In the early days of digital books — a couple of years ago — we used to say that while some books would obviously go digital, there were at least a few categories which would never migrate from print. One, children’s, has already happily flown the nest, though as one children’s book publisher said to me the other day — “The little ones do need a board book to chew on”. (I’m always terrified to observe tiny kids in strollers being pacified by being given the iPhone to play with.) The other category was always art books. And I confess that I found that a fairly convincing argument, though now that I am forced to confront the question, I see that it’s actually a bit illogical. When you think of the compromises inherent in our (highly developed and very successful) methodology of converting the continuous tone experience of a painting to four (or occasionally more) colors of ink, the idea that print is the only way to go if you want museum quality reproductions of works of art begins to look a little shop-worn. As I said in my post about Color recently, you are always two steps away from the original when you go to the printer, and while you may get the printed version to match the original photo, you have to trust that the photo actually matches the original under some lighting conditions. Of course the same problem could apply to a digital reproduction, I have to agree, but you have spent a lot less money striving to overcome the problem that you will have on the print route.

Len Edgerly’s Kindle Chonicles this week features an interview with Daniel Ankele. (The interview begins about 14 minutes into Len’s program.) Ankele Publishing LLC  has an extensive line of digital art books via Kindle Direct Publishing. (A search on Amazon yields 382 hits.) The books sell though Kindle at prices ranging from $1.99 to $9.95, and Ankele says they sell “hundreds and hundreds” every month: enough at any rate to support a family of three. The books are mostly fairly simple — just public domain illustrations with captions — and he describes compilation of one of them taking a full month as being a really long time! They prepare the material at about 250 PPI, which is the limit for Kindle Fire HDX, and iPad, using Microsoft Word, and following the specifications of the Amazon site. Their books on Amazon all seem to have the “Look Inside” feature, which enables you to see a large selection of the images — and these look pretty good to me.

Will this take the place of the coffee table book? Maybe not . . .  but the same impulses may be served by having these illustrations cycle through on your computer monitor, a digital photo frame, or your TV. I suspect that as time goes by some such display method will take the place of that impressive volume lying there.

February 6, 2014: Getty is now offering a selection of back list art books in digital form, many free.