In the days of print, publishing patterns fell in to step around the mechanical patterns of production. A newspaper could be produced throughout a day, printed in the evening and then distributed to the environs of a city throughout the night, ready for its readership to consume it in the morning. In the 1930s, in the UK, the Penguin Specials paperback series operated according to monthly patterns so it could respond to the developing issues of the day and address the needs of a new hungry readership. Publishers tailored the length of their material to suit the period during which their work would be consumed.
In the digital age, one can publish at any time and according to any rhythm. The mechanical processes of publishing and distribution are such that 12 books can be published virtually instantaneously, or at least within a day, if its Amazon, and 3 days if its iBooks. But just because you can… does that mean you should? A single imprint will struggle to ensure that each book receives the attention it deserves… Nor would a glut of publishing acknowledge that the readers patterns of consumption have not altered at the same speed as book production.
What I have found in working on Machine Books is that timing is still very much of the essence. One of the greatest ways you can communicate your values to your readership is the rhythm by which you establish your printing pattern. You have to set your speed and stick to it. In a world in which the number of books being published has increased dramatically, doing something week-in, week-out separates you from the impulsive and the amateur. Doing something regularly requires a great deal of commitment and organisation. It not only makes people expect your work and treat it as part of their world but subconsciously it tells them that if you have done something twice, three or four times, you are going to be there forever.
Time, of course, also refers to historical progression. I think it pays to think about the book historically. In the UK, we looked at a great publisher liked Notting Hill Editions which recently started publishing essays to address a growing interest in the form. Oddly though I would suggest that it was the arrival of the 3G phone and the digital book reader that initially brought about a resurgence in essays. Digital and print have a closer relationship than we think. When working for the Canadian Centre of Architecture I devised and edited a series of short essays for which we profiled the individual projects that were in a forthcoming exhibition. They were design objects, made to be attractive as possible in their own terms but also as a series. These were then compiled into the print catalogue: the project was monthly in the digital world — rigidly so — but then in print they were part of an annual or biannual cycle which coincided with exhibitions.
At Machine Books we are publishing monthly 3000 word, digital essays modestly entitled The Greatest Buildings of the 21st Century, written by the best, most thoughtful architecture and design writers from around the world. At the end of the year we will then publish the compiled series of digital-first essays in print as a book form. The project operates according to the familiar patterns of human life, the building blocks of our developing minds. Yes, we are constrained at the moment by the amount we can afford to commission but effectively what we are doing is giving privileged access to the process of compiling the book to the hungry digital reader. A step inside the timescale of a books accretion and the possibility to appreciate it as both a world of ideas and a tactile beautiful thing.