Andy Adams of Flak Photo contacted me a couple of days ago to participate in a discussion about the future of photobooks. Seems that this discussion is a spin off of a brief article posted by Joerg Colberg on Conscientious regarding his thoughts on cutting-edge photobooks, found here and potentially summed up by “I have been noticing that there isn’t much of a variety in photo books”.
Thus, the ensuing discussion that is being posted on LiveBooks by Miki Johnson with Andy here, regarding what do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years. Essentially this a crowd-source blog post about photobooks. And of course, you are absolutely free to comment there as you are very welcome to share your thoughts here.
I find that the question of what photobooks will look like in 10 years an interesting futurist question. I don’t think that this is the question that Joerg was asking nevertheless. What might photobooks look like in 10 years still may not be “cutting edge”. So at this moment, I will provide my thoughts on the 10 year question and safe Joerg’s question for another time. (Which is to say, I have not given that aspect of photobooks much thought, but I have been noting what different photobook publishers have been doing in pushing the traditional limits)
First, what is the purpose of a photobook and how might that change in 10 years? For the books that I review on this site, the photobooks are another means of extending the reach of a cohesive photographic project, body of work or series of photographs. A published book can reach out beyond the walls of a gallery or studio, city, state or country to a much broader and wider audience. A photobook can extend the life of a body of work almost indefinitely, well beyond a large one-time exhibition, even beyond the life of the photographer, thus a photobook creates a body of work that is immortal.
A body of work that is currently in the pages of a book can become digital content that can be electronically disseminated even farther. So the question begs, where will the internet and electronic data be in 10 years?
Having help support the initial SoFoBoMo (Solo Photo Book Month) a couple of years with Paul Butzi (the ringleader) and a few other photographers, I was really interested in the alternatives to a printed photobook, primarily the PDF book and other electronic variations. After mulling this over for a while, I recently decided to “publish” a recent photographic project titled Milan Fashion Week and use an alternative blog format, which is here.
Likewise there are the current Flickr, FaceBook, static web-sites and other collections & compilations of photographs, but at the moment, they lack cohesiveness and clarity of intent. Perhaps in the next 10 years, we will see the development of additional design infrastructure by individuals and companies that might improve the experience as well as improve the contextual relationships.
As a self-published (Blurb) photographer, I have been thinking about the current economic issues of self-publishing and how this might change in 10 years. Yes, I can self-publish a nice hardcover photobook, but the single issue cost is prohibitive compared to traditional off-set publishing, and the overall quality is lacking, especially the binding processes. Second, the margins between the high cost of printing and potential selling price are too small to be seriously considered by a bookstore or gallery, unless all of the profits are provided to the book distributors. So one thing that might occur in 10 years is the continuing revolution in print-on-demand production processes that might eventually allow a single printed hardcopy book equal in cost and quality to a traditional book. Regretfully, today the potential profit margins in print-in-demand for fine photobooks are being enjoyed by the various publishing suppliers who provide the service, not to the photographer.
What will happen with the traditional photobook? I think that the current traditionally printed photobook will still be here and traditionally printed 10 years from now. Maybe not in China, but some other third world country that has decided to invest in the publishing infrastructure to provide low-cost books. There are a lot of people who just like to hold a book while they read and enjoy the content. The bookstores for these books may become more virtual over time. Likewise, there are certain qualities of a photobook, the printed image, paper weight and hand, quality of the binding and book’s heft, that many people are interested in experiencing before purchasing. Perhaps the trend will be for the high quality photobooks to be sold in photo-gallery bookstores or book boutiques than main-line, big-box bookstores.
One recent change we have seen is the rise of many small press photobook publishers, those who choose to invest in a given photographer and traditional print their photobook in smaller edition sizes. These publishers recognize that the traditional photobook is still considered an object, that something you hold in your hands has a certain esthetic presence, and that it has appeal to readers, photographers and collectors. Most of these small publishers also offer a limited edition or deluxe edition in addition to the trade book commonly found in the big book stores. I think that the trend of creating a limited edition will continue and become more common in the next 10 years, and that these limited edition books will become more lavish over time. Also the barriers to entry for the small press publisher continue to erode, we will probably see even more of these small publishers coming into existence over the next 10 years. And these are the publishers most abt to try new and innovative designs and potentially cutting-edge books for the next 10 years.
Okay, this has not meant to be inclusive and I will come back to this again, but these are some of my current thoughts on this subject.
Best regards, Douglas