MÓNICA GILI: 'Both analogue and digital mediums co-exist and will continue to co-exist'

By Cristina Álvarez Cañas | Mónica Gili. April 29, 2013


An editor’s work is no longer what it was. It’s that and much more. The hundred-year-old publishing house Gustavo Gili has published a volume, which recounts for the first time the full and documented story of its family. Tradition and hard work alongside a love of books and of culture and, above all, an ability to adapt at each vital moment have been pivotal in making it one of the most important reference points in the Spanish and Spanish-speaking publishing world. And that’s why, the not insignificant publication 'Editorial Gustavo Gili. Una historia (1902-2012)', which tells of episodes such as its friendship with Picasso or its arrival in Latin America, has been complemented by a digital and free version so that the whole world has access to this Catalonian publishing house’s historical memoirs. Mónica Gili, successor to the family saga with her brothers Gustau and Gabriel, tells us about it. Their books will also be on our store visualMANIAC very soon

Now it has turned 110 how is the publishing house GG feeling and how does it look back on its past?

We’re really happy and feel very proud of our long history in the business. Not just because of our Mohican rank (to paraphrase Jorge Herralde) – few publishing houses today can boast of 110 years in independent publishing while continuing to remain in the hands of the same family – but also because of the publishing work we’ve done throughout all those years and our current catalogue spanning over 400 titles.

We know that there were several attempts before this book, Editorial Gustavo Gili. Una historia (1902-2012) saw the light. How was the process involved in its production? Why have you decided to make it available for free in digital format?

The process involved in putting this book together has been a long and very enriching one (with several interruptions, we started in 2007). We’ve discovered a tonne of new things about our past; we’ve met interesting people who formed a direct or indirect part of that history; we’ve had the chance to count on the participation of high quality collaborators, and so on. All in all, it’s been a very gratifying experience. We’ve printed a not insignificant and limited edition to give as a gift to our authors, collaborators, colleagues, clients and friends. For that reason, we’ve decided to offer the book, for free as well, to people who are interested in our history and in the publishing world in general.

This is the first time that the story of the publishing house’s founders has been told in such a detailed and differentiated way. What are your best memories of your father and grandfather working as editors? What professional values did they instil in you?

In their own different ways, each with their own style and manner of being, both our father and our grandfather always instilled in us a love of books and of culture in general. Long before working at the publishing house, I remember the books from grandpa’s library, how he showed them to us when we went round to visit, going to the publishing house with our dad on weekends when he went to work and he let us go with him, popping in to bookstores when we travelled abroad, and so on and so on. When we started working for the family company, we had the chance to learn, particularly from our father, in a natural way and on a day-to-day basis. Both our grandfather and our father considered business and service on a par in publishing and were both very clear on their duty to spread culture. They also kept abreast of what was going on beyond our borders. They instilled in us an open outlook, and the importance of well executed work and high quality publishing.

The first subjects that the publishing house GG specialised in were science and religion - topics that were popular a century ago. Today, we live in an eminently visual world. According to your experience, what is the public interested in?

At present, due very probably to the implementation of the digital culture and to a different way of accessing information, there is a more objective return to books, more artisanal special books, artists’ books, etc. The way we read now is different too. People read in a more fragmented way and information is better received if it comes in small doses (short books) rather than in large treaties or compendiums. Images continue to play an essential role amongst our readers.

It was in the middle of the 60s that you decided to specialise in architecture and design since there was a gap in the market at that time. What gap do you see now amongst the visual disciplines and their specialised areas?

Nowadays it’s very difficult to find a niche for a new market. In 2005 we started a new collection of fashion books aimed at a professional and academic audience that has worked out really well for us (it includes over 40 titles at the moment) because that was an area that had not been covered. Up to today’s date and with the exception of institutional or sporadic publications, this catalogue of fashion books is the most comprehensive you will find in Spanish.

There is a debate now as to whether the digital book is really a book. In other words, people are asking whether it moves away from the concept of what we understand to be a book or if it adapts to such. What is your opinion? What differences or points do you think need to be made?

I won’t get into etymological matters. For me, it’s clear that we’re talking about two different kinds of medium (analogue and digital). They both co-exist and will continue to co-exist (with a probable and progressive reduction in the number of books published in hard copy) and every now and again, it will evolve towards specific territories offering, in the end, more diversity to the reader.

What type of digital publishing does the publishing house GG offer? Which aspects and formats of digital books interest you the most?

We’ve had digital books on our catalogue for a long time now. The majority of them are books we also have in hard copy. Our catalogue is composed of books with a high visual content, in which the design of the book itself also tends to be an important element. For that reason, these books are difficult to translate into digital formats such as epub and, at the moment, we’re offering it to readers in PDF format. We distribute our digital books through Libranda and they’re available from a high number of online bookstores (Amazon, Casa del Libro, El Corte Inglés, Fnac, Gandhi, Laie, La Central, amongst others). And now also from visualMANIAC.

We’re still at an experimental stage with regard to digital publications. People are still trying to give them added value and in so doing provide ebooks with their own specific nature and testimonial role with a view to the future. What interest does the publishing house GG hold in that field?

The PDF format of our books is not a very “digital” one – we’re very aware of that. The thing is that there is still no model for digital business and any technological commitment on our part would require significant investment for extremely low profitability. The current financial climate does nothing to make it easier for publishing houses to make significant commitments in that direction.

Coming back to the book to celebrate your centenary, you dedicate an entire chapter to the publishing house’s relationship with Pablo Picasso. How was that friendship forged and how were your dealings with him? Which other artists did the company have a close relationship with?

The relationship between the publishing house and Picasso began at a very early stage. The initial contact was made in 1926 when our great grandfather commissioned him to illustrate one of the books from the bibliophily collection “Las ediciones de la cometa”. The commission didn’t prosper then but, thirty years on, our grandfather took the idea up again and got in contact with him once more. This time, the relationship not only bore two magnificent books (La Tauromaquia and El Entierro Del Conde De Orgaz), but it was also the beginning of a great personal friendship that lasted until Picasso’s death. During the 60s, our father started another publishing project linked to the art world, “Las estampas de la cometa”. It related to a collection of books and portfolios of original graphic works by internationally renowned artists. Artists such as Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Eduardo Chillida, Lucio Fontana, and many others took part. A close relationship was established with all of them that extended with time and paved the way for professional collaboration on repeated occasions.

After exploring the situation in South America over many decades, you opened another office in Sao Paulo in 2012. What impression has the Brazilian and, by extension, the Latin American market made on you?

The American market has always been essential to us and our catalogue has always tried to take that into account. The publishing house’s relationship with Latin America goes a long way back. Our great grandfather was already very clear on the need to expand the horizons of the Spanish publishing market and he often travelled through Latin American countries. The desire to export persisted and in the 50s and 60s our publishing house opened up several offices in different Latin American capitals. From the 80s up until now, our publishing strategy has been consolidated in Mexico and, recently, in Brazil. Each country is different but one characteristic perhaps shared by all Latin American countries is the value they still place on books as essential instruments for facilitating access to culture and to information. Latin Americans have always been much more avid readers.

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