Martin Amis on how to make a living from Photobooks

 

Today our focus turns onto the booksellers who will be at Photobook Bristol. This year we have booksellers and publishers including Journal, Photobookstore, Cafe Royal Books, MACK Books, Galerie Clementine de la
Feronniere, Hoxton Mini Press, Village Bookstore, Fabrica, Tipi Bookshop, Phaidon, Rorhof, RRB Photobooks and
Fish Bar.

It’s easy to overlook the vital role that booksellers play in promoting, funding and showing new photobooks. Real life bookshops like the Village Bookstore or Tipi provide real life exhibition space, they host book launches and they provide a physical space for photographers, artists and bookmakers to show and look at work.

Virtual Photobook Stores also play a vital role. If you have ever read a review of a photobook online or looked at a video of a book or even looked at an end-of-year top-books list, that all takes a huge amount of work and time. It is part of a marketing effort on behalf of photobooks that is often overlooked, and that often goes unrewarded. It is something done out of a love of books.

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image by Tom Woods from All Zones Off Peak

With that in mind, today the Photobook Bristol questionnaire goes to Martin Amis. Martin Amis runs Photobook Store, an online site that is Britain’s best sites for buying photobooks. If you’re looking for something rare, unavailable and Japanese, you will find books at Martin’s store that you will not find anywhere else in the UK.

Visit Photobookstore here. 

See Martin’s latest 6 books you should know about here.

 

Have you ever used the fact that a famous novelist (also called Martin Amis) shares your name to your advantage?
Should I ever release a book under on my own name it may provide a few extra sales but for the most part it has been more of a hindrance than advantage.  It can cause confusion at times; I receive emails asking me to appear on Newsnight, give seminars at Yale, review manuscripts and the like once in a while.

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image by Takuma Nakahira from For a Language to Come

What is the first book you sold?
Martin Parr – A Fair Day.  I started Photobookstore by selling 2 books from my own collection, A Fair Day (which cost a mere 50p) and a reprint of The Americans.  Selling these gave me a little seed money to start the business.

 

What did you do before you started Photobookstore?

Tester/tea maker at a web design agency, teaching assistant and photographer.

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image by Tom Woods from All Zones Off Peak

I know you used to photograph horse racing. What is the longest priced winner you’ve backed on the horses? And the most you’ve won.
I don’t recall exactly, but there was a time when I gambled quite successfully (and seriously) to the extent that a few bookmakers closed my accounts.  Believe it or not, photobooks are a much safer investment.

 

When and why did you start Photobookstore?

Almost 10 years ago now, initially to support my negligible income as a photographer.  It soon grew to be much more than that.

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image by Takuma Nakahira from For a Language to Come

How do you make a living from selling photobooks?
Looking after customers, looking after the books (photo ones and financial) and loving what you do.

 

What is the key to selling photobooks?
It’s a lot easier to sell good books than bad ones.

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image by Krass Clement from Novemberrejse

You make videos showing photobooks. It seems independent photobook stores (yourself, Photo Eye, Tipi) put a huge amount of effort into promoting photobooks. You sustain the industry in some ways. Is this the case and what effect would it have if you stopped doing this?

Independent photobook sellers certainly earn their slice by the amount of effort they put in to promoting books. If a book sells well, then it gives me the opportunity to take a chance on a relatively unknown photographer’s book whether it be self-published or from a small publisher, and then take the time to promote their work, which will hopefully sell well and so on.  If you buy from one of the large retailers then this is not going to happen.

 

Why should people buy from independent booksellers rather than Amazon?

The reason just mentioned –  you buy independent you are supporting individuals not a large corporation which means independent booksellers offer many books that are not available through Amazon and the like.  Also the specialist knowledge and advice we can together with the care we take over every order, whether it be for a £10 zine or a £250 rarity.  Our close relationship with photographers and publishers also means we can often offer signed copies of books.

More photobooks are being published. Why is this?
The shift in printing techniques with an ever increasing number of photographer’s taking control of the process.  Whilst many more photobooks are published each year, I would imagine the amount printed is much the same as ever with edition sizes falling considerably over the years.

Are more people buying photobooks?
Photobookstore’s sales rise each year, but in general I wouldn’t think so.

Can the market for photobooks be made bigger?
Only by minimal amounts.  Of course certain books reach outside the “photobook ghetto” and these are often the most successful, but most remain within the small photobook community and are very happy to do so.

 

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image by Krass Clement from Novemberrejse

You specialise in Japanese photobooks. When and why did you start doing this?

I started importing books from Japan within a few month’s of starting Photobookstore. At the time very few stores were carrying books from Japan on a regular basis, and it was an area I was keen to explore given the great tradition of Japanese photobooks.

What are the challenges of working with Japanese publishers?
Apart from the considerable shipping costs, Japanese publishers are very straightforward to deal with, unlike one or two publishers closer to home!

What are the differences between Japanese and, say, European, photobooks?

Japanese photobooks have such a rich history.  Japanese photographers were self-publishing their book more than 40 years ago.  Not just simple Xeroxed books either but elaborate unique books with multiple gatefolds and unusual design quirks along with great consideration to the printing techniques used.  The book was the end product of a photographer’s process, not an afterthought which was more the case in Europe and America.  This is not quite so true any more, but there is an exciting new wave of Japanese photobook makers now who reference this great tradition of bookmaking.

 

What is the biggest mistake photographers make when they make a photobook?

Thinking that the project/photos actually needs to be a photobook in the first place.

 

If you had to give a single piece of advice to photographers making a photobook, what would it be?
Don’t print too many, if it’s a big hit you can always reprint.

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image by Ricardo Cases from Paloma al Aire

Do you know in advance if a photobook will sell. What are the signs?
Thankfully, yes I usually have a fair idea.  If you hold a book and cannot imagine how the book could have been made any better, then there is a good chance it will be a success.  It is always pleasing to see when a photographer/publisher has given great consideration to how the work has been presented, printed, from the front cover to the back.  Of course some photographer’s previous track record will dictate how well a book will sell, but regardless, a bad book will not sell well in the long-run.

 

How have photobooks changed over the last five years?

The shift away from the traditional larger publisher model to small indie/micro publishers and self publishing  has of course been the main change. Nowadays one almost expects every new photobook to have some design quirk, Japanese binding, hidden pages, tipped-in images etc. Some are a delight, some totally unnecessary, sometimes good photos with minimal fuss are enough.

 

What are some of your favourite photobooks?

Krass Clement – Novemberrejse, Ricardo Cases – Paloma Al Aire, Takuma Nakahira – For A Language To Come, Tom Wood – All Zones Off Peak are a few that immediately come to mind.