...As of now. Or maybe I should say our publishing "aspirations." This is just a description (for now) of what I want to do, not necessarily what will work out when push comes to shove.
I have an idea very firmly in mind of the kind of book I want to produce. My "model" is Henry Wessel's Steidl book Waikiki, which (by the way) I absolutely love—it's my favorite of all the books of his I have, or have seen—just gorgeous. (Might also be my favorite Steidl book, but I'd have to think about that). That book is simple and plain, clean and elegant: 11 3/4" square, with 25 pictures, one per spread on the right-hand leaf; short essay, hardbound with a dust jacket. Neat and sweet. Our books could go from there down to as small as 8x8", the size depending on what's right for the pictures.
We'll concentrate—specialize, even—in new, unknown, underserved photographers of the post-transition era*, not the same old names who've been publishing books and winning awards and selling in galleries and populating museum shows for years or decades (not that there's anything wrong with that).
We're going to be partnering with a very good, very experienced art publisher who specializes in extremely high quality photographic reproduction. Their best books are absolutely fanatical, and you'll have a chance to buy their very best book, their undisputed masterpiece, for a sweet price, in just a few days. Ours won't reach their highest, most exalted standard...but their "average" is other publishers' "very good." We'll publish 500 copies. The photographer, producer, and I will get 50 copies between us (30/10/10), leaving 450 to sell to you.
Sales numbers, of course, will be critical. There will be some number of sales—undetermined as of yet, and most likely different for each book—that will represent the "break-even" point—i.e., where all the expenses of production are recouped. Beyond that, it's profit. The photographers whose work we publish will be paid in copies at a minimum—that is, he or she will be guaranteed those 30 copies of their own book no matter what. Then, the photographer will get a split of the profits if there are any.
The way from here to there
Here's the plan. We're going to run a Kickstarter campaign later this fall to raise the initial capital (which is relatively modest). Counting my own $1k, we have promises for $2.5k already [UPDATE: now $3.5k]. Every donor of $150 or more will receive a copy of the book as a "thank you," but the book, when it's available, will sell for less than that, which means that everyone who kicks in that amount will also be making a substantial contribution to the cause. (You will of course be able to contribute less, or more.)
Going into the future, we won't do any more Kickstarter campaigns. Rather, each book will have to break even in order to recoup the capital to pay for the next book. If one book sells out, then there will be profits. If it doesn't break even (or falls too far short), then there might not be any future books.
If this model works, I could see producing, I don't know, two books a year. At least one.
I'm a nut about proportion—it's almost its own art form with me—so if we do books they'll be well-proportioned.
The guiding principle for the size and length and thickness of the book I want to make has to do with what I consider the ideal for looking at photographs—for the reader's (the looker's?) experience. I look at photo books all the time...virtually every day. I like to look at books sitting in a chair, which means that many coffee-table tomes are too big for my taste. I have books in which the pictures are too cramped and small; in which the layout is unacceptably busy; or which are just too big and unweildy to hold in your lap. Waikiki is perfect in this respect. It's a very elegant, comfortable way to look at an excellent small selection of photographs—generously sized, but easy to hold in your hand on your lap while you're sitting in a chair, so you can drink in the pictures at length, comfortably.
I said I'm a nut, so I don't think I'm doing any damage to my image to say I've been thinking about this stuff for years.
I've created a new category in the right-hand sidebar, called "TOP's Own Books." (I have a company name picked out, but we'll need to clear it legally before I'm at liberty to use it.) I'll put all the publications post in that category, so those who want to keep up with this will be able to.
That's it for now. More as I learn more. Stay tuned for that book deal...it's not just a special offer, it's a special offer that's actually special. :-)
ADDENDUM: Thanks for all the comments. In regard to some of the questions, note that first paragraph! We're very early in the process here, and nothing's set in stone. This is a report of what I'm thinking about, nothing more. Anything could change before the plan gets put into action.
Follow our publishing plans on Twitter @TheOnlinePhotog
*Oh—and, film or digital photographers, color or B&W, without prejudice.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jim Becia: "Mike, Not to be critical, but I find the idea of paying more by supporting you on Kickstarter to not make sense. With your print programs, you price prints less than their normal going rates, but with Kickstarter you want to charge more for the going rate of the book. It is not the way I would approach it, but it is your business and your decision."
Mike replies: Jim, Kickstarter solicits voluntary donations from supporters, to help jumpstart ("kick-start") a venture of some kind. It's not a straight sales venue. The Kickstarter option will not be for people like you who just want to buy a book for a businesslike price: if all goes well, you'll have that opportunity later, after the book is published. It's for people who believe in the worth of the venture and want to help it get off the ground. The book they'll get for a certain level of donation isn't compensation—it's just a "thank-you" for their moral and material support.
Oh, and the people who buy the book after it's published, for the regular price (which we hope will be less than $50) will be contributing to our success too, no question, in a somewhat lesser but still important way. No one should feel obligated at all to participate in the Kickstarter program.
Gunnar Marel: "Great aspirations! (With equal expectations looming…!)"
Paddy C: "The art books I design for galleries run 500 copies. On occasion 750–1,000. Absolute max 1,500. It's doable and the cost-per-copy (if you're considering just the printing) is not bad. Mind you, add everything else in and it may be a little iffy. But then art books are not a money-making venture for most."
Louis McCullagh: "With such a small number of photos in each book and your name to uphold the quality of printing why not put the photos online and presale all 500 books before printing. If presell number is greater then 500 then you can print more. After all no one is going to physically handle the book before purchase anyway. No need to have a kickstarter fund raiser."
Mike replies: I don't just want to publish one book. I'd like to publish many books, one after another.
Let's say the total expenses for one book are $15,000. The idea is to raise $15,000, and use it to pay for the first book. Then the first book breaks even. That means the publishing company again has $15,000 in the bank—enough to pay for a second book. And so on.
If the first book earns $18,000, then we split the $3,000 profit between me, the producer, and the photographer, to pay for our time and effort. And we still have enough capital for the second book. If the first book earns only $12,000, that means I only need to invest $3,000 of my own money in order to publish the second book. I can afford that (well, once, maybe even twice—we'd need to make a profit at some point); I can't afford to invest $15,000, or even $10,000. So the Kickstarter money will in effect be seed money which I can keep re-using; it will theoretically allow us to keep producing books into the future, assuming each attempt is more or less a success.
If I do pre-sales on one book, let's say we collect pre-sales to pay the entire cost of the first book. We collect the money, print the book, and distribute all the copies. Where are we? Right back where we started—with no capital for the next book. It's back to the drawing board. Plus, there are all sorts of problems with pre-sales, which I've experienced already way too vividly. I only want to sell what I know I can deliver...promptly, no fuss, no muss.
Whether the venture will be a long-term success or not depends on how well we do overall. If each book makes a little profit, we're golden. If one book loses a little but the next one makes it back, we're also good to go. It's only if successive books fall appreciably short of break-even that the venture might fail—and if that's the case, then it probably deserves to fail.