TOP readers buy a lot of books, and I get to see an accounting of what's been purchased. I study the lists for clues about what people like and don't like.
Just so you know, what I see is a general accounting of items purchased. I do not see which items were grouped together into an individual's entire order, and I am given no customer information at all—I don't see who you are, or where you are, or anything about your buying habits.
Here's what I see:
(Click on this to see it larger.) The first column is the item name, the second lists where the order was fulfilled from, third is the unit price, fourth is my commission as a percentage, fifth is the number of units ordered, next to last is the gross sale amount, and the last column, in bold, is TOP's slice of your pie.
The items are divided by categories (books, housewares, electronics, etc.), and I can get information daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly. The percentage of the affiliate commission goes up as we sell more items in any given month, which is why even small items ordered through our links help me out—they help raise the percentage for everything.
Anyway, one thing I think I've detected from the data over the years I've been watching it is that people tend not to like little books.
Why is this? Is it because little books just don't seem...serious enough? As if a book that is physically slight must also be slight in importance?
Per'aps. I kind of like little books, myself. For a while, back when I didn't have a car and used the bus as my main mode of transportation around Washington, D.C., I made a desultory attempt to collect books in the "Oxford World Classics" series. Nowadays these are paperbacks of conventional dimensions, but originally they were wee little hardcovers in Oxford's traditional gold-stamped, navy blue cloth garb. I found it handy to carry one in my pocket for reading on the bus. I read all of Walden that way. Perfect bus book.
The original pocket-sized "Oxford's The World's Classics" were later reissued by other publishers, first Avenel, and finally as a a limited set issued by Barnes & Noble. I didn't do a very good job collecting them: they're actually quite scarce, here in the U.S. at least.
On the Archie Bunker chair (I really need to set up a semi-permanent studio table in the house so I can take presentable pictures of objects), a snap of two Jane Austen titles from the World's Classics, with coins, a lens, and an Amphoto book for scale. An older Oxford Press version of Persuasion is on top and a Barnes & Noble issue of Sense and Sensibility (with dj, even) below. Note golden nostalgic glow, compliments of wacky mixed lighting.
Among photo books, a case in point is Clément Chéroux's little book about Henri Cartier-Bresson, published by Thames & Hudson in the U.K. under its "New Horizons" rubric, and by Abrams in the U.S. in a similar series called "Discoveries." This is another one Ken and I were discussing the other day. It really is a terrific little book, and I think it makes an outstanding introduction, and even a good basic book, about the photographer. M. Chéroux, who is a photographic historian and curator at the Pompidou Center in Paris (the book was originally written in French under the title Henri Cartier-Bresson: Le Tir Photographique), has good insights and has clearly done his homework well, and the book is crammed with added-value supporting illustrations of the type that publishers too often forego these days.
Its problem is that it's little: less than 7" high. (It's correspondingly cheap: only $10.36 from Amazon U.S. and £4.69 from Amazon U.K.) If this were a premium hardcover of modest coffee-table size and cost $40, I'll bet a lot more people would take it seriously.
Anyway, if you buy it, I recommend you actually read it. You'll get a lot out of it if you do.
All of the above is a very long way to go to get to my subject. After Peter's posts about Voja Mitrovic the other day (which I'm glad you enjoyed, by the way), a number of people contacted me saying, "I've heard of Cartier-Bresson, but who's this fellow Koudelka?"
And here we have a dilemma. I have a number of Josef Koudelka books, foremost among them Gypsies and Exiles. But you really can't easily buy any of them today (take a gander at the prices at those links as a fer instance). The one book that's in print and readily available is Invasion 68: Prague (here's the U.K. link), which is a major accomplishment of photojournalism and a very important part of the Koudelka canon, but withal not entirely characteristic of his artwork.
So, what do do?
What I'd recommend if you don't know Koudelka and want to familiarize yourself with him is the little, inexpensive, and readily available Josef Koudelka from Thames & Hudson's "Photofile" series of pocket books. (Here it is for the U.K.) Yes, it's small: only seven inches (17.8 cm) high. But the reproductions really are quite good, lacking maybe just a little subtlety in the highlights, but conveying the essence of the pictures. And they're pleasing to look at.
You have to hold the book sideways to see them, but the designer hasn't wreaked carnage by running any through the gutter. The selection of work is excellent, perfect for an introduction. Many of the great photographs are here. It will give you a very good handle on what Koudelka is all about. And for $12.44/£5.57, it's tough to go too far wrong. Consider it a serviceable stopgap until Exiles or Gypsies is reissued in hardcover (which you would definitely hear about here).
People probably won't take to this solution. I expect to see only a few copies of Josef Koudelka show up on the orders page at my affiliate link*. That's too bad. But human nature is what it is, and I understand.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Cecelia: "I have a basic issue with little books—they don't work on my shelves! When I first get one and read it, of course the reading/viewing process is just fine. But after than initial reading, storing them doesn't work well because most photo books are medium- to large-sized, and the small books are too short in height and depth to commingle on the same shelves. This means the small books get segregated with really little books like Beatrix Potter or normal little books like paperback fiction—neither of which are in the photo section of my library. This storage issue does not prevent me from purchasing a small book if I think the information is helpful, but it is annoying and I wish publishers would think through the practicality. You can always add white space around the edge of a page and make a book a more standard size—hopefully without adding $25 to the price."
Mike replies: Very interesting. I agree that shelving is a big issue—I've written about those headaches in the past. I do think there's been real size inflation over the years I've been in photography. Many of the important books of the '60s and '70s would now be considered small to medium-sized: giving height first, my copy of Walker Evans' American Photographs is 8x7"; William Eggleston's Guide 9.25x9.25"; The Americans (I have the Pantheon reprint) 8.75x9.75"; Charles Pratt: Photographs (which we were discussing the other day) 10x9"; Frances Benjamin Johnston[no relation]'s The Hampton Album 7x9.75"; Dan Weiner from the ICP Library of Photographers, 8.75x7.5"; Max Yavno's Los Angeles Book 9.75x6.75"; and so on. I would like to see a "right sizing" movement in photo books, with some relaxation from the expectation that all photography books need to be coffee-table sized as a default. You say a book being too small will not prevent you from buying it, but I have to admit that a book being too big will prevent me from buying it—possibly. At least it makes me think twice.
Also, I do think that Clément Chéroux's book really is too small, at least in its English translation, just based on type size, page layout, and the sizes of the illustrations.
Featured Comment by Adam Isler: "I think there may be some shopping psychology and cognitive biases at work here, too, with regard to little books. I know that often when buying a book online I want to buy several at a time to amortize the shipping costs better. It just seems wrong to spend $6.95 or so on shipping (and more for sales tax) for a book that costs little more, or even less, than that. Amazon encourages you to spend $25 for free shipping and I'll often buy my daughter a book or get additional books lower down my priority list to make up the distance to $25 and get 'free' shipping (even as I know I'm succumbing to their insidious blandishments). Could a similar cognitive bias prevent me from ordering a small book online? Perhaps small books should be picked up singly in airport lounges only or by the armful at second-hand stalls for a song? Perhaps it's just too disappointing when the longed for Amazon box arrives and there's naught but a single, tiny book within?"