I just published an in-depth story and interview with a seasoned media veteran, former music industry executive, and author by the name of Bill Adler. If you have any interest in music history or the groups that helped define the golden era of rap such as Run DMC, Beastie Boys, or Public Enemy, you should find his insight and story fascinating. During our talk, about his new book entitled “Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label” he provides a great perspective about the future of publishing physical books in an era of what is perceived as digitally dominated. He explains:
"…the future of books, per se, is very much in question. Having said that, I believe that there’s something to be said for an actual physical book and an image that is twelve inches square and is beautifully reproduced. I don’t think computer screens compete… If it’s a novel, go ahead to your ebook. If the story to be told requires beautiful pictures as well, then make an art book in the way that Rizzoli does and glory in that. It’s still the best medium for stories like that."
Although the book is published by a traditional publisher, there’s still a lesson here for anyone that is publishing physical goods, including self-published authors. If you make something that is perceived as valuable to a specific audience, and make a concerted effort to present it as the work of art that it is, this will no doubt resonate with some. Plenty will decide to live without it, however, there are those who will receive its purpose, and desire to collect it.
In Adler’s case, his book’s shape and size [are] the same as the classic records that helped make the Def Jam label a success. For those in the know, it’s hard not to perceive this a thick record jacket. As the resurgence of vinyl has shown, people still crave physical media if it provides a significant amount of quality and helps to enhance the consumption experience. In this case, the book was designed by art director, Cey Adams. To convey his importance and involvement in perspective, I must say that he has been responsible for the artwork of countless classic Hip Hop and R&B covers over the last three decades. When discussing the value of physical art with this seasoned art director, he too provided an interesting insight:
“…there’s something valuable about holding it in your hands, seeing a photograph, touching it, looking at the type design and the choice in color. I just think sometimes…things online just feel disposable to me. When you hold a book in your hand the weight of it reminds you that this is something that is important because somebody spent time to give you 300 pages versus a 100 pages. There’s something tangible. It’s like a building. It’s powerful. I can’t explain it in any other way…We wanted to make something that was as big and as rich and beautiful as the history itself."
I think it’s worth remembering that as physical beings we will still inherently yearn to have tangible goods when we recognize them as special because they offer us a value. During my discussion with Adams, which will be published in the near future, he adds an interesting point about the craze to own products from the company and man that certainly helped revolutionize the way we consume media today, Apple and Steve Jobs. He reminds me, "they’re not talking about something they saw online. They’re talking about the products that they hold in their hands." Interesting analogy from a man who’s spent a life-time helping to create beautiful works of art that help tell the the story above and beyond what the music presents. Many of these works of art are being held and cherished by fans today.
The challenge for authors [is] to create something that resonates with an audience, contains value for the consumer, and is perceived as a work of art. Regardless of how many digital copies of the Mona Lisa there are online, there is only one that is protected and cherished by millions, copies haven’t diminished its value.