3 Tips For Publishing a Photobook

I recently contributed a post to Seshu Badrinath‘s Tiffinbox blog, with a quick wrap-up of the panel I participated in at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto. Hope you don’t mind if I share it here, too.

From left: Darius Himes, Jason Fulford, Alec Soth, me, Andy Adams, and Stephen Mayes, talking photobooks in Toronto. Thanks to Larissa Leclair of the Indie Photobook Library for the photo.

With so many photographers taking publishing into their own hands these days, there seem to be a lot of questions and more than a few misperceptions about photobook publishing floating around.

I never would have considered myself an expert in photobooks until this February when I collaborated with Andy Adams of FlakPhoto to create the Future of Photobooks project, a month-long, cross-blog discussion about how photobooks would be made, read, and sold in the future.

Over the course of the project, more than 50 photo professionals and publishers wrote posts on their own blogs about where they saw photobooks heading. I read them all, organizing them and pulling out highlights for three final discussions hosted by guest bloggers. I felt at times like the blogosphere was giving me my own private class in photobook publishing 🙂

With a project like that, my greatest reward was getting to redistribute that knowledge back to the community, connecting with so many new people, and seeing people get excited about the discussions. Personally I have also been asked to speak publicly about phtoobooks, most recently on a panel at the inaugural Flash Forward Festival in Toronto — along with highly respected colleagues Alec Soth, Stephen Mayes, Darius Himes, Jason Fulford, and Andy Adams.

A number of important questions were raised during that discussion, ones I thought it would be helpful to share with anyone thinking about publishing a book or seeking a publisher for one. I’ve listed three big ideas below, but these are only starting points. It would be great to hear what you think about these, since the future of photobooks, now more than ever, truly is ours to shape.

1. Don’t expect your photobook to make money.

Aside from the very rare exception (things with large general appeal like Full Moon and A Child is Born) photobooks rarely turn a profit — in fact, many fail to break even. Darius Himes, founder of the non-profit Radius Books, pointed this out in his post for Future of Photobooks and again in Toronto. Photographers looking to have a book published often expect the same experience of lucky novelists, who receive an advance check before the book is even written. Photobooks are a completely different model. Novels cost a tiny fraction of a photobook to produce, and they have a much wider audience. Photographers (aside from Annie Leibovitz maybe) DO NOT get advances, and even top photographers with several books in publication admit they haven’t made any money from them.

2. Decide what you want to accomplish with your book.

Once you get over the idea that your book is going to make you any money, do you still want to make it? If so, why? Do you want it to be a culmination of a specific project, essentially a hand-held exhibition? Then you might need to work with a publisher that can help you find professional designers and editors. Or you could consider working with a printer directly, and producing a small editioned run of artist books. If you want your images to achieve a specific outcome, to be seen by lots of people or a few of the right people, partnering with a non-profit organization is a good option. Or you might even set aside the idea of a physical book for a viral video that can travel much further. If you simply want to be able to share your images in a tangible way, perhaps with friends and family or editors and clients, then a self-published book is great. All of these decisions and more will depend on your ultimate goal for your book — so figure that out first.

3. Be prepared to provide your own capital and, ideally, audience.

During our discussion, several photographers expressed chagrin that they had been asked to make an initial investment in order to publish their book with a publishing house. Although that may seem unfair, Darius and Jason both said that finding funding for a book was an important first step for them as publishers — as non-profits they worked together with the photographer to do that, but it’s not uncommon for publishers to ask the photographers to do it themselves. Funding may be the area that new technology can have the most effect on, through online pledge drive software like Kickstarter, or pre-sales through social media as with Lay Flat and Publication. And even when the actual funding isn’t provided online, that can still be an important place to build support and audience for a book project. For instance, look at Phil Toledano’s Days With My Father, which drew over 1 million hits as a website and allowed Phil to approach publishers with 15,000 emails from people who said they would buy the book in hard copy. Or Simon Roberts, who enlisted his fellow Brits through his blog, asking for ideas for photos to include in his We English book, thus creating an automatic base of support: Fans who were involved in the project were more likely to buy the book and share it with friends.

What steps are you taking to publish your photography book? If you are working on a book project and want to share it, please comment below 🙂

Future of Photobooks :: The power of crowds

The month-long, multi-blog Future of Photobooks project we hosted on RESOLVE was the trigger that really got me thinking about the growing potential of collaboration and crowd-sourcing.

Andy Adams, the founder of FlakPhoto, was my co-conspirator and I learned a lot from working with him. His connections are vast and well organized and he will work tirelessly to mobilize them for a project. See for proof the more than 50 bloggers who contributed posts to the Future of Photobooks project.

As RESOLVE editor, I sometimes felt like an army of one, so working with Andy also brought my attention to the logistics of collaboration: recognizing and playing to each other’s strengths, streamlining communication, giving credit often and publicly. I PLAN TO CONTINUE TO EXPLORE THE SUBTLETIES OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION ON THIS BLOG AND SHARE WHAT I FIND WITH YOU.

Probably the most eye-opening aspect of the Future of Photobooks project was seeing the power of group knowledge being harnessed to create a valuable resource.

By asking bloggers to write on their own platforms, we decreased the burden on us as editors and also connected automatically with a wide range of audiences. And instead of one or two cool links and interesting ideas on a couple blogs, we ended up with enough for three link-packed posts, plus three separate discussion topics, which were also moderated by top bloggers.

Finally, rather than asking readers to follow this trail of posts all over the blogosphere, we indexed all the articles in a central post, along with all the related posts on RESOLVE, creating a stockpile of information about new directions in photobook publishing.

While we were helping readers learn about photobooks, I think it’s safe to say that Andy and I were the ones who learned the most. I know that for me, because I had to read every post in order to synthesize the information for the summary posts, I often felt like I was getting a personal class in photobooks.

And once people saw the impact of the Future of Photobooks project, they asked Andy and I to share what we’d learned: I gave a presentation about it at the Apple Store in San Francisco, he just presented at FotoFreo in Australia, and we’re both joining a panel this fall at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto.

As someone who was trained as a magazine editor in the traditional sense, this new concept of an editor as an organizer, coordinator, and refiner of not only words but also relationships and activities is super exciting. I hope you agree, and will follow along as we explore those ideas here.

Ed Kashi ::on:: reimagining old work


This is a multimedia piece I put together for Ed Kashi’s book, THREE, in which images from his 30 years as a top documentary photographer are combined into triptychs that consciously abandon the idea of context or traditional narrative.

The sound is rough and some of the editing makes me cringe, but this is still one of my favorite pieces, in part because the book is so beautiful and Ed’s words are so eloquent. I especially like it because it reminds us all that no matter how long you’ve been working or how tired you are of looking at your own stuff, YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND A NEW WAY TO SEE.