A New Take on the Coffee Table Book

cofftablebook.jpgIn one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, Kramer comes up with the brilliant idea for a coffee table book with fold-down legs that makes it into a little coffee table–a coffee table book COFFEE TABLE book. Hilarious.

Today I receive a press release from the folks over at Sideways announcing, “Sideways Takes the Coffee Table-Style Book to the iPad.”

Huh, I think. That’s just silliness. How can an app be a coffee-table book? The coffee table book is an icon. The coffee table book is, by definition a big hardcover expensive book you keep on your coffee table. Right? Just in case there is some chance I am incorrect about this, I grab my iPad off my coffee table and check with Wikipedia, which backs me up, and I quote:

A coffee table book is a hardcover book that is intended to sit on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for portability.

Thought so.

I email Charles Stack of Sideways. He calls me. I get to the point.

“Okay, Charles,” I say. “About this press release. How can you claim that an iPad app is a coffee table book? A coffee table book is a big heavy book you keep on your coffee table.” (I don’t go as far as telling him that I have verified this with Wikipedia).

And Charles, who (I soon learn) has an answer for everything, pipes right up:

“I have three kids and a wife. We have between us, two ipads. They are quite often on our coffee table. Sometimes I will be using one to play Sudoku, while my wife does a crossword puzzle on the other. Other times, we will use them to look up info about what’s on TV. Sometimes we use them to look up stuff we might be disagreeing about to prove each other wrong. The ipad is the new coffee table book.”

So, he’s being cute with me, eh? Before I have a chance to say, “Well, yeah but you know what I mean…,” Charles continues with the real answer, “Printed art books done well are about beautiful images. I spend a lot of time with them. But they don’t have that immersive quality of images viewed on an iPad. The experience is so different. The iPad really lends itself to contemplative browsing.”

Okay, okay – but that’s what the web is for, right – looking at pretty pictures can be easily done on the web already, yes?

Charles corrects me, “The web is NOT about contemplative browsing. The web is about ‘hunter’ browsing.” Which, I have to kind of agree with…web and contemplative – not so much. While I’m contemplating this, Charles goes on to explain some of the more practical features of the Sideways “coffee table book” platform:

Thumbnail image for mzl.wlodovtc.png“Printed art books are expensive for the publisher to produce, and they are expensive for the consumer to buy. With the Sideways platform, an art book house or museum can produce a ‘coffee table style book’ at a fraction of the price it would cost them to do a print version using the least expensive overseas printer.”

Okay, I guess I can not argue with that. It all sounds good. But, does it look good? Is it really a “coffee table book” worthy experience, this coffee table book-like app?

I check out photographer Diana Curran’s “coffee table book” app – created using the Sideways platform. And, it’s nice. It really is a contemplative experience. I can even see how this is not so much a cutesy play on “coffee table book,” but a valid reinterpretation of the term.

So, long story short, I won’t be getting rid of my big heavy gorgeous printed coffee table books, but I like the idea that I can now fit (and afford) a whole lot more “coffee table books” on my coffee table via my iPad.

Learn more about Sideways here.

The Diana Curran ‘Personal Gallery’ App on iTunes.