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Book Jobs Not By the Book: James La Marre, Book App Design


James La Marre

James La Marre works for enterprise software startup Scrollmotion Inc. in New York City, primarily developing and publishing iPad applications for business. Previously to starting at Scrollmotion in 2011, James worked at the Kelly Writers House during his time at Penn while studying poetry and directing a letterpress workshop. His first job in the book world was working on the floor at Barnes and Noble in 2006.


What was your first job in book business and what were the most important things you gained from it?

My first job in the book business was at Scrollmotion, just a few months after finishing undergraduate at Penn. I was looking for a job in publishing, and the atypical opportunity presented itself at Scrollmotion and I decided to take a stab at something I hadn’t even considered — publishing on a platform other than the book. Still working here now, the most important things I’ve gained are a perspective on publishing from the digital side of things — thinking about ways of interacting and publishing on a platform that, as it turns out, is not too far from the traditional codex, but one which has the power to index and explore content in new ways. 

How do you explain your current job to people?

When people ask what I do, I usually respond with, “I make apps.” Reductive and pretty far from the truth, I actually manage a release cycle of applications for a variety of clients. I’ll usually follow up with the fact that I work with corporate content, things not usually seen by a public, but influenced by a more varied side of our company that published kids books, textbooks, and games. 

What specific aspects of your previous jobs or internships prepared you for what you do at ScrollMotion?

One of my internships was at Granary Books, a small publishing house that deals with artists’ books. The experience there got me thinking about what a book actually is — and what the future holds for such physical objects in the tidal wave of digital publishing. I also did freelance work on web projects, which gave me an entry point for dealing with web content, similar to what I work with now, but also opened up the Internet in general as something much more expansive than just the web. 

What is the biggest challenge you face in your current job?

I think the biggest challenge we face here is the unpredictability of what people expect from the iPad or other platforms. The iPad has been billed as “magic,” when really there are limits and barriers to the proprietary nature of each device — just as there are limits to a book or even different types of paper. 

Any specific hopes for ways that the wider relationship between digital technology and book business might improve and mature as your career progresses?

I hope the book business realizes soon that the digital market will not eliminate books entirely. There will always be a space for books, but the way we think about a book will forever be changed by digital. Mass market fiction, for example, need not be published on a wide scale when it can easily and cheaply be distributed as an ebook. However, a limited edition of 500 hand-pressed books may be looked at with greater value, as the technical skill required becomes more and more scarce and specialized. Luckily, I believe, paper will not face the same fate as, say, 28mm or Polaroid film, so there will always be a means to produce and distribute books, but I hope the wider market gets out of this seeming panic mode soon and deals with ways to manage the changing relationship to physical books in a more thoughtful and productive way. 

What might you tell a young publishing professional who is excited about digital publishing, and is interested in becoming more involved, but has never thought of him or herself as “a computer person?”

Just dive in. If you’re interested in digital publishing, take a stab at it. It’s an emerging form and the platforms books are being built for are changing all the time, so even now it’s difficult to find an expert on making an ebook or an app as the field is so new and growing so fast. My other bit of advice: don’t fear technology (at least not the parts that need not be feared, like ebooks). Nothing could limit your prospects as much as saying something like, “I don’t know how computers/the web work(s)” in an interview. Figure it out! Learn basic HTML. Make or manage your own Tumblr theme. Play around in Photoshop. That’s what a new and expanding industry looks for most: people interested in exploring. So explore. 

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