It's not 'facts' per se so much as my views. Interestingly some of the people commenting on the previous post picked up on the issues I had in mind.
"Sometimes how your book is formatted or organized comes down to what they want of you."Although I've got a great deal of respect for the tradition of publishing - and used to haunt bookshops looking for the latest offering by Watson Guptill and North Light Books in particular - I've got some concerns about conventional publishing. The comments above highlight some of these.
"The problem with a lot of instruction books is, that the first idea for it is born in someones publishers office. "What is our target group with the most possible sales?" Very often it seems only the very beginners come to their mind. "So, don't scare them off, it all has to be easy looking = bigger sales."
Once I was approached by a publisher for a pastel instruction book. To get an idea what they wanted me to do, so I could fit within an instruction book series, they send me a memo with keywords. I remember things like "fresh","modern", "easy looking", "handy", "quick learning". To be honest: I was flattered they asked me, but horrified by their concept, so I declined their offer."
Plus as indicated in the previous post many of the people commenting said how much they learned online. So is paper publishing the way to go?
The economics of publishing
Publishing in paper has traditionally been an expensive business. To make a reasonable profit and to keep unit costs down a book needs to have a defined market and the potential to sell enough copies to make a print run worthwhile. After all publishing is a business and business considerations are always critical if you want to continue in business.
The impact on content
In keeping costs down, here's what I've observed (and have been told) can happen to content:
- the mass market is the hobby artist. Consequently books are often aimed at that hobby artist - and often the one who's starting out or starting to use a new medium. There are some intermediate level texts. There are relatively few texts of an advanced level for the artist seeking to further develop their skills in terms of techniques generally or a specific medium.
- many books have the same standard chapters on basic painting information - because of who the audience is. Such standard content tends to be very brief and consequently is often not done very well. (It's a good indicator of the level of audience the book it pitched at)
- it's cheaper to print images then it is to pay somebody to write text (plus of course as a number of people commented they only tend to look at the pictures anyway).
- the use of images will always be constrained by the budget and the easy availability of images. It's rare to see a book which uses great drawings and paintings from the past to illustrate points.
- there's a notion that if you provide all the answers in one book then people won't buy the next one
- content from one book can get recycled into another book at a later date (the art instruction book version of 'the greatest hits' album). This sometimes happens with very little indication that this is happening. (I now work on the principle of refusing to buy any book which has recycled content that I recognise on the basis I've already bought it once!)
- the percentage of the retail price which goes to the artist is much lower than most people realise. Artists as content providers don't tend to make a lot of money from publishing - according to the artists I know who have had multiple art instruction books published (none of whom are bloggers I hasten to add!).
The digital revolution and the scope for self-publishing
Changes in format, production process and distribution
It seems to me that conventional publishing might possibly be about to go through the same challenges as faced by the music business.
The common consensus is that the music business is broken. I'm no expert but it seems to me that the corporate world took a long time to realise what was going on. The old model of the 'way we do things around here' doesn't work any more. Downloading tracks from the internet and the advent of the iphone (and similar) means that the configuration of the old product simply didn't fit the consumers any more. Record companies have also been totally side-swiped by the fact that singers and musicians now have access to both the means to produce and the means to distribute (Facebook, MySpace etc) and are refining both the product and the product mix and price as they do.
So what's happened in terms of publishing art books? Well, as the musicians are doing, artists are now finding it's possible to publish and sell your own book without getting involved with publishing companies.
Here are a few examples:
- for those who like looking at the pictures - try 6 volumes of Karin Jurick's Artbooks. These were published by Mac and are all sold out!
- Artist and tutor Michael Chesley Johnson has self-published a couple of books
What I haven't come across yet is art books which can be read on Kindle. So are art books responding to the new and changing formats of online communication and publishing?
We shouldn't underestimate the impact of the internet on publishing and communication.
Increased competition and the introduction of econometric methods have radically changed mass media. Media consolidation has reduced both the breadth and depth of stories covered by mass media......Ratings and audience tracking promotes the most simplified writing and articles with the widest possible interest......Complicated argument is made as simple as possible in order to "sell it" / communicate to the largest number of people possible.
