Photo Books

The latest publication from Alec Soth’s ‘Little Brown Mushroom‘ press is Bedknobs & Broomsticks by Trent Parke and it is probably sold out by the time you read this, though perhaps if you get an order in immediately you will be able to get one, at least if you have an address in the US it can be shipped to. At $18 it isn’t particularly expensive for a 40 page book around 7×8 inches, but it ain’t cheap either presumably because of the low print run.

Looking at the sample pages on the link above, I didn’t feel inclined to buy it myself, but nowadays probably most people who are buying things like this do so not because they want the book but because they think it will be a good investment. A couple of years ago I bought a copy of Parke’s first book, the 1999 ‘Dream/Life‘, a considerably more substantial volume. Then it cost me about £40, though I had to pay carriage from Australia. Now, as M Scott Brauer points out on dvaphoto, the cheapest copy on Amazon is going for a mere $849.99, although a quick internet search did find one elsewhere at only $681. Still £400 more than I paid.

There has been a huge rise of interest in photographic books in recent years, pumped up by a few publications dealing with them that have promoted some at times pretty obscure and unremarkable titles. Fortunately most of the best photographic books over the years have sold fairly well, and in a number of cases have been re-issued with improved print quality and sometimes better design and editing – and at times a great deal of interesting new content. Probably the best example of this is Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’, where you can buy a recent edition on-line for less than £20. It’s a book no photographer should be without, though if you have the money and the shelf space, the Steidl ‘Expanded Edition’, an extremely weighty hardback is worth paying around double that for. (And if you can get Robert Frank to sign it you can ask an extra couple of thousand when you sell it!)

Unless you have a particular interest in bibliographic history, or are a collector, it isn’t worth buying any of the various earlier editions. They cost more and offer rather less. The Aperture edition I bought years back sells for anything from £60 to £350 and some others can be found around that price, while the first US edition sells for thousands – and around £10,000 for a signed copy. The book was first published in France and  you can get a copy of that edition, in fairly reasonable condition for under £2000!

It really is madness. But at least in this case you can get the best edition cheaply.

But I think for photographic publishing the future – or at least the foreseeable future – is with printing on demand. Which is why I’ve started to put my work out through Blurb – and I’ve got another and very different book almost ready. It isn’t a perfect solution, and a few changes at Blurb – or another company offering a comparable services at similar prices but with fewer limitations would help greatly.

3 Responses to “Photo Books”

  1. ChrisL says:

    I fail to understand what the publisher gains by limiting the run to 1,000. As you say a dig chunk goes to the “investment” buyers as evidenced by the rapid appearance on the S/H sites. Shimmer of Possibility was very much in that category. So “real” buyers loose out. Increasing the run would surely not saturate that market if judged carefully or is there a kudos in a publisher seeing the works sold at inflated prices? Like much of our capitalist world it remains a mystery to me.

    The small bookseller I bought my “Decisive Moment” from told me she had received calls from other trade sellers asking why she was selling below the “market” price and she should come in into line. She was happy to sell to a photographer not an investor.

  2. Well, LBM isn’t really a commercial publisher & perhaps they maximise their profits by keeping back say 10% of the print run to sell once the aftermarket is established. And that’s going to work better if you start with a limited edition.

    Generally the profit on publishing photo books is low – and many actually lose money – and the larger the edition the more they stand to lose, so limiting and keeping back is probably a pretty good idea financially.

    You could also make money by buying up all the copies you could find of a reasonably rare book, then publishing a book that rates it highly as one of the top hundred photo books or something similar.

    Using publish on demand is a good idea for photographers as it requires virtually no initial financial investment, and enables you to make the work available to all who want it and will pay a reasonable price. Of course you could, if the work became popular, print off a small batch, remove it from sale and then wait for the price to go up and sell them through e-bay etc.

  3. The LBM blog now reports it as sold out.

    I’ve always thought that photographers should not limit editions of photographs – for me it goes against the whole concept of the medium.

    And putting artificial limits on photo books also just seems wrong to me – if there is the demand publishers can just order a reprint. But I think books like this are more publicity stunts than proper publications, and suspect that they may even be making a loss on it – 1000 isn’t really a big enough print run for a well produced book, when you have to pay for design etc.

    But at a thousand copies, the sales are rather higher than my ‘1989’
    which of course remains available! Perhaps one day it will catch up.

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