« Want an Alert About Book and Print Offers? | Main | Whatever Is Best »

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Good plan Mike, so where's this kickstarter button ?

Is the Kickstarter listing alive? I can't find anything.

I hope you'll post a link when available.

I'm very happy to see that TOP is going into the photobook business and look forward to seeing what you'll be offering.

Speaking of small photos, have you ever seen a book by Gerry Johansson? I'm no fan of the monster print, but Gerry takes it to the other extreme with his very lovely, if tiny, photos.

That company name wouldn't by any chance be "TOP Shelf Books", would it ?? :-)

This is great -- T.O.P. is really evolving. I'm sure you're going to produce great books, but I am actually more excited to watch you expand T.O.P. in a new direction. You are building a true internet success story. It's fun to watch.

The reproduction is of course critical. But I'm reasonably confident you're pickier about that than I am, so if you're pretty happy I figure I'll be happy too. And I suspect your ideas on proportion will be positive to neutral for me -- not negative, not a problem.

As Ctein has said about selling art in general, you don't have to get everybody to like it, you just have to get 450 people to like it enough to buy it.

I'm pleased to hear the tech is now allowing 500-copy runs at this quality level (I'm taking the quality on your say-so).

Best of luck! I'll check out the Kickstarter, and consider the books. (One problem -- my most likely source for these things is as gifts, which means the hypothetical possibility of their selling out quickly may well mean I don't end up getting them when I'm interested. I don't see any real solution to this, though, it's just one of those things.)

Awesome! Good books are a great thing.

Great idea Mike. I wish you great success and will do my part by purchasing!

"I'm pleased to hear the tech is now allowing 500-copy runs at this quality level"

They'll print 100 if you'll pay for it. The problem is simply that the per-copy price goes down dramatically the more copies you print. And the problem there is that you're sorely tempted to "save" money by printing more. If it's more than you can sell, then don't earn back your expenses anyway AND you end up with extra cartons of books you have to either throw in dumpster or (far more common) store. This is greatly complicated by the variables in pricing. As you print more, the price will fall more, and you will presumably sell more. But at some point your postulated market is saturated and you can't sell any more for any price.

The other extreme is equally problematic, which means you shouldn't be too conservative either: because the fewer you print, the higher the per-copy price has to be, and (hence) the fewer people will buy it.

You have to try to pick the number where you're printing as many as you think you can reasonably sell, or just a little more. And not less. It's a tough balance to find, and publishers routinely get headaches over it. Small publishers get especially large headaches.



Good luck with this bold move forward. Your heart, soul, and bruisable ego will go into overtime thinking about every detail. I have done small press editions of literary works back in the 90's. I still have copies of the last book on 1996. The elation comes from holding that first copy before anyone else in the world does. Then you get to wait for the reviews and copies flying back in your direction.
However you may find 500 is too little for an international market. You might look to your print sales numbers to get a aerial view of the potential sales market. 1000 copies might be a better number. A nifty selling technique is to number each title as a volume number on the spine, like on the bottom. Each successive book is a new volume number. People who collect books do not like to be missing a book in a numbered sequence. The higher quantity may not sell out as fast but late-comers to the series, say starting with #2 or #3 will probably want to obtain #1. Satisfying the late buyers will help with later sales as word of mouth builds.



> underserved photographers

I read that at first as "undeserved photographers" and thought, "Sweet, I'm in."

Oh well.

Take care.

Hi again.

Incidentally, regarding Kickstarter, I read something somewhere a couple of days ago (BBC?) that, if I recall correctly, suggested that most pledgers pledge at the level where they get the product / service, and psychologically see it as a transaction, not a donation.

Not having a clue about anything to do with business myself, I'm not sure if that is useful information for you or not, but thought I'd mention it.

Take care.

I think this is a really good idea, and I have more ink than cash at the moment. I also think Jim Becia has a point. So I have an idea: if we could find four or five of us new and unknown photographers who were each willing to donate a small print that would ship with the book, that set would be a great Kickstarter extra. Not sure what numbers you're aiming to get there, but I could produce 50 or 100 8 1/2 x 11s without much difficulty. 450 would be pushing it.

@ Kalli:

I agree with you about the quality of Gerry Johansson's tiny photos -- I, too, find them quite lovely -- but I find I am less enamored with the quality of his books, especially the early ones, where I can easily see the halftone screens with a naked eye.

His later books are much improved and as the saying goes, "it's the content that counts," but I hope Mike aims a bit higher with the TOP books in terms of print quality.

