The quality of photo books has certainly evolved in recent years, the color reproduction being an area of most significant improvement. For instance, some of the Eliot Porter books I have do not come close to the colors of the original prints, I was blown away when I saw an image of his at the Farnsworth Museum, or even to images in the more recent books of his work (see here and here). On the other hand black and white reproduction seems to have been consistently of a high quality, certainly amongst the books that I own.
Even with the relatively high bar that I have for black and white photobooks I was pleasantly surprised with Paul Caponigro’s ‘The Wise Silence‘ that I found recently. A former library book, my copy is a little battered and grubby, clearly having been enjoyed by many before I found it! It is however a great collection of Paul Caponigro’s images, perhaps my favorite of the books of his that I own, printed on a nice heavy textured paper (Mohawk Superfine) and the text is letterpress on the same paper. All this makes for a great package – I wish there were more books like this and perhaps there will have to be if books are to exist as physical objects.
As we move increasingly towards digital formats it seems to me that there will be a real reason for books to exist in a physical format. Physical books will need to have something that sets them apart from their digital counterparts. That something could be size, or high quality fine art paper, a vehicle for letterpress printing, but will need to be sufficient to move people towards paper rather than sticking with there electronic devices.