The demise of the paper-based book has been predicted for at least the last twenty years; and certainly in these days of Kindles, e-readers and tablets it is difficult for fans of the printed page to remain entirely optimistic about its future. Coupled with the threat to bookshops from online retailers such as Amazon and ebay the whole book-buying experience is changing, with many of the small independent booksellers who used to form the bulk of the trade having been forced to close their doors, or finding it increasingly difficult to stay in business.
But there are a couple of counter currents also in operation here. We have found that at PrintHouse Corporation we are producing more, not fewer printed books. Often, in a bid to provide the reader with something impossible to replicate onscreen, our customers specify production on specialist papers, or include finishing effects such as embossing, varnishing or coloured foil blocking. The same wish to provide a tactile and sensory experience unavailable for the Kindle reader has led to a growth in specialist publishing houses, vying with each other to produce the most beautiful books for readers who appreciate the physicality and heft of quality paper and print.
I also find it interesting that, despite the difficulties of the independent bookshop, apparently the popularity of book fairs is on the increase. Sometimes these have a very niche and on-trend appeal, such as The East London Comics and Art Festival recently held in Shoreditch (of course); but even more general second-hand fairs are attracting larger crowds than they once did. Partly this might reflect a shift in the business model of the second-hand book world; selling at book fairs means you don’t have to maintain an expensive shop-front, and can store your inventory at home or in cheap premises. But the experience of browsing through rare or unusual titles, in the company of people who share a similar interest, could satisfy both a social and a literary hunger, which may not be true of downloading Fifty Shades of Grey to your iPad. I imagine.
Both these trends seem to me to have something in common with a growth in interest in some of the more obscure, artisanal aspects of book making. Handmade paper, unusual methods of book threading and sewing, experimental and ‘altered’ books; all seem to be appearing in the work of young artists and craftspeople, keen to find new ways of making their work stand out. And, sometimes ideas born in these areas are picked up and gradually reflected in more mainstream media; as the song goes… “If everybody looked the same / we’d get tired looking at each other”*
At PrintHouse we don’t really operate in the artisanal or ‘one-off’ market, but we can still produce some pretty nice books. If you have a project you’d like to discuss, give us a call on 020 8963 0123.
* Erm, Groove Armada, I believe.