Dear Mike,

Good to read more about this exciting project. I'm sure I'll be supporting some of the books.

Still a few question marks though.If you don't mind me asking.

Don't you think that many customers, fearing to miss an offer, will actually be lured to jump in the kickstarter line rather than wait for the release price? In effect, people would rather pay more to secure their sample than to voluntarily support the project. What do you think?

If I understand correctly, supporters will be getting theirs from that 450 batch and when the funding period ends, other customers get the rest through "normal orders". Is it?

I guess it all depends on the demand size and perhaps I'm exaggerating your readership size? That said, wouldn't going to kickstarter -considerably- expand your market from your typical readers' base?
And not so rhetorically, what's the idea behind the limited edition here besides setting a manageable break even point?
Are "2nd prints" a possibility ?

Don't get me wrong, I ask questions because I see a very good line of things coming to us from T.O.P. and am anxious that it's not going to be too expensive or too difficult to get, "too limited". Surely if it's to promote "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".

Success on the project, Mike


I totally agree with your kickstarter summary above: it should be a donation to a worthy cause, not just a pre-sale. Many, many successful Kickstarters do offer something more than just the product though, if you're seeking a donation that's higher than the retail price of the product. That something extra doesn't need to make up the different - just something to show that the people who pony up more, early , are appreciated.

I nominate a small Mike Johnston print as the extra (could even be a random print from the archives; that'd be fun).

Best of luck with the latest endeavour. I think this is an excellent adventure.

Mike, on a somewhat related note, whatever happened to your friend with the "lost portfolio"? The guy who made matchbook sized prints of oddball photos...

I seem to recall you tracked him down and there was talk of a print sale of some kind.

And then nothing.

Also, I agree with the other commenter who said that your Kickstarter campaign is 100% backwards. The way to get lots of contributions is to pre-sell the Kickstarter book at LESS than the TOP price, and offer other rewards (multiple copies, your name in the book, an ad on TOP, prints, a portfolio review, a cuppatea with Ctein, whatever) at higher levels.

I would also consider giving away a print along with a copy of the book at the $150 level. This gives an extra incentive to get people to fund the beginnings of the project by offering more than the book that will be available at a far lower price.

Otherwise, I love the idea and look forward to following along to see how well the venture works. I am assuming you will give regular updates which will give a unique view into how the photobook business works.

Why not price it out on the basis of printing 500 copies but, after you announce the title, take pre-orders before making the final print run decision? That way those of us who might not check in to TOP everyday could assure ourselves of getting a copy, you'd get cash up front, and then could adjust to a longer print run if you thought there was enough demand. Better from my point of view than hoping for a second print run.


This TOP book publishing venture is fantastic news. I've really appreciated the photo books reviewed here and have been adding to my collection slowly but surely.

To properly prepare myself, will I need to have Paypal in working order to participate?

Mike, I don't think you understand the Kickstarter model. But, a easy way to adjust your view of pay more upfront to support the effort is to supply more value to the KS supporters. Have a signed version of the book, in a custom case, perhaps with a small print.

Then you have something of value beyond the retail value of a book that can be purchased on Amazon for x% off with free shipping.

As I noted a year or so ago, I think you should have a monthly or even more print sale on TOP given the number of the sales you made prior sales. Heck, maybe you should have a gallery of print sales?

Just my 2 cents :)

Best of luck in this!


I've added you to my Twitter list, welcome! BTW, I was unable to post here using my android device, let's see if my Windows machine works. (I'm on the road at the hotel with the worst internet connectivity ever...)

Really excited for this plan, Mike.

Great idea, Mike. A truly independent book business that can afford to take risks with relatively unknown photographers is an excellent idea. I'll be lining up for the Kickstarter project.

The book sounds interesting and I'll likely purchase a copy. What I'm REALLY looking forward to is Mike's Kickstarter video!

"whatever happened to your friend with the 'lost portfolio'?"

Hey, good idea.



Very excited, and you can count me in on the Kickstarter front. I must admit to one small frustration, however: when you wrote "post-transition era" with an asterisk, I assumed the asterisk would explain what post-transition era means. It doesn't, and Google wasn't very helpful. I assume you mean post-transition to digital era?


Yes, I mean "the digital transition," roughly 1997 to 2008, give or take. You can expand or contract the actual dates according to taste or argument, but you're likely to end up with some subset or other of the past two decades.


