The last time I got lunch with my friend, he was in the midst of sending applications to McDonalds. Ironically, he was the last person I ever expected this from.
The friend I was eating lunch with is one of the most published artists I’ve ever met, with over ten book covers and at least three big solo releases of his own.
But what has all that done for him? I mean, right now he’s telling me how it’s literally impossible to feed his family and he’s so desperate for money that in a few minutes he’ll ask the hostess if the restaurant is hiring.
Maybe it’s all because of this particular artist’s inactions or something he hasn’t disclosed to me like medical bills. