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January 7th, 2010

Future of Photobooks Discussion: How should photobook FUNDING evolve in this decade?

Posted by liveBooks

And now, our final of three moderated discussion posts, part of our Future of Photobooks project, in conjunction with FlakPhoto. It will be moderated by Bryan Formhals, who has also helped shape this post. As we’ve said, the future is ours to shape, so please help the community by adding your comments and sharing this post on Twitter, Facebook, etc. (You can also receive email updates of future comments by clicking “subscribe.”) To find out more about the Future of Photobooks project, read previous posts, and view the more than 45 blogs that have participated, check out our growing resource page.

Brooklyn-based (Minnesota-native) photographer Bryan Formhals is the founder and creative director of La Pura Vida Gallery, and a member of, an international photography collective.


The Netflix of Photobooks

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?

The ‘Hold It In Your Hands’ Factor

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?

Blurb Your Way to Big Publishers

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?

Funding the First Steps

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.


  1. January 7th, 2010 at 5:18 pm


    Thanks Miki,

    Simon Roberts is a good example of adding value to the book experience, which I think is incredibly important. Are there other examples of ways photographers are adding value to the photobook experience?

  2. January 7th, 2010 at 6:18 pm


    I feel like this discussion of independent photo books is under the assumption that the work is even that great to the begin with. If your work is so wonderful it simply has to be published, try getting it published. If that doesn't work out, try making it yourself and you might see why someone else didn't want to put it out. Because it wasn't worth it.

  3. January 7th, 2010 at 8:08 pm


    On the contrary, the editor/publisher-oriented gated community assumes they have a more refined taste of that is good than the photographer/artist/writer/etc themselves and that storming the gates of blind submissions is some stamp of quality. Could be. In some cases probably. But it also could be a stamp of what will sell, which is not at all an indication of intrinsic artistic merit. Why not allow more photographers to introduce their work to the market and let the audience decide its worth directly?

  4. January 8th, 2010 at 1:00 am


    I'm very interested in the demand side of this conversation about photobooks. It might be all great that anyone can produce wonderful books but do we have evidence that the market for photography books is expanding?

    I know in cinema the submissions to Sundance have exploded in the last decade because it's becoming easier and easier to make films, but has the consumption of indie film also expanded?

    I think more time and effort should be focussed on trying to expand the audience for fine art and documentary photography, but perhaps that's a lost cause. Maybe this type of photography is in the same league as jazz and poetry, incredibly respected by practitioners and enthusiasts, but widely ignored by the masses.

  5. January 7th, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    bill purvis

    Just to add some more to my comment above – could a group of investor/collectors be formed with the notion of a first edn in return for a contribution of say a maximum of $50 a publication for 6 – 10 selected publications per year. If 100 subscribers could get together to guarantee selected publications with limited editions of between 200 – 1000 depending on the works submitted this could could provide funding for photographers and limited edition works for collectors.

  6. January 8th, 2010 at 6:43 pm


    The edition system has always been problematic for a reproducible medium like photography. Do you think digitization (which increases reproducibility at lowered costs by orders of magnitude) will make editions less likely to attract collector interest? Or will it make physical objects even MORE interesting?

  7. January 9th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Bill Purvis

    I love to be able to physically access books from my library which consists mainly of works related to photography. E-books are an economical way to distribute works but there will always be the pleasure for the collector to have material possession of the printed book. Books in printed form become objects no longer two dimensional. Limited edition works are usually signed which creates a direct link to the author/photographer and therefore more interest in following their career and potentially lead to the acquisition of more of their works so digitisation would aid this process for sure.

  8. January 8th, 2010 at 12:54 am


    Interesting idea Bill. There are certain advantages to the limited edition model, but on the other hand, it does make the books more of an investment, and keeps the work out people's hands who may value it simply for the photographs, and not as an investment.

    I wonder if there's a hybrid model that can be created.

  9. January 7th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    bill purvis

    Have a look at Layflat if you are not already familiar with it. Its funded in part by donations and because the first issue sold out so quickly this more or less should assure the publication of a second issue. Its a great way for up and coming photographers to have their work seen. I like limited edition books which have the potential to appreciate in value as a photographers work becomes better known.
    Like any art though there is a speculative risk but then one should only buy if the work will be enjoyed in which case there will be no loss will there. Photobooks limited edition go for it!!
    By the way I love the limited edition volume #58 One Picture Book publ by Nazraeli Press.

  10. January 8th, 2010 at 6:27 pm


    I’m not a photographer, I’m not an artist.
    I’m a blogger, and i started publishing books. Our first book is out, we are working on the second one.

