Ego surfing and coffee table publishing

So how long before all contemporary coffee table books are iPad-enabled? From an outsider’s perspective, the iPad looks at its best when it’s providing a bit of depth beneath the still image, a way of peeling back layers, zooming in, spinning around or unfreezing a still. That’s all very well for certain genres, but expectations are raised by multimedia, and to not fulfill them is a retrograde step. It annoys people: no-one ever celebrated the loss of a favourite functionality. We haven’t sampled Phaidon’s Design Classics app (and bizarrely there’s no video of the book on Phaidon’s Youtube channel), but it’s hard to see how any expansion of content can be achieved without a trebling of the amount of work that goes in to making a piece of print. And will such ‘multi-media books’ be worth three times as much as a physical book? Or a tenth of the price, as current App pricing seems to imply.

If publishing shifts onto pad-like formats the decade-long boom in esoteric monograph publishing will surely stumble. One of the spin-offs of internet-based archives and ephemera was a desire to physically hold the objects of electronic contemplation; the BibliOdyssey book, the BLDG BLOG monograph, the forthcoming Strange Maps publication, amongst others, all attest to this fusion of digital discovery and traditional tactile aesthetics.

Other publishing houses create books that exist at this crossroads of print and web page. Taschen are one of the pioneers, having long ploughed a profitable furrow excavating and re-issuing old print material, a strategy subsequently followed by many others (including new publishing house Fiell). Slightly more leftfield companies have tightened the focus. Examples are numerous, but books like FUEL’s Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia series, or Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton’s Cartographies of Time for PAP, couldn’t really be imagined before the internet demonstrated that a market existed. The latter book is a good example of how an iPad edition would bring little more to the table than the ability to zoom in (in print, the book suffers from small reproductions of complex diagrams and the occasional poor quality image).

So if you want to enhance the already rather pitiful economic prospects of book production, the iPad and its imminent rivals probably aren’t the answer. In fact, their advantages in terms of presentation, delivery and accessibility are outweighed by the onerous demands they place on authors, picture researchers, coders and designers to make the most of the format. Does this mean the monograph is safe? It certainly implies that low-volume print is a more straightforward medium than high-volume digital. It also hints at areas where iPadisation will succeed first, in the creation of Catalogue Raisonee, for example. And maybe, just maybe, there’ll be more emphasis on the journey, not the destination – like the creative process behind the Information is Beautiful book cover. No longer will the static, finite work of art suffice; the interactive age will demand dynamic procedural presentation, creativity in time lapse, everything in flux.

The Empowerment Plan, ‘a page devoted to helping the Detroit homeless’ via the creation of a wearable tent-like item of clothing. This particular strand of product design is oft-tackled in concept form but never conclusively (to our knowledge) solved: designs by Jaclyn Starker, Mary Mattingly and Robin Lasser / mobile homeless shelter at High Mileage Trikes, a cornucopia of projects (via Myrtle Street Review) / aeroplane hotel suite.


Jen Bekman’s photostream, from the creator of the excellent 20×200, from where we are pointed towards the work of Paho Mann (Re-inhabited Circle K’s and Junk Drawers and Medicine Cabinets being our favourites) and Mark Richards (especially his ‘Science’ portfolio) / Plymouth: 20th century city is a ground breaking project which reveals and celebrates the unique 20th Century architecture and urban planning of Plymouth’s city centre / Lovers’ locks vanish in Paris, a little bit of drift discovery undone / Graphicology has a fine post on the controversial Ferrari F1 livery mentioned a few days ago.


A short book about Slush Mold Racing Cars / a collection of Tissier 6-wheelers / RCRD LBL, daily mp3 downloads / does print on demand, with surprisingly nice results. This technology has come on a long way since we last dipped our toes in the water / today and tomorrow has a fine portfolio of the BMW M1 by Jan Baedeker / Twan van Elk, a tumblr / eulogy, a new magazine about death.


Architect and critic Dennis Sharp has died / images from the exhibition Auto, at the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo in Madrid / Gotamago, a creative journal / Annabel Hodges, a weblog / McSweeney’s Lists / Wallpaper’s Born in Brazil issue / DeGobbi’s epic Lego models / all about private underground engineering works.


Information, the object, and the ego. Svpply is a ‘a retail bookmarking and recommendation service’, a slightly more subtle way of clueing in others to your likes and dislikes. At a time when ‘services’ like Blippy are practically pickpocketing you for important information (‘People are becoming more relaxed about privacy, having come to recognize that publicizing little pieces of information about themselves can result in serendipitous conversations — and little jolts of ego gratification.’) We must confess to having dipped our toe into these choppy waters once or twice. After all, what’s a flickr stream if not a sharp insight into another life? Or a collection of past eBay triumphs?

This entry was posted in technology, things magazine. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.