things 19/20

An end, and a beginning

You hold in your hands the very last traditionally printed issue of things magazine.

things always was the child of a break with the traditional way of producing books; it could never have existed without the desktop publishing revolution. When, in 1994, a group of young historians and writers banded together to produce a journal, we did so because we wanted a free space devoted to looking at objects – ‘not only beautiful ones; and not only their making, but also their buying and their selling, their wanting and their using’, with all the means at our disposal, including fiction, poetry and image (and sometimes sound) as well as rigorous factual enquiry. We could do it because, suddenly, we could design our publication on our laptop computers, make all our proof corrections and scan all our images ourselves, and therefore produce it more cheaply, and more easily, than ever before. Because we have always sold enough copies – and because all of us except, as we always used to say, the printers, contribute their work for things for free – we have been able to maintain things as a truly independent space. There is no one looking over our shoulders, no one telling us what we can or cannot print. We really are free; in the sense, at least, that we are unbound.

And now… we no longer need to pay a print bill.Technology has taken another step, and from now on things articles will appear first online at www.thingsmagazine.net. But we will not be relinquishing things as a thing. Of course not. The sheer multiplicity of options available makes it diffcult to predict exactly what course we will take, but here’s our starting point. We’re exploring print-on-demand services, which will enable you to select the pieces you like most from the website and have them printed as your very own issue of things, bound and delivered to you. Or we might experiment with a kind of DIY version: pieces on the website could be designed to print out as leaflets in the same A5 format as this issue of things. We could make boxes, treasure troves, to put them in, as well as other flat or flattish object that may come our way, which you could order from the website. (We remember the part in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs when one of the character gets depressed, shuts himself in his room, and stops eating. His house-mates slide food under his door to keep him going. ‘Kraft singles, Premium Plus crackers, Pop-Tarts, grape leather…’. Flat foods.) Or maybe it would be you who’d be supplying the objects, and sharing them with other readers. Whatever happens, we are determined that things should retain its three-dimensional quality – not just a collection of pieces of paper, but a real object in the realworld. Portable, and physically present – touchable, subversible (you will still be able to use it for scribbling ideas, making paper aeroplanes, propping up shoogly tables) frangible, losable – not an abstraction. We’ll be airing our thoughts on the website very soon. Watch this space; or rather, that one over there, the website.

So: its old game is up, things begins to follow new rules, and goes out to play – and at the same time the role of the editors changes. This last traditional issue of things presents its objects, by and large, by order of size, smallest to biggest, Which is smaller, an apple pip or a vowel? Which is bigger, the moon or twilight? We say the apple pip, we say twilight. But this is the last time we as editors get to decide. From now on, it’s up to you.

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