29 January to 21 June 2015, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, UK
This exhibition celebrates the legacy of Aldus Manutius (1449 – 1515), an Italian humanist scholar who founded the Aldine Press at Venice. His publishing legacy includes scholarly editions of classical authors, the introduction of italic type, and the development of books in small formats that were read much like modern paperbacks. The firm was continued after his death by his son and grandson until 1598. John Rylands Library, University of Manchester website, accessed 17 May 2015
Back in February as I enjoyed Oxford’s recognition of the 500th anniversary of the death of Teobaldo Manucci, the Manchester exhibition was already running. Where the Oxford event focused on the more architectural motifs distinguishing early Venetian from Roman printing, the Manchester event dwelt more on the educational thrust, technical and business aspects of the Aldine legacy and provenance of the Manchester collection.
The Manchester focus on provenance wends its way back through the library’s donors dedicated to the cause of education (if not to impressing its practitioners with the importance of the woolen industry’s contribution to it) to the Renaissance circle on which Manutius depended:
In 1482 Manutius lived with Pico della Mirandola and served as tutor to his nephews, the sons of the Princess of Carpi. Like the later, beneficent Manchester merchants, Pico’s family contributed financially to the cause: they funded the opening of the Aldine printing office in Venice in 1494. Of course, Pico made more than a patron’s financial contribution to the cause. Along with Cardinal Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, Leon Battista Alberti and Erasmus – all known intimately to Manutius – Pico drove the revival of learning embodied in the output of the Aldines and numerous other printers (John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, Volume 2 (of 7): The Revival of Learning, John Murray, 1914).
The next major Aldine event is the summer school hosted by The Catholic University in Siena (31 August – 3 September) and jointly organized by the Centro di ricerca europeo libro editoria biblioteca (CRELEB). Other events with dates still to be confirmed are planned in Brighton, Treviso, Milan and Arezzo.
More on Aldus Manutius at the University of Glasgow Library here.
In her note in BookRiot, Nikki Steele takes Brian Dettmer’s TED talk remark that books are created to relate to our human scale and builds on it elegantly, if all too briefly, by bringing together the installation works “Literature versus Traffic”, “Scanner”, “Book Cell”, “Singularity”, “Biographies” and “Contemporaries”. She’s not the first to provide a Pinterest– or Flickr-style burst of “ooh, look at this”, but unlike her predecessors, she makes the point worth pondering: this art that is not on a human scale evokes wonder and awe.
This challenges and expands on Dettmer’s point that people are disturbed by book art because we think of the book as a body, a living thing. As John Milton said, “As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself”. That was in the context of book licensing laws that led to the confiscation and destruction of unlicensed books. Still, Milton would probably react as angrily to individual works of book art, and he might view the installations as if they were on the scale of the massacre of the Waldensians in the Piedmont.
Dettmer’s justification of book art that books “also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things”, that “books really are alive”, leaves us still squirming on the hook when Steele asks, “what happens when artists explode the scale and take books much, much larger?”. If you think cutting up or destroying a book is sacrilegious, what is your reaction to the 10,000 splayed in the streets of Melbourne by Luzinterruptus or the equal number cast by Alicia Martín into frozen defenestrations in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain or the even greater number in Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books, installed for documenta in Kassel, Germany?
Miltonic eruption? Or Steele-ish delight, awe and love of the art?
Let’s raise the stakes and confusion. What if the books used in the single-volume work and installations were the Koran, the Bible or the Torah? Art and ethics are rarely happy bedfellows. Is there such a thing as “responsible art” that does not run afoul of the principle of the creative spirit or the integrity of art? Is art wholly without cultural, ethical or social contextual obligations?
This is why I like book art. It provokes just by coming into being. Its existence and appreciation are hard won.
Late afternoon before the long worn wooden benches in the Bodleian’s Convocation Hall, 500 years after the death of Aldus Manutius, Oren Margolis served his audience well, providing them with a richer appreciation of the “finest printed book of the entire Renaissance”* – the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili – and of its publisher Aldus Manutius.
