Can illustrated e-books match the magic of print?

Tablets are the future of publishing. What does the switch mean for art lovers?

Published June 7, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

You're reading this, so on some level you consider yourself a visual person. On sublime spring afternoons, you sit through long, foreign films; when out to dinner you comment on the design of restaurant menus; you critique the composition of stupid cellphone ads; you make sure your socks always match your suspenders. Me too (except that last one -- I don't own suspenders).

I also bet you have lounged around at home, slowly turning the pages of a large-format illustrated book, ran your fingers over the ink on the page, removed the dust jacket to palm the case wrap, maybe even stuck your nose in the gutter as you inhale gently. (Check out MoMA senior library assistant Rachael Morrison's art project that consists of her smelling every book in the museum's library!)

via MoMa

There isn't anyone out there today denying that e-books will be the preferred medium for reading within the next generation, at most. In early April, according to this Tablet PC Review article, Random House celebrated "e-book sales growth of 250 percent in announcing that its overall revenues climbed 6 percent to $2.5 billion last year." Publishing is a business and this kind of growth will drive the industry, across the board, from the corporate giants to the independents. E-books are here to stay then, and it is hard to argue the convenience of various devices and difficult not to marvel at how quickly the visual aspect of the e-reading experience has improved.

I have seen some pretty impressive apps and e-books that wrangle illustrated content and maintain the typographic integrity of their original printed pages, from children's books to artist monographs. Did I enjoy the reading experience? Not particularly, though it would probably grow on me if I owned such a gadget. Was I impressed by the resolution and the interactive and multimedia dynamics? Absolutely.

via Newsweek

We live in a screen-based world. You're reading this, right? It stands to reason that at some point in the not too distant future digital illustrated books will rival the printed editions. In early April, Publisher's Weekly reported MoMA's foray into app land with the release of five titles. Is there really a difference between images on Eugene Atget's glass plate negatives and images on today's tablet? Metaphorically, I don't think so ...

For discussion: As reading words off a printed page is relegated to a novelty in some old timer's nostalgic tales of yore, and the relationships people like me (us) have with codex books become as anachronistic as rotary phones, will printed illustrated books survive? Will the children of today's 30-something parents connect with books or just see them as things that collect dust? And what of their children? What happens when the human expectation of a "book" is actually some form of a digital book?

I'm genuinely curious: What do you think about this?

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

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By Buzz Poole

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