Further Details About Earth Platinum

This is the second of two posts about the incredible new book by Millennium House Publishers from an interview with Gordon Cheers, the Managing Director of Millennium House . Enjoy!

Earth Platinum



On quality
Earth Platinum is printed on traditional presses then bound by hand, covered in leather—we are not cutting corners … in fact our corners have metal protectors, built to last. The pages are printed on archival acid free paper.

Other problems encountered
There were all kinds of unexpected problems, and a great number of test versions were produced before we achieved the final version. With the paper, we started off using 120 gsm paper, but found that the pages kept ripping as we turned them, because the book size was so large. So we increased the paper to 150 gsm and there were fewer rips, then we increased it to 250gsm … Eureka! … No rips. This, however, meant that the cover/boards had to be made out of wood, to support the weight of the paper. Of course we couldn’t cover these boards with paper, so we had to use leather, but then the corners would bend, so we had to use metal protectors.

At the beginning of this project all our 2-year-old computers crashed each time we tried to look at a map spread. We brought in a technician to increase the computer memory so that all the editors and cartographic consultants could work on the maps. Even then we used low-resolution versions, only dropping in high-resolution maps and images just before we went to print. We also had to create special font characters with a company in the UK, so that we could Romanize the local names for places in countries using Arabic, Vietnamese, Icelandic, and the like.

Building for a legacy
I have published many books, and written a few. Most books last about 3–6 months in bookshops—not because they are not good, but with over 1 million titles published in 2010 and the average bookstore carrying less than 30,000 books, there just isn’t the space to hold all the titles produced each year. As writers, we often write to produce a legacy but the reality is that for most books, there is no legacy; the shelf life is too short. I wanted to leave a legacy, and wondered what it would take to achieve that. I decided a reference book needed to have 3 elements (over the years I have seen many books with these elements, but few had all 3).

These elements are:
1. Needs to be credible, authoritative, well respected. If Earth Platinum uses the best team of writers, cartographers and editors, this should happen. Earth Blue achieved this 2 years ago,
winning the Best World Atlas awards around the world.
2. Any book needs to be well produced (i.e. well bound, finished and built to last). Earth Blue won the award for (the Australian print and production) not only the Best Produced Limited Edition Book of last year, but also the Best Overall Book Of The Year. We have learned a lot since producing Earth Blue and we know that Earth Platinum will be even better.
3. Lastly, a book needs to be well cared for. If a book is rare, it will be cherished—so we are only printing 31 copies and then we will destroy the plates. This means that there will be some countries around the world that will never see a copy of Earth Platinum.

Like many of the rarest treasures in the world, Earth Platinum, too, is made by hand, and like the first book ever printed, the Gutenberg Bible (produced over 500 years ago), Earth Platinum will also be held behind glass in museums, and in the finest of historical and private book collections 500 years from now. There is little that I can achieve in my lifetime that will survive 500 years; there is little that any of us can achieve that will last 500 years.

Earth Platinum needs to be cherished, to ensure that those in the year 2500 can see how our world appeared in 2011. 500 years from now, when the buildings around us have disappeared, Earth Platinum will still be here as our legacy.

Why buy a book?
Some people think that you don’t have to open a book, you don’t have to visit an art gallery or museum, because you can “see it all on the net”. My family reads books, visits art galleries and museums, AND uses the net. Atlases, like many books, help us dream, we find one town, then spot another and another, and before we know it we have spent hours exploring the world. Three years ago I looked at an atlas with my kids—we then ended up spending $20,000 traveling to Rome, Venice, Japan and Bali on holidays—now that was an expensive atlas! Atlases are also time capsules, and Earth Platinum is one big time capsule.

Why buy an atlas when the internet is available? In the long run new technology doesn’t always replace old technology. TV didn’t replace radio, DVD didn’t replace Cinema. In the 1980s digital watches were popular, and many said digital watches would be the death of the traditional watchmaker. Most of my friends had a digital watch (some even had calculators on them)—now who is wearing a digital watch today? The watch on my wrist cost more than 10 times the cost of a digital watch, my watch is elegant, stylish and accurate. When I look at it I also gain a perspective of time, not just a single data byte. My kids will one day inherit my watch. In the 80s the watch industry did get a shake-up, many manufacturers went out of business. There are fewer watch repairers around today. The ones that are around know their craft, most of them are over 50, many are passionate about their work. Fewer and fewer individuals are learning cartography; will this industry go the same way as the watchmaker?