Drawing our attention to the more sculptural qualities of Venetian Renaissance printed books over the Florentine and to the evidence of the humanist agenda that drove Manutius, he led us to the page where Poliphilo (lover of all things, but in particular Polia, the ideal woman pursued to the end of the book) stands before a carving that foreshadows the Aldine Press device: a dolphin entwined around the shank of an anchor. The Aldine Press device was inspired by a similar image on an ancient Roman coin given by Pietro Bembo to Aldus, who wrongly associated it with Augustus and his proverb Festina lente (“Make haste slowly”) and adopted both for his printing and publishing business.
Erasmus praised Aldus, saying that he was “building a library which knows no walls save those of the world itself”.
For all of 2015, the world enjoyed a multitude of celebrations of the contribution of Aldus Manutius to publishing, printing and the book. After Gutenberg, Fust and Schoeffer, Aldus Manutius was perhaps the most important printer of the Renaissance. His portable books are still here, although locked away or displayed under glass, no longer so portable. Until now.
The Manutius Network 2015 provides a running list, links for some of which are provided below, including the online exhibition associated with Margolis’s talk. See also below, added in May 2016, the belated exhibition “Aldo Manutius: The Renaissance in Venice” at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.
Math Monahan’s installationSpecimen is book art that cannot be ignored.
[ The book is an organism. It lived, spread all over the world and, some would consider, is endangered today. These creatures have a life of their own. They manifest themselves in many forms but where did they come from? If they are animals of paper and text, from what kind of beast did they evolve? This series studies those primordial creatures that became the developed beings colonizing our homes and libraries. By looking at growth patterns, mutations, and morphological similarities we can better understand this animal’s rise in population for so many years, as well as its current decline toward extinction. ]
The images above constitute a mesmerizing series on Monahan’s site. It is as if we are looking at photographs of deep-sea creatures or impressions of fossils or slides of microscopic organisms. The latter impression is reinforced by the petri dishes in which the circular images are framed, but of late, the organisms, shown in the rectangular photos, have escaped the petri dish to occupy an undefined abyss. Like snorkeling or diving for the first time in strange waters, the experience of viewing Specimen is beautiful, exhilarating and a bit scary. The words quoted above and fixed alongside the images are humorous, wistful but still, in the end, a bit scary. The book: evolution or extinction?
Monahan hails from the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, whose library by chance was one of the original five library partners in the Google Library Print Project that began in 2004. In March 2012, Jennifer Howard reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education that Google’s book-scanning project had reached its 20 millionth volume but was slowing down. Even so, at its average rate, Google should have about 25 million books scanned now. As if foreshadowing Monahan’s metaphor literally and using the Google collection like a literary genome project, Harvard’s Steven Pinker, Jean-Baptiste Michel and the Google Books Team “constructed a corpus of digitized texts containing about 4% of all books ever printed [enabling them] … to investigate cultural trends quantitatively”. From this reservoir of digital strands, they plucked out the references to each year between 1875 and 1975 in the books, plotted them and found
The plots had a characteristic shape. For example, “1951” was rarely discussed until the years immediately preceding 1951. Its frequency soared in 1951, remained high for 3 years, and then underwent a rapid decay, dropping by half over the next 15 years. Finally, the plots enter a regime marked by slower forgetting: Collective memory has both a short-term and a long-term component.
But there have been changes. The amplitude of the plots is rising every year: Precise dates are increasingly common. There is also a greater focus on the present. For instance, “1880” declined to half its peak value in 1912, a lag of 32 years. In contrast, “1973” declined to half its peak by 1983, a lag of only 10 years. We are forgetting our past faster with each passing year.
Ironic that. Analysis of the “DNA” extracted from over 5 million specimens of the organism designed to preserve our past tells us that we are forgetting it more quickly year by year.
Curious about his interactions with the book species, I wrote to Math Monahan to ask if we could conduct the “in medias res” experiment: to go to his bookshelf, select a volume from the middle of any shelf, open the volume to its center pages, tell me what is there and answer a set of questions.
What are the objects immediately on either side of the selected book? As you take the book from its place, what are your physical sensations? How does the book feel to you? As you open to its middle page, what do you hear, smell or see about it or around it?
