Lets Talk About Money

Metropole book Lewis Bush (1)
Lets Talk About Money (or: What is the Point of Photobook Publishing?)

The photo world abounds with articles, essays and titles on photo book publishing, covering seemingly every topic from the abstract philosophy of designing books through to the essential practicalities of marketing and distributing them. What is seldom discussed are the rather grim economic realities of book publishing. Photographers often plow their savings into new publications or spend month’s crowdsourcing or grant seeking in order to pay for them. Many books remain mouldering unsold, in closets, attics or under the bed for years, and even successful titles sometimes do not recoup their considerable shooting and production costs.

As part of the photo book extravaganza that is Photobook Bristol I’ll be chairing a panel discussion on Sunday June 14th exploring this little discussed area of photo book publishing. Joining me will be Emma Chetcuti of Multistory, Craig Atkinson of Café Royal Books and photographer Mark Power, who all have distinct insights into the topic. The subject of money is little discussed perhaps in part because the economic realities of photo book publishing can seem quite depressing. Who pays for books, why they do it, and what we can expect out of it as photographers are all questions that most of us would prefer not to ask because these questions both shine a light both on our motivations for putting work out into the world, and also cause us to reconsider our assumptions about what we get back in return.

A few of the questions we will be discussing include the quandary of who pays for photo books? Should publishers foot the bill, or is it right to expect photographers to cover the costs of their projects. With so many photographers making books, supply often seems to outstrip demand. Do we need to be more realistic about the market for photo books or look for ways to broaden that market, whether by changing the topics we focus on or the type of books we produce? Should the trade in photography books be dependent on the invisible hand of the market (particularly a market imbalanced by powerhouses like Amazon), or is there an argument for public funding of book projects which lack broad public appeal but have an important creative, cultural or political contribution to make?

If photo book publishing is not financially viable, and even sometimes unviable for the publisher, then why do we keep doing it? What do we expect to gain from publishing our works if it is not financial remuneration? Do the benefits of exposure and career advancement outweigh the financial costs and investment in time that go into producing a book project? Can we say photo book publishing is basically a vanity project, and if so for who? For the publisher, or for the artists, or for both? If they each have different agendas is this important? Should the burden to fund fall on the one who stands to gain?

We will be discussing these questions and many more, so come on down to the Southbank Club in Bristol for a weekend of great talks, books and entertainment.

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