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A whole new e-chapter
Publish and be doomed? The digital revolution is in fact giving books and music a beautiful new life writes James Harkin

The most fetching book I've come across for ages wasn't in a traditional bookshop but on a recent visit to the South London Gallery in Peckham. It was Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but not the Penguin Popular Classic. This one was pale pink and as big as a box, newly typeset, accompanied by 30 gorgeous illustrations and available at the very reasonable hardback price of £16.99.

Even as the big beasts of publishing struggle, and their traditional retailers lurch from crisis to crisis, there are reasons to be hopeful. Some publishers are doing well by producing objects beautiful enough to be collectible. That Vanity Fair I saw is from Four Corners Books, a tiny east London publisher with two employees; as well as new books, Four Corners knocks out "Familiars" by inviting contemporary artists to create fresh editions of classic novels and short stories.

In music, independent stores like Rough Trade East in London and Truck Store in Oxford have begun to reverse the tide of closures. Shops like this sell themselves on the expertise of their staff, and live events, but much of the trade they do is in vinyl as beautifully produced artwork rather than invisible download. For some years, sales of old-fashioned vinyl albums have been growing steadily on both sides of the Atlantic, while CD sales fall through the floor.

This new publishing ecosystem is brimming with exotic minutiae in the most unusual places. Even when publishers are working online, they're learning to produce things in different shapes and sizes. As music is produced for digital storage, songs are expanding beyond the three-minute limit. And with the ebook, the definition of a book is becoming more fluid. Take Amazon's Kindle Singles outlet – a showcase for nonfiction between 10,000 and 30,000 words, capable of being read in a few sittings. Publishing like this might put paid to the padding out – or squeezing – of ideas into the 70,000 words of a traditional book.

For the full article

The Guardian