“Parallel Lives” iBook

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We’re excited to release a new sort of thing today — an ebook!

Or, rather, an iBook.

We released our first, proper, dead-tree book a couple of months ago: James Jean’s “Parallel Lives” exhibition catalog. The limited edition of 1,000 signed & numbered books sold out in a day. We’d been pondering the idea of a digital release since before the paper version came out and we’re happy to see that idea come to fruition today.

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Despite the explosion of a new-fangled ebook market over the past few years, and the resulting head-scratching and teeth-gnashing about what such a development might mean for the future of books and publishing, the possibilities of digitally distributed books full of pictures, rather than words, remain untapped. The reasons for this are in part technological: the first ebook readers and the first ebook formats were all about text. There were no tools to make digital picture books, there wasn’t a place to sell them, and there were no devices with which to view them.

These things are changing. But more fundamentally: you lose a few precious things when going digital. There’s no way for James to sign these digital books. They’ll have no real weight, or presence on a shelf. Whereas the printed edition is emphatically material—touched by the artist’s own hand!—this ebook is an ephemeral stream of bits. And as “tactile” as touch interfaces have become, we have a long way to go before swiping a greasy finger across a cold slab of glass feels as natural, pleasant, quick, or efficient as thumbing through a neatly bound stack of paper.

There will certainly be no crazy resale market for the ebooks. They have no smell.

But they offer their own possibilities.

First of all, let’s talk about how great it looks. We’ve built it specifically for the iPad and it the images contained within are frankly wondrous on a Retina screen. Tap any image in the book to make it big:

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On a Retina screen, you’ll see far more detail than you would in the printed book. The images are bright and crisp; the color is fantastic — they glow. Outside of getting a good look at the originals, I’ll go so far as to say that there’s currently no better way to see these pieces of art than in this Retina-iBook form. Here are some 100% crops to give you a sense of the level of detail we’re talking about:

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The images look better than they did in print. There are also a lot more of them.

When we started talking to James about a digital version of Parallel Lives he sent us an incredible email, something along the lines of, “hey so do you think these would be cool to include?” with a link to 179 in-process photos which laid bare the creation of most of the pieces in the book.

Needless to say, we thought that they would be pretty cool to include.

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The iBook is a perfect place for these. There are so many photos, none of them really “print-quality;” they feel more like intimate snapshots than official documentation. Taken straight from James’ iPhone, most shot in low light, at off angles, right on the easel, surrounded by buckets and milk crates. We’ve tucked them into an appendix; twenty-one slideshows that you can pop open and swipe through to see a painting’s journey from start to finish.

They’re fascinating. I mean, look:

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There’s a whole other painting underneath that painting! That no one but James had ever seen! We can’t thank James enough for opening his process up like this and letting us see how these amazing pictures were built.

So those are the blockbuster features of this iBook when compared to its paper sibling: better images and (a lot) more of them.

But It is not without it’s subtler charms. For one, digital things are eminently portable.

For instance, you’re probably already taking your iPad many more places than you would ever take a signed, mint-condition, printed book. Browse on the subway, any day of the week! Show your friends at the bar, or whatever!

But these images are also portable within the iPad. This has been my home screen for the last couple of months:

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and here’s my lock screen:1

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And we’ve gone out of our way to ensure that these newly digital images are portable across the internet. See an image in the book and want to +1 it on a Facebook or Instagram it to your LinkedIn (or maybe just email it to your mom?) We’ve set up web pages for every plate in the book; tap the share button in the top right to get or share a link to the image. Like these: 1, 2, 3

Finally, while we were (of course) overjoyed to see the print edition of “Parallel Lives” sell out so quickly, it’s crummy to have to turn people away. Oh, did you want to own these images in a meaningful way? Do you want to see and share them? Were you thinking you might like to support us, and James, with your hard-earned money? Sorry! You can’t, you’re too late, there were only so many, we’ve plumb run out. Digital publishing solves that problem: it feels great to be able to put this amazing book back out into the world.

The digital version of James Jean’s “Parallel Lives” is available now—for $7.99—in the iBookstore.

1But how!? Open the book and tap an image to make it fullscreen. Tap the home and power buttons at the same time to save a screenshot to your photos app (if you’re particularly tricky, you can even initiate a pinch-zoom with a couple of spare fingers to get the upper-left close-button to disappear). Find the screenshot in your photos app, select it, click the share button in the top right, and say “Set as wallpaper.” Boom!