Do you recall the circumstances of acquiring the book? What were you doing when you acquired it? Why this book?
As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to “the book,” could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general?
Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?
MM: I decided to choose from my “to read” shelf. The book I found in the center felt “right” as soon as I saw it there. Although it was on my “to read” shelf, I decided to read it before replying. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not, I think it was the right choice. Anyway, here is my choice. As you can see, the book I’m using has a slightly different layout.
BoB: And what about the books and things around it, and what you felt as took Tree of Codes from the shelf?
MM: To the left stands the book, Folklore and Book Culture by Kevin Hayes. To the right, two wooden boxes stacked, act as a book end/space filler, followed by more books. The larger box on the bottom contains various samples of handmade papers. The smaller box on top contains blank note cards. As I removed the book I felt the unfamiliar squeezing of pages that I was surprised by when I first bought the book. It was caused by the cutouts on each page. They create the different densities that differ from the standard solid-block feel of a book. When I opened the book to its estimated middle page, I remember being very gentle. The layout of the book made the pages delicate lattices that I am very careful to keep intact. The carefulness must have overridden my other senses, because I don’t remember anything else. I thought the book felt “right” when I found it because, as a book artist, I work with the form of the book and the book as an object. That is my main interest. This book is published by Visual Editions, a publishing company that believes “books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell” (www.visual-editions.com). This idea meshes well with ideas in my own work.
BoB: Now that you’ve read Tree of Codes, you will have noticed how The Street of Crocodiles has pretty much disappeared. Almost but not completely. Are there echoes of that phenomena in your own work?
MM: Yes. Often the content of the books I’m using in my work is irrelevant. I am exploring the book as a physical form. Through folding, braiding, warping or any other alteration, I am revealing the transformative nature of the book. Each one holds different possibilities. My struggle is in convincing the viewer of this. We have a tendency to immediately read text, almost instinctual. Can text be texture? Is there more information contained in a book than words and images?
While a part of my process is (what I have been calling) relieving the book of text, I don’t feel this is an act of violence against any author(s). It is clear in Tree of Codes that the removal of text is an act of love or admiration for the primary story. My admiration is for the object itself. The text will live on in many forms. I am not using rare or one-of-a-kind books here.
BoB: Do you recall the circumstances of buying Tree of Codes? What were you doing when you decided to buy it? What prompted the purchase?
MM: I found it in a Barnes and Noble. I remember being surprised to see it there because it is a sort of unconventional book. I quickly put together that the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, recently had one of his books made into a movie and that could prompt the store to have all his works in stock. Still, I was very pleased to find it. I was introduced to the book about a year earlier by a friend. It was coming home with me that day, no question.
BoB: As an artist whose work has an intimate relationship to “the book,” could you describe the effect this has on you when you are reading books in general? The question may have different answers depending on the type of book or your intention on opening the book, so feel free to qualify your answer as you like.
MM: I think my relationship to “the book” changed how I approach books in any context. For better or for worse, I have noticed this change. The phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” comes to mind here. I find myself judging a book not only by its cover but also by its weight, size and shape, the textures of its cover and pages. Even by the fonts used in the body of the text are included in this analysis. Of course I read the summary and printed comments on the back, but these often fall after the book passes the physical tests.
BoB: Turning the question on its head, when the act of creating a work rather than the act of reading is in flight, how do books feed your working process?
MM: This is where all the information gathered through the process described above come into use. Understanding how paper textures interact with colors and fonts, how negative space in a text block affects how quickly you move through the book, how the lines of text change as you curl and warp the pages; all are now the backdrop to the creation of my own work. Sometimes this raw data is in the forefront of my thoughts while I’m working, while other times it is synthesized into a cloud of intuitive responses. The latter is often what I’m referring to when I say something “feels right”.
BoB: Decades ago, Peter Frank commented that exhibiting artists books behind glass was to confine them ” in some anaerobic chamber”. Unless your “organisms” in Specimen present themselves in the equivalent of a petting zoo, their exhibition requires us to stand at a distance and prompts us to view the book as an object to be regarded rather than “read” in the usual sense.
