Books and Vines Turns One, & Pondering the Fine Press Market

Books and Vines has now been in existence one year, which seems to me a good enough reason for some celebration and reflection, as well as some pondering about the future of the site. While I would love to claim a huge and exciting vision in creating Books and Vines, frankly speaking it was mostly just me desiring an intellectual outlet having nothing to do with work or ‘normal’ day to day responsibilities that drove me to carve out time for this. With passion around reading classics and being fascinated with all things wine, it was obvious to me what I should focus any remaining excess energy on. There is more here about my background, for those of you wondering what congruence of events resulted in my bombarding you with scores of ‘amateur’ reviews each month.

Creating and maintaining Books and Vines is purely for fun. Like most of you, I certainly do not need anything to create additional stress for my already pretty busy life. I set out to devote time to Books and Vines as long as it was fun, and will quit doing so the second it is not. As it turns out, the people I have met through doing this — fine press publishers, fellow collectors and those who just like a good book — have greatly enriched my life. So, up to now, this has been great fun and a fantastic learning experience.

While I initially thought Books and Vines would mostly publish reviews of classics, it became clear early on that there was significant interest in the make-up of the physical books themselves. Therefore, Books and Vines publishes both traditional book reviews as well as book ‘edition’ reviews which is not so much about the story, but instead highlights the physical book itself. Reviews of wines, and articles about wines, are meant to add some flavor (pardon the pun) and variety to the site. Besides, nothing goes better together than sipping fine wine while sitting in a comfortable chair reading a finely made classic. Such is what makes life enjoyable!

There was never any question that Books and Vines would be non-commercial; the intent being to educate and inform, hoping that enthusiasm towards reading classics, especially in fine press editions, would help drive a wider audience into being interested in exploring classics of literature and collecting the often amazing quality output today’s fine press publishers are producing. I hope in some small way Books and Vines is beginning to accomplish this, and hope in the future to do much more towards that end.

Some Statistics and Thanks!

In one year, Books and Vines has received about 85,000 site visits, including visits from people in 132 countries (there are somewhere around 196 countries in the world); and is now running at about 12,000 visits a month. There are currently 336 subscribers. Both metrics are continuing to increase, so I hope that on the second anniversary I can announce much larger numbers!  In one year, Books and Vines has published 265 articles, with 214 books and 52 publishers being highlighted, along with 275 wines being reviewed. This is approximately 200,000 words of written commentary with approximately 4,000 photographs!

I would like to give a huge thank you to Books and Vines contributors Neil and DlphcOracl, without which Books and Vines would not have nearly the extent of fine press books being highlighted. In addition, their knowledge is vast, their collections wonderful and their writing ability fantastic — all of which makes my job easy! Thanks goes to the many others who have sent an occasional article and/or pictures of editions I do not have, as well as to those who have sent words of encouragement regarding the site. Thanks also goes to fellow bloggers who provide excellent information for lovers of fine press books and classics, including Whole Book Experience BlogLEC and Heritage Press ImageryBook Blog and Ephemeral Pursuits. Their work is excellent and well worth following. The biggest thanks of all go to all who take the time to read Books and Vines and those who subscribe. You make doing this worthwhile.

Thinking Ahead, Things Needed for Improvements!

The value of Books and Vines ultimately stems from the quality, quantity and variety of classics and fine press books being reviewed. The more reviews, the more useful the site becomes to collectors, to fine press book publishers and, most of all, to those who read the site for fun or educational purposes. Towards this end, consider this a call out for more contributors! Whether you have an extensive fine press library or a small one, whether your focus is commentary on classics or on the physical books themselves, I would love to publish your thoughts in articles along the lines of what you see currently in Books and Vines. Even if you do not want to write the articles, pictures of fine press editions are gladly received for inclusion in articles written by others. Please consider contributing to Books and Vines, which in turn will go a long ways towards contributing to the value of the growing Books and Vines community.

