E-books vs. Print for Fine Art Book Publishing
I'm going to buy a Kindle.
Just about anybody who knows me is apt to be astonished at this admission. Since I first learned to read, I have been a "book person," someone who carries a torch for all things book—as object as well as conveyor of information, ideas, and (in the best cases) knowledge. That's why I began my working life cataloging in a library, then moved along to what turned into a career providing editorial services for books and/or acquiring them for publishers.
I can also lay claim to holding the highest imaginable dudgeon when the e-book readers and the paltry assemblage of e-book content first hit the market. Outrageous! Nobody will use them! Certainly not book people. If I wanted to read from a screen, I'd be doing it with my monitor, and I'm not. Blah-blah-blah...
But about three years ago I found myself considering purchasing my own e-reading "experiment." On occasion, I'd read about a new model, browse lists of available titles, and note whether a book whose print edition I was about to buy was also available via download. Very slowly, the mantle of guilt began to slip from my shoulders. But I refused to mention to anybody else what still seemed tantamount to sacrilege.
What brought this simmering betrayal to a boil? Three simple recognitions: (1) my living quarters' book-holding capacity was surpassed some time ago; (2) lugging around three and four hard-copy books is getting old (and heavy); and (3) reading electronically based material does not necessitate giving up on print.
This last one provided the breakthrough. Like many book people, I had envisioned being required to dispose of my library of printed and bound books, which I would then need to replace with e-books, just as I did with my LPs when the CD had installed itself firmly as just about only the music-delivery system available.
But one other shortcoming fueled my demurral: the ostrich syndrome.
When we founded Vern Associates in 1994, the Internet and Worldwide Web were new to most people. No tealeaves I was aware of forecast the imminent arrival of e-reading technology. And when these new devices began to make real inroads in the market, my head sought the nearest consoling pile of sand.
Soon the anti-e-book arguments took hold: It's just a fad that will quickly disappear. Real readers won't use them. Few people will be able to afford them. Publishers will never produce content for them. Next, those excuses were replaced by: They're only black and white, and the image quality isn't on par with printed books.
As that particular rationalization for stasis was discredited more thoroughly on a daily basis, I took a deep breath and considered our client list. Museums will never allow their publications to be e-books, because they will have far too little control of image reproduction, I assured myself.
And that's what finally jerked my head out of the sand. It brought back memories of one of my earliest forays into art book editing. In the mid-1980s, I was hired to edit an enormous manuscript for an art museum. When it arrived, it was accompanied by dozens of handsome black-and-white reproductions, most of which were of complex paintings and details. They were tremendously helpful for ascertaining that the author's claims in the text were borne out by the visual evidence.
Trouble was, even though a primary aspect of the author's thesis involved painters' choices and handling of color, he insisted that the book be printed in black and white. The publisher's production team tried to convince him that "recent technology" (sound familiar?) provided cost-effective means to obtain remarkably true color reproduction, but he would have none of it.
At the time, his was the majority opinion among art historians. Fewer than ten years later, when I was Bulfinch Press's acquisitions editor for museum and other art books, not one art historian–author gave a second thought to the use of color reproduction for their book. "Isn't that the way it's always done?" they'd ask.
So the e-writing is clearly on the wall, and it is (probably somewhat) past time for Vern Associates to begin integrating our work and services with e-publishing methods and techniques.