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E-BOOKS: Are Fine Art Book Publishers Moving into the Digital Age?


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By David Padwa

We have written before about the Musée d’Orsay’s e-book: Great Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings (above).Recall:

This book is an outstanding example of what can be done in the enhanced e-book format, and an excellent example to print publishers by the Museum and Artepublishing of the tremendous power of enhanced e-books in the New Media. The book is beautifully designed, and couples art and scholarship in a way not possible in the static print and e-book methods of publication.

Artepublishing’s final product fulfills our objectives for fine art in the new media as outlined in our purpose page through its interactivity, in-depth content, and overall scholarly execution. The enhanced e-book contains reproductions of nearly 200 paintings by 26 artists, over three hours of original audio information about the artists and their paintings, and more than 500 hyperlinks to related content.

Over the past two months we have been researching, conducting an informal survey and talking to various representatives at some of the preeminent art book publishing companies on their e-book strategy.




We were able to find this informative interview from Disegno with Julius Wiedemann, Taschen’s director of digital publications. Wiedemann emphasizes the digitization of Taschen’s e-book strategy through the discussion of:

  • Improving their existing app for more functionality and interactivity
  • Digitizing their e-book catalog, which allows for more flexibility in terms of distribution channels
  • Working towards a goal of 100 published e-books by the end of 2013

Taschen has also released Timeless: National Geographic as Celebrated by TASCHENwhich contains 125 of the most striking images from National Geographic in a 3-volume collection. They currently have four titles on the iTune’s e-book store. Of these, only one is enhanced: Linda McCartney.

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rizzoli-ny-logoRizzoli International Publications

We were able to make contact with Casey Whalen, a Rizolli representative, who was very helpful and transparent in terms of sharing the publishing company’s digital strategy. She relayed:

We have tried e-book formats, most recently with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater book back in 2012, which was available on iTunes- we’ve just found that people who enjoy these types of publications, still do prefer them as an object- which is why we’ve also seen a transition from typical bookstores purchasing the books, to more specialized retailers who can sell them not only as books, but as décor. You wouldn’t just put an iPad on your coffee table.

Rizzoli has twelve digital publications available for iPad on iTunes. Of these, only one is enhanced: Parisian Chic.

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logo+phaidonPhaidon Press

We were able to make contact with Elizabeth Lagno, a publicist for Phaidon. Through our research we found Phaidon has an array of both e-books and apps. Their app, Phaidon Design Classics is well designed, yet not enhanced. Phaidon writes on their website:

This authoritative and meticulously researched collection charts the story of product design over the past 200 years. It was years in the making and was compiled via rigorous selection process by an international panel of design-world insiders, including architects, critics, curators, product designers, auctioneers, and historians.


Phaidon currently has nine titles available on the iTunes book store. However, none of these title have been reviewed. Some are enhanced through the use of interactive live links, but their level of overall scholarship does not currently meet our expectations.

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Beyond the e-book for the Musée d’Orsay’s e-book, Artepublishing has two recent publications that have once again met our standards for enhanced e-books. Both Key Documents in ArtePublishing_Logo-sa_opt1American History from the National Archives, and Great Photographs from the Library of Congress meet our standards of excellence for enhanced e-books. From Artepublishing’s press release:

Reproductions of the documents, transcripts, and links to the National Archives official sites for each featured document are accompanied by original introductions by William G. Scheller, along with more than five hours of audio commentary. Links to the complete reports are provided for records that number in the hundreds of pages.

key docs  Artepublishing’s execution here is interactive, in-depth, as well as scholarly. The added introduction, links and audio commentary truly take advantage of the resources available to enhance e-books to the highest level of functionality.

great photos


Artepublishing is miles ahead of other publishing companies in terms of its transition into the digital marketplace.

Casey from Rizzoli reminds us that when consumers buy art books, they are likely to end up on a coffee table. Thus, a digital version would be obsolete for their market. But why not put an iPad on the coffee table? The unique features and presentational advantages of delivering these titles in a digital format could be immeasurably successful as an additional profit center for the company. The tablet may well become the modern coffee table book.

At the very least, there needs to be a static digital copy of each book from art publishing houses. The next generation of digital has to be: interactive, in-depth and scholarly. The quality of the scholarship separates different publishers from others. We hope to continue to chronicle this transition into digital conversion.

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