As publishers, we too are passionate about the books we produce, and at Millennium House, we are passionate about mapping. We believe an atlas can give you a perspective of the whole world as it is today. We also like making our books BIG! Like a good watch or family Bible, Earth Platinum will be passed from generation to generation.

Without atlases, will the internet be the world’s only source of world mapping in 5, 10, 20 years from now? Will we be handing down thumb drives to our kids saying here are this year’s family photos? Are we printing out the emails we send to family, and others, as a record of our thoughts, will we hand down web pages to future generations, saying “this is what it web pages looked like in 2012”?

Don’t get me wrong; the Internet is a great resource, as are books.

What is cartography—art, science or politics?
Cartography is an art. We had teams of people just dedicated to creating the color background—differentiating the colors by the height above sea level. We spent hours at meetings discussing the choice of colors—even the oceans have 7 shades of blue. Once the coloring was decided we added the place names, only to find in some places the names were not legible as the brown background first chosen for the mountains was too dark and the type was too fine. Back to the drawing board, to get the balance right.

Cartography is a science. The symbols, layers, and the line work come together in a program called Adobe Illustrator. Once the population of a town (from over 5 million down to less than 10,000) is known, the label and marker size are then assigned based on our predetermined size scale, the town name is given a reference point (longitude and latitude), and the towns are automatically added to the maps using programs such as Maplex and MAPublisher. Cartographers then have to check by sight to make sure the names don’t run into or on top of other names. This is tricky with long names such as Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu (a mountain in New Zealand)! Fortunately in this instance the label lies near the coast, so the lettering can flow into the sea. Then there are the easy town placements such as the Norwegian town of Å that lies on the island of Moskenesøya in the county of Nordland. The roads with 10 categories (such as major, minor, secondary or track), railways, rivers, national boundaries and international boundaries (7 categories in all), lakes (salt or otherwise), mountain peaks, volcanoes, World Heritage sites, etc, all have a separate coding, determining style, print color, size, thickness etc. Even the Great Wall of China has its own coding/styling.

Cartography is political, as over 40 editors (from all around the world) had the task of researching how to treat sensitive political issues such as Taiwan, Tibet, Jammu and Kashmir, and many more. Fortunately for Earth Platinum, and its readers, Earth Platinum is published in Australia. As it now exists, we would not be allowed to print Earth Platinum in China. If we printed in China, where some atlases are printed, the South China Sea, India/Pakistan, and Israel would all look very different.

Earth Platinum reflects a modern-day view of the world as it is now—taking in the partition of Sudan, the relatively new country of Kosovo, applying a current standardization to the towns in China, recognizing the South African, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand trend to revert to traditional names for some of their major towns and features. As it now exists, Earth Platinum cannot be sold in Korea or India. We could have made changes to make Korean and Indian sales possible, but chose not to. We defer to the UN for clarification and boundaries, spelling, etc—I thought if it’s good enough for the UN, it was good enough for us! Of course some of the updates simply reflect our world as it is today and who is in power, such as in Antigua and Barbuda’s highest point, which has been renamed, to honor the President of the United States, Barack Obama. Boggy Peak, on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean, is now officially known as Mount Obama.

Is it a political statement, a publication reflecting modern history and cartography, or a work of art? Only 500 years from now, with the test of time, will someone else decide.

My history
In the beginning, my first book, Carnivorous Plants, was self-published in 1983, produced when owned my wholesale plant nursery in southeast Australia, where I propagated carnivorous Plants. I then wrote a book called A Guide to Carnivorous Plants of the World (Hardcover, 1993) published by Harper Collins, then Killer Plants and How to Grow Them for Penguin as a Picture Puffin. The Picture Puffin book then went on to win Children’s Book of the Year in Australia in 1997.

Since then I have worked for Penguin books and at Random House where I was the publishing director of Children’s and adult illustrated books. In 2005 with Margaret Olds I established Millennium House.

In my over 27 years of book publishing I have found the hardest books to publish are Atlases, for political, artistic and accuracy to detail reasons.

I am forever thinking of a subject or writer that could make a good book, whether I’m going for a walk, reading a newspaper or looking at TV. There are so many subjects that still need to be covered and presented in a simple informative way. For example we published Scientifica, which explained quantum physics and many other complicated scientific theories and formulae in an easy-to-understand format for the general reader. It’s very exciting to help make a complicated subject accessible.

When I’m not looking through atlases, to relax I listen to classical music and work in my garden, where I have been working on planting a tropical sanctuary, using ferns, palms and many tropical plants to create ‘rooms’ in my garden. I have been able to acquire plants that are up to 30 years old.

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