Kodak Hacks the System

By Susanna Baird

Jefferson Hack has been fomenting publishing revolutions since launching the British underground-meets-runway style magazine Dazed & Confused (now Dazed) with photographer Rankin in 1991 while the two were students at the London College of Printing. With his most recent release, the revolutionary-cum-publishing magnate teamed with Kodak to push boundaries yet again. The book, We Can't Do This Alone: Jefferson Hack the System, features 5,000 covers, one for each copy of the book.

Danielle Atkins, Kodak's VP of Global Brand & Creative, told Spine the initial impetus for the individualized covers was not Hack or another editor or even a human being. She credits the Prosper 6000 printing press for creating the spark that led to the collaboration. The press is a powerhouse, capable of printing up to three million vibrant and durable pages a day. 

"As soon as I saw the capability of our Prosper press, I realized the potential for customization was huge. Having worked with Jefferson in the past, I contacted him and proposed the idea of individual covers," she said. Atkins' concept was producing unique covers for Dazed, but while Hack was "immediately excited by the potential of our technology," he had other ideas about where to use it.

He and art director Ferdinando Verderi were working on a passion project, a book pulling in the voices of cultural rebels such as Bjork, Tilda Swinton and Douglas Coupland to present a radical vision of the future of publishing. Individualized covers perfectly suited his goals for the book. As the project progressed, Verderi created an algorithm for the Prosper that pulled in photos and graphics from the book to abribtrarily create 5,000 different cover combinations.

From here, the process grew more technical, explained Atkins. "This random generation of covers was complemented by a sequential numbering system applied to each cover, identifying it as a numbered first edition." Then a series of Kodak engineers stepped in: "A prepress software engineer ensured the random cover generation could be printed quickly and efficiently. A Kodak paper scientist engineer consulted with the design team on paper choices that aligned with the creative intent. And finally, one press operator handled the printing itself."

While the setup involved several steps, the actual printing of all 5,000 22-inch covers took less than 15 minutes. That's 650 feet per minute, 10.8 feet (130 inches) per second, 354.5 covers per minute (5.9 covers per second). From the press, located in the United States, the covers traveled to Hong Kong where they were bound to the book, printed on a traditional offset lithography press.

Atkins said for Kodak, the Hack project offered the company a chance to "demonstrate how the interactivity and customization of electronic mediums can be combined with the tactile beauty of the printed page." The book is part of a long tradition of Kodak's commitment to helping artists realize their creative visions. The company is currently in negotiations with a variety of designers and just announced a collaboration with photographer Tom Beard on his first feature film.