I published this article in January 2012, but it got lost by my then-blogging platform. I have restored it here in its entirety.
The geo press has written before about David Imus and his map-making shop. But earlier this week it was a muggle publication that noted the award bestowed upon Imus and his map “The Essential Geography of the United States of America” – called by consensus “the best US map”. Which it clearly is, hands down. The map is a meticulously crafted product, and a pleasure to look at. It is a piece of art. It is superb.
As I was marveling at the map, I thought about how much it would cost to make a map like this, and whether it would be feasible – or even possible – to contract for and order such a map under current procurement practices.
The Imus map took 6,000 hours to make, by Imus’s own estimates. I do not doubt or challenge his estimate. But can you imagine the reaction of today’s typical purchasing agent reading the hypothetical Imus map-making proposal? “$327,000 for a map? You cannot be serious. Everyone knows that these days you just push a button and a map comes out of the computer. Take $1,200 to cover your printing costs, or get out of my office.”
I hypothesized that the only way the Imus map could be made would be as a labor of love. Like movie or rock stars’ fan webpages, which are often much better than the “official” website, the Imus map could only be made if the maker was not concerned with billing his time. The Imus map could never be spec’d, ordered or procured as a product or professional service. It would be deemed unreasonably expensive.
I decided to test my hypothesis by reaching out to the man himself. To my delight, David Imus turned out to be very approachable, and promptly responded to my questions. Here is our exchange:
Q: “I see your map as a product of love rather than a business product. Am I correct, or did you set out to make a best-selling product from day one?”
A: “It was both. Making the Essential Geography was a labor of love. But I knew that if I made the most expressive map ever made of the USA and people were to find out about it, there would be a chance that map would be well-received. It’s gratifying to see that it is.
My goal was to make the kind of map of the United States that I would want to have, a map that would reveal the essential character of our country. As I worked on the map I wasn’t thinking “Oh, this is going to pay off,” I was following my bliss doing something that I truly loved to do.”
Q: “I calculate the cost of designing your map around $327,000, based on NJ state contract pricing. What do you think about this number, and do you think you will recover the cost by selling maps?”
A: “I went way out on a limb to make this map. I’m pleased to know that because of the success I’m seeing, I’ll be able to pay back the loans to the people who went out on that limb with me.”
Q: “Is there anything else that you would like to say to the ENTCHEV GIS blog readers?”
A: “It seems people think geography is merely a dull subject taught in schools; and honestly the way geography is taught in schools below the college level doesn’t interest even me, and I live and breathe geography. But geography is our way to notice the world; to take note of the rich tapestry of landscapes that cover the planet we live on, which is, as far as we know, the most exotic and fascinating planet in the entire universe.”
In other words, priceless.
What follows by necessity is that professional (“priced”) services are by definition always just “good enough” but never superb.
PS I arrived at the $327,000 cost for the Imus map by using the aggregated GIS data conversion hourly rate from the 2007 New Jersey State Contract ($54.50). Your mileage may vary.