Schwartz’s daughter interacting with
exotic wildlife, due this fall. Going forward,
Martin expects that of Aperture’s 30 annual
releases, two or three will be supported by
Aperture-run Kickstarter campaigns.
She also acknowledges that the move had
its detractors. “I’m aware there’s a hesitancy
or a bias that institutions should not use
Kickstarter as a vehicle to fund projects,
that it’s really intended for individuals,”
she says. “We got some flak about that. But
when you look at it, Kickstarter is a larger
funder of cultural projects than the NEA
[National Endowment for the Arts].”
Some publishers choose to pre-sell copies of books, lowering their costs and risks. Damiani’s Albertini, for example, says his house may require a
photographer or his or her gallery or museum
to pre-purchase a quantity of books: “The artist or the gallery … might
pay us [for] a thousand copies.” At a 50 percent discount, a hundred
copies of a $50 book brings the publisher $2,500. A thousand clears
$25,000, enough to cover a small print run and sell half of it. “We do a
quantity for them,” says Albertini, “and a quantity for us, for the market.”
Brooklyn-based powerHouse Books, whose output ranges from
fine-art photography to peppy impulse buys like Metal Cats—a current
smash featuring heavy-metal aficionados and their fluffy friends—also
runs a trade with artists in books, in certain circumstances.
Founder and publisher Daniel Power says that as long as they
believe they can sell a minimum quantity—a good portion of a
1,000- or 1,500-print run—they don’t ask the photographer to
subsidize production costs.
Yet if the house sees potential in a project, “but not enough
to pay for everything the artist wants—to make it really big or
deluxe,” they will ask the artist to contribute to cover those
costs. Power says less than 5 percent of powerHouse’s books
are “photographer-subvented” (that is, subsidized by the
photographer), and these are in cases where the photographer
asked for a large trim size, a slipcase, more images, or other
costly “bells and whistles.” The publishing house uses a
formula to produce and price a book to fit within their model;
if production costs would make the retail price more than the
market can bear, the artist chips in to fund production. “Because
sales alone are not going to cover all of it,” Power says, “and we
weren’t put on this planet to promote you or bring your stuff to
market. We need to share the responsibility.”
Power declines to reveal how much a photographer might
contribute, but notes that in one instance, a photographer helped
support a book by arranging for a large organization to buy copies
of the book in advance—enough to lower the per-unit cost on each
book. In return, the photographer received a royalty that was
higher than the usual 10 to 15 percent of books sold.
Other publishers take different approaches. “I wouldn’t ask a photographer to fund a publication of their own work,”
says Chris Pichler, owner of Nazraeli
Press, which has published books in print
runs ranging from 250—“which may be
sold at very high prices”—to 3,000 copies.
Pichler says, “If I can’t see selling a book
in a standard print run to a combination
of bookstores, galleries, libraries and
individuals, and if it’s not the right kind
of work for a small-run, more ‘collectible’
edition, then I would be ignoring common
sense if I were to publish it.”
John Jenkins, publisher of DECODE
Books, notes, “If you’re not making money
back by traditional means, then you have to
find other ways of doing it.” But in the model
that requires the photographer to pay, he
says, “you’re basically hiring the publisher
to publish the book. You’re buying their
distribution channels to get it out there.”
When DECODE launched in 2007,
Jenkins, a longtime photo collector,
committed to a different solution. For each of
the two or three monographs the imprint publishes annually, the press’s
authors make available one or two prints for sale as limited editions.
These sell for up to $1,000 each and defray the cost of the book.
Without them, “I would not make my money back,” Jenkins says.
“With the economics of a 1,000- or 1,500-book print run, you can’t
make the money back just through sales, especially when they’re being
distributed and sold through bookstores,” which take a cut of each sale.
Will he ever try Kickstarter? “I’m still struggling with it,” he says.
“But when established publishers like Aperture are doing it, it makes
me wonder, ‘Why am I not doing it too?’”
TOP: An image from Brian Finke’s
monograph, Construction, published by
DECODE Books. ABOVE: DECODE sold a
collectors’ edition of the book, packaged
with a limited edition print by Finke, which
helped fund the lower-priced trade edition.
The Costly Business of Photo Book Publishing