Tag Archives: e-books

Zoomii

We’re not entirely sure how we feel about Zoomii, the self-billed “real” online bookstore that seeks to reproduce the bookstore-browsing experience down to the smallest particulars. On the one hand, they’re to be commended on their interface, which is creative, fluid, and fun. We enjoyed “zooming” around searching for popular Abbeville titles, such as The Expectant Father (currently they display only the 25,000 top-selling books on Amazon, but eventually they hope to feature every book in Amazon’s database), and their “shelf” layout made browsing by genre easier than on any other site we’ve seen. On the other hand, their painstaking mimckry of the bookstore experience reminds us of the Times’s remark last year on e-reading devices:

“Numerous people have commented that if the paper book was [sic] invented today, it would be heralded as a technological breakthrough: light, portable, easy to share, no silly DRM problems, and it really isn’t that expensive given the value of entertainment a reader can wring out of it.”

By the same token, if the book-browsing experience had been confined for centuries to a small electronic screen, and someone had then come along and invented bookstores and libraries—vast cathedrals of handsomely-bound, tactile, often fragrant reading “devices”—that entrepreneur would be hailed as a genius. We understand that America is a spread-out place where it’s not always convenient, energy-efficient, etc. to travel to a bookstore or library; and we appreciate the sentiment behind what the Zoomii people are doing. Still, it kind of makes us fear the day some online chocolate store tries to convince us that they’ve created an experience almost as “real” as walking into Max Brenner.

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The Conservation of Style

venice.jpg 

While most of the publishing world twitters and chatters about the advent of the e-book, Abbeville Press glides through these uncharted technological waters as calmly as a Legendary Yacht. E-reading devices will certainly find a place in the market, but we don’t expect them to rock our boat anytime soon. True, they carry some obvious benefits: they’re compact, environmentally friendly (no wasted paper), and remarkably efficient, allowing instant access to whole libraries’ worth of material. But what they can’t re-create or rival is the book as aesthetic object: a lovable, tangible entity with worn or glossy pages to touch, old or new binding to smell, and of course, boring or striking cover to judge by. The art of writing can survive almost any presentation–great poems can be written on the back of an envelope and enjoyed on a subway ad–but the making of beautiful books is an art unto itself, and that’s where Abbeville comes in.

Frankly, we have a hard enough time squeezing all the virtuoso elegance of a volume like The History of Venice in Painting between the covers of a book, let alone onto a screen the size of an index card. (Even after 496 pages, we had to stuff Venice into a slipcase just to contain its overflowing awesomeness.) Digital books may save trees, but the volumes we produce conserve an equally endangered resource: style. As the publishing business (like the rest of the world) makes an Industrial Revolution-like leap into the future, art book publishers will become like small but necessary throwback towns in which homemade industry still thrives. And the capital of those towns will be a little place called Abbeville.

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