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The Future of Architecture Publishing

facade detail contemporary architecture

Last Thursday, Suzanne Stephens, Deputy Editor of Architectural Record, moderated a panel featuring Michael Kubo, former editorial director of Actar Publishers in New York, Kevin Lippert, founder and publisher of Princeton Architectural Press, Andrea Monfried, editorial director of The Monacelli Press, and Dung Ngo, currently Senior Editor, Architecture and Design, Rizzoli International Publications. In a fascinating and highly topical discussion, the panelists offered varied views on the future of architectural publishing in the current economic climate and with regard to the increased competition from digital formats.

In spite of the seemingly negative climate for what might be seen as niche publishing, all the panelists agreed that it is, principally, the book’s content that drives the publisher’s decision, not business concerns. That said, all publishers need to pay attention to their bottom line, though it is sometimes hard even for the experienced publisher to determine ahead of time what will be a good seller vs. a bad seller. To be successful, Kevin Lippert said, he finds it useful to position oneself slightly outside the mainstream, but if that doesn’t work, he knows he has gone too far outside the box.

Perhaps surprisingly given the present state of bookselling due to competition from the internet and chain stores, the panel also agreed that the audience for architectural titles has expanded, saying that we have been in a “golden age of architectural publishing”. The panelists warned about overreach though, because as publishers get bigger, so do their books (look at Phaidon and Taschen) and branding has become so fantastical that books have become “products” to display on your coffee table.

The panelists acknowledged that certain content should be freed from the print medium and eventually there will be a split between printed books and digital books. High quality, illustrated books with technical content will always find a market, but text-heavy or out-of-print books might as well be in digital format.

Publishers and editors are facing a unique challenge, but they are also in the privileged position of being able to explore what the future book will look like.

Rizzoli and Monacelli describe themselves as “publishers of illustrated books” and Rizzoli, according to Dung Ngo “publishes something for everyone and tries to reach the widest audience possible.” Kevin Lippert spoke about Princeton Architectural Press’ “fifty state strategy” to appeal to multiple constituencies. Michael Kubo said Actar employs architects and designers who compile most of the editorial content which streamlines their publications into their successful “narrow casting” model targeting students and practitioners.