I’ve wanted to present a book for a while, because I agree with these who’ve suggested in the past it’s an excellent way of presenting a set in a controlled and curated way – but have always held off for a couple of reasons; firstly, the work I want to present wasn’t finished enough to form a complete idea; secondly, there are challenges associated with economics, distribution, quality, etc. I thought I found a good enough solution…until the proofs arrived, and all of those things crashed back down to earth. So instead I’m going to offer you an apology.
It has been a very personal project because it is visual translation of philosophical and existential questions about human behaviour and expected conventions I’ve been forced to consider during my personal transition from corporate to creative. There are certain societal expectations and norms that inevitably an individual is forced to challenge if you want to do something different. I’ve not exactly had a conventional upbringing or career, so perhaps the questions I’ve been asking are a little different. The images presented were chosen deliberately because of possible ambiguity of interpretation: depending on your point of view, you may take away something entirely different from what I envisioned; I provide captions because I believe these are an integral part of understanding the often complex questions posed. None of the scenes are posed; every image is candid with ambiguous figures encountered during the course of real life simply because there’s no way to engineer an idea that multilayered without it being restricted to the limits of the creator’s imagination and experiences. They are not street photography or documentary in the conventional sense because the story presented is not about an individual or a specific moment in time; rather they are ideas relating to humans in general as opposed to a specific human. I’ve chosen to use Blurb for this first publication for a few reasons: granted, quality is not as good as a gravure edition with four colour rolls, but the setup printing costs wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands, either. It is the best balance of price and edition size I’ve been able to find. In order to make the book as accessible as possible, direct shipping to you saves on distribution costs, and I’ve kept my own margins to almost nothing. Hopefully the circulation will be wide enough to justify future editions.
Scratch that: it doesn’t apply, because there’s no book to launch – certainly not one that is remotely close to being of an acceptable standard. Instead, I’m left trying to figure out how to salvage the curation and layout work instead.
Ideally, a photo book should be multicolour gravure: but that’s a hideously expensive way of printing, and needs very large runs to even break even. (Nick Brandt’s African trilogy was done with gravure and is my benchmark for photo books). Unfortunately, this is seriously out of reach for all but the largest publishing houses and individuals with numbered Swiss bank accounts and private jets. So the rest of us turn to digital services such as Blurb and the rest.
Here comes the disappointing bit: after narrowing down the choices to – basically only Blurb, given that I wanted to sell and distribute the books but not hold physical stock and cut down the end shipping cost to the consumer – I went ahead and laid up the book in their software. Could be better, but all in all relatively painless. Ordered a proof copy of each cover type. Waited. Got hit by customs to the tune of about 50% of the invoice value of the books (ouch). And then was seriously disappointed by the quality.
The problem is not that the quality is outright bad; I’d rank it perhaps a 5/10 as far as photo books go, roughly on par with the Vivian Meier books – but that it’s expensive to get to even this point. I’d have to sell the 60pg book for about US100 to make $10 on each book. That’s crazy. I think the market accepts the limitations of self-publishing and print on demand to some extent, but this is too much. Even if you commit to say a minimum of 100 copies, the discounts don’t really increase by much. Certainly not enough to get it down to the sort of $50-60 price point that might give it some hope of being popular.
Looking at some of the other options, quality is better, but price is even higher and I’d have to hold stock – which means shipping to me, then shipping out again. And to make $20 I’d be charging $200 a book, which is even crazier. At that point I’d rather be selling single prints, because there are none of the compromises associated with poor printing*.
*Low resolution, limited gamut, poor dmax, few paper choices, odd contrast and tonal response etc.
Frankly, this has been a frustrating experience. A week of work is pretty much written off; I just have a PDF to show for it. Even at a price point where I make nothing, I’m still sufficiently disappointed by the result that I don’t really want it to be publicly circulated because this is not how the images should be seen. In print, yes, but not in print that’s worse than a web jpeg. I suppose it’s also possible that I’m having unrealistic expectations for what constitutes ‘acceptable’ – and I’d like to hear opinions from the floor on this – perhaps I’m just asking for too much, and this is really a viable project. But I admit that I’m somewhat afraid of taking that risk and being caught in a situation of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Especially given “my other prints are Ultraprints…”
So, it’s back to the drawing board – if anybody has suggestions for a print on demand site that will also handle your distribution, I’m all ears. Similarly, if there’s any interest in this as an e-book, it shall be done…MT
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