An Invitation to Participate in a Discussion about the Future of Photobooks

by Heather on December 12, 2009

Andy Adams (Flak Photo) is eager and clever and so is Miki Johnston (liveBooks blog) so this little project should be interesting. They are crowd-sourcing a blog post about the future of photobooks and they want everyone to chime in. From the site:

What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years? Will they be digital or physical? Open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?

I love the idea of trying to house the discussion in one central place, a central repository of thought on a theme, which can be added and linked to by many. A few of my posts have had simultaneous discussion going on here and over at APE. I love the linkage but following commentary on the same theme on two different blogs can be tricky. So that’s one interesting aspect to this project- all of the “research” that’s happening on other blogs on this theme will then be fed back into a master post on the liveBooks blog Resolve. This post will go live on Tuesday and you have until tomorrow (Sunday) to add your thoughts to the mix. Either here or over there. They’ve corralled a great collection of blog authors to get in on the discussion so there should be a wide variety of scholarship and thought represented in the finished post.

A few weeks ago I talked about the importance of the quality of your tangible portfolio/book (as opposed to your site, your blog, your pdf etc.). Andy and Miki and some of their commentators have already picked up on that aspect but there’s lots more to consider in terms of the future of photobooks in general. I was particularly interested in this comment (from the original post on Resolve here):

There’s a lot against reflected media vs. projected media. Two big issues jump out at me. The first is the material… trees. As environmental issues continue to work toward the forefront, I think more and more media will move off paper and into digital format. The second major issue is the new display technologies. Their abilities to create true blacks results in the ability to project the images in a closer-to-pure format. The monitors of 2 years ago could never replace paper. The monitors of today may be able to.

As the commercial world is moving moving to more digital signage and less ink-on-paper based advertising, I strongly believe the way we (Art Buyers, agencies etc.) look at photography in terms of its reproduction will change. Again, this feeds back to my original post on this issue.

Good luck Andy and Miki, I look forward to reading the results of this collective discussion.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Tree Hugger December 12, 2009 at 4:36 pm

I”ve never understood this constant harping about “saving the trees”. It’s not like they’re coming into your front yard, and chopping down the tree that Daddy planted when he built the house. Aren’t the vast majority of paper sources more like “tree farms”, where the land is constantly reclaimed and regenerated? Shouldn’t we think of these tree farms more like crops, in the same way that we think about corn or soybeans? I don’t hear too many people running around screaming about “saving the corn”. Now, the ink that goes onto that paper, that might be another story, and the processing of the tree pulp, yes, that might be another story, but it’s not like Bambi The Tree is dying needlessly. Come on, people.

Margaret Lindsay Holton December 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm

It is very hard to anticipate ‘what will be’ … that said, I do think that a good photo BOOK, (as opposed to an on-going loose leaf portfolio) is a tangible repository of an artist’s work that is time & space and artist specific.

If one is ‘self-publishing’, it makes sense to always have a couple of copies of your work on hand. After that, POD is the way to go. There is no ‘inventory’ to monitor, and no excess waste if it doesn’t go anywhere.

If one is fortunate or famous enough to be ‘picked up’ by a long-standing and reputable publishing house that has the resources to promote and distribute your title far afield, great, but be aware that the revenues from such a venture are usually forgettable. Percentages are usually 7-10% of list. On line publishers offer slightly better returns of 30-35%.

The web is much more illusionary then many think. Meaning, the power could go out. Seriously. And then where would all this stuff be?

‘Open Source’ or ‘non-proprietory’ are fine if you don’t make your living off your work. There are a gazillion competent ‘amateurs’ out there who just like posting their pictures for the world to see. Crediting their work to their name is not so much an issue for them , (though I’d suggest that everyone likes to get credit for what they do, regardless if it is ‘free’ or not). But actually getting PAID to have others consume your imagery is an on-going challenge that demands both vigilance and ‘the law’ – meaning, this IS a commercial venture, not a pastime. Ask Heather.

The web promotes the illusion that information is FREE. Any self-respecting ‘content producer’ knows this is just not true. Aside from the intangible of time & effort, there is the actual expense of keeping a website ‘live’.

