Books To Go?

I was reminded by reading the as yet published four parts of A D Coleman‘s There Will Be Ink (the series starts here – links to the others at the bottom of each page) that I had promised almost two years ago, at the end of a post on Blurb’s 2011 London Self-Publishing day – Blurb & 893 etc that I had mentioned my contribution to a chaired debate on self-publishing and made an as yet unfulfilled promise:

More about my ideas on the future in a later post.’

Coleman has yet to really engage in his series with photographic publishing, and I look forward to reading his views when he publishes part five.  I can’t recall exactly what I said in my unscripted contribution to the debate, but I do recall the gist, as well as the sceptical reception it aroused, though to me it seemed obvious and almost inevitable.

Everything that has happened since then only reinforces my views, both in my own small venture into self-publishing and in the outside world, where there are now more people sitting with e-readers than actual books on the trains I take to London.

Kindles and the other currently available e-book readers are generally not suitable devices to show photographs, with most only offering a limited number of grey shades at fairly low resolution. Although they perform excellently with text, they are very limited for photographs. The ‘Retina’ display introduced on the IPad 4, with 2,048 × 1,536 pixels at 264 ppi rather changed the game for small portable devices, and increasingly devices of all sizes will feature stable high-quality displays.

From ‘The Deserted Royals’

Almost a year ago in PDF Publishing on this site I announced that six of my books were now available in PDF format. Since then all my new volumes on Blurb (Thamesgate Panoramas, London dérives, City to Blackwall and The Deserted Royals) have also been avaialable as PDF.

I wanted to make that latest book, The Deserted Royals a PDF only publication, and the ISBN has been assigned to the PDF version, which is the real publication. But Blurb is a ‘print on demand‘ based company and it seems it isn’t possible to sell the PDF through them unless a hard-copy version is also available.

The images in these books look rather better on my 24″ widescreen monitor than in print, and are impressive too on my slim notebook. I’m sure they would look good on a iPad size retina display too.

For the great mass of photographic publishing, I’m convinced the future is electronic, with the advantage of simpler and cheaper production and improved image quality. We will also see a great explosion in the number and range of photographic books published as the cost falls, though as always more will not always be better, and much of the increase will be dross. But for someone like myself who feels that the existing gate-keeping mechanisms tend to favour the fashionable and discriminate against much good work, the increase will be welcome.

Digital also raises new possibilities. There are relatively few even of the greatest photographers whose work has been published in great depth, and print volumes such as Sarah Greenough’s large and heavy two volume catalogue raisonné, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set – Volume I & II are rare. And digital publishing also can add to the experience, allowing the reader to zoom in to images as well as linking inside the volume and to outside sources, the addition of sound or video clips and more.

From ‘Buildings of London’ website

One possibility I’m again contemplating (and I first did it over 15 years ago in a CD-ROM of some of my London images of which I burnt half a dozen copies) is of publishing work not a conventional book but a searchable image database. That early CD-ROM wasn’t a great success for several reasons, but largely because the clients for whom it was intended – including a large government organisation – didn’t at that time have a single computer with a CD-ROM drive. But there were other problems, including the relatively poor image quality and low size of the scans on the disk, produced at a time when most computers had a display resolution of 640×480 pixels!

It was a disk before its time, and now is a disk after its time, with the software written for MSDOS no longer running even in a command window. Though the scans, in BMP format, are embarrassingly still readable.  But the sheer volume of my work on the Buildings of London (there is a small sample on a truly pre-historic web site – essentially from 1996, though with some later rewrites to keep it working) makes conventional publishing impossible.

I don’t think the photographic book will entirely disappear. We’ve already seen a little of what I think is its limited future, in high-price short run collectors editions, finely printed on expensive papers, perhaps signed and numbered by the photographer as a limited edition and often expensively bound and cased. Some may also be made available as cheap digital versions.

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