    Before I speak about funding, I need to react Marc’s post/coments.
    I have seen many self-published books that are a basic catalogue of photographs : white page on the left, picture full page on the right, here you go.
    A photo book is a collaboration (photographer, publisher, editor, writer, designer). Working on the first book i realised this team is very important : the exchange of ideas, and trust in our team made our book stronger.

    Why did i decide publishing / editing books ? Not even mine but photographers ? ? ?
    I’m a picture editor for a French magazine, but i spend most of my time doing paper work, accounting, or production.
    What i like is proposing photographers for projects. Being a book editor is working very close with the artist and propose his work to an audience. I love it.

    Now, more about the funding.
    We have decided to pay for the expenses.
    I have chosen the photographer I love, proposed him the book project, he trusted us, and we made it. It is very simple.
    We worked on the edit, the design, he loved the pdf. We paid the printing. We are selling the book on our website. The money that comes from that will help pay the 2nd book, etc. Hoping not to loose too much money.
    It is very important to make it work in your budget. We haven’t printed offset and did a small edition, we hope this will get bigger and bigger. Todays technology, papers, etc… allow us to make nice object at affordable prices. Strong egos not welcome.

    Why did I take the money from my pocket ?
    It’s a way to get more freedom, also because I’m proud and happy with this project.
    Of course i could have used this money to go on a beach for vacation… seriously ? me resting on a beach ? never. I hate sand on my feets.
    I love photo, and i love (indie) books.

    My blog : LOZ :
    Our publishing : Lozen up :

  11. January 11th, 2010 at 7:06 am


    Lot's of interesting thoughts. I'm old enough to know/remember the "why" of photobooks… they were the only way we could get a collected work in our hands to see. They, like our Life Magazine, our Look Magazine, our National Geographic, transported us into places and views that we couldn't get without going to large city and hoping to find a photography show at the museum or gallery. And I still think today, with our heavy reliance on light emitted viewing, that light reflected, paper, viewing is very important. View a 20X40 hand printed Karsh or Adams and the onscreen view pales in comparison.

    As a result of the access to better digital tools, especially in the last 24 months, there is a significant body of work being created that deserves to be seen in a printed format. Ironically, at the same time, the dependence on high quality print, especially magazine, much less low quality newspaper is declining rapidly at the same time. So I think this discussion is very timely and relevant in that we should be finding a way forward for more visual artists to show their works.

    I think there are several great ideas already here. One, is using a tool such a blurb to drive awareness of your art to a larger audience.

    I also think that groups and collective of fine art photography should do like Aperature did and use a photobook format as a journal that showcase's works collected in theme's. A subscription based concept might work. Heck, we filled our bookcase as kids with the Time-life series of books that opened us up to the world. I know eventually they were sent to the used book store, but know, I wish I had kept them.

    I recently blogged about the concept of quality bryanf, and I think that there is an unfortunate trend in a consumption driven world to seek out the lowest cost expression, whether its high consumptive art purchased at Ikea, or any good. But I see enough desire in my kids generation to create their own art that I not totally discouraged. Personally, I loved to work with a designed work of written art/photography on handcrafted paper. Came close before the economy tanked, but look forward to getting back to the idea again.

    Thanks for setting up this discussion.

  12. January 11th, 2010 at 4:28 pm


    Thanks Gilles. I like this…

    "I also think that groups and collective of fine art photography should do like Aperature did and use a photobook format as a journal that showcase's works collected in theme's. A subscription based concept might work."

    I do think collectives will be very important for unknow photographers. Putting out quarterly mags or annual books gives the audience a good way to sample the work if you may. And if done creatively, these books can really become very cool collective art pieces. I know, being in a collective myself, that we've talked about this type of stuff often.

    This does bring up an interesting question though. Perhaps groups of photographers are more likely to get recognition than individual photographers. This is actually kind of exciting to me, especially with how easy it is to connect with like minded photographers through the web. Our collective is made up of people that if they were to sit next to me on the subway, I'd have no clue who they were…

  13. January 11th, 2010 at 11:39 pm


    First, let me correct myself here…. Aperture (sp) collective(s)… shouldn't write late at night.

    I think, unless you are lucky enough to get "discovered," it may be the only way forward. We are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of images. I cannot fathom how anyone can view flickr. To me, the first benefit would be in self critique, then community critique and finally consumer critique. Ansel Adams said that a photographer if made 10 or so good images a year, it was a good year.

    It also really makes economic sense by spreading the risk/cost across a group. There may be an argument that by forcing a curated process that a higher quality of output can be achieved.

    And, along the way, I think it would only be natural that some individuals would gain the exposure to justify a solo work. and rise on to other levels. Nothing wrong with that.

