Writer and historian Mathew Lyons is asking individuals everywhere to tweet #WhatsABooksWorth. It is his hope that his social media campaign will remind readers of the extraordinary value comprised within print.
Elizabeth Neep: So Mathew, where did the idea for your #WhatsABookWorth campaign first arise? What are you hoping to achieve through it?
Mathew Lyons: I first had the idea at a day-long forum called Did Anybody Ask the Author? in which some 30 authors and publishers were tasked with exploring ways to improve the business of publishing for authors. The campaign aims to connect or re-connect readers with the emotional power of books to change people’s lives, to change the way we see the world. The perceived value of books has long been something that I've thought a problem; the cover price is nothing compared to the difference a great book could make to your life.
EN: Does being so pro-print mean you are anti-digitalisation?
ML: I'm ambivalent about the digitisation of media content. It can't be stopped, of course. And on the whole, I think the ability for more people to access work so easily is a positive thing. But I worry about where the power is in this new world. It's increasingly with the gate-keepers, the Googles’, the Amazons’, the Spotifys’ of the world - whose interest will always be in content being as low-cost as possible because that's how they drive market share and, in different ways, sell ancillary or proprietary services. I've been very pleased to see that e-book sales - and Kindle sales - have plateaued and don't seem to be growing in market share at the cost of the print market. Digitisation has done enormous damage to the music industry. I'm glad publishing doesn't seem to be going quite the same way.
EN: Print refuses to surrender – why do you think this is?
ML: I would say there’s something more intimate about reading from a physical, printed edition of a book; the tactility of it, its weight, the way you can leaf back and forth, and so on. I think there's much more immediacy to that experience. I also think the history of a physical object carries meaning in a way that digital content simply doesn't. You remember where you bought a book, who gave it to you, where you first read it - sometimes who owned it before. Those intangible emotional associations are important, or important to me, at least.
EN: Lastly #WhatsABookWorth to you?
ML: There are so many books that have changed me in different ways - changed the way I thought about the world. Douglas Dunn's Elegies - a collection of poems written about his wife, her illness and her death, has helped me come to terms with losses at different times in my life, with uncontrollable memories and emotions, everything that is lost and everything that remains. As a historian, A Cup of News by Charles Nicholl - which is a biography of the Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe - showed me what it was possible for a piece of non-fiction to be; Nicholl uses his writings to bring the textures and tones of his world vividly to life.
To feel the power of print, purchase your copy of PETRIe 67 here.
Words: Elizabeth Neep
Photography: Morgan Hill-Murphy