Wikipedia, as an example, heralds itself a s a ‘free’ encyclopedic site. But the truth is, BOMIS Inc. is the ‘holding company’ of Wikipedia, a ‘non-profit’ organization. It is still a business with (growing) employees and (growing) technical expenditures (ie. servers). Also, there is no telling what BOMIS will DO with Wikipedia in the forseeable future. They COULD privatize it and start charging a fee for the information that has been so readily supplied for free by the on-line community. Investors of websites eventually want to see a return on their investment. Consider Twitter. Same thing. For now it’s ‘free’, but can it continue to satisfy investors desires WITHOUT adding advertising revenue?

For years the web has been a kind of ‘free-wheeling playground & paradise’. I would argue that with its contiued adoption by the mainstream, this aspect will change dramatically as everyone increasingly tries to figure out how to make money off it. The field is going to get increasingly more crowded and increasingly more competitive.

One way for photographers to ‘stick out’ will be to have TANGIBLE marketable products that extend BEYOND their and the infinite stream of digital data …

Simon Blundell December 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm

I think there will always be a want for physical experience. A printed photograph has a presence and aura when held in your hands. The experience of a physical object is important. I don’t think that this want will ever go away. It may be diminished by the convenience of digital systems however. Those that will want and use physical prints will be in the minority, if they are not already.

Ingrid Jones December 13, 2009 at 10:01 pm

This is an interesting discussion and I would like to add my two cents though I am by no means an expert. After having self published, researched and spoken to a lot of creative types over the past year, I am happy to see that photobooks are an option for getting one’s work out to the market.

Having said that, I had a very interesting discussion today with a young writer on his way to grad school and the topic of the Internet came up. He mentioned that the Internet has leveled the playing field for artists in many ways and that these days anyone with a blog is a writer or a critic. He also mentioned he was concerned that this wide open playing field was dumbing down the writing profession and the potential income that a writer could make – seeing as now the assumed competition was so vast.

This scenario sounded rather familiar to me. Many professional shooters still struggle with the idea of the Flickr model and now with multiple routes for self publishing that can produce books with as little as eight pages anyone can be a photographer. In turn day rates have come down and Flickr photos have been used by companies that used to pay top dollar to have an original shot or a decent stock photo.

The question is, are art buyers loving the fact that anyone who can open a self publishing account can send them their very own photobook?

I like the photobook idea because it works wonderfully for larger projects and smaller runs. What I fear is that the photobook goes the way of the postcard – everybody’s doing it – and then it loses it’s appeal and becomes badly designed pieces for the trash.

As for the future, and whether or not these types of books should go digital. I think newspapers, magazines and the rest are still struggling with how to switch from their current formats and still make a buck. There are a lot of gimmicks like interactive covers popping up, but the public, for the most part is not so interested and the publishers are realizing that digital without a way to recoup their cash is an empty proposition. As visual artists, there will undoubtedly be great platforms for us to display our work on – most photographers I know of have some sort ipod portfolio already, but I feel like the photobook will need to be more than a series of images on a screen. I mean that could be a pdf for less money.

Maybe photobooks could become more interactive like the doc stories on Burn or Duckrabbit that take you on a journey or perhaps they could become a fabulous tool for collaboration between artists worldwide. Other than that, I think one shooter with a series of images on a display is not enough to make me think innovation for the future.

Peter Schafrick December 13, 2009 at 11:38 pm

$10 says Livebooks “research” says web based portfolios is where it’s at.

Miki Johnson December 15, 2009 at 1:58 pm

@Tree Hugger
I was recently at a huge conservation conference in Mexico, so I couldn’t help but take a minute to respond to the idea that “most” paper sources are renewable ones.

It’s true that it’s possible to find paper products that are not destructive to old-growth forests, but they’re hardly the norm. Everyone can do their small part by choosing FSC-certified paper whenever possible :)

Tim February 5, 2010 at 11:59 am

More on the future of photo books from Senior Product Manager at online publisher Tim Wright:

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