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Laurence King

Laurence King Publishing holds a pre-eminent position globally as a publisher in the creative arts since its 1991. Their books are acclaimed for their quality, vision and erudition. Authoritatively written and beautifully designed, they cover advertising, architecture, art, the decorative arts, fashion, film & animation, graphic design, interior design, photography and product design.

Laurence King, born in 1955, is a British publisher.

Thursday, 10.12.2009
16:30 (Cet)

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Qompendium: Most silly question of all times: What inspires you in your daily work?

Laurence King: I enjoy making books. I get a great thrill every time I hear of a book idea, which I think will work. I enjoy seeing what the authors and designers do to realizes their ambitions; and I (generally) love hearing how readers, booksellers and others respond to the books we create.

How would you define: a book, a magazine?

Buying a magazine is a habit. Buying a book is a decision. Design magazines generally have to tell designers the latest and most exciting things, which are happening, in the different areas of interest. To serve their community properly they need to be full of diverse information, some of which is, or even needs to be, a matter of only mild curiosity to the reader. People often propose ideas to us which would make very interesting articles, but which would become books that no one would ever buy. Because no book is like another, they are brandless. Each one has to be sufficiently compelling for readers to buy it, either because it provides information they need, or it inspires them, or they covet it as an object.

You founded the publishing house by yourself? What hardships did you face in the beginning? What are the problems of the industry today?

I would not describe what we went through in creating this company as hardships. We just had less than no money and little idea how to publish books properly. This often made things difficult. But it was fun. And enough of what we were doing worked for the company to survive. You ask about problems facing the publishing industry. This has very different sectors, all of which have different problems, so that it is difficult to generalize. It would be possible to describe a whole series of problems. For example, outside the major cities, the design market is spread so thinly that bookshops, particularly the chain stores, do not think that it is worth carrying many, if any, design titles. So we have to try to reach our market in other ways, but without adding too much to the total spam in the world. The solution to most of the problems we face is obvious once you think about them.  It is mostly a question of realizing that there is a problem and actually taking the trouble to implement the solution to it. Most of the time, we do not get around to doing either. I would say the really difficult thing about any area of publishing, but possibly design publishing in particular, is finding good authors.

Laurence King Publishing stands for unique, well-documented books for professional designers. Do you believe that the market is being threatened by the Internet? Almost all designers have websites and their work can be viewed online. Do you think that archival books will survive?

This raises many issues. If books only duplicate information that there is on the Internet, they do not sell.  Books have to do something different – either by providing in one easily accessible place information that is not on the web or which can only be gleaned from the web with great expenditure of effort and time; or by being wonderful objects which are desirable in their own right; or all of these. Everyone knows that at some moment the publishing industry will undergo a huge transformation equivalent to that which the music industry went through (which must have been very uncomfortable for the people involved in it). Most books will eventually be downloaded rather than bought across a counter. The question is when? Certainly reference books have been the first to go on line, though there is still a strong market for them in volume form. I think that the technology has to develop quite a lot before other forms of publishing go on line in a major way. But I cannot predict when this will be. We just have to watch and be prepared. But I think that there will go on being a market for some printed books for a long time to come.  They may become increasingly a luxury item – like illuminated manuscripts were in the first age of print.

What book fairs are a must for our community?

Certainly the Frankfurt Book Fair. It is one of the most extraordinary cultural phenomena in the world – where almost every publisher from every country in the world gets together in one place to show almost every book that they are publishing that year. I have been there for thirty years now and still I am awed by it. Otherwise there are lots of fairs where you get some idea of what is happening but no one that gives you a complete picture.

How would you differentiate “Laurence King Publishing” from “Taschen,” apart that the publishing company “Taschen” has a huge variety of books for every taste at its disposal, in the best quality and maintaining just the right price-performance ratio?

Taschen is the art-publishing phenomenon of our time, a company I admire greatly. It is misleading to generalize about it because they create some books which do not fit into the general pattern of their program, indeed it seems to be part of their policy to spring surprises at the market. But I think that it is possible to distinguish between their general approach and ours. Taschen publish across a much broader range of subjects than we do, so that in a way the difference is similar to that between a generic product put out by a supermarket and that produced by a specialist manufacturer. We create mostly specialist books going more deeply into our subject areas, which they would not publish because the market for them is too small. Our books are generally much more author-driven and reflect the author’s individual interpretation of the subject. We therefore have to take trouble to get individual pictures, even if they are expensive or difficult to get hold of, because the author has a slant on the subject or has something particular which he or she wants to say. Taschen is often inventive about the subjects for its books, but their content reflects the marketing vision of the company, rather than the approach of their individual authors. Their books often sell on the subject and the price or value for money – so that they can afford to be less exacting about the actual content they include.  For example, they have published books on twentieth-century art and twentieth-century fashion with all the pictures coming from single sources, which may not be completely representative of the history of these subjects, but the readers are still pleased because the books have lots of good stuff in them and are such bargains.

As graphic design culture is constantly regurgitating itself isn’t it difficult for you to generate visual surprises?

Of course it is quite difficult, particularly as so much is now published in design, but this difficulty also provides the interest or excitement of being a publisher. If it was easy it would not be so rewarding when you do find a new approach or new material which people have not seen before.

A proverb says never judge a book by its cover. Your books not only diversify by their content, you experiment immensely with packaging in an almost fetishistic way. Books do sell by the cover?

The proverb exists because everyone is so influenced by appearances and probably they shouldn’t be. But design may be the one area where it is more reasonable than others because the books we publish in this area are not simply about graphic design, they are graphic design. Would you trust a book explaining the principles of design if it was badly designed itself? Would you trust the author to select the best and most exciting contemporary design if the cover of the book was dull? So I think that it is right to focus on the covers as well as the content. I like to think that in some decades a few of our books will be remembered as part of the history of design. It is something worth fighting for, anyway.


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