Holistic Design Practice
System Magazine,

Holistic Design Practice
System Magazine

A few years ago the death of the printed book was being foretold: the rise ofthe e-book would send publishing the way of the music industry. Everybodywould be buying digitally, profit margins would be slashed, and amazon wouldhave destroyed all the bookshops.

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So far that hasnt happened, though the disintegration of the bookshop seems tobe in hand. Sales of printed books have fallen and will probably continue to fall, but it is a complicated picture, with intriguing variations. While novels have losta lot of physical sales to e-books as much as 70 per cent for some titles thefigure is much lower for non-fiction, and lower still for art and design books andgraphic novels. And some countries, for example france and germany, seem littleinterested in e-books. But if you do still have a local bookshop, pop down thereand you can quickly confirm that, in creative terms at least, the printed book is notjust surviving but thriving.

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Far from the paperless wasteland, the digital fahrenheit 451 that was prophesied, we seem to have stumbled into a golden age of book design, in which morebeautiful and surprising books are being printed than ever before. This is not justa matter of nicely designed covers, but of books cleverly conceived and elegantlymanufactured; of books that are a pleasure to hold, books that could never beanything but books, that extend the possibilities of paper and would lose all pointflattened on to the screen of a kindle or an ipad.

Why this flourishing? The pessimistic view is that what were seeing is a temporaryphenomenon, a rear-guard action against the digital hordes. Or perhaps, as juliuswiedemann, director of digital publishing at taschen, speculates, designers andart directors know that if they want to produce a really fabulous book this is theirlast chance: what we are seeing is the crowd at the bar after time has been called.

No doubt there is some truth in both those theories. But by this stage a moreoptimistic view is looking plausible: that we have entered a new stage in the historyof the book. Apps, e-books and websites are facts of life; their effect on publishersand retailers finances is not negligible, and they will continue to develop. Butpeople are still reluctant to fork out for digital content  they wont pay as muchfor the e-book as they will for the printed equivalent (though from the point ofview of the publisher, the production costs arent very different, especially whenyou have to produce multiple versions for ios, android and kindle). Lucasdietrich of thames and hudson is bullish: t&hs sales are strong, without anyreal contribution from the digital programme. Among the reasons he adduces: the sense of ownership, of wanting to display books, of wanting to have and holdand smell them, doesnt go away. No-one ever feels they own an e-book.