When I wrote about my first trip to the National Museum Publishing Seminar two years ago on this site, I addressed the reasonably new task given to publishers of managing digital content without being any less of a print publisher.
Much as happened with the three times I attended Digital Book World and Tools of Change (my reviews are here for DBW 2013, TOC 2013, and the later whacking of TOC), conferences seem to have a set conversational style: even if the substance changes, it’s more like Mad Libs than Socratic debate. If at my first NMPS I was new to the conference game, wide-eyed about the discussion over print and digital while still believing it was more a matter of workflow and willpower than technology and money, this time around I was more attuned to the willingness of institutions to experiment on their own terms, to find a style of publishing that matched their sense of mission.
Greg Albers of Getty Publications detailed last week the excellent panel he moderated on digital publication technologies, and the chart he presented and ensuing demonstrations by iBook Author maven Tina Henderson, Elisa Leshowitz of DAP/Artbook, and Edyta Lewicka of Potion design, is a thorough primer on many of the options available to get content out into digital spaces.
But if Greg’s panel represents “EPUB 101,” particular approaches to creating digital publications, there was no shortage of other platforms described to audiences over the two days of meetings. Among the highlights:
- Harvard Semitic Museum Egyptologist Peter der Manuelian in the opening keynote presented a 3D rendering, complete with cheap red/blue glasses, of the Giza plateau during its antiquity heyday, made by French company Dessault Systems.
- Museum professionals from the Met, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, presented digital-first projects aimed at connecting directly with audiences through social and admissions programs.
- A panel on guidebooks feating Scala Art Publishers, Smithsonian Books, and the Museum of Modern Art ran the gamut from walking tours to trade guides and a wide range of digital walkthroughs.
- The Met, Guggenheim, and MoMA detailed varied approaches to keeping backlists alive through digital means.
- The final day’s opening Pecha Kucha (yes, folks, it’s a real thing) slammed out five presentations in a series of 400-second blitzes. I had to miss that first morning session but heard a lot of interest about the Hirshhorn’s multi-channel publication approach to their Ai Weiwei show and the Albright-Knox Gallery’s crowd-pubbed Anselm Kiefer catalogue (links to their unique takes on publishing, sadly, are hard to find).
Whew. That’s a lot of takes on digital publishing. Is that a good thing, part of the problem, solution, both, neither? Two years since my first NMPS, digital publishing possibilities are exploding, but print-raised publishers aren’t explicitly in the possibilities business, at least not according to budget-conscious, admissions-concerned, merchandising-worried museum directors. Still, many of the museums presenting, such as the try-anything Guggenheim and the data-inhaling MoMA, are out there, collecting data on what works, seeing what gets downloaded, what makes money and what draws a big collective meh. So museum publishers are moving into try-mode, it’s just that answers don’t abound. Yet. Maybe 2016 in Chicago.
For me, an interesting meta-approach came from what was probably the least publishing-focused panel, on Creative Collaboration. Lynda Hartigan from the Peabody Essex Museum, David Small of Small Design Firm, and designer and Rhode Island School of Design professor Lucinda Hitchcock discussed wide-open creative ideation that seem to be exactly of design-school and improv-comedy methods which would be laughed out of any curator-driven institution. And yet PEM is doing it in regular curator meetings–and before you say, yeah, PEM is small, the Met worked with Small Design on its massive reworking of its American Wing a few years ago. For people who think that the process is as important as the product (okay, me on this site here and here), this is the kind of panel that really makes you think. And that’s a good thing.