Hugh McGuire, who is always doing interesting things, recently pointed me to a post by Frank Chimero. (Well, he pointed lots of people to it). Chimero had been asked the question, “What is the future of print design?”
Chimero introduces a number of important notions, including the idea that “really good literature requires an artifact“. In making the claim, though, he also lays out an argument that much of what we design in print doesn’t “deserve an artifact”. By extension, those artifacts are over-designed or over-engineered, with status that exceeds their value.
Don’t click away just yet.
Chimero makes a useful distinction: some content does not merit being designed and published in physical form. Other formats and channels may be more appropriate.
I was thinking about Chimero’s views while reading Teleread’s recent discussion (some may say dust-up) about e-book pricing. The dueling posts and subsequent comments debate what lower ebook prices mean for publishers, retailers, readers and authors (pretty much in that order).
Chimero claims that we “invent things before we know what they are for”. Ebooks may be one of those things.
In debates about things like ebook windowing, the underlying assumption is that the book as object (ideally, hardcover) is the right starting point. We assume that the recent, meteoric rise in e-book purchases is a function of things like price and portability.
But what if at least part of the growth represents something else: individual recognition that the book as object is not always desired? What if the ebook is just something I want right now, at a (very) reasonable price, to pass the time, to test drive, maybe to sample before I decide if the ephemeral should become (my) object?
We’ve built content industries based on assumptions about cover art, fine typography, high-quality paper and appealing display. What if those attributes mattered only for the select few publications that had earned the privilege to be objects?