Your installation Between is another case in point but intriguingly different. There, you have taken two sets of books, opened each book, braided its pages so that it stands open and arranged each set of braided books in a circle spine to spine.
The circle arrangement holds the set together, without adhesives or mechanical apparatus, and the pages slowly unbraid themselves, each book returning to its original form. Although the installations, one in the Penny Stamps Graduate Studio and the other in the Hatcher Graduate library of the University of Michigan, are not under glass or otherwise fenced away from the “reader”, the “reading” or art experience can only occur as the unfolding occurs. And, of course, being in two separate locations, the installations do not allow us to experience them simultaneously. Yet, you intend “the installations [to] form a whole existing between the two spaces”.
So while Specimen is “at a distance” from us in one way, Between is so in another. With Specimen, we are relatively passive viewers. With Between, although we are not reading the unbraiding volumes, we are more active, almost participating. Our “witness” to the unbraiding is a necessary element of the artwork, but is that unbraiding toward forgetfulness and extinction or memory and renewal?
MM: Participation is the point of books. They are meant to be interacted with. That interaction has become a recent focus, especially thinking of library books and other books as they pass through several hands. I can admit, reading a good book leaves its mark on me. But what marks do we leave of books? What are the traces of these intimate interactions? Through time, whole communities are embedded in these artifacts. Find a book from a library or thrift store and try to imagine everyone that has ever handled that specific edition. Can you feel them around you? I aim to reveal that community.
BoB: One last question. Between forgetfulness and extinction, on the one hand, and memory and renewal, on the other, where would you bookmark us and the book?
MM: Whether book sales are up or down, it’s irrelevant. Even if the extinction of books never happens, the fact that text CAN be read digitally opens the book to possibilities beyond text, similar to (in my opinion) what happened to painting with the invention of photography. Artists are still working in representation, even hyperrealism, but the rapid expanse of painting and thought behind what a painting is – that is the direction that I’d like to see our interaction with books move in.
Klima, Stefan.Artists Books: A Critical Survey of the Literature. New York: Granary Books, 1998, p.67, citing Jacqueline Brody, “Peter Frank: A Case for Marginal Collectors”, Print Collector’s Newsletter, IX, no. 2, March-April 1978, p. 44.
Michel, Jean-Baptiste et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”, Science, 14 January 2011, Vol. 331, no. 6014, pp. 176-182, accessed 19 September 2013: DOI: 10.1126/science.1199644.
The Repository of Primary Sources has been running since 1995 at the University of Idaho. Under the wing of Terry Abraham, it lists “over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar”, and “[all] links have been tested for correctness and appropriateness”.
So what has this to do with the evolution of the book? Well, in the world of book publishing, whose job has it been to make sure that a book is known about and can be found — not only on publication but after? Marketing, Promotion and Publicity, undoubtedly, but they would be among the first to shout if Editorial or someone had not registered the book’s metadata with Bowker or the equivalent local ISBN registry.
According to Google, there are 129,864,880 books in the entire world (as of 5 August 2010, 8:26AM), but that is a semi-statistical estimate for the modern era drawn from sources such as ISBN registrars and OCLC’s WorldCat. Bookfinder/JustBooks, launched in 1997 by Anirvan Chatterjee, claims that through its network, it searches over 150 million books for sale. With the great hoohah over Hugh Howey’s Amazonian extrapolation, we can safely assume that there are many, many more books out there probably without ISBNs, which after all only came into effect in the 1970s and, even so, now there are vociferous opponents to the ISBN calling it an offline anachronism.
There is no question to beg about the usefulness of metadata. So is there a Terry Abraham and cohort out there to whom publishers and self-publishing authors can turn to deposit metadata whose links will be “tested for correctness and appropriateness”? Of course, that begs the question of whether there should be someone or organizations out there to perform that function. Why not leave it to the power of the Internet or the power of the market? Even if a book goes unnoticed or after a time becomes an “orphan work“, the power has spoken.
