I’d like to propose a conversation about the issues associated with publishing heavily illustrated books. (As an university press acquisitions editor for art and architectural history, I admit I have a vested interest in this conversation.) Art and architectural history books are particularly complicated enterprises. High quality images are essential to the text and the argument in a scholarly art history monograph, they are not simply “bells-and-whistles.” And art history monographs are substantially more expensive to produce than scholarly books in other fields—indeed they generally cost 60-75% more to publish than un-illustrated history or literature titles. Design requirements, the relationship between image and text, image quality, and permissions fees and restrictions all come into play in terms of the printed book. In the context of electronic publishing, these questions become even more prominent. For example, it can be even more difficult and expensive to obtain electronic publication rights than traditional print rights, especially in the case of works by well-known artists that are still under copyright—think Kahlo or Picasso. In addition, there are still many open questions about how to best exploit the digital medium to convey art historical interpretation in the most effective way. As a consequence, digital publishing in art history has lagged behind electronic publishing in other fields. There have been notable and impressive forays into the enterprise, but they have for the most part centered on museum collections or exhibitions.
By way of some background: The Penn State University Press is a member of a four-press consortium recently funded by the Mellon Foundation to explore these very issues. The presses involved in the Art History Publication Initiative (AHPI www.arthistorypi.org/) include University of Washington Press (lead), Duke University Press, the University of Pennsylvania press, and Penn State. The AHPI’s goal is to move forward toward creating viable models for publishing electronic scholarly monographs in art history, as well as addressing key issues associated with obtaining images and their pendant permissions.