An Interview with No Layout — by Christopher Schreck

No Layout, an online bookstore/digital library run by London-based art director Daniel Pianetti, is one of a series of platforms to have emerged in the past few years aimed at changing the way we discover, display, and purchase printed content online. Its approach falls somewhere between archival resource and promotional tool.

 

Established in 2010 as a digital library of art zines and fashion magazines (each item fully viewable through an intuitive, cleanly designed, non-app interface), the site recently expanded its format to include an online store specializing in independently published art books. While Pianetti is still in the process of expanding its selection of titles (among those currently featured are publications by Nieves and Morava Books), the store is perhaps most noteworthy for its business model: positioning itself as an “exposure intermediary;” No Layout doesn’t take any commission on its sales, instead allowing customers to purchase items directly from the publishers.

 

Those businesses wishing to sell items in the store, although required to pay an annual fee and handle the shipping process, are in turn relieved of costs otherwise incurred shipping and paying commissions to their distributors. It’s an interesting update on traditional distribution models – one that, according to Pianetti, effectively establishes No Layout as “the cheapest online bookstore.” Daniel was kind enough to answer a few questions about No Layout’s mission and model; you can read our interview below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christopher Schreck: I wanted to talk first about the new No Layout bookstore. It’s an interesting business model, in that it’s one of the few we’ve seen that specifically addresses the costs of distributing printed art publications.

 

Daniel Pianetti: I hear frustrated stories about distribution and shipping costs all the time from small publishers. I’d understand needing a distributor if they had to sell 10,000 copies around the world, but for only 100 copies, let’s say, I think you can handle it yourself, selling directly to your readers, and still go personally to these gallery-bookstores and ask if you can drop a copy there for the sake of the beauty of an object on display. If my thinking is right, No Layout could help in giving exposure and selling those 100 copies more easily, especially to people who had otherwise never heard of the publication.

 

Do you have a particular tone or content in mind for the site? Have you rejected many submissions? What makes a publication appropriate or inappropriate for No Layout?

 

I do make a selection—almost 50% of submissions are denied. But since I don’t have a precise style or content guidelines, I’m often asked about my unorthodox choices. With No Layout, you can find well-designed publications or a crap magazine containing one single picture I like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it was first established in 2010, the accessibility and straightforward design of the digital library was seen as a reaction to existing means of accessing printed materials digitally – i.e., e-book platforms, apps, PDF downloads, etc. Can you speak a bit as to how you feel the library functions within that conversation? Looking at other platforms, have you witnessed any notable changes or improvements in this area over the past two years?

 

When I was gathering feedback before the launch I received some aggressive reactions (“print is already dying, why would you do that?”), but for me it was obvious from the beginning that I wasn’t trying to replace the printed matter, just creating an archive for their aliases. I don’t think the value of No Layout is in the viewing experience, but rather in the discovery and archive. Maybe it is an improvement by having them all in the same basic format instead of uncomfortable files and links spread around, but really, the way we display the publication is the most basic and crude way possible. We didn’t want to create a new reading experience or anything—we’re just organizing, not reacting. VFiles launched last week, and they share the same approach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Layout is non-app and optimized for iPhone, iPad, and all browsers. Do you have any sense of how people are using the site—i.e., what percentage is browser usage, what percentage views the site on mobile devices, etc.? If so, has there been any effort made to tailor the site’s content to reflect those figures?

 

You can read a No Layout magazine on your couch with an iPad if you want, but few do: less than 5% of our visits come from mobile devices. From the beginning, I thought of the site more as an archive tool rather than a reading tool; I imagined people using it to flip through quickly for discovery or to research at work and school.

 

As it stands, both the store and the library present its content in a standard format. Moving forward, would you have any interest in collaborating with publishers on unique, site-specific content or formatting?

 

I don’t think that that will happen under No Layout’s roof; I’d like to focus on selling exclusive or signed items. On the side, however, I’d like to make some iPad publishing projects on my own as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there any independent publishers/platforms whose digital presence you find particularly interesting?

 

Usually I like publishers who are able to transpose their content or identity in every medium as subtly as possible; by understanding that they don’t have to recreate their magazine as an app, they can simply complement it. You can do it with no budget, but oddly enough, this is something that the smallest independent publishers have the hardest time understanding. One of the best cross-platform editorial examples is Fantastic Man–their daily online suggestions perfectly match their concept, yet it’s something easy and unique that you can’t have on print.

 

I’ve always thought that the day I work on an iPad app for a magazine, I will just make an endless scroll of full-screen images, because lazily swiping is simply the best experience on tablet.

 

Can you explain the meaning behind the name of the site?

 

Like the No Wave movement, it’s about the rejection of a restricted frame: the published content can be molded into other entities.

 

What’s next for you and No Layout?

 

During the next few months, we’ll focus on the store and on how people react to it. It’s an ongoing experiment, so it will probably morph until we find the best solution. On a personal level, I’m currently consulting for Stampsy, a publishing platform for the iPad focused on editorial design. It’s currently in a prototype stage; I’m helping with art direction for the established print publishers who will gradually join it. I’d also like to publish some (printed) books with photographers and artists soon.

 

No Layout

Daniel Pianetti

Love and Loss — by Martine Syms

I want to talk about loss; forgetting, disappearance, ends, deficits.

 

It’s been two weeks since my last article. I apologize for my tardiness. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t put a timeframe, but in a way it’s a continuation on the theme. I’m not being paid to write this series. And why should I be? No one else is being paid to do Paperweight. That’s fine. But I’m two weeks late and no one bothered me because I’m doing this for free. Or maybe no one bothered me because we (all 100 of us) were busy buying and selling artifacts at the NY Art Book Fair.

 

In business, profit and loss are related concepts. Income minus expenses equals profit (or loss). The helpful, but terribly written, how-to book Accounting Comes Alive defines income as “value generating activity” and expenses as “value sacrificing activity.”

 

It’s taken me a while to truly understand that “value generating activity” always comes with expenses. “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” is a pop song about cost of goods. You have to breakeven before you can profit.

 

Breakeven Point (BEP) is calculated using the formula below:


Breakeven point = fixed costs / (unit selling price – variable unit costs)

 

Let’s say I’m making a book. Each book cost me $5, I plan to sell it for $15. My fixed costs (editing, graphic design, marketing, etc.) are $2,000.

 

$2000 / ($15-$5) = 200.

 

My breakeven point is 200 books. But what if I only make 200 books? I won’t make a profit. What if I really want to sell my book for $8. I’ll need to sell 667 copies and expand my edition size, or lose money. What if I want to maintain a small edition size and make a profit? I’ll need to raise my selling price.

 

It may already be clear that art publishing has two major barriers to profit: 1) the audience is extremely small and 2) within that audience only a select group of people are willing to pay premium. I believe this despite the NY Art Book Fair’s attendance of over 20,000 visitors. While those numbers are promising, I’m more interested in the conversion rates. I’m proud to say that Golden Age maintained a 30% conversion rate. Unfortunately, our volume was too low for it to matter.

 

Last Time: Business Models
Next Week (Maybe): Success, that distant apex