Let’s leave the power politics for another bookmark. Whoever performs the function, what exactly is it? Let’s call it the “findability” function. It goes beyond the usual social media marketing of a book or ebook that most publishers assign to Marketing. It goes beyond the usual search engine optimization (SEO), although it is arguably a part of it.
It goes to making the book as locatable an object as it can be, endowing it with “ambient findability.” See Peter Morville’s book of that title and judge for yourself whether “endowing something with ambient findability” misconstrues what he is saying or how the Web works. Nevertheless, …
Superfluous as they are claimed to be becoming, should publishers leave findability to the ISBN registries and librarians (until they become superfluous as well) or to the technorati?
As the book evolves, this “findability” function currently falls between the stools of Commissioning (where the editor discovers the author and pumps him or her not only for the ms but for connections leading to sales/marketing opportunities and further editorial opportunities), Editorial/Production (where the copyeditor, designer and production editor ensure that metadata is assigned and link-checks are run and the work is registered with the Library of Congress), Sales/Marketing (where marketeers scour the author’s questionnaire if it has arrived, create lists of mailing and emailing lists, compile the list of offline and online reviewers/bloggers and design the social media campaign and where a sales account manager with responsiblity for Amazon and other online accounts worries whether IT has included the work in the scheduled ONIX, EDI and customized catalog feeds) and Operations/Finance (where an accountant, analyst or inventory controller assigns the ISBN usually upon receipt of contract approval).
So if you are self-publishing or publishing books/ebooks, who attends to the ambient findability of what you are publishing? As more and more books go online, isn’t this part of the new craft and art of the book?
By the way, I found Morville’s book one rainy Saturday afternoon while shelving books at the local Oxfam bookstore. I bought it instead of shelving it.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the passing of a great contributor to the linked histories of the book and typography: Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813). Bodoni among others such as Fournier and Didot established the “Modern” fonts, typefaces characterized by the extreme contrast of their thick and thin strokes, delicate and sharp serifs and a chilly sparkling engraving-like quality heightened by generous leading and made possible by improvements in 18th and 19th century typecasting and manufacture of ink and paper. Bodoni planned and formed the royal printing house for the Duke of Parma in the Palazzo della Pilotta, where the Museo Bodoniano resides today. Associated with Pope Sixtus V, Carlos III of Spain and the Duke of Parma, Bodoni became one of the most celebrated printers in Europe.
Although Bodoni’s fame in his lifetime was of a piece with that of the Romantic figures Chopin, Liszt, Byron, Goethe and Shelley, his output was Neoclassical with editions of Homer, Catullus, Virgil, Horace and the English poets Thomas Gray and James Thomson. His two-volume Manuale Tipografico (1788, 1818) is a meticulous monument of typographic art with more than 14o sets of roman and italic typefaces, a wide selection of decorative designs and symbols and alphabets from the Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, Phoenician, Armenian, Coptic, and Tibetan languages. The 1818 two-volume edition can be viewed online at the Bibiloteca Bodoni.
This flowering of typography and design – reflective of the age and technical developments of book printing – prompts a thought toward the impact of today’s technology – screen display, ereaders, XML and HTML, cascading style sheets, etc. – not only on type and design but their purpose as well.
“The type and pages beg to be admired – that is looked at – which is well and good, except that looking and reading are quite different, actually contradictory, acts…. To look at things, we either disengage and let them flow by on their own or we stop them in their tracks. To look we hold our breath or (in the worst of cases) pant. To read we breathe.” So say Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst in their critical comments on Bodoni and the Moderns. (A Short History of the Printed Word, pp. 173-74; 1970,1999.)
Perhaps we are still in the age of e-incunabula and have not reached the point where type and design on the screen beg to be admired. The improvements delivered by Readmill and Readability have been welcome for their contribution to ease of reading. It may be perverse to wish for developments that may interfere as Chappell and Bringhurst assert the Modern faces interfere with reading. But that assumes that they are right in their hieratic statement “To read we breathe.” Might it be as legitimate to assert “To read we click. To read we link. To read we dim or brighten. To read we tilt from portrait to landscape causing the page to reflow.”?
