Story of a British Publisher: Laurence King

這陣子不斷執拾家中舊書,不經意地拾起2006年4/5月號的 RMM Magazine 來重讀,這期剛巧是 Britain Issue。翻翻看看,給我再讀到英國設計藝術出版商 Laurence King 的訪談。在我看來,Laurence King 算是英國出版界內,以出版「商業藝術設計類書籍」而聞名的四巨頭之一,創意思維不容忽視。

*The following article is extracted from RMM Magazine/ APRIL/MAY 2006 Vol.03/ Britain Issue/ P42-43.

As one of the important publishing house in UK, Laurence King’s attempt of being a publisher is to provide the books which serve all aspects of the creative community – the books which they will use as students; the books they will read as professionals to find out what is happening today; the works of theory that will enable them to understand this, and the reference books which will help them do their jobs better. He believes that these books stand out in the market place because people will know that their authors are the best and that they have put as much as they can into making the books as well designed and distinctive as possible.

What was the art and design books market like when you started Laurence King Publishing? Could you share with us interesting stories at that time?

In 1991, design publishing was very limited. Designers who wanted to know what was going on relied on attending fairs or buying annuals. There were far fewer magazines. The internet had not really begun to have an impact on the publishing scene. It was a very different world.

Our focus then was more on art history. But this market was largely taken over by the remainders, with publishers rehashing old material which gave people the illustrations they wanted at very cheap prices. So new publishing in the area of art history almost stopped except for the exhibition catalogues, subsidized books and university press titles. It became largely a static, undynamic market.

At the same time, the world was waking up to the really exciting things that were happening in design, architecture and contemporary art. We had decided to focus on design as one element in our programme but as not much had been published in this area before it was not clear what the market wanted. We had to experiment and see.

We found that the more we dealt with the contemporary scene, the more experimental we made our books, the better they sold on the whole. The market demanded and still demands that we not only but that the books we create should be design objects themselves, at the forefront on contemporary design, and aspiring themselves to be part of its history.

I find this very exciting as it is much more fun to participate in a living world, and know some of the key players in it, than it is to document one that is past and dead.

Are you inspired by a book recently? Could you tell us more about it..

Leaving aside the books I publish, I guess that the book I found most inspiring recently was The Book of Lost Books – a description of the really important books which have helped shaped the world which have disappeared. It is interesting partly as a piece of detective work in deducing the contents of the books from the impact that they have had. It is also an interesting side view on cultural history.

From your point of view, what elements define a good design book?

Of course any publisher would say that there is no one type of good design book because books have very different purposes.

However, one thing that consistently needed across all the different types of books is very good eye for what is exciting and important when deciding what material to include. A good idea can easily be ruined because the author or editor makes a bad selection.

Sometimes the whole point of a book is the selection, which can turn a fairly ordinary idea into something original and exciting. For example the book Hand to Eye edited by Angus Hyland is a survey of contemporary illustration which Angus made important through his vision of what illustration can and should be.

But in very different books, even educational or reference ones, the eye of the author or editor is vital. It is not just a matter of visual sense, but requires also knowledge of the area and curiosity about how things work or are made. This is entirely obvious but it is nonetheless very difficult to find people with good eye.

What about a boring book… what kind of design book that you will never publish?

I think much more about good books than boring ones. Worst of all are the books that are put together without interest or care.

It is 15 years anniversary of Laurence King publishing – how do you see any change in the trend of reading? People conceive publishing/ reading in a broader sense when internet kicked in…

Readers have become more demanding. More books are published each year so each book has to have a stronger reason for people to buy it. Also, because so much information is available on the internet, books have to offer more than can be obtained there. They have to present the information in a more accessible way. Books have to be exciting objects in their own right. I would say that books on the creative arts have generally become better in the last fifteen years.

It is a cliché that people read less and demand information to be presented in simpler ways. I am not sure that this is true.

Books where the text is very important in, even the dominant part of, a design book, can still sell well if it is good or interesting enough. We have great hopes for Designing Pornoptopia by Rick Poynor which we are publishing this autumn for example.

But with design and architecture titles, a lot of the information is visual. Readers will assimilate some of it without reading. The purpose of some of the text is to enable the reader to understand the illustrations properly and more easily. I think that as publishers become more aware of this, they are able to make books which are more fun and effective in describing visual culture.

There has been a lot of online design design magazine, web pages, blogs etc which has very high readability. Do you think this affect the publishing industry of design and art?

Design magazines and blogs have helped create a stronger design community; they have made it more aware of what it is going on, and more critical. I believe that it has helped the sale of good books which have something to say. So they have helped the publishing industry.

Among the books you recently published for London Book Fair, which one is your favourite? And why?

It is simply not possible to choose one favourite book which I published lately because the books are all trying to achieve different things… These are two books which I happen to be thinking about right now, so that I realize that my favourite book in our list is the one I am working on at the time. I think that this is one of the differences between being a publisher and an author. As a publisher you have to share the enthusiasm and the vision of many authors. As an author it is better to focus on one thing at a time.

