I've been thinking a lot lately about books, book publishing, and the future of both. Because so much of our business depends upon long-document production (from brochures to full-blown books and catalogs) the future of the visual word is a matter we take seriously here at The McNaughton Group.
I count myself a book-lover, but sticking my head in the sand about the surging popularity of e-books seems particularly suicidal, in the business sense. While "the death of print" has been "right around the corner" for a couple of decades now, something is really going on this time, and it looks an awful lot like the first few years of the transition to digital photography from its analog roots.
I actually have no problem with e-books, per se. I have Kindle on my smartphone and I use it. I'm quite seriously considering the purchase of a 'hardware' Kindle in the near future. I see the value in digital book distribution.
No, my problem lies in the notion of CRAFT. Just as the mobile editor with which I'm writing this post forced me into emphasis-by-capitalization instead of the more elegant use of italics for that purpose, so too the current e-book world is a wasteland of craftless... I hesitate to actually use the words 'typography' and 'design' here.
Kindle and ePub (the latter format is used by Apple in its various iOS devices) are both based upon HTML, the language used to lay out web pages. Very little of the nuance and craft available to me in print books is even an option in either of these formats.
So where does someone like me create value in a world of vanilla e-books? Is it possible to create a truly BEAUTIFUL e-book, as much for its visual appearance as for the content contained within that appearance? I think the answer to the latter question may, indeed, be 'yes', but as with all transitional periods, there are few, if any, tools to properly accomplish the task. We're very much back to the 'Dark Ages' of digital production, in the fashion of the worst early days of 'Desktop Publishing', building craft again in a new land. And in that process lies the answer to the former question as well - without efficient tools, beauty becomes an unaffordable, unmarketable luxury in many cases. So we'll be looking at this whole subject very carefully here at The McNaughton Group, and doing LOTS of testing!