  14. January 14th, 2010 at 12:46 am


    "It also really makes economic sense by spreading the risk/cost across a group. There may be an argument that by forcing a curated process that a higher quality of output can be achieved."

    I often say that the value might be in the aggregate, and not in the individual pieces. With the web, these groups and collectives can really span the entire globe, which is exciting. The dynamic at play in the work when gathered together in a book, can begin to carve out a recognizable group sensibility.

    It's kind of like the Wu Tang Clan. They bring the clan together, put out a group album, and then after that, promote the individuals, but it's all really under the umbrella of the Wu Empire.

    I know some are kind of freaked out by the tribalism you see on the web and in places like Flickr, but I don't see it as something nefarious. It makes the time we're living in very interesting.

  15. January 16th, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Bill Purvis

    The individual hoping to make it has to be a cut above the curator i.e show me something new or relative to 'now' or interpret something old 'new' i.e different. Having to produce a work expectant of curatorial acceptance equates to contrivance and totally contradictory to the creative arts. May I say f…k the curator! God I wish I could come up with a good idea but gee Im drinking a good red – thanks God!!! Yep the curator is a middle man..

  16. January 13th, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Derek Abbiw Jackson

    It seems ironic but as new media, digital photobooks would best be funded through relatively inexpensive avenues of social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook. These avenues enable the photographer to reach the whole world by publishing a set of comments about a photobook or posting a representative sample of the book on various, varied social media. Adapting representative samples of digital photobooks so that they inturn can be transmitted to mobile handheld digital devices from sites such as Twitter would bring the whole process full cycle. The individual photographer without a large amount of funding could reach a large audience and find a lucrative way to market his work that can be reinvested as dividends into the photographer's enterprise.

  17. January 12th, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Continuing discussion: Future of PhotoBooks « The PhotoBook

    […] and a member of, an international photography collective, and the article is found here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Recommended PhotoBooks in 2009Future of […]

  18. January 13th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    The Future of Photobooks « Katherine Rondina Photography

    […] How should photobook FUNDING evolve in this decade? Moderated by Bryan Formhals. […]

  19. January 14th, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Derek Abbiw Jackson

    I found Bryant's comments about the market for photooks and its existence or expansiveness interesting. In my estimation, in order to survive and thrive in the marketplace and to obtain funding, artists have to create a demand and even a need for photobooks. If somehow photobooks could be included in the curriculums of all schools, particularly post-secondary institutions, then a never ending flow of revenue for photobook funding would be created. The trick to establishing this is to find some need, such as depicting historical photographs in a unique way suited to educational instruction that would make photobooks an essential necessity.

  20. January 18th, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Photography Collectives and the Wu Tang Clan | la pura vida

    […] was tasked with moderating the FUNDING portion of the Future of Photobooks discussion over at Livebooks and one of the comments pushed me in the direction of collectives. I often say that the value might […]

  21. January 21st, 2010 at 5:11 pm


    Partial funding may come (more and more) from pre-selling a photobook months in advance of its printing/publication date. I just pre-ordered 4 photobooks – Todd Hido, A Road Divided; Hiroshi Sugimoto; Lay Flat 02: Meta; and Phil Toledano, Days With My Father. I bet at least one will sell out before their actual release.

  22. January 26th, 2010 at 12:14 am


    Yes, partial and pre-funding is certainly one element in the equation. It'll probably work more for established photographers or perhaps photographer's who have presented a new body of work on the web over a period of time.

  23. January 26th, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Derek Abbiw Jackson

    For an established photographer, prefunding could be facilitated by a strong reputation. Perhaps photographers who are not quite as established could attach a digital portfolio of their previous work to the new work in the photobook when attempting to qualify for prefunding. This migt spark interest in their new work.

  24. February 16th, 2010 at 10:35 am

    The Future of Photobooks « APA San Francisco

    […] evolve in next decade? Mediated by Todd Walker, creator of Gallery Hopper and Ocular Octopus How should photobook FUNDING evolve in next decade? Mediated by Bryan Formhals, creator of La Pura Vida Gallery and blog Travis Fears helps Miki […]

  25. August 25th, 2012 at 11:13 pm


    Hi Donna!We have not released dates for Sarah’s next woksrhop or how much it will be as of yet. I’m not entirely sure if your asking to take it as an additional woksrhop or not but we do not allow refunds (or transfers) on woksrhops as stated at signup.Here is the safety woksrhop outline and details though:I’m not sure what you are waiting to hear back from as I don’t see any emails or anything from you. When you sign up there is only a paypal confirmation sent to you and then a few days prior to the woksrhop we will email you any necessary instructions. You can also follow along with the thread link above where Stephanie has mentioned a few things from time to time. Please let me know if you have any further questions : )

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