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Copper Canyon e-book potlatch


On Wednesday I was in Port Townsend for an “E-book Potlatch” at Copper Canyon Press. The press is housed in one of the old wooden buildings at Fort Worden, a former military base turned into a state park and cultural & arts center; Copper Canyon has been there since the 1970s, publishing some of the best in modern and international poetry. Right now they’re figuring out how to bring their backlist (and their front list) into e-book format alongside their printed books – and how to do it right. Consortium, the independent-books distributor, and the “e-book aggregator” Constellation (both part of the Perseus Books Group) sent three people to this planning meeting; according to Consortium’s Michael Cashin, Copper Canyon is on the cutting edge of creating readable e-books for poetry.

For five years in the ’90s, I was the designer for Copper Canyon’s books and collateral, and I’ve done a few projects since then, but my only current connection is as a friend and supporter of the press. Still, e-book typography is what I’ve been thinking about for the past year, so it made sense to participate in the meeting. I was impressed by the level of thinking and planning that was already going on. Both Copper Canyon and Consortium are committed to finding good ways to get books into practical e-book form right now, for immediate sale, and at the same time to developing formats that will be true to the unique demands of poetry and the future demands of technology. It’s not an easy task, but it’s well worth doing. This is an essential part of our culture.

The all-day summit was productive but exhausting. At the end of the day, Copper Canyon hosted a cook-out on the beach at Discovery Bay, where executive editor Michael Wiegers cooked up clams and prawns and salmon, and a few bottles of wine were drunk. It was one of this summer’s rare warm, sunny days, and some of the madder members of the crew ran out into the cold, cold water for a refreshing dip. That’s how the future of publishing happens.

[Photo: Michael Wiegers (left) and me on the beach at Discovery Bay. Photo by Valerie Brewster.]

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