Wikipedia - dumbing down
In terms of format, a lot of people are now getting very used to short spurts of text and lots of images. I'm not sure whether the notion is that people haven't got time to read more or people now think in textspeak and 120 characters of Twitter.
On the face of it, it has got huge potential implications for the format of how books are published (lots of images and not a lot of text). On the other hand, publishers have been moving in this direction for some time.
However, this is an online art blog and I don't do short posts.
I try to be accessible but I'm just NOT into "dumbing down" - the over-simplification of processes which are actually quite complex. On the contrary I'm writing about matters which I think are actually quite complex - albeit I try to find a way of writing which makes them simpler to understand. I'm also writing and sharing about what I've learned and what I've found useful. The common consensus is that I'm not doing a bad job - It certainly hasn't stopped c. 1,1250 subscribers signing up to get the feed from this blog!
By which I conclude "one size does not fit all".
The main innovation in recent years has been the ability to produce publications which, in some instances, only exist online.
Here's what the Open University in the UK had to say about the benefits associated with online production of publications.
Online production, and making the materials open to everyone, has some considerable benefits over the former ‘Fordist’ production process.Those puzzled by the reference to Fordism might want to refer to the wikipedia article on Fordism. Fordism was associated with models of production in the post-war world:
Evaluating open learning
- It is not too expensive to change the study unit after it has been published in the light of comments received. Although the comments of colleagues are valuable, the need for external validation is reduced as both learners and other teachers can give feedback to aid improvement.
- When open to everyone, experts from around the world can comment and offer new insights which can contribute to subsequent versions. This has already happened on some of our units.
- If a unit topic is subject to rapid change – for example one about new technologies or influenced by changing government requirements (as is often the case with study units for teachers) – the unit can be easily updated and keep pace with change at a reasonable cost.
- a change from craft production to mass production
- reorganisation of the production process and functional specialisation
- standardisation of product and component parts
- economies of scale
- mass production - large scale production runs
- mass consumption (initially - you can have it in any colour so long as it's black!)
- the use of information technology
- use of sub-contractors to perform specific tasks
- more flexible production systems which permit smaller volume production runs
- reduced costs due to less need for storage
- the green agenda - and less paper!
The processes of production are now available to all and can take you down the route of:
- e-books (read online and with wireless reading devices eg Amazon's Kindle)
- paper books produced through online processes - such as those of Lulu and Blurb
- blogs - with individual posts covering individual topics. It seems to me that certain blogs like James Gurney's (winner of my Making A Mark Award - The FAQs and Answers Really Useful Medal - are providing a much better standard of art instruction by taking complex subjects and serving them up in small chunks. It's still easily digestible - but it doesn't try to over-simplify and lose the skill and the complexity of what it takes to produce effective images.
- downloadable pdf files - It's now easy to produce a pdf file. I now publish Making A Mark Guides (in pdf files) on various topics which can be downloaded from my website for FREE.
Here's my thoughts on this topic
Pros of online publication:Conclusion
- instant publishing - timelag between completion of content and publication much reduced
- ability to update as and when required - feedback means that you can refine and revise to produce a better quality publication
- wireless reading devices means you can take your e-books with you out into the field, to classes and workshops and on painting holidays
- potentially a greater say over content, format and layout as artist/author(within the constraints of budget/webware/software)
- potentially a greater percentage cut for the artist/author as publisher
- you don't get a book and you don't need bookshelves (having just started to think about getting a whole wall shelved to take my books - is this really a con?)
- you get to find out just how much you get from a book sale if you sell through Amazon
- The ISBN system has still to catch up with online publication - it's still oriented towards conventional publishing
- more work for the artist/author as publisher
- distribution is down to you - you need to make sure that people know about it and you have to promote it via the self-publishing website, your website and blog, hopefully your readers' websites and blogs etc
It seems to me that the conventional model of publishing art instruction books - and associated economics - has maybe reached the end of its useful life and needs a radical rethink.
Maybe it's time for a change. Said with some sadness on my part as there's nothing I like better than to sit with a pile of artbooks close to hand!
Maybe it's time to
- take publications online and
- for the artist/author to take charge of content, format, publication and distribution?