The Personal Anthology: Five Dials + Lulu

December 8, 2009

I’ve long been a fan of Hamish Hamilton’s Five Dials magazine, an occasional, elegant, high quality and free literary journal – except that I have a huge problem with its attitude.

Five Dials is only available as a PDF, intended, say HH, to be “downloaded, printed out and enjoyed (we hope) away from the computer”. Well, bah. Not only do I think it disingenuous to use the internet for your distribution while so pompously thumbing your nose at it, PDFs are horrible on screen, and I don’t have a printer capable of rendering them any better, nor the funds to print 60 page magazines regularly. (HH even included a bizarre, fake reader’s letter to this effect, without explanation, in the first issue.)

But, but, but. It is full of lovely stuff. So I did what any literary geek would do, and printed it properly, as a nicely-bound anthology.

You might notice I’ve been using Lulu a lot recently – for this, and the Bookkake furniture manuals, and some other things… In this case, it was particularly easy, as Lulu has a default, perfect-bound A4 template, so it was just a matter of uploading each PDF issue in order, slapping a cover together, and for £8.80 (£5.81 + P&P), I have my own Five Dials anthology of the first eight issues. (Although it took three weeks to arrive… My only beef with Lulu is their fulfillment, which even without an unexplained stall and a support request, as happened in this case, delivery time is rarely less than a fortnight for standard orders. That, and the lack of an API.)

So, yay, I have a lovely bog-side coffee-table anthology to dip into over the Christmas period.

Hey Hamish Hamilton – how about offering this yourself? Keep the free pdfs, but offer a simple POD anthology once every year or so?

Or, you know, pay a decent web designer half what you must be paying your (highly skilled) illustrator/typesetter/designer for Five Dials, and actually publish on the web? We do read on it too – and there are a lot of us who’d genuinely appreciate it.


  1. What’s this? Are you still angling for a job at the offices of the mighty Five Dials?

    If we were to offer half of what our designer’s getting you might be able to afford one of those half-size Pret sandwiches. What’s wrong with our beloved PDFs? You may not like them but they do tend to look the same all over the world, no matter which computer/browser you’ve chosen.

    The anthology looks great though. You’re right: we’ll have to start anthologizing.

    As ever, thanks for your ongoing interest.

    Comment by Craig Taylor — December 8, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  2. Yeah, I’m still angling for a job :)

    Seriously, there is nothing right about PDFs onscreen – they’re designed for printing, they don’t even look the same on all home printers (does A4 print well on American Letter-sized paper? On broken-down old inkjets?), and they don’t actually look the same on all screens, really, particularly on small ones where you have to scroll up, down, left and right to read the text, and zoom in and out to (try and) see the illustrations properly. And many, many people who otherwise would be reading the lovely Five Dials do feel the same way.

    But it’s your magazine, and I do like it. Thanks for your ongoing work producing it.

    Comment by James Bridle — December 8, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

  3. Oh this looks wonderful — there’s nothing extra or fiddly we’d have to do to the PDFs to copy this idea?

    I’m with James on this front, Craig — though I love the magazine, the idea of just uploading this static PDF to the website seems particulary backwards and doesn’t seem to compliment the content. This is all said as a yobby member of the gallery, obviously, and not taking into account any of the presumably several issues that have thus far precluded you from doing anything more fancy with the format.

    That said, is anyone likely to be reading Five Dials who isn’t on a fairly decent or up-to-date computer/browser? I think you could have a nice little simple site that loads content quickly and cleanly, rather than endless scrolling/tabbing.

    Comment by Kevin O'Neill — December 8, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  4. That looks well pretty!
    Nice work!

    Comment by Eoin Purcell — December 8, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

  5. Fantastic idea, James!

    Comment by Fin Keegan — December 8, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  6. Question: so Lulu doesn’t force you into declaring the book as “published” and slap an ISBN on it?

    Comment by Fin Keegan — December 8, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  7. James,

    Right on- Lulu is great for just this sort of thing. I just printed my third web content anthology book using Lulu (, which was a great experience. I’ve learned a bunch after doing two previous prints, which made this third time around much more effective. I even sent several copies to our clients as a holiday gift.



    Comment by Chris Butler — December 8, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  8. “That said, is anyone likely to be reading Five Dials who isn’t on a fairly decent or up-to-date computer/browser?”

    My mother, thank you very much, Mr O’Neill! And if we can’t make magazines for our mothers, what kind of world are we living in?

    Comment by Craig Taylor — December 9, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  9. There’s got to be a joke about your mum’s browser not being compatible with my pointing device in there somewhere.

    Comment by Kevin O'Neill — December 9, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  10. Stop that now, Kevin. This blog is a safe space…

    @Fin – yes, you can do private products only you can buy. And ISBNs are only ever added if they’re going out to Amazon etc.

    Comment by James Bridle — December 9, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

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