I hope to begin including more reviews on Art and Cinema, as well as some occasional articles on Travel.  Contributions in these areas would be greatly appreciated. I would like to thank Robert Bailey for an excellent example of a film review and look forward to many more from him! The same goes for DlphcOracl, whom I look forward to more excellent reviews of music, such as this, this and this!

Fine press publishers — please keep in mind the popular Books and Vines News section. I am always happy to publish any news you can provide on upcoming works, awards, sales, speaking engagements, etc.  This is a great way to get your word (and books) out to a large and growing community of exactly the kind of people you want aware of your fine work! In its first year, Books and Vines visitors have followed links out to fine press publishers and other linked pages nearly 5,000 times.

Fine book sellers — the same goes for you. I am happy to announce in Books and Vines News any news you want to share, including rare acquisitions and major sales that would be of interest to Books and Vines readers. In addition, you are welcome to comment on published articles announcing if you have such book available in fine or near fine condition (note, there is a fine line here between pure commercialism which I will not allow, versus being helpful in the spirit of helping Books and Vines readers becoming aware of an opportunity that may be of significant interest to them).

What do I personally wish there was more of in Books and Vines? Comments and discussion! The site, and all who subscribe and read it, would benefit tremendously from more discussion on the articles. I often get private emails and occasionally there is some commentary on LibraryThing, but neither is as useful as doing so directly within the article in Books and Vines.  Readers of Books and Vines, please participate more actively in comments and discussions! The fine press publishers I know want your feedback, want to better understand what you care about and what you would like to see. Towards this end, you may start to see some occasional well thought out and detailed polls on Books and Vines, seeking your views that can be passed on to fine book publishers. Fine press publishers, Books and Vines readers would love to hear your thoughts on certain editions. Please, please, feel free to comment and discuss, do not be shy!

Pondering the Fine Press Market

Those of you who make these fine press works of beauty provide a trade and art to the world that reminds the rest of us how and why humanity is civilized. We can create beauty and things of lasting value. We can read and contemplate great works, in treatment that such great works deserve. Because of this, all of us benefit by encouraging the growth of fine press publishing.

Fine press publishers are doing their part to ensure new generations of book lovers continue to have access to traditionally, finely made editions; the quality of their work is top-notch resulting in beautiful and highly collectible editions. How about the rest of us; what are we doing to help this industry, to ensure the craft fine press publishers so precariously keep alive thrives? Certainly purchasing the fruit of their labour is the most direct (and useful) way of helping; however, anything we all can do to expand their market is, longer term, the more important answer.

Electronic delivery may kill the low quality, mass press physical book, but it provides a tremendous opportunity for fine press books. As ebooks proliferate and inexpensive physical books stop being produced, the reality is the ‘high end’ market for collectible, high quality books will and should grow. Those left wanting physical books will typically want them for reasons of rarity, exclusivity, tactile quality, collectible nature, gifting, beauty and differentiation — exactly what fine press editions provide. With this in mind…

I believe the potential market for fine press books is much larger than what fine press publishers are able to take advantage of today, mainly because of lack of exposure and effective marketing across a worldwide market. People cannot buy a product, or entire range of products, that they do not even know exist. There are certainly enough people out there worldwide with the means and interest where any run of 200-1000 nicely made fine press books should sell out quickly.  It typically does not happen because people simply do not know…be it bibliophiles unaware of a publisher or book that would otherwise interest them, or people in general (non-collectors and non-bibliophiles) who like fine things but do not even know such a thing as fine press books exist and are oblivious to their favorite title existing in a special edition. I frequently have people to my house who are amazed at the quality of fine press books — even those not interested in literature or physical books inevitably want me to send them information or links as they want to buy this one or that one for a gift.  How can so many people not even know this category of ‘thing’ even exists? Unlike the fine wine industry, or fine art industry, the fine book industry has a way to go to make itself known in the luxury market. Crass yes, but in today’s world the desire for, the ‘need’ to have, what amounts to a luxury product has to be created, maintained and earned.

