CD-ROMs: Electronic artists' books?
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Issue 7   |   January 2000  

[Favorite CD-ROMs]

[Shopping for CD-ROMs]




Electronic vs. print publishing
Let's talk about the current state of electronic publishing by comparing it to old fashioned dead-tree publishing. The Internet, with its vast capacity and near-universal accessibility, makes a great reference library. You want to look up facts, head for your computer. The decision by Encyclopedia Britannica to eliminate a paper edition in favor of delivery via the Web is evidence of the change now taking place. Research is moving to the Web bigtime.

For timely & topical information, the Web has a lot to recommend it too. It's the biggest magazine stand imaginable, with special-interest publications on anything under the sun popping up daily. The ability to reach worldwide audiences via the Internet is something underground print 'zine publishers can only dream of. Still, cost & portability issues mean glossy magazines and their xeroxed counterparts will be with us for quite a while.

Likewise for the mass-market book. A good electronic version of the paperback novel or best-seller is still some time away, waiting for truly portable high-resolution screens to come along. Sure there are hand-held electronic "books," including one with a real leather cover. But they are still bulky, expensive, and visually inferior to their paper counterparts.

So the Internet fulfills our need for reference materials, and to some degree, periodicals and 'zines. We still buy books for leisure reading and entertainment. What else is there?

Unconventional books
In the book world there's a unique category called "artists' books." Artists' books are limited editions (often one of a kind) that are unconventional in style, content, and/or form. They combine text, visual artwork and sometimes sculptural aspects to create a rich multi-sensory experience.

They let you experience the author's words in more complex ways than usual, creating layers of meaning through artful presentation. Artists' books fall somewhere between book and art object, combining aspects of both.

This is the niche that interactive CD-ROMs can fill. The best of them, often produced by artists and/or musicians, span genres in a similar way.

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