Aftermath, Behind the scenes, Book Making, Landscape

Photobook Publishing (1/3)

4 minute read

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In a this three-parter, I interview photographers venturing out for the first time into the sometimes intimidating world of book publishing. Each has their own take on the process, and speak with refreshing candour about their experiences.

First up, my former boss and gifted photographer Steve Meyler. His latest project, 66 hours, employs the landscape as metaphor to talk about a tragic episode in the history of a coastal community. You can read all about the project here.

DN: Hi Steve! I thought I’d share some ramblings from folk about book making and I wondered if you would like to contribute. Hope so. Do you have any pithy tips for aspiring newbies in the wonderful world of publishing? Love to hear your thoughts…

SM: Here we go – my two penneth – just rattled this out for you, whilst sitting in the sun (summer 2019!ed) and enjoying the sea breeze…

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First, decide what your aspirations are.

Do you want to be the next Stephen Shore, or are you happy to publish for friends and family? Without being a terrible pessimist, the world is full of amazingly talented snappers generating fantastic work, it’s unlikely most ‘smudgers’ that self-publish books are going to end up with the world at their feet.

What’s your aim when producing a book?

The best, purest and most noble reason to create a book or zine is to produce an object; as beautiful an object as possible, to share with others. As photographers, we tend to focus our attention primarily on content but it is perhaps wise to remember you’re also creating and presenting/selling an object. Would you tote your best work to and from galleries in the worlds cheapest portfolio case? – probably not! I’m still very much a newb to this world myself and squarely fall into the category of publishing books in small runs for a local or friend oriented customer base.

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Where does cost fit into the overall scheme?

My only goal is that the projects pay for themselves if there’s a small profit, that gets funnelled to the next piece. If there was to be a loss, then I would do my best ensure it wasn’t a big one. This leads to the first golden rule derived from my experience – don’t order too many books from the printer. There are printers out there that specialise in small runs of self-published work and will produce as few as 50 copies at a time. These are digitally printed works (more on this later).

In your experience, can you describe the technical aspects of the printing process?

So, if you have a huge market to service and require a minimum of 500 books then Offset printing is the way to go. Superb quality from carefully made printing plates that are yours to keep, which, if there’s a mistake (typos etc.) are there forever. The cost per copy is very low in high volume. For B&W with high contrast and deep rich blacks, duotone is the recommended process.

For small runs of books which can be corrected from run to run, the digital press is the answer. In recent years digital presses have come on in leaps and bounds and a good printer will produce images (particularly in colour) that rival an offset press. For high-quality B&W on digital, I would advise using a 4 colour process to create what a printer calls ‘rich black’. The alternative is a ‘flat black’, this is the preferred option when cost is the primary concern or the depth of black in your images is not a concern. Paper choice is, of course, a personal matter but for photographers, the opacity of the paper is Important, ‘bleed through’ from the previous page is undesirable.

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Where would you suggest people start with the design of their books?

I would suggest using a professional designer unless the work overall is lo-fi or very simple indeed. Photographers get rightly annoyed when they hear about amateurs taking work away from them and producing sub-standard work, the same goes for book design – pay a professional, it’s worth the money.

So you have your run of beautifully designed and realised books, can you talk us through your approach to marketing?

The final part of this mini business is of course pricing. If you’ve been snapped up by Faber & Faber for a 20 book deal, you don’t have to worry about the next bit. If you’re self-publishing in low volume, however, It’s a very simple retail business price segmentation. If a copy of your book has cost you £20 to produce, then a standard profit margin would be a further £20 for the author, bringing your wholesale price to £40. Any retailer or onward seller will then want the same margin leaving your RRP in a bookstore at £60. This final pricing segment can be mitigated if you sell in person but it’s easy to forget the additional costs of running your mini-publishing house, a website or money handling fees are examples. When it comes to shipping, the cost, of course, varies with location and this has to accounted for in your production costs and profit margins. The best way to ship photobooks and ensure they arrive in perfect condition is to use an oversize cardboard padded bag. Wrap the book in plenty of small bubble wrap, ensure it fits tightly into the bag and the package will survive any manner of abuse. The packaging cost will obviously be commensurate to the quality and cost of the contents.

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Thanks Steve! Do you have any final words of wisdom to share..?

Remember a book is a long term investment, don’t be too discouraged if initial sales are slow. Your creation will be for sale as long as you have stock and its gratifying to know that people will part with their hard earned cash to own your work and keep it in their home.

66 hours is now sold out, but Steve has some fine prints for sale in his online store, as well as other contemplative and provocative projects that deserve time and reward scrutiny.

 All images ©Steve Meyler

 

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