Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Photobook - too many bad ones and not enough good

Maarten Schilt is publisher at Amsterdam based Schilt Publishing and Schilt Gallery, respectively a publishing house specialised in high quality photography books, and a commercial gallery representing a wide range of top class artists from all over the world.

Back in September Maarten Schilt was asked by CORTONA ON THE MOVE to comment on the state of photobook publsignig today. In an article titled Are You Dreaming to Publish a Photobook? - he says this: High quality photo books are extremely expensive to produce. Besides, discounts to book shops and online shops (roughly 50%) as well as distributor’s fees (roughly a third of the remaining 50%) eat up almost 70% of the official retail price. Then we have to deal with huge shipping costs (from the printer or bindery to warehouses in different countries), storage costs for somewhat older books (only after they are one year old!), marketing costs (expensive for all over the world also), royalties and – in our case fortunately small – overheads. So hardly any money is left, as simple as that. If enough books would be sold, it still might be economically doable. But, here comes the biggest problem of all: there are way too many books on the market and every year thousands and thousands of new photo books are thrown into the book market jungle. By publishers, by photographers, by… I don't know but it seems more and more people are thinking it is necessary to produce photo books! It is absolutely crazy. And all these books end up on the same global market, surely also because of the internet. So what is the result? Print runs go down dramatically, resulting in even more economic malaise. It just does not make sense. Besides, 95% of all photo books produced are not very interesting or even quite bad. They can sometimes be very well made technically, but even then the question should always be: are they necessary? Are the subject and the quality of the photography important enough to throw in tens of thousands of euros in production costs? It seems as if hardly anybody is asking these questions.

What Maarten has said is quite true. On one hand technological advances with both digital and offset printing has made it so much easier to produce a book, on the other hand with the closing of so many bricks and mortar book shops channels of distribution have narrowed and there is simply less shelf space available for books. As British publisher Dewi Lewis said in a recent TIME story, this is not the golden age of photobooks. You can read the full text of Maarten Schilt's COTM piece HERE and Dewi Lewis's TIME story HERE.

You can go to the Schilt Publishing website HERE and Dewi Lewis HERE.

And finally as John Waters cryptically observes:


Jim Clinefelter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Clinefelter said...

What Mr. Schilt said about photo books isn't really true at all. All over the world, there are quite a lot of photographers who are publishing their own work, and not just via Blurb. In many ways the current Golden Age of Photo Books (if you want to call it that) mirrors that of DIY Punk in the 1970s and 1980s. Why wait for some dinosaur publisher to "discover" you, when you can publish your work yourself? Remember all the talk about Artists Books in the early 70s, and how they were going to be on all of the shelves in grocery stores? Yeah. Well, now artists have access to quite amazing technology in their very own homes, and they are using it to great advantage. While their work may not be next to the lettuce and carrots, they are available all over the net. Check Tumblr and Instagram and your own friends' networks. A few favorites: Nathan Pearce (Same Coin Press) has been releasing many fine photo books, in small editions, but very reasonably priced. His allies, Claire Cushing, Tammy Mercure, and Christine Tharp are also worth seeking out. In Japan, I would recommend looking up the folks who work as a group called Kaido Books (formerly Kaido Gallery), and publish some of the finest (and very modestly priced) photo books that you can find anywhere. Many of the young Japanese photographers take their cues from Daido Moriyama (who, at nearly age 77 is very actively publishing, and releases about 4 issues of his KIROKU ("Record") magazine each year), and Nobuyoshi Araki (75, and recently published his what......475th book?). In short, there are plenty of interesting and meaningful photo books being done by photographers all over the world, outside of "official" (read: 'ossified') channels. All you need to do are a few searches here and there, and you will find a wealth of worthwhile books from which to choose. A word to the wise guy. Best, Jim Clinefelter, editor, Littlefields Photography Magazine, Portland, Oregon.

Harvey's Blog said...

Hi Jim, thanks very much for your interesting and intelligent comment to my post. Yes you are quite right, amongst today's flood of photobooks, much of it forgettable, there is also a whole lot of demanding and well conceived bookworks out there. As you rightly point out many of them self published and not hampered by commercial imperatives. Thanks too for your list of bookmakers you rate... a number I know of the others I'm going to check out, cheers, Harvey