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Bryan was a natural choice to moderate the discussion on photobook funding, since his post, The Netflix of Photobooks, includes a forward-thinking collaborative funding option with real potential:
“I wonder if some type of joint venture could be organized amongst bloggers and photography organizations to share photography books? I’m not talking about Steidl books here, more like the the Photography.Book.Now winners and other on-demand books. I would love to look at all these books, but there’s no way I can buy each of them. But there maybe a few that I would buy if I could see them first.“
His comment alludes to several larger questions: It’s easier than ever to create and print an entire book yourself, but will those books ever sell enough copies to be a financial boon to the photographer? To do that, there needs to be a much more efficient and wide reaching way to connect interested buyers with individually produced books.
Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) have taken a fundamental first step toward helping bring buyers together with at least one kind of photobook — independently produced ones that can’t be bought through online chain stores. Just yesterday they launched The Independent Photo Book, a blog where photographers can send their books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse.
One remaining question for the endeavor, and one I’m sure Jörg and Hester will address as the project continues, is how do you draw people from outside the small photography and blogging world into the site?
Bryan’s comment also highlights a deeper problem with selling a physical book in the online world. I agree that I’d be more likely to buy a book if I could hold it in my hands first. I’ve settled before for being able to see a digital version of every page (instead of the one or two you can see on Amazon, etc.), but the ideal is to look through the physical book. As David Bram points out on the Fraction blog, “The print quality of the book is as important as the content of the book itself. If the photographs are not well printed in physical book form, the potential buyer needs to know this.”
What would be a good way to get books into potential buyers’ hands? What about a traveling pop-up shop that brings independently produced books to towns around the world? Are there photobook festivals that are affordable and approachable for industry non-insiders where you can see a large number of books in a short period of time?
Assuming that photobooks continue to be financial viable for larger publishers, though, most will likely continue to be bought online through major bookstores like Amazon. Todd Walker (the mediator of our CONSUMPTION discussion) suggested an interesting dilemma that stems from this process. Since books purchased online are often reduced to a “thumbnail” image, is this a system that disadvantages complex images, favoring simple, graphic ones that read well at smaller size?
The increasing ease with which photographers can create their own books also helps them take the step up to these larger publishers and markets — so the self-published book might not turn a profit, but it can help procure a larger run that might. Nathalie Belayche gave an example of this model in her post on Food For Your Eyes:
“Robin Maddock couldn’t wait to find a publisher for his book Our Kids Are Going To Hell and so he did a Blurb book, as a dummy and to make a test. A few months later the book was redesigned and came out with the help of a brick-and-mortar publisher.”
Jonathan Worth, whose blog explores alternate funding models for photographers, weighs in with this:
“The generation currently breaking into the industry have inherited a fond nostalgia for analogue processes (think Holga, Lomography or witness the dramatic rescue of Polaroid ). Developing and exploiting this demand is one of the areas that photographer’s business practices can and should focus looking forward. The book is just one element of this.” Are there photographers who are working this angle right now?
All of these models rely on the same assumption — that a photographer has the money to print a book in the first place. What about funding the initial investment needed for printing, especially not print-on-demand?
Bryan suggests the microfunding model could be a powerful tool. One encouraging example is the 13th issue of Hamburger Eyes (a San Francisco-based street photography magazine), which was funded through Kickstarter last summer. The magazine met it’s goal in only three days and even took in an extra $1,000, allowing them to print a larger magazine than ever before.
In this situation a magazine has an advantage over a book since it has serial issues that have gained them a loyal following. How can photographers build the same kind of audience for a single book (that is likely to include just their own work, not lots of potential funders’, like Hamburger Eyes)?
I would look at something like the We English blog that Simon Roberts created in the year running up to the publication of his book by the same name. Although he worked with publisher Chris Boot, he built a loyal audience by asking for ideas on how to photograph “Englishness,” offering a print to the first 150 people who sent him ideas.
Todd Walker is a photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His “Gallery Hopper” blog has been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The San Francisco Examiner. Currently he writes at ocularoctopus.com.
Some of the most interesting suggestions from contributing Future of Photobooks bloggers addressed changes in the way photobooks are “consumed” (the best word we could find to encompass “read,” “viewed,” and “watched”).
Here are a few of their predictions for what it might be like to look through a photobook in ten years:
Images accompanied by audio of the photographer describing the work, their personal vision, and the way the images were made. “It will be like a museum tour where you have your own personal guide,” explains Tomas Ovalle at The PhotoOracle.
