Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Would-Be Publisher

As everyone knows we are inundated in photographs. Everyone takes too many pictures, there are too many pictures, we're being deadened to the Photographic Image, nobody has any taste any more and obviously the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Well, I don't really believe much of that, except the bits about sheer numbers of pictures. But there is an interesting knock-on effect that I have just put together.

There are a gajillion photographers out there. Perhaps a million of them are doing quite good work, in one sense or another. Let me include under that umbrella the sort of twee self-referential bullshit that sells so well to professors in MFA programs and the artier of the photobook publishers, insofar as those two categories differ. And probably a bunch of other categories of work I might or might not like but either way have not thought of. What I mean is work that some actual audience of non-trivial size approves of that's not just your mom.

With a million (or whatever, I made that number up, but the point is it's a lot) people out there churning out work that is good enough to appeal to someone or other, this has led to a whole range of would-be publishers, serving the frantic desires of many of that army of a million.

I've talked in some depth about the predatory photobook publishers. I've talked about, well, about one zine.

It turns out that there are plenty of zines out there. It turns out that the fantasy of being some sort of hip zine editor is pretty appealing, so an incredible number of people try to grind these things out.

Publishing, however, is harder than it looks.

On the face of it, you just get some content from someplace, and in the world of photography content more or less throws itself at you the moment you say "Let's Put On A Zine!", and you need something or other than can output a PDF, and there you are. You can do an eZine by getting a domain and sticking your PDF on it, and then plastering your domain name all over social media. You can do a print zine by uploading your PDF to one of any number of on-demand presses.

Simple, right?

Not really.

The production of the item is more complicated and boring than you think. There's a virtually unlimited amount of design and editing skill that can be shoved into the thing usefully. This is where zines fall short. A young exuberant fellow just has too much raw talent to spend much time on fiddly bits like that, he'll make up for the lousy production values with the sheer raw talent, right? (no) On the back end, there's the problem of selling the goddamned thing. This is where the predatory book publishers fall flat. They have no idea what will sell, and furthermore don't care. They get paid on the front end, not the back, so if it sells, well that's nice but so what?

The predatory book publishers do at least have the relevant design tools and skills in-house, or at least on speed-dial, so there's a possibility that you'll get a decently made book out of it instead of a ridiculous looking mess.

This is not to suggest that all publishing is terrible. Brook Jensen's LENSWORK is a well made magazine, with good photographs in it (of a certain type that are not quite my cup of tea, but you can't have everything). There are good publishers of photobooks out there. Steidl may be a bit of a put on, but the guy seems to do good work without bilking all the artists, and I am reliably informed that there are other publishers that manage to do much the same.

Some publishers may indeed do both, bilking this artist, while producing an excellent and well-received book on honorable terms the very next month. I dare some some of the amateur zine publishers get it together and produce quite decent work after a false start or two.

But the point is that the vast numbers of photographers have engendered a shady knock-on market for would-be publishers. It's not healthy, and it muddles up the market not only for photographs but for publications built around photographs.


  1. This doesn't look so bad: http://loupemag.com - the photography isn't really my thing, I'm getting a bit weary of dreary, but the production and editing seems pretty good.

    By the way, I tried to post this comment yesterday from my iPad and it just vapourised...

  2. Have you encountered Cafe Royal Books?
    They churn out single artist zine editions faster than you can keep up. Might not be your thing but the guy has a pretty consistent style.