Printed Books in the Digital Age

A conversation with Jonathan Simons, founding editor of offline publishing house Analog Sea, at Kibworth Books, 28/3/23

On Tuesday 28 March, Kibworth Books hosted Jonathan Simons of Analog Sea, publisher of Analog Sea Review. In these days of ‘everything online’, Analog Sea are that rare thing, a publisher with no online presence. Actually, that’s not wholly true, they do have a one-page website telling you who they are. It also asks to send them a letter, yes, a letter, to receive a copy of their latest bulletin.

Jonathan explained that he had nothing against the internet, and indeed sees it as a valuable tool in day-to-day life. Equally he believes that we have much to preserve in the human realm, away from online interference. The printed book is an excellent technology, proven over many centuries. It enables us to have a vast archive of human knowledge and achievement. Yes, this can be replicated online, but switch off the power… 

Analog Sea Review

Analog Sea is an example of what is possible without online retailing and social media. Each issue of the Analog Sea Review is a beautifully presented anthology of poetry, essays and artwork arranged thematically. They look at life beyond the machine and maintaining a deep connection with the natural world. The articles relate to each other in some way: an article on the Northern Lights might lead to an article about NASA, and then a description of the Lights by an astronaut, followed by physicists describing them scientifically, and so on. A letter by the composer Johannes Brahms might be followed by a piece from the contemporary author Richard Powers, the link being how they each felt about a performance of J. S. Bach’s Chaconne.

Other Discussions

There were lots of questions for Jonathan from Kibworth Books owner Debbie James as well as the enthusiastic audience. The differences between reading printed books and reading from a screen were discussed. It was felt that there was a different sense of involvement, with printed books being preferred by those present. Can you have an experience of true serendipity online? We’re all familiar with searching for something on the web and then discovering new rabbit holes and digressions, but are we being manipulated in our searches? Do we have more control when we’re searching in a bookshop or library?

Another discussion was regarding our access to history. The internet gives us access to more knowledge than previous generations, but how are we assimilating it? Society seems more fragmented than ever before.

The session was wrapped up with a discussion about artificial intelligence, AI, which appears to be in the news every day. There seems to be an appetite for it, but is it really a Pandora’s box? Are we in danger of losing the human narrative? Is AI innovating or creating, or merely emulating? Can AI relate emotion and passion in art? At present we seem to have more questions than answers.

And so the discussion came to an end and Jonathan signed books and discussed things further with the members of the audience as everyone drifted off into the night with their thoughts of online and offline, digital and Analog…