I have often suspected that coffee table books - made with the beauty of the book in mind - are read but the once and perhaps glanced at by others. Their ostentation might have been their purpose. So - are they a dying breed? Frankly, I would think it quite the opposite. Perhaps they can become tombstones for the physical book.
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Do we still have a thirst for coffee table books?
As one leading publisher announces his retirement, Tim Walker investigates claims that this marks The End for large-format titles dying – and finds
by TIM WALKER
The veteran founder and CEO of the Quarto publishing group, Laurence Orbach, is due to retire next year. Announcing the company's most recent financial results this week, Orbach told The Bookseller that "the book- publishing ecosystem has been sundered" by the digital revolution. And yet Quarto's own sales in the first half of 2012 were better than expected. Orbach's firm is famous for large-format, illustrated titles: coffee table books, which could, in fact, be physical publishing's last, best hope.
Quarto was founded in London in 1976 by Orbach and Robert Morley, who retired earlier this year. Among its imprints are Quintessence, publishers of the 1,001… Before You Die series, and Frances Lincoln, which it acquired in 2011 for £4.5m. In the past few years, says Tom Tivnan, features editor of The Bookseller: "Illustrated books and art books have withstood the digital decline that the rest of the industry is facing. The 'beautiful' books are the print books that will survive in the digital age. The latest Bookscan figures suggest, for example, that sales of individual monograph art books were up 70 per cent last year."
The coffee table book is a 20th-century creation; hardly surprising, given that the coffee table itself was only introduced to Great Britain in the late 19th century.