4 ways to publish professional photobooks
Unlike a vacation photobook or wedding photobook, a professional photobook is printed using archival standards and made with quality binding materials.
As an emerging photographer who wants to make a mark in the serious photography community that includes art galleries, archivists, curators, etc, it becomes an imperative to publish your work in the medium of print.
Why is the print form so important?
Gerhard Steidl, the iconic German printer and publisher, has said that ‘there is a haptic value to a printed book that you cannot find in digital media.’ This ‘haptic quality’ — the feel and smell of paper, the visual weight of a photo-book, the quality of print and the way light reflects on it — is in totality a dimension that cannot be experienced on a digital screen. The iconic portrait of the Afghan Girl on the National Geographic magazine cover was in print, not online.
Let's face it, getting yourself published is a mammoth task, more so in India. This is mainly due to the economics involved in the publishing trade, low sales and high risks. Listed herewith are 3 ways for photographers to publish photobooks in India.
Submit your work to Photobook Publishers
The ideal yet incredibly rare possibility
There are several publishers who publish artbooks and photobooks in India, such as:
Publishers help you in not only publishing you work but also distributing your books through popular channels where they are most likely to be sold and most importantly, promoting your book so that potential buyers become aware of your work and why they should acquire it.
Given that photobook publishers do accept your submission (which is incredibly rare if you are publishing for the first time), you will enter into a royalty agreement with the publisher for issuing of rights and royalty stake. If you are a newbie, you may get a very small share because the publisher is taking a much greater risk with you, than a published photographer - who has greater chance in the book succeeding to sell.
Their team will help you with design, layout, choice of material required to print and bind your book. Publishers have their own links to distribution channels that include bookstores, cafes, high end hotels, and book fairs. They also regularly promote their published books in fairs, journals, on their website, etc.
Total cost: NIL | Risk: At publisher's plate
Rejected by publishers? Don't worry, 99% of submissions (some of which may be potentially great books) get rejected.
Confident about your photobook? Print it yourself
The most expensive route
Several photographers who are at first rejected by publishers but are confident about their photobook's success, go ahead and print it themselves.
What you will need:
- Your photographs
- A design software or a professional graphic designer specialising in photobook layout
- A specialised printing press such as Thomson Press, Pragati, et. al.
- Financial capital - Rs 2,50,000 to Rs 4,00,000 for 500 books
- Links to distributors of your book
- A PR agency to promote your book
- A book launch event (best at an exhibition or at an art fair)
Total cost: Rs 5-6 Lakh | Risk: Very high risk at your end
Self Publish your photobook online and sell it across the world
Cost effective, low risk, high returns
A new trend in publishing called publish-on-demand is becoming popular. There are websites where you can design your photobook online and publish just a single book. Unlike large printing presses that print a minimum volume of 500 books or so, with these sites you can publish even a single book and pay for it when you order copies. The sites also help you sell the book using their distribution channel. Whenever someone places an order for one of your books, you publish-on-demand and the site sends the book to the buyer. This helps you in not having to stock large volumes of books and saves you from taking the entire financial burden of you project in one go.
What you will need:
- Your photographs
- Basic computer knowledge
Some of these sites are:
Blurb (United States)
Blurb helps you design your book online, as well as sell and distribute them through their partner channels. Print and binding quality of books is better than most other sites offering similar services in the United States. Blurb also lets you create magazines and trade books and has a lot of paper and binding options to choose from.
Cost for a 20 page hard bound photobook with Blurb begins at:
- A3 size: $67.99 (Rs 4,750) + Shipping to India ($35 extra)
- A4 size: $40.99 (Rs 2,862) + Shipping to India ($35 extra)
- A5 size: $32.99 (Rs 2,300) + Shipping to India ($35 extra)
You could order from Blurb but the downside is that it turns out to be expensive and the shipping time is about 7 - 10 days from US to India.
Binder Photobooks (India)
Binder is a professional photobook publishing platform that helps you design your book online. Just like Blurb, using Binder you can sell your books through their online bookstore as well as partner distributers. They only produce hard bound books though. So if you're looking for books that are not hard bound, you may prefer Blurb. Quality of books printed at Binder are of archival standard (incredibly good, like the coffee table books that you see in book shops like Bahri Sons, Oxford Books Store, Om Book Depot et. al.) They have paper options to choose from and the book design editor is super easy to use. They also guarantee 4 day free delivery anywhere in India.
Cost for a 20 page hard bound photobook at Binder begins at:
- A5 size: Rs 1,200
- A4 size: Rs 2,400
- A3 size: Rs 3,400
Shipping within India is free of charge.
Average cost: Rs 3,000 | Risk: NIL
Art Galleries that publish books
So if none of these work for you, approaching art galleries with whom you may have exhibited earlier is also an option, however, one that takes a lot of time and convincing.
Some of these art galleries and museums publish books regularly:
- Nature Morte
- Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
- Delhi Art Gallery
- Vadehra Art Gallery
Art galleries have a niche to whom they sell or send books regularly. This may be a slow process but your books reach the right audience and all costs are backed by the gallery usually.