Printed Art Books In The Online Era

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Due to online publishing and the rise of “kindle culture”, printed book sales have suffered several setbacks. Art books represent an especially endangered species, since all sorts of information about art, including the art itself, seem to be instantly accessible online. However, for Karolína Truhlářová art books will always be worth printing.

According to estimates from 2008 to 2010, digital publications experienced a 1,260% increase in sales. And last year, e-books accounted for up to 20% of the market. Moreover, a large percent of all art or photography books are now at least distributed online or by major booksellers. Despite that, Karolína Truhlářová together with David Gloss opened an art bookshop combined with a small gallery in Prague in May, 2014. After one and half a years in business, she reviews the strengths and challenges of the offline option.

Communitarian rather than Commercial

photo – archive of Karolína Truhlářová

Karolína Truhlářová studied the history of art at Charles University in Prague and worked for a publishing house afterwards. As she explains, the idea of opening an independent bookshop developed gradually for more than a year: “I felt that there was no place which would gather books about art systematically and conceptually. Typical booksellers usually distribute mainly current publications and do not refill their stocks with the older ones. Their decisions are often purely commercial as they have to sell on a mass scale and cooperate with just a couple of publishing houses. On the contrary, we wanted to work with multiple publishers and institutions. Our goal was to make available also the literature connected with exhibitions and to publish monographs independently from time to time. Additionally, we wanted closer contact between authors and readers who could always use the shop as a forum for meeting.” The opportunity for this plan came once the Prague municipality put the space of a former furniture store out to tender.

Hybrid “Bookery” and Event Marketing

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photo – Bruner

 

The project won the tender and during three months of reconstruction David and Karolína turned a stuffy old hall into a spacious shop with furniture from the first half of the 20th century. The hall is designed also as a place for smaller exhibitions, autograph sessions, and meetings with authors. For example in April of 2015, an exhibition introduced Jiří Černický’s Dangerous Works on Paper. Černický mixes different media and experiments with social taboos. When asked about controversy as a tool to gain public attention, Karolína Truhlářová smiles: “I have no problem with exhibiting art that is provocative or controversial. However, it must make sense, and I cannot be ashamed of it. We try to balance the content of exhibitions with both conventional and experimental pieces.” The bookshop has also twice organized a “book bazaar”. Readers could meet each other and search for particular books also among themselves. Reader-tailored event management is one of the ways a shop can form a circle of readers-visitors of all ages who keep returning. Nevertheless, the Internet and social media cannot be fully excluded. But the new technology can complement, not compete with, the old one. During one and half a years, the bookshop has gained more than 1.100 Facebook fans.

Internet: True Foe or Friend?

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photo – Bruner

 

“From the very beginning, we knew we would need the Internet, Facebook and online shopping portal, so we got it. But the technology develops fast. Sometimes, I am afraid that we still underestimate its potential,” comments Karolína Truhlářová. On the other hand, she adds: “I do not intend to prepare online catalogues or digital publications. And so far I cannot imagine anything which would force me to do so. A book itself is a piece of art. When using a digital reader, one can never turn individual pages and feel the passion of a collector who holds the entire book in his or her hands. In this way, the Internet does not weaken the importance of books, it emphasizes it.”

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