What’s the Future of Photography Books?

by Antonio Marques



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Not so long ago, a very well known photographer wrote on his blog the paragraph I’m quoting below:

“I’m not going to publish books with my photography anymore. It’s just not worth the hassle of having to deal with designers, editors, publishers, deadlines… From now on, all my photos will be released as e-photobooks.”

Now, it’s not my place to judge how wise and applicable a business models is or not, but after having read it, the questions that immediately came to mind were “Is it really like this? Is there no hope for print? Will the coffee table book take the path of the dodo?”. The truth is book publishers are facing more and more difficulties, and publishers dedicated exclusively to art books are rare and are diversifying not to go under. Books that cost $30 – $50 can now be bought as pdf for a tenth of that price.

And still, I remember fondly the hours I spent at the local library, in my early teens, going through mountains of photo books. The likes of Salgado, Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Doisneau and Eggleston, just to name a few, captured my eyes and mind and made me realize the amazing power of the still image. Their work was not on a computer screen, it was printed on paper. There were no Previous and Next buttons next to the photos, there were pages.

From experience, the response I get from my images when I show them on a screen or on a book are not even comparable. It is a much more intimate and fulfilling experience admiring some image that you can hold, and seeing how the texture of the paper also contributes to the work. If you ask a wedding photographer, he’ll probably tell you that a well designed album is one of the items that elicits more positive emotions from the couples. Do you think a simple DVD with the images files gets the same response?

Before you start telling me that I need to evolve, that times are changing, let me tell you that I have nothing against e-media. I publish content that is made to be distributed and consumed exclusively online, I have the large majority of my published images exclusively online, the majority of content I consume, previously published on and distributed by traditional media, I get online. My work is seen by a much larger number of people that I’m able to reach through pixels than through paper, no question about that. Nothing wrong with online and e-publishing. And yet everything has it’s place and value. Can’t one complement the other? Is the photo book hopelessly moribund?

I still can’t imagine, and don’t want, a world without the pleasure of printed photography books.

Photo credit: Antony Ruggiero

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About Antonio Marques
Antonio is a photographer and writer, currently based in Edinburgh, UK. Besides his role in Aksgar, he is the producer and host of PhotoNetCast, a photography podcast. Some of his photographic work can be found at TZPlanet.com, and you can also follow him on twitter. During the day, he still makes the time for a regular job as research scientist for a biotech company.

  • http://www.unsung.in Mahesh Bhat

    My self published book UNSUNG (About UNSUNG heroes of India) – has sold about 5000 copies. We are working on UNSUNG-2 with 6 other photographers. I am working on three more photo books and have an Idea for the next one after the current projects are complete. I don’t think Photo books are done with. But one must make them affordable. If they cost Rs.5000/- then very few will buy them..

  • http://www.seangalbraith.com Sean Galbraith

    I think that photography books have been revived through print on demand services. Book printing has been democratized through these kinds of services, and I think more books than ever are being made.

    • http://www.tzplanet.com Antonio Marques

      Yeah Sean, I agree that nowadays probably more books are being printed, as you pointed out, through PoD services.

      But how many of those will you be able to find on a library, on a book store, or even on amazon? At most you’ll see them advertised by the artists at a ridiculous high price due to the nature of PoD.

      Yes, I’m advocating that there is a need for a traditional publishing industry methodology, but adapted to a new digital world. The fact that an artist will probably get 5% of the total sale price of a book isn’t helping either, but I guess that is another story :)

      Thanks for your comment.

  • http://iso200.com Dave Fitch

    When’s the last time you were in a really *really* good photo book store? There’s one in the Galeries Saint-Hubert in Brussels, and the one at the Museum of Photography in Berlin is great, but aside from them I don’t know of many that are actually any good. The bookstore at Fotografiska (for example) is amazingly superficial.

    The decline in traditional distribution channels is having a big impact on photo books – if you go to Waterstones 75% of the photo books have been there for years, and they’re cheaper at amazon. Specialist photo book shops like Beyond Words used to be a good alternative, but they really atrophied before they shut their shop and went online.

    If the market’s still there for photo books (and I think it is) but the distribution channels aren’t there, self-publishing is an obvious alternative. Unfortunately the results are often very amateurish, even from famous photographers. In a photography culture that’s still too focused on gear, books are being forgotten.

    • http://www.tzplanet.com Antonio Marques

      Good points here.

      I agree that the market is there, but is definitely obscured by the exorbitant prices print requires (don’t know if it actually requires such a high mark-up but anyway). In face of a digital and convenient competition the industry has too much the “we’ll sell fewer but at higher price to compensate” attitude.

  • http://iso200.com Dave Fitch

    Viewfinder – the BBC’s blog about photography – has just published a post talking about books, photographers and photo-journalism…

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/photoblog/2011/03/from_the_printed_page_to_online_app_1.html

    • http://www.tzplanet.com Antonio Marques

      Thanks for the link. Missed this one when it came out.

  • http://anilcherukupalli.com Anil

    I think Mahesh and Dave make very important points. There is definitely an audience out there for good quality work reproduced well without being too expensive and supported by a good distribution channel.

    It cost me a small fortune to build up even my modest collection of photo books. But that was a one off thing. There are so many more photo books I want to buy but their super high cost puts me off.

    It would be really good to explore alternate options to bring down the cost as I don’t think POD is right way forward. I was particularly intrigued to read on the BBC link about the move of photo books to the mobile world with the freedom to add on extra content that is possible with a print edition. These days most of the photography I ‘consume’ is through the online world so this might be a good move for the future of photo books even if most of them don’t take the print route.

  • http://www.shamshadkhanphotography.com shamshad khan

    As a photographer, i think more than anything in this world i would like to see my pictures go into books then showed as pixels on some screen . . . seen, forgotten, some 404 error oh lets not even get into the color dept !!