Culture And The Market: The Emergence Of Coffee-Table Books

Koel Mitra

Koel Mitra is a doctoral fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She takes herself seriously only while sleeping and jokingly at all other times.

Finished, finished… There’s no respect for that (Arts). Cultural life is not an area of serious investment over a long period of time…”  Stuart Hall

This essay aims to look at “marketing” as not merely a process of selling goods but as of a strategic tool that can determine the cultural sensibilities of a certain mass of people. The two most discussed terms in the contemporary methods of marketing are therefore, not surprisingly, “strategic planning” and “market penetration”. If we look deeper into the phrases, we might enter one such domain where the question begins from as basic issues as “what are the strategies?” and “how to penetrate the market with such given sets of strategies?”. Is there really any relation between phase 1 (strategic planning) and phase 2 (market penetration based on phase 1) that can lead to affect the cultural understanding of a generation? Or is the journey simply one-sided? Is the reverse also not true? If the market affects the culture of a certain mass of people, does not the culture also affect the marketing strategies of “products” within the same locale? If the journey is two-sided, where lies the scope of a newly formed literary genre; a genre based primarily not as a subdivision of literary concerns, but as a subdivision of marketing tools? Let us specifically take up the case of the “Coffee table book” to know the nuances that operate between the literary sensibilities and embracing-market at the same time.

What is a Coffee table book? The most widely accepted wiki-based encyclopedia of our times, the Wikipedia, answers this as follows:

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. Subject matter is generally confined to non-fiction, and is usually visually oriented. Pages consist mainly of photographs and illustrations, accompanied by captions and small blocks of text, as opposed to long prose. Since they are aimed at anyone who might pick the book up for a light read, the analysis inside is often more basic and with less jargon than other books on the subject. Because of this, the term “coffee table book” can be used pejoratively to indicate a superficial approach to the subject.”

This essay, with regards to coffee table books, intends to look at three things:

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