Edward Lucie-Smith con THE DEMISE OF THE HARDCOVER ART BOOK (Studies In World Art 139)
I’ve been writing art books, most but not all of them about contemporary art, for the whole of my professional life. Full colour art books, handsome quartos with illustrations on almost every page, priced to bring them within the reach of most middle-class readers, became a standard publishing form towards the end of the 1950s. As a medium for conveying information about the visual arts they were a dominant form for the next half-century or so, until – say – the financial crash of 2008-9. Now, it seems, they are an increasingly threatened species.There are several reasons for this. One, obviously, is the increasing dominance of the web. This, with its ability to provide a plethora of images at no cost to anyone who has access to a computer, has brought huge changes to the way in which the arts – all the arts – are accessed and consumed. A case in point is the way in which the web has changed the music business. Not so long ago, the main profit-maker for popular music – musicians and manufacturers alike - was the so-called album, presented on a CD. Now album sales are heavily down, and the individual song, downloaded on to a computer, or comparable device, has become a much more important source of revenue. Meanwhile there is an ever-increasing emphasis on live performance – on music as an event, experienced collectively, but face to face with the performer or performers.My impression, however, is that popular music has been able to adjust itself much more successfully to the recent transformation of its business model than art book publishing. There are quite a number of reasons for this. The most obvious is that music is immaterial. It therefore adjusts more easily to the essentially immaterial nature of the web. Another is that the music business has a much bigger financial base than art book publishing, and much greater inherent flexibility. It has been able to go back to the times, long before the birth of the CD, when performance was king, and, at the same time, has been able to harness new forms of technology.