1. “It is quite clear to me that the literary world has also become completely digital, especially abroad, and that we still insist on analogic worlds. The fact that we spend almost 600,000 euros on print magazines and significantly lower amounts on conversions is slightly surprising…”
2. “Regarding digitalisation, I have to say that I am fed up with it. Every couple of months, programmes have to be changed to make them more modern, but in reality it is getting even more crazy… In publishing, this was very ‘in’ for a while, however, at recent fairs, they calmed down a bit with their e-readers. Of course, it is easiest to push a tablet in a child’s hand, so he can play with it in one corner and press the buttons. Radiation and eye damage are a by-product. Of the adults, I only saw one who was trying to read a novel from a tablet.”
(Electronic messages from important Slovenian authors.)
Innovations are usually accompanied by prophecies of two kinds: that innovations will destroy the treasures of the past or that they will improve lives. It was once predicted that the invention of film and the emergence of cinemas would destroy theatre; then that television will replace film; even later, that in the race with the World Wide Web and thanks to social networks, the print media and even television will be defeated or even ruined. In the waves, pessimistic predictions have also appeared with books that have been with us since they began to be printed in the mid-fifteenth century – initially for ecclesiastical needs and to reach the masses. In addition to “paper” books, books also live a “digital” life! In addition to the classic shopping and reading, there is more and more supply and demand online. There is a lot of talk today about so-called e-books that publish texts and/or images in digital form; they differ from printed publications only in that they can be purchased and read with the help of electronic devices such as computers, telephones, tablets, etc. Certainly, they arouse assumption (and fear) that only e-books would be left from books or that digitisation would mean the end of books, libraries, and bookstores. (Maybe then it would not be necessary to build a new Ljubljana library NUK 2?) Today, large book collections transfer/convert their stocks into electronic/digital form, so that classics, historical documents and even newer books that have not been published can be found in digital form.
The books are quite stubbornly defying media upheavals and prophecies. They survived the pressures of censors and arsonists, targeted diverse audiences, were popular, propaganda, larpurlartistic, elite, cheap, accessible and inaccessible, representative and pocket… Of all the readings, reading ordinary books is still the most practical as they can be put in your pocket, can be taken to bed or to the beach as they do not need electricity and technology. (The problem may be that if there are many of them, we have to provide space for them in bookcases.) For Slovenes, books have contained hidden messages since the last third of the 19th century or codes of national liberation and statehood. The first Slovenian constitution was called the writer’s constitution.
We are all artists
The leaders of (Yugo)Slovene socialist cultural policy – inspired by Marxist ideas – launched the We are all creators and We are all artists campaign. In a way, this campaign also resonates in the number of books (5,000) written by a thousand Slovenian poets and writers a year. Today, the production of books all over the world is cheaper and simpler than it once was. Today, if nothing else, we can print our books with a home computer and printer. Publishers and print shops have fired typesetters and proof-readers thanks to computers. Well, the problem is not producers and production, but publication and readers, which is especially true for Slovenia, whose official language – although we saved it from subordination with independence – is spoken by few people. In a limited market, the quantity of book products and producers, as expected, causes intense rivalry and competition, including exclusion and elimination with ideological approaches bordering on conflicts of interest, and so on. (Remember that famous statement: “It does not matter if he is literate, it is important that he is ours!”).
We are dealing with two rivalries: with competition (between publishers and authors) for funds from public, state or European funds, and with a fight for readers. Events in the field of books are perhaps less diverse than events between the usual media or in the media, which are devoted exclusively to information and are exposed to political courtship. In democracies, books, especially works of art or science, are only exceptionally considered to be the “ideological apparatus of the state”. In encouraging their production and consumption, the state keeps its hand as far away as possible from deciding on financial support. For this purpose, it establishes various professional institutions, “councils”, agencies, etc.
Modern life offers various and numerous forms of informing, getting to know and recognising important phenomena, concepts, instructions; entertainment and artistic pleasures. These forms are mostly simpler and more appealing than reading books. Many young people today refuse to read books at all, saying that everything is online anyway. Proponents of the digitisation of book production and the market rely on readers – if they cannot be impressed in bookstores or libraries – to gain them through online publications. There are two possibilities here: e-books and “portals” with information about books, with various press releases, attractive images, even film articles. Consumption (purchase, borrowing) of e-books, which replace printed publications, certainly enables reading pleasures and preserves the book culture; the only question is whether e-books add, retain, or experience the same fate as printed books, so that there are fewer and fewer readers regardless of the modern form of publication. Something else are so-called networks, portals and channels that do not bring literary texts, but connect the participants of cultural life with all kinds of articles, columns, information, chronicles, commentaries, even rumours and gossip. These are, in fact, specialised cultural media, as magazines and weeklies used to be, and like cultural columns in newspapers.
Online newspapers (portals, channels) are intermediaries between cultural products (e.g. books) and the cultural public or readers. In their introductory presentations, they often write that they were created due to the lack of appropriate media, due to democracy and freedom. With these online phenomena, which generally refer to freedom of thought and creation, the media landscape is really changing: more and more important information is being obtained online and less and less in the press. However, these online newspapers are vulnerable for two reasons: because the published texts are usually written for current use and do not have the (permanent) value that books and also literary magazines, such as e.g. Literatura, Outsider or Sodobnost have. These – to be fair – cannot boast of high circulation, popularity or resonance. It is true that more people “click” the Air Beletrina newspaper than Sodobnost, but these are two completely different sources of information, which – apparently – are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.
The question is whether the digital diversity and variety described solve the conundrum of flaccid book reading. With all the variety on offer, books do not entice readers to make major purchases or read books regularly. The essential question remains: why is reading books (and e-books) important. Probably not only because it is recommended by professors and publishers, but also because reading, if taken seriously and patiently, allows us to transcend the realities of everyday working relationships, street truths and rumours. Reading presupposes the transcendence of direct and temporary experience and enables entry into a kind of reality, which we call the reality of literature, poetry and thought. Of course, the entrance must be well marked, and the reality behind it convincing, interesting, fun, preferably shocking. Reading distracts from stereotypes, moves the imagination and enriches the spirit. The media, which is designed to scroll through “common places” and chase boredom, cannot cope with such tasks.