For about three years, I played with the idea of making a photo book. I was struggling with the realization of this idea. Should I find a publisher or publish it myself? What are the advantages of each option? Are there pitfalls? Would anyone buy a copy?
Inspired by an online course of Musuk Nolte, I got to work and collected print-worthy images.
The Creative Part
The first hurdle was to choose the images. Therefore, I selected all four and five star rated images of my catalog and colour marked them. Green for “Definetly!” and blue for “We’ll see…”. Even then there were a lot of images, but for reasons of quality and costs, and because I’m my hardest critic, I choose to go with (just) 48 pages. Less is more, at least. The screenshot below shows the first result.
I arranged them in a way to get a nice flow when flipping through the pages. And because the book has no story line, I arranged the images in a way that it won’t get boring. Below you can see the third or fourth iteration of the arrangement.
The Science of Printing
Printing itself is a science! There are so many variables you have to count in, and every decision can affect the whole outcome. For the sake of keeping this post interessting, I just listed some of the pitfalls I had to deal with:
- terminology in printing and book binding (there are a lot!)
- steap learning curve of the topic
- choosing the wrong tools (Lightroom for desktop publishing)
- format decisions
- understanding a print template
Quality & Options vs. Costs
I always wanted a thick nice photo book, bound in fabric, with an embeded image on the cover, nice heavy paper and offset printed. The reality is I can’t afford to print an edition of 1,000 copies and take the risk, of not getting them sold afterwards. So unfortunately, that’s not an option.
Finding a print shop where the print quality AND the price is good is a real challenge. Without mentioning any names, I requested offers of three different print shops. Two of which were recommended to me by people with different backgrounds in self-publishing. So I went for the easiest (and cheapest) option first. I choose a softcover and cheap paper for the first prototype to get a feeling of the dimensions and the design of the layout. I was excited and realised I had too much negative space on some pages, i.e. my images were too small. I re-arranged some images, changed their size and ordered a second prototype. This time with a hardcover and 200gsm paper, because this came closest to the final product I had in mind. After a long period of waiting (it must have been days) I got the new book, and… disillusionment spreaded. The print quality was not that good. There were vertical lines across the images and the dynamic of the grayscale was poor. So I called the customer support. They looked at the PDFs I submitted, said that everything looks fine and it could be a technical issue.
Meanwhile, I contacted the second company for a proof. Their output had no signs of any strange lines (which was good news), but the black was not really black. I contacted them asking about the print data I delivered… they said it’s fine and that there is one last option on the press that they can try. After a week I got the 2nd proof and the black hasn’t much improved. I contacted them again, they said that there’s nothing more that they can do and that they’re sorry that they couldn’t help me with my project.
I try one more thing before I craft every book myself. I tried printing in CMYK with the given ICC profile of the print service. Maybe I should have down this in the first place. But when everyone assures you that the PDFs are okay, then you don’t think that this is an option.
My only experience in marketing is with word-of-mouth and instagram. I heard a lot from artists that they sell less original artwork online, but more from person to person, e.g. at an art fair or a vernisage. With more affordable alternatives like books, I think this shouldn’t be the case.
Here I am. Stuck in a situation, where I have to decide to go with the “cheap”, “low-quality” print option or to print and bind it myself, like my print collection (just a lot cheaper). For now, I sell the copies I already have for the purchase price and hope the enlightenment strikes me someday.