonist Glen Baxter (one of several of Liz Calder's successful protégés who put in an appearance) is to be believed, this launch wasn't entirely unlike the beginning of Bloomsbury – which also began in elitist fashion in the middle of a recession. And we all know how that ended. Perhaps there is some cause for hope here. The irresistible pun will come true and things will come full circle. "This is Liz Calder," Glen Baxter said. "And she'll just keep going and going. She won't stop … "