Unbinding the Book – Challenging Preconceptions

Brenda van Camp, CMO Blurb and Katrina Hopewell, Senior Marketing Manager at Blurb – responsible for Unbinding the Book to life. Unbinding the Book is a project launched by Blurb, the indie self publishing platform, in collaboration with arts studio Jotta, that will be launched at The London Art Book Fair at Whitechapel Gallery from the 25-28th September. Find out more at unbindingthebook.com

We keep hearing the phrase ‘print is dead’ and it really surprises us when we do. In fact, in this digital age, print is sometimes seen to be the more valuable commodity – it’s tangible, it has longevity, it’s a keepsake.

We hosted a series of roundtables back in January and discussed with a wide range of people – designers, artists, photographers, chefs and architects –about their thoughts on the future of the book – and there was no true consensus – the impact of digital content, the tactility of print, the form and structure – all were debated – but what was more interesting is that we all had a preconception of what a book should be, in addition to what our own personal relationship with the medium is.

So we decided to open up this conversation to everyone, we wanted to do something that would really push the boundaries on what a book could be. We wanted to redefine about who an author is in the age of self-publishing. We wanted people to question some of the conventions and preconceptions that have become the ‘norm’ for books: Does the book need to be written by one person? Why should an e-book be a replica of the printed version instead of an extension? How could we expand the actual reading experience? How can we introduce more visual ways of story-telling in books for adults? So we decided to ask some truly creative people to push this concept and Unbinding the Book came to life.

We kicked off Unbinding the Book back in April 2014, by hosting a series of launch events in London, New York and San Francisco to open up the commissions process. We received over 300 applications, which proved that there was an audience really looking to push the boundaries of the book. We then selected nine artworks to progress to installation that looked at that concept in a very different and new way.

Next came the website, unbindingthebook.com, interviews, artists sharing their work, a blog that captures each of our artist’s creative journey and slowly our small idea began to form into something tangible. With poetry, sound, light and paper, a message slowly began spreading. Anything is possible. And now we’re launching Unbinding the Book as a special project as part of the London Art Book Fair, a perfect place for us to exhibit our artist’s work and really promote the creative freedom that self-publishing provides.

So who is the author of the future?

Until a few years ago, the publishing industry gated who and what got published, and very few made it past that hurdle. It is often wrongly assumed that books that don’t make it past those hurdles must be “bad books”. Whilst that may be true for some of them, many books are wonderful but get rejected because they would only appeal to a niche audience. That is a problem for an institutional publishing house with big overheads, as they would not be able to sell enough copies for that book to pay for the overhead costs they would invest.

Self-publishing enables authors to publish the books they have always dreamt of publishing – without any interference from third parties who may want to curb their creative concepts. The author is in control of all the decisions. They may hire a designer to design their cover but they are the one instructing the designer regarding what they want it to convey and they are the one who decides which cover they go with. And the same goes for how their book is edited or how they lay it out.

That is why we here at Blurb have made it our goals to create a publishing platform that provides all the necessary tools and products and services to enable anyone to create and publish their stories, work, and passions reaching audiences of one to billions. And in this new reality the haloed words of “published author” will no longer be reserved for the talented few but achievable for anyone who has has access to a computer and a story to tell.

For the record, at Blurb we are believers in a bright future for both print and digital books. We don’t believe that one will cancel out the other. They enable different experiences that serve different needs

And with Unbinding the Book, we are hoping that we can not only inspire a future generation of bookmakers, but also open the door for exploration and a new generation of experimentation.

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