Jin Zhu at Shooting Wide Open wishes that photobooks could be more like McSweeney’s publications, arriving with physical goodies like pullout posters, photo postcards, and maps, as well as digital goodies like audio interviews with the subject or “making of” videos on an accompanying DVD or USB.
Shane Godfrey and Nick Turpin both suggested a symbiosis between digital, physical, and downloadable versions of a book. From Nick’s post on sevensevennine: “I can see the printed and digital elements of PUBLICATION complimenting each other in this way as we go forward, the printed magazine on sale for six months whilst the essays from previous editions are archived and made available online.”
We can only hope that these models and more will be explored — again, as creative decisions made by artists about how best to convey their work. Todd brought up another question that relates instead to the “consumer” or audience.
As Radius Books co-founder Darius Himes pointed out in his post, the average photobook only has an audience of around 3,000. Can that audience be expanded by expanding the definitions and expectations of a photobook? And what new requirements will photographers need to consider if their audience is a much wider one including a much lower percentage of “photo people.”
One positive change that might be spurred by a larger, more diverse audience for photobooks is that they be treated with more respect by the cultural gatekeepers. As Alec Soth points out, they at least deserve the same kind of attention the New York Times recently bestowed on graphic books. Or, as Larissa Leclair suggests, maybe it will help us to recognize books as an artform in and of themselves, perhaps even prompting “photobook museums.”
In all our excitement over the idea of a “multimedia photobook” (I hope I’m not the only one who’s excited), we shouldn’t lose site of the possible downsides of this reading experience. As advertising consultant Alan Wolk reprimands at The Toad Stool, “reading” (and I would include still images in that) is an entirely different experience from “watching” something, also highlighted by this brilliant video from the Lens Culture blog forecasting what a digital magazine of the future might look like.
And finally, I don’t think we would call this brilliant multimedia slideshow from Alec Soth a book, but a book was its impetus and a book (and sculpture) are its outcome. What it definitely is, is an enjoyable place to start to stretch our brains about what a photobook could be.
Eyecurious founder Marc Feustel (on the left) is a Paris-based independent curator and writer with a background in Japanese photography. You can find out more about some of his projects here, follow him on Twitter here, and contact him at email@example.com.
In light of the many ways our concept of the photobook is changing — to include digital texts, print-on-demand, self-publishing, and online distribution — our first question needs to start at the very beginning: How do we now want to define what a photobook is? Radius Books co-founder Darius Himes asked us to step back to this foundational question in his contributor post, and we recommend it as a great starting point for this discussion.
In Darius’s opinion: “A pdf or a website or an ‘ebook’ are not books in the same way that a stone tablet or a scroll or a sheet of papyrus are also not examples of books. They are vehicles of recorded human language, true. But a pdf is a pdf. A website is a website. A stone tablet is a stone tablet. A set of pages with either written language or images on them (reproduced in any manner of methods), gathered and bound together in some fashion = a book.”
A fair point, but if it were that simple we’d have nothing to discuss ;) Marc points out several interesting examples that ask us to re-examine what a photobook is:
“What about something like Frederic Lezmi’s 11m long leporello From Vienna to Beirut? Or, going even further, the works produced by Toluca Editions. They are limited edition prints, not bound but mounted, and created through a collaboration between photographer, writer, and designer. I think fewer people would accept that this is a book, but in some ways, in terms of the way it is made, I think this is closer to what we traditionally think of as a book than some print-on-demand examples.”
Another way to define a photobook, and one that several contributing bloggers mentioned, is by its role in a photographer’s career or the photo industry in general. As Mike Johnston point out at The Online Photographer:
“Photo books [in the past] weren’t just a reflection of the culture of photographers…they were the culture. They were how you kept track, how you saw work, how you learned who was doing what, how you “saw” shows you missed. That’s all changed.
The internet is a junk heap. It’s every frame that comes back from the drugstore. It’s the contact sheet, the raw material, the unsorted mass. The first draft. In that context, what will rise in importance will be the opportunities and the occasions we have for selecting only the best of the best, for making extended visual arguments, for the creativity and inventiveness inherent in limits, for the formalized set of photographs that puts a photographer’s best foot forward, no fluff, no excuses. That’s the future of the photo book, in my opinion.”
Alan Rapp also touches on this in his post at Critical Terrain: “How will the author/photographer find projects worth publishing, balancing the effort it takes to make a good book under any model vs. the number of consumers ready for it on the other end?”
The definition of a photobook suggested by this question may seem circular — a photobook is a collection of images a photographer values enough to put the effort into publishing — but it highlights an important point in this discussion. No definition is “right” or “wrong,” but the decision to make a “book” instead of some other artform should be a conscious creative one. If you’ve published a book before, in any format, under any definition, how did you decide that that work should be a book specifically?
