Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Two Books on Photobooks

I recently reviewed, in some sense, Colberg's recent book Understanding Photobooks, and shortly thereafter I had commended to me the book by Swanson and Himes, Publish Your Photography Book. I have now read the second one thanks to the generosity of one of my regular readers (thank you, J!). The copy I have is a first edition, not the newer second edition, so bear that in mind.

While I was expecting these two books to cover roughly the same ground, it is immediately obvious to even the inattentive that the titles do not suggest any such thing. And, indeed, they are quite different books. One might say that they do cover roughly the same ground, but the areas of intense focus are almost completely separate.

Colberg's book is aimed at the Serious Artist who wants a design-forward book, essentially an Artist's Book, but printed on an offset press in an edition of several hundred to a few thousand. His book will be most useful to you if this describes you, but it will remain useful to you unless you are very far indeed from that model.

He covers, briefly, the process by which titles are acquired by publishers, but spends the bulk of the book talking about artist-focused issues. Sequencing and editing, the role of design, the characteristics of various bindings, the kinds of issues that arise relevant to the artist in printing, and so on. He talks about marketing, a little bit, but perhaps a little more about markets.

On the other hands, Swanson and Himes are more broadly focused. Their target readers are anyone who wants to publish a book of photgraphs, from the Colberg set to the people who want to make a giant beautiful coffee table book to the entomologist who wants to publish his exhaustive library of focus-stacked bee photographs for his colleagues. Their book is roughly equally useful to all within that spectrum. While the list of topics covered is roughly the same as Colberg's list (with the exception of sequencing and editing -- S&H offer almost nothing on this topic) S&H is much more focused on How To Get Published.

They provide a breakdown of the various roles within a publishing house, they give you worksheets and timelines. They offer detailed suggestions on how to contact a publisher, how to find the right publishers. They give a list of publishers' web sites. They break down, in rather more detail than does Colberg, the nuts and bolts of acquisition, development, manufacture, and sales of photobooks. They also have a somewhat more open view, possibly because they're reporting on a somewhat earlier time, but also surely because they're talking about a broader range of publishers. Where Colberg cautions against one thing (using PoD books for dummies, say), S&H might treat that as a perfectly reasonable choice to approach many publishers with. Both might well be perfectly true within their relevant domains.

Both books emphasize some of the same things. Both are adamant that concept is vital, it is the starting point. Both emphasize the utility of working with physical prints, and physical dummies.

Both are wonderfully vague about how much you, the neophyte artist, can be expected to cough up in up front costs.

As a separate remark, the actual design and construction of the books differs greatly. Normally I don't care about this, but these are after all books about books, so it is perhaps fair to make this comparison. Colberg's book, as noted, feels cheap, and has at least on substantial design flub (white text on a light grey background). Swanson and Himes book, on the other hand, is beautiful, feels luxurious and expensive, and is much better designed. You could argue that they got carried away with white space, I guess, but that adds to the feeling of luxury. The page counts are similar, but the S&H book is twice as thick with only 10% more pages.

S&H uses a fairly heavy page stock, while Colberg's book uses a light, almost magazine weight, stock. Which is, honestly, kind of yuck.

I think Colberg has more words in his book, although the sizes are similar, but S&H give you a much broader range of extended quotations and discussions from a wider variety of industry players. While Colberg gives us a collection of breakdowns of book designs as inserted sections, S&H give us a inserted sections from industry players -- publishers, authors, designers, and so on.

S&H does, after a fashion, echo Colberg's book analyses with a separate chapter of case studies, but their cases are clearly more mainstream books than the ones Colberg highlights.

The S&H book is clearly a useful resource if your mission is to get published. Colberg's book is clearly inferior as a resource if that's what you're looking for. If you want to know how to make a book Colberg has a great deal more information, and might have enough to get you started on the job of actually getting published.

From the books I have read, the perfect combination is surely Keith A. Smith's Structure of the Visual Book together with Swanson and Himes Publish your Photography Book. I would swap in Colberg's Understanding Photbooks in place of Smith's book if you're not much interested in expanding your mind on sequencing and what might be a book. If you have a pretty clear idea of what you want to accomplish, and you're happy to simply depend on a good designer, and you're not looking to make a full-on Artist's Book style of object, Colberg will probably suit you fine. Smith can be slightly heavy going at times.

This, though, is the conundrum. The artists that Colberg wants to talk to most are precisely the ones that probably ought to read Smith instead.

All three books are about the same price, I think. Something like $US30 plus or minus a bit.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this - very useful. I have the Colberg and find the small font of the text body tiring.