Will High Definition play the role that improved paper surfaces played to allow those thinner strokes and delicate serifs in the 18th and 19th centuries? And if it does, what on-screen design, comparable to Bodoni’s increased leading, will perform the same heightening effect for new faces and design that beg to be admired?
For more on the subject of Bodoni, see “Biblioteca Bodoni Launched on Bicentennial Anniversary of Giambattista Bodoni’s Death” by Yves Peters, The Font Feed, 11 December 2013.
“There is art to be found in science books and science to be found in artist’s books.”
The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has been kind enough to share the exhibit labels for its display held in March this year in the Grosvenor Rare Book Room. The section devoted to “Artist’s Book History” begins with the Book of Kells and runs to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations.
Although many will claim that artist’s books began with William Blake in the 1700’s or so that would dismiss entirely all of the artistry that went into many lovely and ornate illuminated manuscripts that proceeded and somewhat overlapped the printed text in codex form. Whether painted in monastic scriptoria, as was the Book of Kells (c. 800), or by secular guild artists as were many others, the figures and/or flora are artworks to behold.
World Wars I & II brought many artist books associated with the Avant-Garde, Futurist and Surrealism Movements. Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté (1934).
The second half of the nineteenth [sic] century brought Dieter Roth and Ed Ruscha’s works. Roth was a Swiss artist for whom the book was just one of his media. Paint, sculpture, installation work and more also provided means of artistic expression.
Ed Ruscha is an American pop artist whose focus is in paint, drawing, printmaking and photography. His Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) photographically captures gas stations in book form as Andy Warhol did Campbell soup cans on canvas. This artist’s book is considered an important milestone for the genre.
Ruscha’s book also figures in the exhibit section called “Artist’s Books and Bookworks Today” along with works by Julie Chen and Susan Allix as examples of the growing availability of collectible book art today.
Julie Chen founded Flying Fish Press in California through which she creates handmade “artists’ books with an emphasis on three-dimensional and movable book structures and fine letterpress printing” according to her web site. These books are frequently moveable and/or interactive in their design.
British book artist Susan Allix also has her own (self-titled) press and she creates handmade books with a variety of fine papers and textures with letterpress printing, embossing and all manner of printmaking. Though some of her books convey a certain whimsy, the choice of materials, method of printing and crafts[wo]manship is the result of serious thought, planning and selection.
Other sections are devoted to historical examples of illustrated works of scientists such as Vesalius and Lamarck, which are well punctuated by the inclusion of Guy Laramée’s Grand Larousse, Brian Dettmer’s The Household Physicians and Doug Beube’s Fault Lines.
Books altered and/or sculpted by artists to represent something other than the original readable text are known as bookworks and they are works of art. This type of art is not technically an artist’s book whereby a book is created. Altered/sculptural books take from a book that had already been created and turn it into art by cutting, folding and/or sculpting it into an art form. Although there are many examples of this type of work, perhaps the most inspiring artists’ works (some available in art galleries today) are those by contemporary and still-creating Canadian Guy Laramée, American Brian Dettmer and Toronto-born, schooled-(in part)-in-Rochester/Buffalo and now-living-in-New-York-City Doug Beube. The examples of their works shown are all pieces inspired by some aspect of science or subject of scientific study including geology, medicine and geography.
The theme of the exhibit deserves a catalogue. As the exhibit’s online announcement notes, “Today’s mutually exclusive idea of ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ activity discounts longer understood ideas that science is a creative pursuit—that there really is art to be found in science—and that creative artworks often have some scientific basis and/or inspiration.” One would do well to start with Harry Robin’s The Scientific Image: From Cave to Computer (1992) and Brian Ford’s Images of Science: A History of Scientific Illustration (1993) and take further inspiration from the Grosvenor Rare Book Room.
When it comes to acquiring skills and professional training in book publishing, from the early days of the printing press onwards, learning by doing has been book publishing’s order of the day. Consider the following interview exchange between Mac Slocum (Tools of Change) and Theodore Gray (The Elements):
MS: What skills — or people with those skills — must be incorporated into the editorial process to produce something like the iPad/iPhone editions?