Another important choice that artists making books now have to consider is, “Will this be a collaboration or not?” While photobooks were once necessarily the product of many hands — artist, designer, printer, publisher — a photographer can now make every image, lay out the book pages on a computer, print the book with a service like Blurb, then sell the book through the Blurb Bookstore or market and distribute it themselves online.
In contrast to this option (or perhaps as a backlash against it), many Future of Photobooks bloggers mentioned growing opportunities and interest in collaborative photobook projects. You can see several examples under “Collaboration and Crowd-sourcing” in our earlier post; more general collaborative projects include FlakPhoto, Bryan Formhals’ La Pura Vida Gallery, the rotating gallery on Too Much Chocolate, collectives like Luceo and MJR, and distribution networks like the Artists’ Books Cooperative. How can artists make an informed decision about which steps to do on their own and how or with whom to collaborate on the rest?
A few weeks ago, RESOLVE and Flak Photo launched the Future of Photobooks project, a collaborative, cross-blog brainstorm session asking what photobooks and publishing in general might look like in 10 years. The response was more than we could have hoped for — to date, 47 bloggers have responded with posts on their own blogs. Please check out the full list of collaborating blogs, plus the posts below, which were drawn from some of the most interesting shared links.
Now it’s time to open up this topic to more targeted discussion — and we want you all to be part of it. Most collaborating bloggers understandably shied away from the idea of “predicting” the future of photobooks. Allow us to rephrase this inquiry into something more active and, we hope, productive: What SHOULD photobooks look like in 10 years?
The fact is, we are the ones who will decide. Blog-savvy leaders from small publishing houses, like Darius Himes of Radius and Lesley Martin of Aperture. Ambitious photographers who have taken publishing into their own hands. And you and me and anyone else out there who might be inspired by the ideas expressed here and start the next big thing that revolutionizes the photobook industry. (Larissa Leclair even called out our collective power in her post on the Future of Photobooks.)
Starting tomorrow through Thursday we’ll be publishing one post a day asking specific questions relating to three main topics we identified after reading hundreds of your posts and comments.
Tues., Jan. 5 – How should photobook CREATION evolve in next decade?
Moderated by Marc Feustel, creator of eyecurious
Wed., Jan. 6 – How should photobook CONSUMPTION evolve in next decade?
Moderated by Todd Walker, creator of Gallery Hopper and Ocular Octopus
Thur., Jan. 7 – How should photobook FUNDING evolve in next decade?
Moderated by Bryan Formhals, creator of La Pura Vida Gallery and blog
In keeping with the collaborative nature of this project, we’ve enlisted three bloggers to oversee these discussions. They’ll lend their insights and help keep everyone on track, up to date, and working toward positive action.
We hope you’ll check back in tomorrow and throughout the week. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
As part of the ongoing discussion examining the Future of Photobooks we’re hosting on RESOLVE in collaboration with FlakPhoto, we’re sharing some of our favorite publications mentioned by the 45+ bloggers who have weighed in so far. These represent the seeds of publishing advances we expect and/or hope to see in the future. Check out our earlier posts as well, on small printers for self-publishing photobooks and game-changing people and ideas from the photobook world.
Since FlakPhoto’s Andy Adams and I put out our call for posts on the Future of Photobooks a few weeks ago, more than 40 bloggers have shared their insights. You can find them all, plus lots of additional comments and two new posts, about DIY book printers and the Future of Photobooks Twitter chat, on our resource page.
Having received such a positive response, Andy and I are developing a more organized and collaborative discussion style for the next stage of this project (look for details just after the holidays). Plus, we want to give everyone extra time to check out the great stuff our collaborating bloggers have shared. So for the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing our favorite links from all the Future of Photobooks posts.
Not surprisingly, we’ve collected long lists of interesting small publishers and publications. But we thought we’d start with some innovative ideas that didn’t fit easily into categories. Check below for interesting projects, publishing revolutionaries, and books that are way outside the box.
1. This is a physical book that you read by taking a photo of it with your cameraphone, which converts an abstract digital image into words, which update automatically every week from a keyword search on Twitter. Get it? Just watch the video. We promise, it’s cool. (via Jonathan Worth)
2. A country road. A tree. Evening is a “film in progress” art project installed on a digital tablet and sold through a gallery. Is it a book? Is it art? Is it even physical or digital? We love anything without easy answers to those kinds of questions. (via Harlan Erskine)
3. J Sandifer pointed to Rick Smolan’s Obama Timecapsule as an interesting trend: “So a pro will publish a book with their works and allow the consumer to add their take on the subject and print the book with the combined photos included.”
