Momento Pro: How to self-publish a photobook in the Antipodes
This piece originally ran on the Momento Pro blog.
Momento Pro has spent 15 years immersed in photobook printing, learning about people’s publishing experiences in Australia and New Zealand, and making friends with all the services that can help make your book a success.
We’ve also hosted photobook awards since 2011, which give us unique insight and statistics into Antipodean photobook publications. In this blog post we share our findings in a simple guide that includes data, questions and topics for you to consider before publishing your photobook.
Here’s what we think you should know before venturing into self-publishing:
- Why you’re publishing
- Who your audience is
- How you’ll fund it
- Photobook design rules
- Formats that suit your budget
- How many copies you’ll need
- What price is suitable
- How you’ll sell and promote it.
Read on to start your publishing journey.
There are various publishing models available to artists and photographers in Australia and New Zealand today including:
- Major local or international trade publishers
- Independent local or international art book publishers
- Cultural institution or academic publishers
If you can attract one of the top three listed above, then hats off to you, but the reality is that self-publishing is the most viable option for Australian and New Zealand artists in 2019, and that’s where we can help you. Self-publishing may also be your ticket to gaining the attention of a publisher, and potentially scoring a deal at a later stage.
While the information below focuses on the process of self-publishing, we don’t recommend you ‘do it alone’. One of the most valuable lessons we’ve learnt is that books produced with input from experts in editing, design, distribution, sales or marketing are more successful in achieving their purpose, finding their audience and attracting sales.
We’ve also learnt that if the creator does their research well, spends time considering all the factors involved in bringing a photobook to life and taking it out into the world, that self-publishing can be successful. To help you get started and assess whether you’re ready to publish, we encourage you to write down answers to the questions below.
Is your project suited to a book?
Firstly, you need to decide whether your body of work will be best represented in book form. Maybe it’s more appropriate as an exhibition or an online presentation? If you conclude that the book format is best, you then need to consider whether it’s the kind of book a traditional or independent publisher would be interested in?
There are so many reasons to publish a photobook! Whatever yours is, just be clear, as the purpose of your book should guide every decision you make along the way. Here’s a few options to consider:
- To share your photography
- To support an exhibition
- To sell and make money
- To raise awareness
- To expand your profile
- To preserve a project
- For personal enjoyment.
To get your book project moving, start by answering these questions.
The purpose of my book is ________________________________.
The audience for my book is ________________________________.
How to fund a photobook
Unless you’re lucky enough to have personal savings, an arts grant, or you’ve won Lotto, funding is one of the major obstacles for self-publishers. If you have a solid network of supporters and fans, however, crowdfunding and pre-orders are increasingly popular methods to underwrite your book project.
Our analysis of Australian and New Zealand photobook crowdfunding campaigns over the last four years, confirm the average successful campaign attracts $20,000. That’s a healthy budget! To find out more about crowdfunding see our dedicated blog post here.
Mapping out a budget is of course essential, as you need to know how much money you’ll need to stump up. One factor that is often forgotten but can have a major impact is the cost of shipping your books post-printing, as well as getting them to your interstate or international purchasers. And do not underestimate just how expensive this is from the southern hemisphere! So consider lighter and smaller formats to make this affordable.
Make sure you have a clear idea of the budget you’ll need for these items:
Design $ _______________
Printing $ ______________
Promotion $ ____________
Other $ _________________
TOTAL $ ________________
How to design a photobook
Design is a deal maker (or breaker) in photobook publishing, and don’t be lulled into thinking that because you’re an expert in ‘images’ that you’re also expert in selecting your best photos and laying them out across a series of pages. We seriously advise that you research photobook design and/or work with experts:
- In selecting and sequencing photos
- In laying out photos, images and text
- Who respect your objectives.
And before you start designing, identify what your print supplier’s file format and colour requirements are, or there could be tears. Ensure you know what colour space they require you to work in, and download the appropriate ICC colour profiles for your intended paper stock, so you can soft-proof your file prior to submitting it for print.
When it comes to the process of selecting and sequencing your images, take a leaf out of the book of American photographer Ralph Gibson:
‘By placing a picture on the right and a picture on page left, something must transpire in between the two-page spread, the mise-en-page. The essential principle is that the sum will equal more than the total of its parts.’
You’ll find more from Ralph plus valuable tips on photobook editing and design in our dedicated blog post. It features input from local and international experts on the difference between traditional and contemporary photobook design styles, how text can be used for context and the benefits of creating one or more dummy books prior to your official print run.
What format for your photobook?
This is the area that we can offer plenty of advice on, care of our 15 years’ experience in printing photo books, and chatting with photographers who’ve trade, self or indie published publications of all sizes, formats and quantities.
To request a quote for 25 copies or more from us, any other local print-on-demand digital printer or an international traditional offset print house, you’ll need to be able to provide these details for your book:
- Number of pages
- Weight of paper (gsm)
- Width x height (mm)
- Print method: digital, inkjet or offset
- Paper stock: matte, satin, gloss or cotton rag
- Binding style: stitched or staple bound, section-sewn or other
- Cover: softcover, hardcover, printed or other material
- Embossing, other finishes or packaging.
