Sunday, October 02, 2011

Should Art Remain Physical?

One of Mike Shatzkin’s insights that he gave in his article on, ‘ Four Years Into The eBook Revolution’ has stirred much debate and is worth exploring. Shatzkin commented, "Today I will add another urgent suggestion to general trade publishers: reconsider your commitments to publish illustrated books in any time frame more extended than a year or two and think about sticking to straight text, unless you have paths to the customers for those books that do not go through bookstores. If we do end up in an 80% ebook world anytime soon, and we very well might, you'll want to own the content you know works (for the consumer) in that format, not what you don't know works any way other than in print."

As we all know there are many forms of illustrated books and it is often hard to generalise. Some heavily illustrated works and genre are making the transition into the digital world whilst others remain in physical one. We see travel and reference as genre that could be enhanced by digital and where much activity is taking place. However, one has to question whether the digital result will be a mere conversion of the physical, a replacement offer, or a complimentary one with additional options.
It would appear wasteful to merely take the physical travel book and merely produce a digital manifestation when the digital could be enhanced so much by technology. A real time map, instant reviews, what on today, video clips etc. But as works migrate from one dimensional flat print to multi dimensional live works then the whole process of creation, editing and production must change too. Some may be ready to make that change but others may be reminded of the heady CDRom days were logic and financial return went out the window in search of the technology dream. Many have learnt and are rightly cautiously optimistic in their approach.

The situation becomes very interesting when one looks at Art books. There are several art book forms from the package prints of the likes of Paragon, Parkstone, the high end niche collection editions of Taschen, Rizzoli and others, to the gallery and exibhition editions. An art book is often a collection piece, a book that is browsed and returned to many times. It readers often seek quality of paper and print and are less interested in the individual works than the collection.

If art lovers wanted the digital then they would even want the exhibition they would be happy to see images rendered digitally onto walls. We watched Degas quality softbacks literally walking off the RSA floor last week. It was probably the closest to buying the tee shirt at the end of a concert.

We don’t believe that everything must go digital, nor that everything is better digital and Shatzkin is correct in his insight that illustrated books are not ideal for digital today. Even before we grapple with the thorny issue of rights within an illustrated book world we have to ask whether we really believe that those sumptuous quality works from the likes of Rizzoli, Taschen, Thames & Hudson, Phaidon, David and Charles, Frances Lincon and National Galleries and Museums will be replaced by and rendered better on a 10” iPad?

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