4. Check out this great video of Kathleen Walkup, head of the book art program at Mills College, showing revolutionary designs from famous bookmaking artists.
5. One of the books Kathleen shares was made by Claire Van Vliet, a fine artist, illustrator, and typographer who founded Janus Press, which produces original, handmade book artworks.
6. She also highlights Julie Chen, who established Flying Fish Press, which creates books that “combine the quality and craftsmanship of traditional letterpress printing with the innovation and visual excitement of contemporary non-traditional book structures.” (all three via Amy Stein)
7. Japan’s influence on photography and photo books is undeniable, and to understand it you have to know Shōji Yamagishi, the editor of the influential Japanese photography magazine Camera Mainichi from 1963 until 1978. (via Marc Feustel)
11. The International Foto Book Festival, taking place in Kassel in May 2010 for the third year, and PhotoBook Days 2010 in Hamburg, which will open in June 2010 for the first time. (via Nathalie Belayche)
12. And finally, a link post within a link post? We know…how meta. But coming from Alec Soth and detailing book sellers, publishers, and great DIY books, we just couldn’t help it.
Please add your thoughts and cool links in the comments. And check back soon for more Future of Photobooks posts!
In conjunction with our ongoing Future of Photobooks project with FlakPhoto, photographer-writers Harlan Erskine and Todd Walker are hosting a Tweetchat about the Future of Photobooks this evening (Tuesday, Dec. 15) from 9 to 10 pm Eastern (6 to 7 pm Pacific). This will also kick off their weekly Tuesday Photo Art Chats, which you can find by doing a Twitter search for #photoartchat.
To be part of the discussion, make sure your tweets include #photoartchat and a @reply if you’re responding to a specific person. For an even simpler way to take part, you can go to TweetChat, enter this hashtag, and interact as you would in an IM chat screen. You can also see the chat in the column below, which will update in real time with any tweets that include #photoartchat.
*UPDATE: Here are a few highlights from last night’s TweetChat about The Future of Photobooks on #photoartchat.
How often are photobooks purchased from print-on-demand storefronts like Blurb? Are they mostly photographers printing their own portfolios? People agreed they are more likely to buy books when they can touch them. If they’re buying them online, they need to be more of a “known quantity,” either a photographer or publisher they know, like, and trust to put out a quality product.
joostdeleij: Would be interesting if quality Blurb (etc) books, that sold over 100 copies, could for example be sold through Amazon
consumptive: i’ve sold about 30 books through the blurb bookstore. not bad, considering i’m not a name brand. purchasers are pleased.
harlanerskine: Steven Shore talks about his iPhoto experiments here: http://www.popphoto.com/Galleries/A-Conversation-with-Stephen-Shore
harlanerskine: I have really enjoyed Paul Graham’s “a shimmer of possibilities” (not that I can afford it)
tom_leininger: Most recent purchase Travelog by Charles Harbutt from the 1970s, great pictures and essay. Newest is Wessel 5 Books (Steidl).
OcularOctopus: @harlanerskine I’ve lined up Burtynsky’s “OIL” as one to get soon
joostdeleij: I love buying photography books. One of the most affordable ones and interesting ‘Terryworld‘ by Terry Richardson
OcularOctopus: Also on my want list: “Joel Sternfeld: Oxbow Archive” http://www.joelsternfeld.com/Oxbow.html
joostdeleij: My last purchase was PhotoArt ‘the new world of photography’. Very nice! and affordable.
harlanerskine: I have also been revisiting Robert Frank’s “The Americans“ …
tom_leininger: Winteriesse by Luc Delahaye, Most of Thomas Roma‘s books. The Silence by Gilles Peress.
dariushimes: hmmm @ocularoctopus that’s a tough one. Anything Gerry Badger writes excites my intellect, & I’m in love w/ Violet Isle (from @RadiusBooks)
tom_leininger: My kids liked going through Dog Dogs by Erwitt, it was small and inexpensive so I did not mind the man handling of it.
harlanerskine: @OcularOctopus but I really like Alex Soth’s Niagara. Paul Graham’s Shimmer of possibilities…
harlanerskine: @OcularOctopus Taryn Simon’s “An American Index of the Hidden…” and Row Ethridge’s “Rockaway, NY”
OcularOctopus: @harlanerskine Sleeping By The Mississippi might be the most influential book of the decade.
tom_leininger: How about Jason Eskenazi’s Wonderland? I have not seen it in person. I would say Wintereise is up there too for the decade.
tom_leininger: @consumptive I like the size. I am becoming more of a fan of smaller sized books.
tom_leininger: Smaller sized would be 8.5×11 and smaller. It is an intimate portable. Larger books is like an event.
harlanerskine: @tom_leininger it seems like some books are made with the wrong size. some times too big sometimes too small.