Do you accept proposal for publishing? What elements would make you consider to publish them?

We do accept proposals for publishing. It is always very exciting when we get one in which we can publish. I have to say, though, that in the generality of cases, we approach authors or designers and ask them to write books for us.

Can you name us a few project that was initiated by individual artists?

The most famous case, several years ago now, was when David Carson approached us to publish the book The End of Print. This became an international bestseller. Quite often designers or architects like Ron Arad, Terry Farrell or Will Alsop will approach us to publish a book on their work.

More often, we have strong relationships with some authors and designers and the ideas develop in discussions with them.

Britain is a country of its unique and rich heritage and history, and famous for creative industry and culture. That is why it attracts countless overseas students to study there. Being a British publisher, how do you see the creative industry?

I enjoy participating in it. Also our country has lost most of its manufacturing industries, we have had to invent new ways to exist in the world.

I like the Creative Industries because they are all about the future, not the past.

When you were a kid, what did you want to do when you grow up?

Different things at different times. A doctor, a writer, an academic. I think that people quite often enter publishing because the diversity their interests makes it difficult to them to settle down to any one thing. It offers an opportunity to satisfy a variety of different impulses at the same time – to write, to be a businessman, to art direct, to be involved in manufacturing and selling.

How do you spend your holiday or leisure time?

I like reading and travelling. I like visiting foreign countries and trying to understand their art and culture – like many other people.

This might be something personal. Do you admire anyone from Britain? Any why?

I do not have one particular hero at the moment. But I do admire the people who are currently trying to create the Britain of the future – the inventors, designers, businessmen who see opportunities and seize them, rather than just think about all the reasons why new things are not possible.

Do you have any exciting news in Laurence King Publishing lately?

I am very pleased that Angus Hyland, a Pentagram partner who has worked with us on several books in the past, agreed to be our Creative Director, which should make a big difference to our books. His new take on illustration, The Picture Book, will be published this autumn.

*以下文章摘自2006年4/5月號的 RMM 雜誌:英國專題/頁44-45。

作為英國其中一個重要的出版社,Laurence King Publishing 努力嘗試去為不同方面的創意社群提供書本——適合學生的、專業人士用來了解市場的、理論性的著作,還有參考書籍等。他相信這些書本能在市場上脫穎而出,是因為讀者知道他們的創作人是最好的,而且他們盡心盡力去令書本設計盡善盡美和與眾不同。

當你成立 Laurence King Publishing 的時候,藝術和設計書籍市場是怎樣的?可否與我們分享當時的一些有趣故事?

1991年,設計出版是非常局限的。設計師要了解行情就要靠出席展覽會和購買年刊。當時沒有現在那麼多雜誌,而互聯網仍未在出版界發揮影響力。總括面言,當時的情況實在與現在不相同。

我們當初專注藝術史。但這個市場已經被其他人佔有,很多出版商重新出版舊有資料,以很便宜的價錢提供讀者想要的插圖。除了展覽目錄,贊助書籍,以及大學出版書藉之外,藝術史的新出版幾乎停頓。整個市場變得停滯不前,死氣沉沉。

同一時間,世界開始醒覺,很多令人震驚的新發展正在設計、建築和當代藝術界發生。我們決定以設計作為我們出版計劃的重點項目,雖然沒有太多此類出版出現過,市場需求並不清晰,我們只能實驗和走著瞧。

我們發現越接近時代,我們出版的書籍就越富實驗性,也越暢銷。當時市場不但要求(現在亦然)我們去紀錄和評論現況,而且期望我們出版的書籍本身都要是一件設計品,站在當代設計的最前線,成為當代設計史的一部份。

這使我感到極之興奮,因為參與正在發生的事物,認識一些舉足輕重的人物,比起紀錄已過去的事、已死的人物有趣得多了。

最近有哪本書令你有所啟發?可否向我們介紹一下?

除了我們出版的書之外,我想最近令我最有啟發的是《The Book of Lost Books(遺失的書籍)》,它描述和記載了一些失傳的著作,一些曾經改變世界的作品。它有趣的地方在於其如偵探小說般的風格,憑著書本對世界的影響力去推論書本的內容。它亦是一段趣味盎然的文化野史。

你以什麼元素去界定一本好的設計書?

當然任何一位出版人都會認為好的設計書並沒有金科玉律,因為不同的書都有相當不同的目的。然而,不同種類的書藉都一致需要的一項重要原則,就是在取決書本內容時的獨特見解。只要作者或編輯作出壞選擇,一個很好的概念就會毀於一旦。

有時全本書的意義就在於選材,好的選材能令本來平庸的意念變得有趣,例如 Angus Hyland 編輯的《Hand to Eye》,就是一本當代插畫的概論,其中 Angus 憑著獨特的視野,解讀插畫的潛能和力量,使這本書成為經典。

就算是教育性的或者是參考性的書籍,作者和編輯的眼界都是必需的。並不只是從視覺判斷力來說,而且需要相關的知識以及對題材的好奇心,以上種種都明顯不過,然而具視野又有見解的人畢竟是少數。

那麼乏味的書呢?有什麼設計書是你永遠不會出版的呢?

