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Southword 15I am a lover of books. Apart from their contents I love their tactile quality. I love the way, when they are designed well, they can be objets d’art. I love how easy they can be on the eyes – I’ll never read Proust or Tolstoy on a computer screen. Yet…

Clay tablets and stone are more ancient and cumbersome technologies for the conveyance of the symbolic word than papyrus and thus it is understandable why cheaper and simpler papyrus and ink eventually replaced the more rigid media for the recording of thought and information. Yet, arguably, more information about early history has survived into our times on the more durable and obsolete stone than on the scraps of surviving papyrus. 

Today we face a similar technological transition. The word as visual symbol is on the move again, this time from paper and ink to ether and binary code. Acid-free paper, is potentially more durable than the internet and one risks the possibility that future generations will learn more about us from our books than from our internet traces. Yet the new technology has its advantages in the here and now.

 There will always be a need for books, until such time as we can store their contents in chips directly connected to our brains, but many of the books which will be printed in the future will be expensive, rare things, expensive to produce, expensive to market, expensive to distribute.

The book trade has undergone a complete change in culture in recent decades. The large chain stores with their huge profit margins have undercut small independents on the bread and butter titles which turn over quickly and in large volume. They have stolen a massive percentage of market share putting many small independents out of business, never to be replaced. At the same time they have cut back hugely on the number of different titles they are prepared to hold in stock – anything which takes longer than six weeks to sell is considered dead stock – poetry books fall into this category and no amount of marketing initiative will reverse this development. More poetry books are sold now in the presence of the author – at launches, workshops, festivals and other literary events than can be sold through bookshops.

Heavy book buyers frustrated with the narrowness of even the largest bookshop’s range buy exclusively online these days so making the lowest common denomination culture of the large chain store irreversible. Indeed the imminent collapse of Borders because of the flight of serious, heavy book buyers illustrates how bankrupt, figuratively and literally is their business model.

The small literary magazine has it really tough in this arena. It can survive and thrive after a fashion but only with enormous commitment of human resources and financial capital. With its commitment to festivals, workshops, author tours and other publications the Munster Literature Centre does not have the resources to develop the hardcopy sales of Southword above a couple of a hundred copies: its continued printing in the current financial climate has become untenable. There are other reasons besides financial. It has become environmentally untenable too. And I believe authors and readers can be better served by us continuing to publish it as an online journal. The work will be more accessible, will attract wider readership and the contents will have a longer “shelf” life in the medium term through authors linking to their pages from their own websites and blogs. We will save five thousand euro a year in printing costs which can be used to bolster our other ventures serving writers and readers in a time when most of our funding derives from a government which currently has to borrow nearly one out of every two euros it spends. The online edition will maintain the same rigorous editorial standards as the print edition and we will continue to pay contributors the modest amounts we have been able to afford all along. 

I am greatly excited by this first exclusively online edition of Southword, with brilliant contributions from poets with global reputations, as well as those at the beginning of their career. The fiction section is especially venturous with cutting-edge new writers, as well as a translation from the Romanian. While it is obvious we are open globally to submissions by poets and short story writers we continue our policy of providing one of the few reliable reviewing outlets exclusively for Munster authors, especially poets.

Please write and tell us what you think. Inevitably most readers of this issue will be experiencing Southword for the first time.


Patrick Cotter


The Munster Literature Centre



Read more about the Southword Journal Online editors here.

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