The hell of Instagram

Since last 20 July, Media Vaca has had an Instagram account opened and administrated by one of the publishing house’s readers and friends. This is no small matter, since until this moment the publishing house has completely kept its distance from social networks. In fact, the publisher does not own a mobile phone and has refused to have one as if he were a forest spirit. His way of communicating with the world is through books he selects or invents, and which, according to him, are for children. Could this be the sign of deep changes within the publishing house? What will be next? Expecting the books to sell? Well, we should not rule this out either. We would like to offer our readers a more direct contact with the publisher’s catalogue and bring those curious closer to information on the books and their authors. For this reason, we are planning to open an online shop, which we have been working on for some time, and this Instagram account could be the first step to familiarise ourselves with the tool. As it appears, the webpage where we have hosted these reflections I share with readers, launched shortly after we began to function (17 November 1999), is not the medium employed by most customers. Some well-intentioned friends, more or less experts, have warned us of such: nowadays, people who buy things do so from mobile devices, while drinking horchata or moving along a conveyor belt. (I have often wondered what those people I see on their phones are doing while they drink horchata or move along conveyors. Well, now I know: they are buying books, and probably getting desperate because they cannot buy Media Vaca’s.) In any case, it is a relief to know that there is a remedy for that tragedy.

As surprising as the very existence of this Instagram account is that, a week after it launched, and with only six posts, the account reached over a thousand followers. What could this mean? What do these followers follow? What do they expect from us? I consult my friend, the manager of the account, and he explains in simple terms the Instagrammer’s ABC. I am happy to discover that we agree on what we could call ‘the general concept’ of the matter, as well as on the small details. The pictures must be interesting and well executed; the accompanying texts must provide useful information, and it does not matter if they are lengthy. Everything, texts and pictures, must be done with real care. In this sense, the work is not so different from the work we carry out when making books. In a nutshell, after long strolls around the suburbs (the publishing house will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary), with little to no promotion and a restricted distribution, its seems we are finally going to walk down a main street where we will run into everyone and be able to greet many people. So, here we are, burning our eyes in Instagram’s hell and trying to push a book forward (or rather, an encyclopedia), the development and conclusion of which we have absolutely no idea.

After a series of test runs, my friend and I have decided to publish three news per week: every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Perhaps it will be a demanding pace, but we can slow down later on. We both agreed on highlighting the immediacy this tool provides, and on the paradox of this circumstance, since a proven characteristic of our publishing house is that we take an eternity to finish projects; even those which seem easier resist us. Will it be possible to convey any of this to our readers? I admit I am skeptical, since I have observed that many people believe they know something just because they have seen a picture or read some words; but I also tell myself that, perhaps, the best way to fight this tendency is to act from within. At least I want to convince myself that it is worth trying, even if I still believe there is nothing like direct contact with readers (and non-readers). This is still our horizon, and one of the main goals within the plan we have drawn up.

In addition to having a large following (which I do not entirely know what it means, or if anyone does, but it implies a certain responsibility and a small additional worry), Instagram offers the possibility of following the things others show us: photographs of landscapes and places visited on trips; self-portraits, alone or joined by others; illustrations in progress, freshly printed and smelling of ink, already packaged in the form of a book; known books, bought books, and (hopefully) read books; curious posters and graffiti in the style of Luis Carandell’s Celtiberia Show, a book that perhaps not many people remember today; collections of objects that could be found in Ramon Gómez de la Serna’s study; toys, children, and pets; cats, cats, and cats, sometimes indistinguishable from children and toys; various homages to admired authors, and a long etcetera I am unable to summarise. Some contributions correspond to the idea of a visual diary, as understood, for example, by the photographer Cartier-Bresson and the filmmaker Jonas Mekas. As a follower of others, since a line has to be drawn somewhere, I have chosen to follow the news and pictures that refer to friends and colleagues, as well as the things uploaded by all the illustrators with whom we have worked at some point, even if said collaboration happened long ago. For example, the 333 authors of the illustrated dictionary My First 80,000 Words, from around twenty countries, the 35 Valencian authors of the book Welcome to El Cabanyal, and the 21 Japanese illustrators of Once Upon 21 Times… Little Red Riding Hood. We had not heard from many of them since. What will we showcase? Besides posting a few jokes, as the platform seems ideal for lightheartedness, we will not be able to deviate much from the repertoire of listed themes. Landscapes, few, because we only travel in books. Portraits, also none: we could take a portrait of ourselves, but in that case we would have to commit to doing so for fifty years, so the experience could be of scientific interest. Our aim, we think, is to show lesser-known facets of the work and to document the wandering life of books, which is prolonged in exhibitions, in translated editions (fruit of a mysterious pollination), and, especially, in the hands of those readers who welcome them as their own and who can finally offer them an interesting life.

Vicente Ferrer

[Image: drawing by Ron Regé, Jr. for the illustrated dictionary My First 80,000 Words. The word chosen by Ron was ‘discombobulate’ (‘to confuse someone or make someone feel uncomfortable’). We have recently reconnected with @ronregejr on Instagram, where he currently amasses 1,720 posts.]