Trade groups like the Fine Press Book Association (FPBA) are and should be seeking to greatly widen the potential audience of its members by making the case to the market/consumers why fine press books deserve their money and attention. FPBA and others need to be out there in appropriate avenues constantly talking up and highlighting the works of fine press publishers, driving up visibility and knowledge amongst the right set of target consumers, measuring themselves by how much growth in interest and sales such publishers are able to see (by the way, I am in no way stating that the FPBA does not do that, I am simply stating this is what trade groups should do).  At base, the more time fine press publishers can focus on their craft instead of day to day business and marketing, the better off the entire fine press ecosystem is. Books and Vines readers can help tremendously by either directly evangelizing fine press books every opportunity they can, or by helping trade groups such as the FPBA to do so for them (so subscribe to Parenthesis please, this is a great publication; also Matrix from Whittington Press is wonderful!).

If nothing else my hope is Books and Vines accomplishes putting fine press works in front of people so they can see, really so they can salivate over, books that they then realize they just MUST have!  My interest in growing the subscriber base and visit counts to Books and Vines is not just an ego thing; the reality is the more people that visit Books and Vines, the more people who will see the books that fine press publishers are offering resulting in more people who will buy these books or at least evangelize them to others. When fine press publishers do well, those of us who like such books are made happy with more selection, and even greater potential for special editions of works we care most about! In addition, the more people educated in classics and fine press works, the more civilized the world becomes! Blogs like Books and Vines and those mentioned above can play an important part in this eco-system, but it really depends on you! Educate. Evangelize. Contribute to Trade Groups. Participate. Discuss. Comment. And subscribe!  It is free, your email address does not get shared with anyone, nor do you get spammed.  You simply get alerted via email when a new article is posted!

13 thoughts on “Books and Vines Turns One, & Pondering the Fine Press Market

  1. This is my first comment here, though I’ve been lurking for a few weeks. I used to professionally review books and have a collection of 15th and 16th century manuscript leaves, including several from Anton Koberger. Yet despite this, until last month, I didn’t know that fine presses still existed. I had no idea that the letterpress art for full-length books persisted through to this day, really don’t know how I could have missed it.

    I found this blog after conducting a search on “fine press,” shortly after hearing about Jarret’s crowdsourcing effort (through Boing Boing of all places). Thank you both so much! I’m thrilled to see that such high quality work is still produced, and would much rather spend my collecting dollars to support a living press. This blog is fantastic, no question that there is much here to salivate over.

  2. Congratulations, Chris, on a wonderful first year of BooksAndVines.com.

    You’ve been instrumental putting my own work in front of the eyes of many people. Through your own collection, and those whom you have informed, you have helped me continue to build a fledgling press. For this, I thank you.

    As a creator of work, as many of you I’m sure realize, a tension exists between the desire to craft something which fulfills a passion – and a vision – and the everyday economic needs to sustain this kind of occupation. More than this, printers have families also, and we are responsible to them.

    At the heart of any project I take on, is the inspiration that comes from the text itself. It feeds everything in the design and creation of the book. Without it, I think a book would be sterile, lacklustre. The book I make cannot be devoid of my own sensibilities. And if I do it more for its marketability, than for the creative inspiration it gives me, I think it would show.

    We are forced to be ‘in business’ and some of us take to it better than others. It is but one of our hats. I am better than I was, but not nearly as efficient, or as successful, as I could be. My social media skills are middling, at best. You, and your confreres, have aided us in the act of sharing your passions, your admirations, and your critical eyes. You make it possible for news of our comings and goings to reach around the world, when we have little to scrape together to get to a book fair.

