McSweeney’s: Kindle what?

Sophie Rochester, Editor

Edinburgh hosted its first Electric Bookshop event at the University of Edinburgh’s Inspace venue last night and The Literary Platform was delighted to be invited along to share the platform with so-laid-back-he-was-reclining Eli Horowitz from McSweeney’s books, live from San Francisco. The event was pulled together by an enthusiastic Electric Bookshop team led by Peggy Hughes: everyone was interested in books and digital (some of them working at Scottish Booktrust or the Scottish Poetry Library).

Eli Horowitz was first up and managed to confirm all our preconceptions about working in San Francisco – white teeth and in recline. He was asked why McSweeney’s had chosen to retain its simple Internet Tendency website as they’ve stuck with the same simple layout (basically listing new content) for many years. Horowitz explained that the website was conceived in the late 90s – at a time when everyone seemed to be using the web to create the most elaborate, Flash-driven sites possible. McSweeney’s reacted against this, creating a site that was all about getting to the writing. Though this site may be redeveloped soon, it sounded as though McSweeney’s will keep it simple. Good news.

Electric Bookshop also asked Horowitz about the Small Chair app developed by Russell Quinn. He explained how McSweeney’s has some more digital projects in the pipeline and that Russell Quinn, now in-house as Digital Media Director for McSweeney’s, was working on some ideas. We’ll be looking out for those then. (You can read our earlier interview with Russell Quinn on the site here.)

What was particularly refreshing was Horowitz’s response to the launch of Kindle Singles – something he knew nothing about – which in itself made him a man after our collective hearts. He seemed confident that this would have no impact on the kind of literary content that they were publishing and McSweeney’s didn’t seem to have any plans to turn its back on long-form narrative for the sake of an eReader, as demonstrated by their publication of Adam Levin’s The Instructions (UK rights just bought by Canongate) – a whopping 1000 page novel.

We did our bumbling talky bit too and had some interesting questions from a very nicely turned out audience (Edinburgh’s book geeks dress well!). What The Literary Platform hoped to communicate was that while this noisy debate continues around digital publishing – DRM, Piracy, etc. – that there continues to be an explosion of amazing literary projects launching on new platforms – many in print format, even vinyl format – just experimenting and having fun. Questions included: Do authors need a publisher? Should we listen to book bloggers? How can we marry up the artists and the geeks? Will social media calm down at some point?  What is the future of publishing? All questions that we can’t really answer – but hey, we can have some fun discussing them…