Mike over on The Online Photographer put up a piece a little while ago, Changin' Times. One the one hand, it is simply a lament for times gone by which, while not perfect, were, at least better defined than today I guess.
The remarks and the following comments on books are interesting and tinged with tragedy. Those 3,000 book editions are gone. If you think that you, as an artist, might get a book deal and reach the world through that book, you are mistaken. I just spent a few minutes on the web sites of Steidl and Taschen. Almost entirely retrospectives. Probably a few Kim Kardashians and celebrity chefs if you dig a bit. The lesser publishers who can't access the catalogs of the Great Names of Yore are publishing small editions of MFA-driven bullshit.
You can still "break in" here if you spend a bunch of money on an MFA, and then raise another $10,000 to $30,000 or whatever to fund this great book deal you got, and maybe you'll sell a couple hundred copies. Your MFA program will have ruined your photography, though, so most likely a lot of the books will sit in a warehouse until the publisher goes bust and then they'll be pulped.
Nope. Small is the future.
There are small publishers doing small runs of books with decent pictures, I gather. And there's the print-on-demand thing, so pooh-poohed on ToP (which is of course where my hackles went up).
The people selling 1000+ photography books are, more often than not, doing it on print-on-demand platforms. There isn't any fundamental difference between printing at some bush-league Art Publisher and printing at Blurb, at the end of the day you get a bunch of pages with ink smeared on them, and it's more or less your job to persuade someone to buy them, if that's your jam.
Anyone who actually knows how to sell things into the general book market knows your book won't sell, so it's back to the well for another Kertész retrospective, which will sell. You and your photos do not figure, in this scenario.
The idea of some sort of global reach is dead, dead, dead, unless you happen to already be dead (or very old). Success in this sense is entirely about carving out a niche, finding and building an audience for your work.
Having cleared that away, I have some ideas. These are sketches, not final details; ideas, not a plan as such.
There isn't any reason you can't run an imprint with blurb as your backend printing platform, and their integration makes them pretty attractive for this.
I have this notional imprint, Rogue Photo. It consists of: an idea, and one part-time staffer (me). I have no budget. I have no audience. I have no equipment. I have access to exactly zero experts. I have no distribution channel. And so on, if you can think of it, I haven't got it.
So let's suppose you Publish With Rogue Photo. On the strength of my non-audience, maybe we could sell 4 books. That sounds awful, but consider that a minor publisher can sell maybe 100 books on the strength of their name, and a major one can sell maybe 1000 books. The gap between 4 and 100 isn't actually that enormous. We're only talking 96 books here. That's like one box.
So, how would it work? Well, if anything actually got sold or even given away (which is an entirely optional, Rogue Photo isn't really about getting books into people's hands, it's about making books), it would have to be on the strength of your name. Which seems a bit unfair, what the hell is Rogue Photo actually bringing?
At this point? Basically nothing except a single part-time staffer (me) who has a proven track record of getting shit done, which is maybe just what you need.
If, perchance, some things moved out into the hands of some people on the strength of your name, well, that would certainly burnish the good name of Rogue, wouldn't it? The next artist along might sell 8 books on the strength of the Rogue Photo name! And so on.
If money started to happen, even in very modest amounts, my tendency would be to plow it back in to artists. I mean, I might buy myself a cookie or two as well, it's not my intention to run a charity here, but I don't really need money. Suppose, in a year or two, RP had managed to sell 500 books total, for a total markup of, I dunno, $1000 or something. I am just picking numbers out of my ass.
Whoever made the books would get a piece of that, obviously. Per previous remarks, before we even got there we'd all know where we stood and with any amount of luck everyone would be happy. Rogue (me) might pocket $500 of that, let's say. After my cookie, there's $495.50 left over. Some of that might could go to giving an advance to an emerging artist. At some point, in this merry fantasy, I suppose someone's got to write some bloody contracts, which sounds awful.
Before someone complains that there's no accountability, what guarantee do we have that the $495.50 is going back to artists let me answer that: you don't. By agreement, it would already be my money, you have only your knowledge of my sunny personality to support the idea that I might plow it back into paying artists.
Still, if we're going to usher in a brave new world of indie publishing, some blood's going to spill, I guess.
An outfit like Taschen brings a bunch of stuff to the table: designers, printers, paper choices, distribution channels, a rolodex full of Important People, and the Taschen Name.
Print on demand makes a lot of that stuff irrelevant. All the details of getting books built go away. Distribution and connections is still real, and most real of all is the name recognition. These things, however, can be built. Taschen's reputation is borrowed from the artists and writers that have published there. They can access Doisneau's catalog because they are Taschen -- and they are Taschen because they access it.
The point here is that when you publish with someone, that imprint gets to borrow your audience, however large it is. If you have 100 followers on instagram, and you tell them you just did a book with Rogue Photo, Roque's audience just jumped up. If the book is good, and by some miracle 30 people outside your instagram lay hands on a copy, ditto. Your name, and the name Rogue Photo, just got a bit of a polish.
It's probably never going to be global. I don't want to be global, so in the event of some fantastical sequence of events I would probably ruin it kind of slightly maybe on purpose but mostly on accident.
So, that's what it looks like. I am not exactly getting snowed under with proposals. In the sense that I have received zero. I myself have a thing in the pipeline, so the presses will be kept busy, though, so never worry!