This morning, being reminded by both Colin Jago at photostream and Mike Johnston at TOP, I headed off to Amazon to order up a copy of the Steidl version of Robert Frank’s The Americans. While there, I noticed that ALL of the recommendations that Mike had made in his post were listed in the “people who bought this also bought these” doogus that Amazon gives you.
And, because I was operating at 6am with very little sleep, this struck me as somewhat funny, so I fired off an email to Mike, telling him of his great influence. Almost right away I got a thoughtful reply from Mike, who expressed concern that there were no equivalent books to the ones he’d recommended being done today. Now, I will be the first to admit that I’m not a big photo book collector and that I’m not up to date on who’s currently producing work that is as iconoclastic as Mikes recommendations (‘iconoclastic’ is the word Mike used). The ubiquitous ‘they’ could be cranking out such books by the super-tanker load and I could believe I was simply unaware of that fact.
In any case, I think that what’s happening is that the world of photo books is on the cusp of a big upheaval. The easy availability of POD publishing, the rapidity of improvement in the quality of reproduction in POD, and the easier availability of the software and the skills to do book layout are going to be the game changers in the photo book world.
Let me draw an analogy to the music world. Before, there were the record label companies. They controlled physical distribution and had the connections to do promotion, and if you were a musician, they pretty much had a lock on whether you could get your music recorded and distributed. And then along came the internet, and personal computers, and iPods, and all of a sudden the record labels have been left standing there wondering what hit them. They thought they were in the business of selling round pieces of plastic with holes in the middle, and someone came along and pulled the rug out from under them.
And now we have musicians like Jonathon Coulton (see http://www.jonathancoulton.com/), who looks like he’s built his own musical career, doing the distribution over the internet, and cutting the record label out of the deal. And he’s not the only one. In a world where anyone with a personal computer and some relatively inexpensive equipment can record their own album, and anyone who can put up a web site can distribute said music, the game is quite a bit different. There are a lot more musicians out there doing a lot more music. I think in the end that’s a good thing.
In the same way, SoFoBoMo demonstrates that it’s perfectly possible for people to put together their own books. Lots of SoFoBoMo participants are taking their finished PDF books to the next level and getting them printed through POD. I’m hoping to add some of those books to my book collection.
So I’m hoping for a renaissance in the photo book world, and it won’t come from the usual photo book publishers. Oh, I think that the super high quality publishing houses that currently do photo books will come out just fine, because they occupy a niche in the book market that will be hard to penetrate through POD for a while yet. But the edgy, iconoclastic stuff that Mike Johnston misses, as well as the quieter stuff that can’t get the attention of the publishers – that stuff is going to get done, but not by mainstream presses. It’ll get done by the photographers themselves. I think that in the end, thats a good thing, too.
Herewith the obligatory Shakespeare, relevant to the discussion:
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.