Since the 2017 editions of Unseen Book Market and Photobook Week Aarhus take place during the same weekend, we are launching a joint discussion on the role of the photobook market today. The project Market? What Market? is kicking off with a series of three entries on Unseen Amsterdam’s website, written by guest contributors Gerry Badger, Olivier Cablat and Sebastian Arthur Hau. Conversations surrounding the issues raised by the authors will continue during the roundtable discussions in Aarhus and Amsterdam, and all content will be made available to download in an online booklet after the main events, including additional unique materials by Natalia Baluta and Carlos Spottorno.
Details for the simultaneous roundtable events are as follows:
Photobook Week Aarhus
Getting It Out There: Publishing and Distributing the Photobook
Fri 22 Sept
Unseen Book Market
Making, Sharing, Selling: The Photobook Market Today
Sun 24 Sept
For this first feature, Gerry Badger takes the stand and shares his views on the photobook market today.
The idea of a photobook market is quite complex. They have clearly grown in popularity since the photobook became an object of academic study, but I am unsure exactly how much this recognition has increased. There is a lot of talk about photobooks, and hordes of people look at them at festivals, but I don’t know how much of this is translated into sales. There are a lot of books chasing a certain level of spending power in a world where spending power has eroded with time.
It seems to me that there are two – possibly three – markets for photographic books. Firstly, there is the antiquarian market, where high prices are paid for classics in the genre. However, it should be noted that this is very much a 'condition market’, which has begun to deflate in recent years. This market is obviously for collectors, whose aims are not just the establishment of pride for owning something most people don’t, but who regard the photobook as an asset – something that increases in value, incorporated into a pension plan. I remember one collector of photobook classics saying, “It's nice to look at my shelves and know they're making money”.
Some of these criteria spill into the second photobook market: contemporary photobooks. These include books that determine the buzz and debate around contemporary photography. Those who can't afford the classics are able to pick out future classics, and can thereby make a prospective profit. Of course, many collectors buy them for the love of photobooks and photography, but the feeding frenzy generated by certain books, and the insistence on having signed copies, suggests that the investment impulse is still very much at work.
There is a third market that tends to be overlooked, which is the market for photographic books rather than photobooks. These photographic books include retrospective monographs, exhibition catalogues, historical studies, and so on. If you are interested in photography as opposed to interesting objects, the photographic book market is important. It is also less likely to attract the investor or collector, although as soon as any book goes out of print it demands a premium.
One thing is clear: the number of available photobooks has grown to a point where no one can completely keep up with them. This makes festivals a vital component of the market. I don't know exactly how many books are sold at these events, but festivals are certainly the best place to see the latest photobooks. It is also a place where we get seduced into unwise purchases – those books you look at once and once only, the flaky books about which the wise John Gossage once observed, “are all icing and no cake.”
Gerry Badger is a British photographer, architect and photography critic. He has published a number of books, including Collecting Photography (2002), The Genius of Photography (2007) and The Pleasures of Good Photographs (2010), for which he received the Infinity Writer’s Award by the International Center of Photography (New York) in 2011. Additionally, he co-wrote the essential series and the reference book in the field of the photobook with Martin Parr, titled The Photobook: A History (London: Phaidon Press, 3 volumes, 2004, 2006 and 2014).
Photo: © Pete Boyd