By the sound of it, I'm guessing that you are working with Michael A Smith. If so I think you are onto a good thing as he knows how to produce quality books. I also think you have a good eye and should be able to put together some interesting volumes. Looking forward to see how this works out - best wishes.

As Robert above, I suspect you don't fully understand what Kickstarter is meant for, or how it works. It is a crowdfunding site, meant to fund projects which wouldn't otherwise be funded. People can pledge as much money as they want - so the $150 you propose is just one level. Many will pledge less, some more. If you don't reach your stated goal, _you get nothing_. If you meet it or go over, you get the funds (minus Kickstarter expenses, less than 10% I believe).

But judging by the popularity of past print sales, I'd put money on the bet that you will have more funds than what's needed for the 500 book print run after the Kickstarter project is done. Much more.

I believe that Kickstarter doesn't require you to explain what you with the money if you get much more than you need. Nevertheless, Kickstarter etiquette states that you should offer "stretch goals" on the project description at increasing total pledge levels, which unlock if you reach higher total pledge than what your project actually needs. Otherwise people will think you'll be "reviewing" the funds in the Bahamas sipping on mai tais.

Some ideas for stretch goals would be even better printing/paper/cover quality as offered by your printer, a deluxe dust cover or slip case, loose prints from the book or other TOP photographers, lower price for the book or larger printing run, creating a companion website for the book for updates and discussion, free shipping for backers, or even a gallery show.

It is advisable to also offer pledge tiers below that $150 point to attract people who can't/won't pay that much. I think a loose/matted print (no book) would work here. As for ideas on rewards for higher pledge tiers: prints from the book or other TOP photographers (you could have different prints as stretch targets and rewards), access to the first 100 numbered and signed books on a first-come-first served basis, lunch with the CEO and President of TOP, or free advertising space on TOP for a few weeks.

How about a book of Kirk Tucks 'quiet' black and white portraits?

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 - don't forget about the tax implications of kickstarter funding. I remember reading an article on kickstarter (and why stuff doesn't always get sent out), and, if I remember correctly, some of the people forgot to take into account taxes they would have to pay on the money bought in.


Normally you get something value added like signed t shirt / book / extra page or photos etc for the contributor. Not necessarily expensive but somehow valuable for the first round one.

As a successful Kickstarter, let me warn you about giving too much away as premiums. By the time I finished fulfilling mine, I had less than half of my goal money. I can offer prints of my own work as a donation to your cause, Mike; Give them out as premiums. You'll only be responsible for shipping costs to your donors.

Best of luck,


I'm totally with your aims. However you are using other people's money (kickstarter) to cover the possibility of a loss.

There is a contradiction here that is staring you in the face. You have completed multiple print sales and pre sold in every one. I do not follow why a book is different.

Was the price of a print not more than a book or at least close?

Why not use kickstart to do presale? one of the levels can simply be the price of the book and postage (use a 3rd party to do the fulfilment).

Saying no is not good. In this online world what would it cost to put the book on line (not high res) with all the images for buyers to browse and ask who wants to preorder.

Test your market. Remove stress and uncertainty.

So if you want to do several books there will be ones which are more popular than others. You need to try and anticipate which they will be. One really bad book will blow your kickstarter money.

I have nearly 200 books and I would agree that I would very rarely buy a poorly printed book no matter who the photographer was. Quality is paramount.

To Kurt Shoens:

No, Kickstarter will collect funds directly from your credit card if and when the project meets its stated monetary goal. It will dispense the funds to Mike via an Amazon account, if I recall correctly.


Just one idea for down the road, or maybe for a higher kickstarter pledge: subscriptions. If the first book does alright you could sell a three volume subscription option. Might work, might not... I expect you'll do well regardless, and if the first book looks nice–and I'd be surprised if it didn't, I expect there would be interest in something like this.

Mike, the lost portfolio(s) as a book sure seemed like a good idea to me, even having only seen one photo of his.

You could even do a "books on books" style thing by showing a life size photo of an actual torn-edged micro-print (or even a whole spread of them, if they're small enough) and then a "proper" repro at larger size.

This idea sounds wonderful. Good luck.

I would go for the publisher's "highest, most exalted standard" and their "fanatical", "extremely high quality photographic reproduction", even if it's much more expensive. No shortcuts. If you are working with someone able of doing the very best, why settle for anything else than that? The market for books is getting quite saturated, so quality of the printing besides the (assumed) quality of the photographs could be a way for Top Books to differentiate itself from most of the rest. Top quality.

Will you be accepting book proposals?

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007