Read | Let’s get digital

9 April 2020

Lockdown is no time for a book festival to remain silent. Wigtown Festival Company artistic director Adrian Turpin talks about how the organisation is adapting to life online

Book festivals are all about communication, talking and listening. So it was clear to the festival team early on that we couldn’t just sit there in silence at such a time. At a time when many people were likely to have time to read, and to take comfort from reading, it seemed odd if we didn’t engage. It also seemed vital to keep Wigtown, as Scotland’s National Book Town, in the public eye.

We thought and talked about this a lot. Putting things online is an obvious - almost knee-jerk -  reaction in the light of the lockdown. There’s an almost overwhelming amount of digital books content online, so much so that you wonder whether it all has an audience.

So, when we talked about, the thing we all decided was essential was that it felt like Wigtown, the book festival and the town. That’s our aim. For live events we’ve chosen to focus on what we’re calling #WigtownWednesdays, with people ranging from Sally Magnusson to the philosopher Julian Baggini, and we’ve set up a monthly book club with a podcast to come. We hope that people will make a regular midweek date in their calendar.

We’re also going to be commissioning some long reads and raiding the archive for a few  gems, such as Joanna Lumley’s appearance at the festival in 2013. But we also want to make sure that some of the more quirky elements of what we do are represented, like Stuarty Kelly’s Literary Pub Quiz and the Wigtown’s Got Talent competition, which we hope will make a digital return at some point.

Obviously, like many other organisations, we’re also finding our digital sea-legs at the moment, so we expect that what we do will be likely to change. But that’s no bad thing. There is certainly something liberating about being able to try things out and experiment.

The elephant in the room for everyone working digitally is money, especially when we can’t earn money in many of the ways we usually would at the moment. It’s hard to charge for online content, and we want it to be as accessible to as many people as possible.

We’re lucky to have had some financial support for this new way of working from Baillie Gifford, who have been fantastically supportive during the crisis. But we do need to cover costs in other ways, including selling books related to events and hoping that people who enjoy what we are doing will consider donating. I suppose it’s a kind of pay what you like model.

It’s a dark time obviously. But we are trying to be optimistic. We hope we’ll provide some entertainment for our existing audience, attract some new fans and also develop our capacity to continue to deliver interesting online events, even after things return to normal. We hope you will join us on that journey.

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