Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The future of the Photobook?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 9, 2009

Photo: Sarah Foye Photography

The very smart and forward-thinking people over at Livebooks are wondering what the next 10 years hold for the photobook.

Through their RESOLVE blog they’re creating a collaborative blog post asking people to think ahead to 2019. They ask these key questions:

What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years? Will they be digital or physical? Open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?

Click here if you want to contribute too.

Online or off?

Whether Photobooks will exist online or offline will be something fiercely debated as they develop. Some say, quite passionately, that the book will always survive because it is a physical, tangible product and about so much more than just the words or pictures. James Higgs for example wrote last month:

A book is a guarantee of permanence, and of ownership. There is no DRM baked into the printed word, and nothing stopping me reading a book I own whether I am in the middle of the Sahara or on my sofa. There is nothing stopping me lending it to a friend, and I don’t need to worry whether their reader device supports ePub, or whatever format.

When I buy a book, I’m buying a physical, real world object that has properties that can be appreciated beyond the words it contains. It can be beautifully bound, use attractive design elements, have respect for typography, and use the physical properties of the medium as part of the content.

But I was speaking to an innovative book publisher in London this week who’s convinced despite this books will all move online and he’s looking at new distribution models to that effect.

I think in 2019, the future belongs to both. If the Kindle and other mobile readers can keep up, they may offer an equally pleasant reading experience. A physical product will of course be so much more expensive to produce – and therefore buy.


One thing is certain though, the future of the Photobook is mobile. Simply because the future of every other form of publishing is mobile too. By 2012, the sale of smartphones is expected to outweigh laptops as we become a society who want things on the move. Photobook publishers need to be prepared for this, and thinking towards apps which deliver high quality photographs.

Even my dear old Mum now reads most of her books on her iPhone.

The great thing about apps is you can sell the product, but then also charge (a small amount) for the app.


And being a multimedia journalist I also firmly believe the photobook in 2019 will be a multimedia product.

In what way? Well, we’ve already seen the power of the audio slideshow demonstrated time and time again: the combination of audio and photography is hugely potent and photographers should be looking to tool up on producing great audio to capitalise on this.

So you’ll open your photobook on a Kindle or equivalent, scroll through the electronic pages and click on an icon to hear the subject of the photograph speak, or hear natural sound.

They won’t be a slideshow as such – the great thing about photobooks is you can move through them at your own pace.

An exciting future

Does the photobook have a future, with so much other distractions? Yes. Among the cacophony of new media, social media, web 2.0 blah, blah, a solid foundation is emerging of people who want and appreciate awesome content. Attractive, well designed, well shot, well written content.

Sure, there are millions more photographs in the world than ever before, but most are bad quality, and all are seen in some small 720×526 compressed format. By 2019 people will be crying out for photographs presented in a way that sucks them into a new world. That’s always been the power of the photobook, and that power – I think – will continue.

So tool up, learn new multimedia skills, get your head around mobile…but at the end of the day go out and practice taking the most beautiful photographs ever.


2 Responses

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  1. Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) said, on December 13, 2009 at 3:42 am

    Interesting thoughts. As exciting as the move into new media and new methods publishing is, there’s something about physical books, especially of the larger coffee-table style, that resonates with most people. Some kind of co-existence between the two formats would be perfect.

  2. Tim Wright - Lulu Blog said, on February 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    More information on the future of photo books from the Senior Product Manager at online publisher Tim Wright:

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