Friday, September 19, 2008

And Sometimes It Works The Other Way

On-line channels need print, too! World of Warcraft, the most popular on-line role-playing game in the world, has a significant book publishing component. Over the past several years I have worked with Brady Games, the publisher of the World of Warcraft titles, producing special Atlases and Guides to help World of Warcraft fans enjoy and navigate their way through the ins and outs of this virtual world. The Atlases are beautiful reproductions of the different regions inside the "world", while the Guides -- printed in several different languages -- offer more information about the inhabitants, players and strategies. For this group of on-line fans, the printed piece is an art book and a collectors item. And with 10 million fans world-wide and growing, thats a lot of books!

The End of Publishing? New York Magazine's Grim Forecast

In direct contrast to my sunny observations of two weeks ago, the latest issue of New York Magazine offers some pretty depressing commentary about the state of the publishing industry. (Article in September 14, 2008 edition entitled "The End").

Is it the same for art book publishing? From my observations it seems that serious publishers of art and photography books are publishing a similar number of titles as in the past, but print runs are smaller and supplemented by reprints when needed. Maybe they have faired a little better than their high-flying trade colleagues by proceding cautiously...? I'll find out more about how optimistic my friends in the world of illustrated books are in a few weeks at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

My personal opinion is that ultimately books will continue in the physical form that we known of in those cases where their content is best, or most engagingly, represented in that tangible form. There has to be a reason for a book to be a book -- otherwise it is information that could be more easily accessed and disseminated on-line.

Incredibly, my own mother now has a Kindle! And though I am a die-hard book fan I guess I could enjoy reading a novel on the Kindle if I had to. But art and photography books are a different matter. In this case, a finely produced illustrated book has an important function, where the sensual experience of the object itself contributes to the message intended by the book, and to the recipients' enjoyment. And assuming that more and more information that was formerly contained in books and magazines migrates on line, a printed, physical, object will communicate that what's inside is particularly significant.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Great Photography Books that Document the Human Condition

Every day we are bombarded with trite commentaries that cynically reduce the important issues of our day to cliché. I find this frustrating and discouraging, because at the same time we know that the world is experiencing enormously complex conflicts and change.

Two new projects that I’ve been involved with remind me that there are people out there – and there have always been – who put heart and soul into examining in a meaningful way the complicated issues and realities of their day. And even more, they try to communicate to us the nuances of the human condition.

The Likes of Us, published by David R. Godine, is a collection of photographs from the archives of the Farm Security Administration that was meant to document life in America in the late 1920’s through the onset of World War II. These photos were meant to document real life as it was lived by a cross-section of Americans – and to counter the “cheese-cake photos” favored by many politically correct editors of the day. It is a project that was years in the making, and for publisher David Godine, a labor of love. Included are the works of photographic giants like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange as well as images from lesser-known photographers. Explaining the mission of the FSA project, photographer Russell Lee said in 1941, “ I am a photographer hired by a democratic government to take pictures of its land and its people…. Pictures which may endure to help the people of tomorrow understand the people of today, so they can carry on more intelligently.” Beautiful duotone images are reproduced from the original photos in the Farm Security Administration archives.

Reza War + Peace is a stunning book of photographs by Iranian-born photojournalist Reza. Published by Focal Point (an imprint of The National Geographic Society), the book is a collection of 30 years of photographs spotlighting some of the most turbulent places and events of our time. The text is written by Reza himself, and is a blend of straightforward reportage and emotional storytelling – with a thoughtful dose of poetry from Reza’s favorite poet the Persian Rami. Reza focuses our attention on the cost of war – but also on love, friendship and loyalty. “ Though the world I have seen and photographed is a story filled with war and tragedy, injustice and heartbreak, I have come to see that it is also a tale of the power of hope and the incredible resilience of the human spirit.” Oversized, with beautifully reproduced color images. With an intro by Sebastian Junger.

More about Reza and his work can be found on

This week Reza was in Verona signing a special limited edition series of his book, at Mondadori Printing. He's pictured here with my Mondadori friends Paola Bogoni and Lorenzo Bogoncelli. I wish I had been there too!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Are You Going Green?

A burning issue for those of us in the graphic arts? Or just a fad? Whatever your position, these days it is easy enough to check out where the companies you do business with stand on environmental issues. Most top quality vendors are happy to give you this information, and to offer you lots of great recycled and environmentally-friendly material options.

Here are some questions to ask your vendors. Click the links for more info:

ISO Certification. Is your vendor ISO certified? ISO 14000 is a series of environmental and organizational assessment methods developed by the International Organization of Standardization. There are different labels within the ISO 14000 series, but any facility you work with around the world should have the basic ISO 14000 certification.

Recycled. There are tons of great choices these days, for text stock of course, but also for binder boards, packing cartons, and other materials. Many of them are not much more expensive than the non-recycled options.

FSC Certification. If you're not going with recycled, find out if your paper selections are coming from mills that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. If you don't see the trademark, ask. This is a really basic qualification for being certain that the timber you are ultimately using was not harvested illegally.

Be sure, too, that your suppliers are using inks that are free from heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, chromium and lead.

For more great suggestions about Going Green on the job, check out True Green at Work, published by The National Geographic Society. This is a title I recently produced at Mondadori in Italy using a really nice recycled sheet called Symbol Freelife. The book has some thoughtful and very do-able suggestions for helping to make our work life have less of a negative impact on the environment (including working from home - who could argue with that?). What's next in this series? True Green at Home out in early 2009. Check out Nat Geo's on line Green Guide for more green suggestions.

Are environmental concerns part of your business decisions? Let me know!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Talking About: Art and the Printed Page

Print lives!

Despite the fantastic uses of the internet as a source of knowledge, information, and connection, at some point most people will still pick up the occassional book, magazine, or newspaper.

But today I am not writing for those people. Instead, I am writing for those among us for whom buying a beautifully produced publication is a deliberate act. We are the type of people who really LOVE the look and feel – the smell, even! – of the printed page. And whether we are looking at a glossy fashion magazine or a limited-edition artist's monograph, we wonder what kind of paper was chosen, or how many colors were used in printing (was that a PMS or a tint match?). Who was the designer? Who shot those photos? We are excited when a publisher hits the market just right with a new idea – and we love when someone comes up with a unique and unexpected way to put the whole package together.

And as it turns out, we can take heart, at least for now: in 2007, according to R.R. Bowker, 277,000 new trade titles and 135,000 on demand titles were published, an overall increase over the previous year. Graphic Arts Monthly reports that among the largest print operations in the US there was an aggregate revenue leap of 12% in 2007, indicating an increase in printed publications. At least in general terms, there are more books and magazines being printed than ever before.

For two decades my professional life has been connected to the world of print through advertising, design, and publishing. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some great companies and institutions – The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Aperture Foundation, The Creative Black Book, the Italian publisher and printer Mondadori – where the translating of important images to the printed page is itself considered an art. I include among my friends and colleagues terrific artists, photographers and designers; top-notch editors, publishers and packagers of art books; tireless production managers; knowledgeable agents and sales people; and some of the best printers out there in the US, Asia, and Europe who specialize in serving this fussy group of people.

This blog is meant to serve as a forum for commentary and opinions – hopefully some other than my own! – on subjects related to the interconnected worlds of art, photography, advertising, design, printing and publishing.