I had an opportunity recently to discuss with Darius Himes, co-founder and editor of Radius Books, about his role as lead judge for Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now contest. The deadline for entries is July 16, 2009.
DS Darius, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss your involvement with Blurb’s Photography.Book.Now competition. This is your second year leading the photobook judging team for this competition, and with your own publishing company (Radius Books), why are you motivated to participate?
DH I have a very active role in Radius Books, obviously, but I have a broad interest in publishing in general, and in photography book publishing in particular. During my time as editor of the photo-eye Booklist, I spent a great deal of time surveying the ever-growing, world-wide number of publishers who were putting out interesting photography books. What the new print-on-demand phenomenon has done is place the ability to “publish” directly in the hands of photographers. Being able to see firsthand, and before anyone else, what creative photographers come up with is the primary interest for participating in the contest. This is what the other judges have expressed as well.
DS Why the change in categories from last year? Are these categories selected by Blurb?
DH The categories were created by Blurb with heavy input from me, as the lead judge. The categories are designed to get photographers thinking about books the way publishers think about books. The types of photography books that are published are so wildly various that we tried to create categories that would draw in a range of visions.Clearly, I can’t speak for the entire industry, but it’s an attempt to celebrate the diversity of approaches.
The “commercial” category is really about a type of book that has broad, commercial appeal. Those types of books are inevitably “subject” driven, not “name” or artist driven. Subjects like animals, sports, flowers, celebrities, food, and travel destinations are perennial favorites with broad audiences, and putting together a successful commercial book is truly a feat.
The “editorial” category is really about the long-term photo project. This type of book is still subject driven, but has a story at its heart, whether that’s a current-events type story, or something that is more historical or cultural.
The “fine-art” category is for books that have personal, artistic visions at their core and are not concerned so much with a broad audience; these books are aimed at the fine-art photography market, in other words, and are as much about promoting the overall career of the photographer as an artist, as it is about actually selling copies of the book.
DS If a photographer publishes a Blurb book, does that diminish the chances of publishing it with an established publisher?
DH Personally, I say “No.” While Blurb does have a large bookstore presence within their business, one of the biggest things that a publisher brings to the table is broad distribution. The print-on-demand phenomenon has stretched and expanded the capacity to get stories out there, but it also has limitations. A publisher that sees the commercial potential of a project is not going to consider a self-published print-on-demand book as having tapped out a market, in my opinion. Especially when we’re talking about the book sales that potentially could be in the 10s of 1000s. There are different considerations for fine-art publications, but some of the elements are the same.
DS How does the judging process work? Last year there were over 1,000 titles submitted and there are 10 judges, including yourself. Will each judge see every book?
DH Last year there were actually over 2000 entries, which blew everyone away given that it was the first year of the contest. With a contest of this size, there are actually a couple levels to it. There is an initial screening process, overseen by myself whereby the most amateur of the entries are set aside. EVERY single entry is looked at, obviously. The more accomplished and talented work rises to the top through this process, and we are interested in making sure that our 9 judges (+ me) see the best work possible when they come together. This is not a pre-judging process, but rather a ‘winnowing’ process, eliminating the chaff, as the metaphor goes.
The final judging will take place in New York, and the judges will be divided into teams to judge each category. A large selection of printed books will be spread out in several rooms for the judges to browse and judge from. They also have a chance to see all of the entries electronically.
DS In what form will they see the submission, electronic or hardcopy?
DH Both. The printed, hardcopy books are the focus, but they can also browse them electronically.
DS How long will each judge have to make their assessment?
DH The judging is scheduled to take place on one day—two if necessary.
DS If each judge will see a partial group of books, what is the process to determine which judge reviews which book?
DH Again, each category will have a team of judges assigned to it. That group of judges will award the prizes for their category. The grand prize winner will be chosen from among all of the judges. And the judges will have time to browse books from all of the categories.
DS When do you anticipate announcing the results?
DH The announcement will come shortly after the judging which happens in early August. And there is a BIG party in New York scheduled for September 23, along with parties in San Francisco, London, and Chicago. Check the website regularly for the updates on exact times and locations.
DS Darius, thank you again for your time to discuss this wonderful opportunity for those photographers who have placed a lot of thought, time and effort into the self-publishing of their photographic books.
Darius also provided an update about Blurb’s book competition on his own blog, here. I think some of the key points he made are:
A book, in general, is a very democratic and accessible vehicle to disseminate ideas, in the form of either text or images—two primary advantages are that books require no electricity and can be returned to again and again, unlike an exhibition, for instance, or the Internet.
Creating a successful book involves editing and sequencing and design all in light and in line with an overriding concept which has to be determined ahead of time. Asking your self ahead of time, “Who is this book for?” and “What am I trying to accomplish with this book?” is extremely important.
By Douglas Stockdale
Postscript: Another interesting interview with Darius was with Cara Phillips, develing more into the current state of affairs with photographic prints, books and the internet, can be found here.