I’ve been following the conversation about “the future of photobooks” initiated by Flak Photo and RESOLVE and have found it interesting, but I wasn’t really sure that I had anything to contribute. First of all, I don’t know enough about the publishing industry to really make any sort of informed comment about it. Second, I think the pros and cons of on-demand publishing services like Blurb have been sufficiently discussed.
Perhaps this is an indication of my current mindset, but what I kept thinking about was the market for photography books. It’s the same thought that comes into my mind when I think about the new organizations selling “affordable photography” prints. Whose going to buy these books and prints? It’s the same question that newspapers, magazines and blogs have been asking for the last couple of years. Whose going to pay? And why?
Lay Flat and the recently launched PUBLICATION seem to prove that if you put out a high quality product, people will buy it. Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on Issue #1 of “Photographs on the Brain,” which will feature photographs from the group edited pool that I set up on Flickr. It’ll feature only photographs and will be distributed through Magcloud. I haven’t seen a proof yet, so I can’t attest to the quality at this point, but from people I’ve talked to, it’s pretty good. I like this model because it’ll be affordable and available to anyone who wants to purchase. Of course, the market is awash in zines these days, so it’ll be the same uphill struggle that other publishers are facing. But with very little overhead, it seems like a low risk endeavor.
Because I’m optimistic about technology, I have no doubt that the quality of on-demand services will only improve and likely will meet the highest standards in our lifetime. I do believe this. Blurb is like Atari. Very cool for its time, but really only the tip of the iceberg in terms what’s to come. I’m also optimistic that display technology will improve dramatically in the near future and make viewing photographs on the computer much more enjoyable.
If we assume the barriers to quality on-demand publishing will fall in our lifetime (and I know many people won’t agree), anyone will be able to produce high quality books. But that goes back to my initial question, whose going to buy these books? Even the most devote book collector wouldn’t be able to purchase everything they’d like to have on their shelves. It’s straight economics. And if you produce your own book, how are you going to market it? RJ Shaughnessy has bee mentioned in this conversation for his initiative with “Your Golden Opportunity is Coming Very Soon.” He was generous enough to send me a copy, and it was awesome to receive it in the mail. It definitely got my attention more than an email pointing to a portfolio. It’s a good strategy if you can afford it and target the right blogs.
Now, to the idea, and source of my headline. What I’ve been thinking about recently is how we can share content in the physical world the way we share it online. I think everyone agrees about the importance of creating a synergy between the digital and the physical. One such endeavor that I think is interesting is Dr. Karanka’s Print Stravaganza, which is a roaming photography show. Contributors mail in prints and shows are organized through the web in various cities. This box of prints continues to grow and travel all across Europe. And it’ll eventually make it’s way to other countries as well. The shows are DIY and underground by nature, but it’s an interesting example of using the internet to bring photography into the real world. And how cool is that these prints will take on a life of their own by traveling around the globe?
That brings me to the Netflix of photobooks. I admit the title is a bit hyperbolic, but 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 again, 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. Just think if one of these books travelled to all the various bloggers so they could review them, and really promote the ones they thought stood out or were to their taste? This would be a great way to expose true emerging talent to those out there trying to promote, discuss and market that type of work. And just like, the Stravaganza, these books would take on a life of their own as they travel around the world. You could also come up with some way of documenting whose had them and where they have been. Could this type of model work for a larger photography audience? Maybe. Of course the problem you run into is that you couldn’t do this with collectible books, and shipping costs would be an issue, but I know it’s something I’d be interested in. It would be awesome to have 3 or 4 new photography books arrive in the mail each month. I believe there’s already a tremendous amount of experimentation being done by creative, passionate artists, but I just don’t think much of it is reaching enough of the eyeballs that might be interested in it.
The future of photography books should be about breaking down the barriers to experiencing this great art form. Quality and experimentation are certainly important but if the books aren’t getting in front more eyeballs, then doesn’t the future look very much like the past?