Coffee Table Books: Why They Are Here To Stay

The last time I discussed the merits of hardbound and softcover books. This time I thought we would talk about a particular kind of hardcover book. One which has niche value and is very much a collector’s item – the coffee table book.

Coffee table books come in a variety of designs and sizes, with pages that are glossy and are usually rather large and heavy, so obviously not portable. This is why they are generally displayed on coffee tables. Coffee table books are not just for decoration, as most people would imagine. These books are put on show in homes, offices, hotel lobbies, waiting rooms and such so that people can flip through them. The typical coffee table book will have a striking cover that draws one’s attention, and hence are great conversation pieces. You can talk about the design, the topic or even the author of the book, and that helps to break the ice when you are stuck for something to say. Content wise, they consist mostly of beautiful photographs that catch the eye (and that’s the point) with informative captions. Any text, other than captions, is also to-the-point.

And there is a new trend emerging. The coffee table book is no longer just used to showcase someone’s photographic talent, or talk about cars and bikes, or to celebrate an icon’s life. People are now discovering that the coffee table book is a fabulous way to display photographs of weddings, engagements, birthdays and anniversaries, and other landmark events of their lives. You can even present it as a gift that could make a wonderful keepsake – for example it would be a great idea to present one to your parents on their 25th wedding anniversary, filled with photographs of when they met and through the years.

Corporate houses also use coffee table books which are send out to customers and clients, and are representative of the company’s brand, business and message. Here the book takes on the characteristics of promotional campaign – the photographs and text tell people about the company and its products. One could argue that a brochure could do that as well, but this a more subtle and classy way for a company to get its message across, and the main hope is that the client/customer will also display the book either in their offices or homes for others to see. And a coffee table book is definitely prettier than a boring old pamphlet or booklet.

Digital media may have made inroads into our life, but one of the few things that will survive it will be the coffee table book. Its large format makes it a bit unwieldy so it just won’t be the same when viewed as digital book on a cell phone or tablet. One of the main reasons the coffee table book will survive as a genre is because of its ‘snob’ value. They are big, bold, beautiful and colorful style statements, and tell you that the person to whom it belongs is classy and elegant (or so one would hope!).


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