Phaidon: On Branding, Crossover and Finding a New Audience


This year we are very happy to have Phaidon sponsoring Photobook Bristol 2016. As publishers of the Photobook Histories by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, Phaidon are the publishing catylyst in the surge in creative photobook publishing. Volume I was published in 2004 and though it was not the first history of photobooks (Fotografia Publica and The Book of 101 Seminal Photobooks came earlier), it was the publication that really brought the photobook to a much, much wider audience.

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Phaidon has also published great photobooks in their own right in books like Li Zhensheng’s Red Color News Soldier (see images above), it has reissued classics like Philip Jones Griffiths’ Vietnam Inc. and it continues to push the photobook into new audiences as part of its immensely classy catalogue on the arts, design and beyond.
In some ways then, Phaidon takes the photobook and brings it to new audiences. Two of its latest titles, Real Food by our very own Martin Parr, and Failed it! by Erik Kessels exemplify this ability to go beyond the photobook ghetto.

MP Real Food 2d Failed-It-EN-7119-3D-Overview

So with that in mind, Photobook Bristol had the rare pleasure of interviewing Victoria Clarke, Phaidon’s Commissioning Editor, on photobooks, finding a new audience, and crossing over into new markets.

The Niche and the Global

‘We like to have a mix of photography books, some of them more niche, some more global. For example we reissued Conversations with the Dead by Danny Lyon last year. It’s niche in terms of the audience, but in terms of subject matter, which is photographing inside prisons, it’s valid on a much wider level. And that was borne out by the interest it got in the press and the new audiences that were found for what was, and still is, a classic photobook.’

Extending the Audience

‘We do look to extend the audience. Take Erik Kessels new book, Failure…. It’s part photobook and it’s part advice. We can all learn from failure, and we can take advice on how to make it work. That’s what Erik Kessels tells us in his book, and that appeals to a very wide audience. We all fail at some point or other. So really the appeal is universal.
Again, that’s reflected in the press the book has had. And there is a huge crossover there. It works on so many different levels from photography, to advertising, design and art. And it has captured people’s imaginations and helped see pictures in a different way.’

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image from Failed It!

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image from Failed it (by Kurt Cavaziel)

Finding a Wider Audience

‘Finding a wider audience is partly about positioning. We’re currently working on a book of Magnum Photobooks. There is are core audiences of people who are interested in photobooks, or people who are interested in documentary, but there are also collectors, people interested in history, or graphic design, and the book will appeal to all those people.’


Magnum Photobook 2d


‘We put a lot of effort into the design and production of our books; the size, the paper, the bindings, the design. Take Fruits which was a hugely successful book, both because of the photographs of these great Japanese fashions, but also because of the way the book was printed with this glossy flexi-cover that meant you could flick through it. People could relate to it because of the way it was read. It’s the same with Olivia Arthur’s book, Stranger, where the printing on transparent paper is part of the story, and involves you in the story.’


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image from Fruits

Marketing a Book

‘Marketing and positioning also comes into play when we commission a book, both for smaller publications or for bigger books that will break out. Martin Parr’s new book, Real Food, is interesting because we publish cook books. So we can tap into a new audience with it. It’s not just for people interested in photography. It’s for people who are interested in food too.’

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image from Real Food by Martin Parr

‘Things like marketing, design, production values and communicating to the audience also help us extend the audience. We have a broad market base and sell to bookshops and websites. But we also sell to non-traditional retailers like Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie and we’re selling Real Food in cafes and cookery shops. We’re actually planning an installation for Photo London with food and cookery; Real Food for Real Food.
At the same time we also want to add to the knowledge base of photography. That’s what we did with the Histories of Photography by Parr and Badger. Or we’re publishing a book on Hinduism by Abbas which takes us into history and one of the world’s great religions.’
‘We also like working with photographers we’ve worked with before like Stephen Shore. So, later in the year we’ll be publishing a book of very personal pictures he made with Andy Warhol at the Factory, most of which have never been published before.’

Crossover Potential

‘We found a crossover with Martin’s Real Food. That combined photography and cooking. But Hans Eijkelboom’s People of the Twenty-First Century is another really good example of crossover helping a book break out. The book shows people wearing the same clothes in different cities around the world. It’s photography, but it is also about fashion, advertising, urban living and globalisation.’

‘Having crossover is part of what makes it appeal. And having a perspective that looks outwards.’

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image from People of the Twenty-First Century by Hans Eijkelboom