Whatever you choose, ensure that your decisions match your book’s purpose, your budget, your audience’s budget and your printer’s requirements. And heed the wise words of Bruno Ceschel from indie publisher Self Publish Be Happy:
‘Key aspects to consider before making a photobook … your knowledge of bookmaking, your budget, and the reason you are doing it.’
Our advice is that you produce a softcover edition to minimise production and shipping costs, and/or a hardcover limited edition with premium materials to generate more prestige and profit. Producing both is also quite common and rewarding.
At Momento Pro we’ve curated a range of hardcover and softcover options suited to, and affordable for, self-publishers wanting to produce books in batches of 25 copies and more. Find out more at Momento Pro Australia or Momento Pro NZ or just give us a call for guidance and advice.
How many photobooks to print
This is one of the most important questions you’ll face on the road to self-publishing, as your answer will define how much money you need, and how much effort you have to put into ‘moving them’. Do you need one, 25, 100, 250, 500, 1000 or more copies? And more importantly how can the market you’re targeting actually bear? Why print 1,000 if you’re only likely to sell 250?
The minimum for a traditional offset print run has been reducing over the last decade, and now sits around 500 units. If you don’t have an audience of 500 to buy your book, approaching a print-on-demand service might be more economical. This is where we can help. You can print a single copy with Momento Pro, but our best prices kick in between 25 and 250 copies.
To give you an idea of what quantities other local creators are printing, our analysis of the 117 entries from the 2018 Australia and New Zealand Photobook Awards identified an average edition size of 115, ranging from one up to 1,000 copies.
Where to sell a photobook
In the same way that the music world and recording industry has undergone massive upheaval in the last two decades, so has the book publishing industry. Books are no longer just accessible by purchasing at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore or a major book retailer chain. The options have expanded. Here’s a few to consider:
- Locally, interstate, internationally?
- At your photography exhibition?
- At book fairs or festivals?
- On your website?
- Via your personal network?
- Via an online retailer?
- At a traditional bookstore?
- Via an art gallery or institution?
Our experience tells us that most sales come from direct sales where the creator can look the buyer in the eyes and tell them about their creation and the story behind the book. While a bookshop is a great way to get broader exposure and sales for your book, they take a financial cut for every sale and may be hesitant to stock your book unless it’s well suited to their customers, or you have a reputation that will help it sell.
We’ll expand on this with a list of photobook friendly sales channels in a future post.
How to distribute a photobook
Distribution is without a doubt one of the biggest issues facing any book creator or publisher in the Antipodes. There are relatively few that are focused on illustrated books (this category includes art, photography and design books). For their part in helping get your book out into the world, a distributor is also likely to take 40% of the cover price.
There are a few photobook friendly distributors in Australia and New Zealand who we know and respect:
- Books at Manic (Melbourne)
- Perimeter Books (Melbourne)
- Remote Photobooks (Auckland).
We’ll provide more details on what they are looking for, their distribution terms and how you can submit to them in an upcoming blog post.
How to price a photobook
Aha! This is the million-dollar question and there’s no single or easy answer, but here’s what you need to consider before deciding on a sale price.
- What costs do you need to cover?
- Is your aim to make a profit?
- How much are books of a similar format?
- Where are you selling the book?
- What’s the average RRP for your sales channels?
- How many copies are you producing?
- What quality of materials are you using?
- How much is the shipping?
Photobooks can sell from $5 up to $5,000 depending on the photographer’s profile, the publisher, the edition size, the quality of production and the sales channel.
While most traditional book retailers and publishers aim to sell a photo or art book at a recommended retail price of $30-80, our research suggests a growing acceptance for higher prices for books that are made locally, to high production standards, and published in limited editions by smaller or self-publishers.
Data from the 2018 Australia & New Zealand Photobook Award also identifies the average RRP as $74—calculated from 50 of the 117 entries that were available to buy (excluding two with a sale price of $1995 and $600 respectively). While the average for the 12 finalist books was $76—ranging from $30 to $250 for a book that also included an 8×10” photographic print.
How to promote a photobook
Many people believe that designing and printing a book is the hard part, but the reality is that unless you’ve done your homework, promoting and selling your book can be the hardest part. Planning in advance will however make a big difference. Here’s a few ideas that we’ll flesh out more in a future blog post:
- Host a launch with a photo exhibition
- Send a media release
- Via social media with #photobookjousting
- To your newsletter database
- Submit to the Asia Pacific Photo Book Archive
- Enter the ANZ Photobook Award
- Enter international photo book competitions
- Send copies to critics and reviewers
- Tell the story behind your book
- Hire a publicist.
Our big tip is to do some serious research and planning, and to give yourself time. Publishing a book will take months even years to come to fruition, depending on your project, your purpose and how well you want your book to be resolved. But self-publishing a photobook is possible and rewarding if you can answer most of the questions above and stick to your plan. Good luck!
If you’re ready to make a move, Momento would love to help make your book a reality, so call our Australian volume order manager, Lisa Ryman, on 02 8568 3221 or our New Zealand service rep, Jackie Lentell, on 0800 744 755 to get started.
Now go forth and publish your bloody book!
Libby Jeffery is co-founder of Australia’s most established print-on-demand photobook service Momento Pro, and coordinator of the Australia and New Zealand Photobook Awards. She worked on the Australian Society of Author’s first foray into self-published ebooks and digital rights management back in 2000, but since 2004 she has been assisting amateur and professional photographers publish their images in printed book form.