OcularOctopus: @harlanerskine Many retrospective books are too small. fitting pictures to a standard size for a series of books. detail lost
harlanerskine: @OcularOctopus I agree-some photography is difficult to put into a book. sometimes its like fitting a square peg into a…
On Tuesday we started a cross-blog conversation about the Future of Photobooks, the first wave in a multi-week, crowd-sourced project to see if we can collectively figure out what of the more difficult questions facing our industry: “What will photobooks look like in 2019?”
In the course of that conversation, J. Wesley Brown at We Can Shoot Too came up with the great idea of putting together a list of all the best printers if you’re looking to self-publish a high-quality photobook.
J. Wesley says: “I suggested http://diyausa.com/ on my post because they printed R.J. Shaughnessy’s book, “Your Golden Opportunity Is Comeing Very Soon” and I think the quality is great for the price (at least in B&W – I’d have to see a sample of their color work before deciding on a color book).”
Dalton says: “I have heard good things about this place, which has a much more hands-on process on and is tighter with the QC. http://editiononebooks.com And the prices are very good, especially once you start looking at 10+ copies.”
@JSandifer says: “OR you could decide to buy a Vandercook and do it all by hand! http://www.themainemag.com/workshop/1167-david-wo… David Wolfe prints books, portfolios, and stationery by hand.”
Marc Feustel says: “I have been collaborating with a Kyoto-based printing company, Benrido, that has combined nineteenth century colotype printing techniques with digital technology to produce a series of portfolios with truly exquisite results.”
That’s just a very short list to get us started. Please leave other printers you know about or have worked with in the comments and let us know if you have experience with any of the ones above. We’ll include these results in our final Photobook Resource page :)
What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years? Will they be digital or physical? Open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?
I know I’m not alone in pondering these questions. Joerg Colberg echoed these thoughts just last week in a post on Conscientious. Then I talked to Andy Adams at Flak Photo about his weekly features highlighting the winners of Blurb‘s 2009 Photography.Book.Now contest (left), and something clicked.
For a while now, it’s been our goal (at RESOLVE and liveBooks) to find and share new business models that will move photography and the creative industries forward in a positive way. But we’re also eager to conduct our own experiments. And what better place to start than the incredibly flexible blogging format?
Andy and I initially wondered how we could use our blogs in a new way to further illuminate the question, “What will photobooks be like in the year 2019?” We’re not psychic, but we do have a lot of faith in collective intelligence. And with all the talk these days about “crowd-sourcing,” we thought, why can’t we crowd-source a blog post?
Discussions in the blogosphere generally lead readers along trajectories of information, but all those useful ideas rarely get tied back up into a single useful post. We plan to centralize the discussion around this specific topic — photobooks — so that anyone searching for related posts can find them easily and understand the context around them.
So how does this Future of Photobooks thing work? Andy and I have contacted fellow bloggers and asked them to post about the most prescient innovations they’ve seen in the photobook and publishing industries. We’ll add links to those blogs within this post as they go live, so over the next few days you’ll be able to see the “research” for our final post developing in real time.
But please don’t wait for us to contact you to start contributing. If you have something you want to say about photobooks, write a post on your own blog, linking to this post, by Sunday, Dec. 13 (we’ve had so much great interest, we’ll continue to accept posts on an ongoing basis). Then ping Andy or I with the link on Facebook or Twitter, and we’ll add you into the list. (Andy: FB & Twitter. Miki: FB & Twitter.) Don’t have a blog or don’t have time to post? Simply leave your thoughts in the comments. If you want to be notified when other people share their great ideas, be sure to use the “subscribe” drop-down to received email updates.
And this is just the beginning. At the end of this week, Andy and I will choose the standout ideas and highlight them (with links to whoever suggested them) in another post. That post will be all about real-time discussion. We’ll organize the big ideas — it will be up to you to tell us what you think about them. Delve into the details, throw out some pros and cons, tell us we’re off base if you must. We’re just excited to host a healthy discussion.
Finally we’ll sift through all the great ideas and heated debate and pull it together in one final post, which we hope will live a long online life as a resource for anyone trying to understand where the photobook industry is headed. And your name, links, and/or blog will be an indispensable part of it. You’re helping us explain where photobook publishing is headed, and we’re helping people find you and your brilliant ideas. Everyone wins. Just the way we like it :)