    I must admit that I do listen in, on occasion, to what is being said, to the chatter on this blog, and others, and on LibraryThing. But I try not to do it too much. I am gladdened by the sharing, by the positive feedback. The infrequent barb stings severely, but I focus on the good: that there is a body of collectors whom have discovered my work and they come back for more. I endeavour to produce the best book I can, for the sake of the book, for the sake of those whom hold it dear.

    My own books tend to go in three directions: into the collections of academic (and some public) libraries, where they are collected as a record of private press publishing and made accessible to all; into the personal libraries of collectors for whom the private press or the content is significant; and into the hands of those wishing to give a special gift to another. I am grateful for all of my supporters.

    My heartfelt good wishes, Chris, to you and your contributors. We all look forward to more.

    1. Hi Jarrett, thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. I for one am thrilled that you (and others) follow your creative inspiration, not some boring marketing/business plan that non-creative types like me would foist upon people! As another reader commented, art and craftsmanship suffer if done to please some businessperson! I think trade groups and fans of fine press publishers should carry the load on marketing and helping sell the fruits of the creative genius of fine press publishers! Works of so many of today’s fine presses will and should sell themselves simply due to their amazing quality and fantastic craftsmanship that are on display. The ‘word’ just needs to get out, and I hope all of the rest of us can help with that! BTW, your social media skills are great, and your use of the web for fund raising for P&P was fantastic, and I think a wave of the future. I for one am greatly looking forward to P&P (and your other future work) and am thrilled to be a subscriber of yours.

    2. Jarret – Thank you for sharing the challenges and objectives of your press.

      Your ‘manifesto’ for The Bowler Press underlines the commitment to publishing texts that you love and making books that are a joy to read.

      I have a some idea of the significant skill, time and incredibly hard work that goes into producing a hand-made book. I can also understand the difficulty and risks in juggling the ‘up front’ costs when you are making one product at a time that will not return any money until well after the initial investment in materials and time.

      That people like you have got the passion and skill to commit themselves to making such beautifully crafted and worthwhile creations in an age of poor standards, overnight fashions and throwaway products is something I have enormous respect for.

      Your first book was a great choice of text and was way better in design and production values than an initial effort from a new press has any right to be! The great reviews, accolades and awards were well deserved.

      You’ve embarked upon a project to publish and produce one of the most loved texts in literature and the words and images on your site illustrate a new edition of Austen that will be magnificent, will thrill ‘fans’ of P&P, and be a joy to those luck enough to obtain a copy.

      I hope your press is one of those that is around for many years fulfilling your ambitions and giving us books that we love.

      All the best,

      Neil

  3. Congratulations to Chris Adamson on the first anniversary of Books and Vines are certainly in order. From a personal, perhaps selfish, point of view the current mixture of book reviews of classical works and articles illustrating and discussing private presses and their extraordinary books is ideal for me. The book reviews have on more than one occasion prompted me to pick up a classic that I had arbitrarily decided beforehand I would not enjoy and had previously ignored. The articles on private press books, from both Chris and Celtic (Neil) have been a revelation, introducing me to classic 20th century and fledgling 21st century private presses I was unfamiliar with, bringing books of extraordinary imagination and quality to my attention.

    A special shout-out to Neil for his generous contributions and articles on private press books from his personal library. Although we are both avid collectors, there is surprisingly little overlap in our collections and his articles have highlighted and illustrated books I would otherwise have not been familiar with. That said, Neil, Edmund Spenser remains a difficult sell and I strongly suspect that I will not be making young Cuddy’s acquaintance anytime soon.

    I echo Chris’ plea for subscribers and readers to step up to the plate and contribute their articles and thoughts in the discussion section of each article. I suspect that many are intimidated by the private press books Chris, Neil and I have written about and photographed, giving rise to the mistaken belief that only books of exquisite rarity and craftsmanship need be discussed. Frankly, I welcome articles and thoughts from readers on books they have read, private press or otherwise, that they believe are important and/or transformative — books which offer special insight into our history, our lives, our current times, and our futures.

