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The Electric Bookshop

November 19th, 2010 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on The Electric Bookshop
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Padmini, Peggy and Claire at the Electric Bookshop.

Padmini, Peggy and Claire at the Electric Bookshop. Photo credit: Chris Scott

On the evening of Wednesday 27th October I travelled to Edinburgh to attend the first Electric Bookshop event along with three other classmates who had also managed to secure free tickets in advance. We were all looking forward to an online Skype interview with McSweeney’s Managing Director, Eli Horowitz, and a presentation by Sophie Rochester of Fiction Uncovered and The Literary Platform, as well as the opportunity to meet and mingle with publishers and others in the book industry. We weren’t disappointed!

The venue was Inspace, on the ground floor of University of Edinburgh’s Informatics building, a beautiful, sleek and modern glass building on Crichton Street, and, arriving there early, we were immediately welcomed by our Publishing Dynamics lecturer, Padmini Ray Murray and Peggy Hughes (Communications Officer at the Scottish Poetry Library) who, along with Claire Stewart from the Scottish Book Trust, are the minds behind the Electric Bookshop. It was still quite early when we arrived so we were kindly told to make ourselves comfortable and help ourselves to some yummy sparkling wine. In keeping with the ultra modern setting, the place boasted state of the art Mac equipment and fantastically hypnotic visual lights graphics streaming on the walls. As we watched Padmini test the Skype connections from the amphitheatre style seating, the place started to fill up with Edinburgh’s trendy bookish people. There were a couple of little glitches (isn’t there always with Skype!), but before long we were listening to Eli Horowitz all the way from San Francisco!

I have to admit I was a little surprised. From what I knew about McSweeney’s publishing house, I don’t think I had been expecting a corporate suited businessman, but I hadn’t been expecting a rather young bearded man in a hoodie either! Mr Horowitz was insouciant, very affable, and I definitely got the impression that he loved his job. His easy manner and clothes made me think of how I’ve heard google.com employees work, and I wondered if perhaps McSweeney’s have the same innovative yet relaxed attitude towards the workplace. Maybe America’s the place to be!

Padmini asked him some questions she had prepared and then took some questions from the audience. Unsurprisingly many of the questions centred around new technology and aspects of digital publishing, a subject that Sophie Rochester would pick up on during her talk. When asked why McSweeney’s website had stayed so simple and had had no redesigns since its conception, in contrast with all of the fancy flash-driven sites that its competitors boast, Horowitz explained that McSweeney’s had purposefully gone against the grain when designing their site, making it different from the norm in its simplicity, although he hinted that it may be getting a little out of date and that there could be significant developments in the not so distant future.

Next up was The Literary Platform’s Sophie Rochester who gave a fascinating presentation on her career, as well as addressing issues surrounding digital publishing in particular. It was especially interesting to learn about lots of new platforms emerging in this world, developments within ebooks, and conversely the reverting trend for big, beautiful, high quality books – and would this lead to even more beautifully designed and ornate ebooks? Again we had a broad range of questions from the audience, and issues ranging from piracy to the future of the ebook were discussed.

Afterwards we had the chance to mingle, and this was particularly advantageous for Meredith and Ina, who seized the opportunity to quiz a publisher at Canongate on issues that they hoped to discuss in their upcoming presentation on Canongate’s marketing strategies. What was especially interesting about this event was that it was primarily concerned with the issues surrounding new technology and the ramifications of its developments on the publishing world. All in all it was a very thought provoking and entertaining night and I’m very much looking forward to Electric Bookshop’s next event!

Christina O Brien

More pictures from the event can be found on Chris Scott’s photostream here.