TG: Specifically in the case of “The Elements,” the skills required were writing, commercial-style stills photography, Objective-C programming, and a whole, whole lot of Mathematica programming to create the design and layout tool and image processing software we used to create all the media assets that went into the ebook.
Other ebooks might well require different skills. My next one, for example, is going to include a lot more video, so we’re gearing up to produce high-grade stereo 3D video. That’s one of the challenges in producing interesting ebooks: You need a wider range of skills than to produce a conventional print book.
Starting out in book publishing late in the last century, a novice would have consulted Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking and the Chicago Manual of Styleto learn the basics of design, editorial and production. If it were Trade publishing that beckoned, a familiarity with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”) would have been likely.
But as with the acquisition of print publishing skills through learning by commissioning, designing, editing, printing, marketing and selling, the acquisition of the skills required for ebook publishing could use a hand up from appropriate resources. People like Joshua Tallent, Joel Friedlander, Liz Castro, Craig Mod, Matthew Diener are those resources — either by example or authoring — and novices today would do well to start bookmarking their output.
For notes on the availability of formal training and career conditions in publishing, see Thad McIlroy’s The Future of Publishing.
No good history of the book in the late 20th and early 21st century will overlook this part of the book’s value chain. In covering the earlier eras, the outstanding historians — Chartier, Davenport, Eisenstein, Johns, Lefèbvre and Martin, McMurtrie, Pettegree, Pollard, and Suarez — touch on distribution and retail to varying degrees. When it comes to our era though, the effect on the book itself of the distribution/retail roles played by Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Apple, Google, OverDrive and a host of other smaller key players such as Project Gutenberg will loom larger. (So will that of self-publishing if we consider BookStats‘ report that self-published ebooks represented 30% of ebook sales in 2012. What the effect will be, though, is harder to say.)
Around since 1986, OverDrive has its roots in the production end of the industry, providing publishers with conversion and formatting services from diskettes to CDs to ebooks. Its owner, Steve Potash, set the foundations of its contribution to distribution and retail in 1999-2000 with his participation in the Open eBook Forum, now the International Digital Publishing Forum, and his creation of Overdrive’s Content Reserve. As of this writing, Content Reserve contains over a million ebooks; it is the “overdriver” behind the firm’s library distribution service and the OverDrive Retail Kiosk.
If the OverDrive Retail Kiosk becomes a key to unlocking the way back for book retail in the “real world,” it will by its own definition contribute to the evolution from the printed book to the ebook. Anyplace — in the mall, the main street or high street, the coffee shop, canteen or library — can become an outlet for the purchase of ebooks, which will feed back into the supply and value chains.
No doubt, historians will note that OverDrive required no physical ereader of its own, no Kindle, no iPad, etc., to reach this point in the evolutionary path but rather, it was its dual focus on finding an effective way to rationalize the delivery of multiple formats while pursuing a standard (EPUB) and on meeting the distribution needs of libraries then retail that put OverDrive in its current position. That position is symbiotic with both “closed garden” ereaders and apps as well as books-in-browser solutions.
Just as the Gutenberg press would not have taken off without the regular supply of a more relatively standardized form of paper, the digital book has had to await — is still awaiting — a more standardized format and mechanism of delivery. In reinventing themselves and these parts of the book industry’s DNA, OverDrive and others contribute to the evolution of the book.
Tom Chatfield’s short essay “I Type, Therefore I Am” celebrates the increasingly rapid rise of literacy.
At some point in the past two million years, give or take half a million, the genus of great apes that would become modern humans crossed a unique threshold. Across unknowable reaches of time, they developed a communication system able to describe not only the world, but the inner lives of its speakers. They ascended — or fell, depending on your preferred metaphor — into language.
The vast bulk of that story is silence. Indeed, darkness and silence are the defining norms of human history. The earliest known writing probably emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago but, for most of recorded history, reading and writing remained among the most elite human activities: the province of monarchs, priests and nobles who reserved for themselves the privilege of lasting words. …
In the past few decades, more than six billion mobile phones and two billion internet-connected computers have come into the world. As a result of this, for the first time ever we live not only in an era of mass literacy, but also — thanks to the act of typing onto screens — in one of mass participation in written culture.