    One final comment — something not mentioned and taken for granted is the extraordinary technical expertise and internet/computer savvy Chris Adamson possesses to design and organize his own website. Books and Vines is a joy to visit, peruse, and return to when I wish to research a private press or classical book I may have overlooked. The site is elegantly organized and user-friendly, encouraging repeated visits. Simply put, it is not as easy as Chris makes it appear.

    1. Thanks dlphcoracl — excellent point on “welcome articles and thoughts from readers on books they have read, private press or otherwise, that they believe are important and/or transformative — books which offer special insight into our history, our lives, our current times, and our futures” …. that would be fantastic and I hope people send in such articles!

  4. Thanks to all of you who have commented, very appreciated! Good comments on polls and art listening to such (I agree, need to be careful there); also agree with Neil, these publishers are craftsman first and foremost..that is wonderful and should stay that way!

  5. Congrats on a year, Chris. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed looking at your lovely LEC collection and adding comments when I can. Thanks for the recommendation, too! Here’s to many more!

  6. Chris, this was a wonderfull read and has been from the start. Yours and articles of others have convinced me to start collecting LEC books which to date have only stunned me on the quality and pricepoint.

    So far i have kept to taking pictures because putting an article together seems to me to be a step too far (atm). I hope to keep contributing in the future.

    The one thing in this article that i would like to point to is the intention to start putting out polls. This i have a fear of because it is my experience that when art starts listening to its customers it becomes garbage. (end negativity rant)

    Heres to you keeping the fun in your blog for years to come.

  7. Chris, congratulations on Books and Vines first anniversary!!
    May many further anniversaries be added in due course.

    Menno

  8. Chris – congratulations on Books and Vines first anniversary!!

    It is a wonderful site and I always look forward to reading about, and seeing, the superb books you feature. There aren’t many sites that highlight fine and private press books and none that have the amount of information and images that Books and Vines now has (a special thanks to DlphcOracl for The Allen Press articles). It has become an important resource to me now and my knowledge has increased dramatically as a result of your efforts.

    You make some great points in your article.

    The expansion into more reviews and articles on Art and Cinema would make a great site even better. I enjoyed the articles on Art you posted in the early days and with people like Robert on board, I’m already looking forward hearing his views on some of the classic movies I love (some Billy Wilder please!).

    You mention the difficulties of private presses marketing their books. I’ve found that most small presses are run by people that love using their skills and knowledge to publish texts that interest them and devote themselves to making the best books they possibly can using methods that they care for. In todays corporate and avaricious world it is good to know that there are still individuals like that. The problem that you highlight is because most of them are not ‘businessmen’ and, in fact, many don’t like, or understand, the whole sales and marketing part – they just want to make beautiful books! It is well known that many private presses don’t make a profit and many who produced fine books are no longer around. Your site is a great way of exposing their handsome products to many who do not know of their existence. The presses that are operating today may be helped over their reticence if they could use Books and Vines to canvas opinion on their aims and ideals and as a way of showing an interested audience what’s ‘out there’. I don’t mean this in an overtly commercial sense – these presses love what they do and and are custodians of an art, craft and ideals that I think would interest many people who would welcome finding out more about them.

    I know what you mean about comments and discussion. I have spent many pleasant hours reading the words and browsing the images that people have spent time and effort putting on Books and Vines – without leaving a note or comment. I’ll try to be a bit more ‘forthcoming’!

    I’ll raise a glass of wine (recommended by you!) to your first successful year and wish you many more.

    All the best,

    Neil

  9. I cannot believe I have only been subscribing to your wonderful blog for less than a year. Since I only became aware of it several reviews in thanks to chatter on Library Thing, I was not part of the initial launch so it has definitely been less than a year. And no wonder it feels like at least 2 years when I read that you have published 265 articles in that time. I consider your site a tremendous resource for fine press eye candy and has inspired several purchases and wish list items already. Congratulations, Chris, and keep up the good work!

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