我寧願花心神在好書吧,我想最差的書是沒有花心思和努力去湊拼而成的。

今年是 Laurence King Publishing 成立的十五週年,你怎樣看閱讀潮流的轉變?

自從互聯網普及起來,出版和閱讀被納入一個更廣泛的意義,而讀者變得比以前更有要求。每年都有新書面世,它們需要有更強的理由說服讀者購買,而且互聯網提供大量的資訊,書籍需要提供更多資訊,出版人要把資訊包裝得更平易近人,而書本本身亦要成為吸引人的一件產品,我敢說創意藝術書籍在過去十五年來進步了不少。

常言道現今的讀者少了,而且希望所有資訊都以比較簡單我方式呈現出來,我不太清楚這是否真確。

有些書本的文字很重要,幾乎是一本設計書中重點的部份,只要內容有趣,仍然可以賣得很好,我們對於今年秋季會出版的 Rick Poynor 作品《Designing Pornoptopia》就很有期望了。

但是設計和建築的書本,大多數資料都是圖像,讀者可以吸收部份資訊而不用閱讀文字。而有時文字的作用其實是讓讀者可以更正確和容易地明白圖像。我想當出版人了解這一點,他們可以出版一些更有趣和更有效的書來描述視像文化。

互聯網上有很多可讀性高的設計雜誌、網頁和網絡日誌,你認為這對於設計與藝術出版業有影響嗎?

網上設計雜誌和網絡日誌令設計社群更強大團結,令設計師更與時並進,批判力更敏銳,我相信這對於推廣好書有一定幫助。如此一來,互聯網對出版社事業是有幫助的。

在最近倫敦書展展出的芸芸書目當中,你最喜愛的是哪一本?為什麼?

要在我們最近出版的書中選出一本最喜歡的是不可能的,因為每本書都嘗試達到不同的目標……現在我腦海中浮現的兩本書,都是我正在埋首處理的,或者我可以說我最喜歡的書正是我正在處理的。我想出被人和作者其中一個不同之處是——作為一個出版社,你要與許多作者擁有共同熱誠和視野;而作為一個作者,最好就專注一個項目吧!

你會否接納出版計劃書?你會考慮什麼什麼因素來決定出版新書?

我們的確接納出版計劃書,每當有計劃書能成功出版面世,我們都會很興奮。但是我可以說,在正常的情況之下,我們會主動接觸作者和設計師,請他們為我們創作。

你可以舉出幾個由獨立藝術家主動發起的項目嗎?

最著名的例子,可說是幾年前,由 David Carson 聯絡我們發行的《The End of Print》了,過本書成為了全球暢銷書。

許多設計師和建築師,如 Ron Arad、Terry Farrell 和 Will Alsop 都會找我們出版他們的作品。而更多時,我們已經和一批作者和設計師建立了緊密的關係,通過討論,我們會共同想出新的意念。

英國擁有獨特和豐富的歷史和傳統文化遺產,而英國更以創意工業和文化著稱,作為一個英國出版商,你怎樣看創意工業?

我十分享受作為其中一份子。而且我國的生產工業逐漸息微,我們就要發展新的工業立足世界。

我喜歡創意工業,因為它是關於將來的,不是過去的。

你兒時的夢想職業是什麼?

不同時候會有不同想法吧!例如醫生、作家、學者、我想進入出版界的人都有一個共通點,就是他們有太廣泛的興趣,令到他們很難滿足於一件事。出版事業提供很多機會在同一時間去滿足不同興趣——寫作、做生意、美術指導、甚至是印刷和推銷。

你休假或者不工作的時候會做什麼?

我喜歡閱讀和旅遊。與許多人一樣,我喜歡遊歷外國,去了解當地的藝術和文化。

這條問題可能比較個人,你有欣賞/崇拜任何英國人嗎?為什麼?

我現時心目中沒有一個特別的英雄。但我的確欣賞現在有份創造英國未來的人——發明家、設計師、還有那些洞悉先機和能夠捉緊機會的企業家,總比那些只會否定機會的人好吧。

Laurence King Publishing 最近有什麼令人振奮的新動向、新消息?

我很高興我們在 Pentagram 合作過幾本書的工作伙伴,Angus Hyland 同意擔任我們的創作總監,我深信他定能令我們的書換一番氣象。他最近的項目是《The Picture Book》,將會在今年秋季出版。

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Contributor

Hei Shing
chanheishing@gmail.com

書就是… A Book is…


一片紙不但表現時間,也表現空間。而一片片的紙張組合起來的書就是一個高深的容器,盛滿文字,既能從中不斷汲取智慧,又能裝入無限的智慧。

A piece of paper reflects not only time but also space. Books are formed by binding papers together to become containers of words that serve as a reservoir as well as a spring of wisdom.

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