March 1, 2013

The People’s E-Book: A platform to create digital artists’ books


The People’s Ebook will be a simple web app that will allow users to create ebooks and digital zines.

In A Century of Artists’ Books, cultural critic Johanna Drucker observes:

The artist’s book is the quintessential 20th century art form.  Artists’ books appear in every major movement in art and literature and have provided a unique means of realizing works within all of the many avant-garde, experimental, and independent groups whose contributions have defined the shape of 20th century artistic activity.

Today, while ebooks could become the 21st century’s quintessential form of media, experimentation with the variety of formats and e-readers is a challenge for artists who would like to create an electronic or digital version of an art book or zine. A PDF is as static as paper, Adobe Digital Publishing Suite can be expensive, iBooks Author is limited in terms of design choices, and ebook readers require native epub or mobi formats depending on the device. It’s difficult to find a solution that utilizes the innovation possible with the digital medium, while also being useful and providing an appealing user experience.

A free new platform called The People’s E-Book promises to be a solution to this problem— it will be a simple web app that allows creative types to make artist ebooks and electronic zines. While many ebooks mimic paper books, this app could redefine the possibilities of the digital book by allowing innovation and creativity to play a role in ebook creation. A video on the project’s Kickstarter page (the campaign ends tonight) explains what they hope to accomplish:

What is an ebook? What does it look like? How is it made? How can we hope to make one of our own? There are services we can use, but most require too much time, effort, and money to output even the simplest ebook. There are no digital publishing services and few ebooks out there that are as simple or as open to experimentation and play… we aim to change that.

The team behind The People’s E-Book is Greg Albers, publisher of Hol Art Books, a small press dedicated to visual arts and digital publishing, and Eleanor Hanson and Oliver Wise of The Present Group, an arts think-tank and studio in Oakland, who will help Albers make the platform using JavaScript and HTML5. “The People’s E-book is a super-simple online tool with an intuitive visual interface to allow anyone to make e-books quickly and for free. This is barebones e-book publishing.” says Albers in the video. “What the photocopier was to zines, we hope the People’s E-Book will be to digital books.”



Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.