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Friday, 7 March 2008

Faber Rebooted

Stephen Page, publisher and chief Executive of Faber and Faber, has begun to see the digital light - or at least, some of its glow. While his brief article in The Guardian is hardly evangelical, it does seem to represent a conversion, for mainstream British publishing, away from a model that ignores social networking on the Internet, to one which seeks to grab hold of that platform, and haul bricks and mortar publishing, paper and all, into the 21st century. Eyewear has been arguing, in these unpapered but lettered pages, for just such a decision, for some time now, and welcomes Page's moves, to an extent.

However, if one reads closely, one will see that what is being proposed is not precisely an e-celebration. Rather, Faber is proposing to basically do what Salt Publishing already does - the "build it and they will come" approach, where a site offers cool things, around the books for sale (podcasts, and so on). This is not new; nor is the print-on-demand idea - many often smaller publishers already use this technology. Page risks appearing cynical if, as he suggests, the idea is to employ the energy and specialised interests of the web-world, in order to target more buyers. Publishing in the UK, as Eyewear has also suggested here, continues to miss the point of the literary Internet - that it thrives best when it is not simply, or even at all, about selling (though Amazon does that superbly). Wired and browsing readers with their own niche sites and interests, and the blogosphere, may resist being too-clearly targeted. However, as Faber is a business, some allowances can be made for the profit motive.

Still, as long as the editorial ethos of Faber remains relatively limited in scope, say in its poetry list, it will hardly be able to convincingly win over the younger generations who exist in cyberspace as much as anywhere. In other words: Faber's leap into Net-works should co-exist with a new leap into more innovative, democratic, and global editorial selections, for their poetry. You may have a cool new delivery system for your content, but so what, if the writing isn't, as it were, on the wall? There are dozens of very fine younger and emerging UK poets that Faber might've snapped up (let alone Indian, Canadian and American ones). Salt and Bloodaxe and Carcanet (and so on) have got there first. The "vision thing" isn't just a little machine for selling books. Page needs to get new poets on his pages.
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