Uncharted waters

One feels as though an explanatory note is needed to introduce a new section of The Bookseller, self-indulgent though it may be. (I’ll keep it brief.)

Within the remit of perfectbound—in print, online and on social media—we will endeavour to explore, uncover and celebrate the field of publishing that might loosely be identified as design and/or production.Within these pages, we will endeavour to explore, uncover and celebrate the field of publishing that might loosely be identified as design and/or production. Why? The Bookseller has, in various iterations, touched upon these areas, but not—to the best of my knowledge—with a regular, dedicated focus. It is to some extent new territory for us, but to continue to overlook its importance to the industry would be, in my eyes, remiss.

The resurgence of the print market and high street booksellers in 2015 correlated with a rise in average selling prices; there are numerous hypotheses to explain this. My preferred version draws upon Wolfgang Riepl’s eponymous law, which states that new media never fully replaces existing media and its usage patterns. Applying this theory, one would conclude that rather than usurping print books, digital reading has catalysed print to evolve; in effect, to improve, to become objets d’art.

I would argue that e-books have not brought about the “death of print”, but rather instigated a rebirth of the medium (and the bookshop). That may be evidenced in better paper stock, special cover finishes, stronger type treatments, beautiful binding and all manner of processes, be they obvious or ethereal to readers. I would point to two notable examples: The Bookseller Industry Awards’ Book of the Year 2015, Paul Kingsnorth’s resplendent The Wake; and Waterstones Book of the Year 2015, Coralie Bickford-Smith’s sumptuous The Fox and Star.

Yet I am wary of instigating and perpetuating a print/digital divide. I referred to the fields of design and production “loosely” but deliberately, because as publishers’ content has been dematerialised (and reassembed in various guises) it has become apparent that a divide between form and content is fictitious. Design and production—“form”—is content, and it is not exclusively print.

Visual Editions’ recently launched Editions at Play is one such example of form and content dove-tailing; so is its equally impressive (print) issue of Don Quixote. Their success lies in playing to and exploiting the strengths of their respective medium, without being gratuitous or gimmicky. We hope to shine a light on such projects from all corners of the industry, presses large and small, publishers nascent and comparatively ancient. Print may underpin these pages, but there is no will for it to be the sole focus.

We will seek to cover cover design, production and printing processes, typesetting, illustration and more: the elements of publishing that are arguably overlooked, despite being central to the user experience.

Being relatively uncharted waters for us, I envisage the process being an iterative one; the hope is to instigate a conversation that is enticing, dynamic and collaborative. What would you like to read about?

Is there a publication you want to shout about, expertise you can disseminate, an opinion you wish to air, a dialogue you want to instigate, an individual you think warrants recognition? If so, I would love to hear about it.

Danny Arter is The Bookseller's creative editor. Follow perfectbound on Twitter and Instagram.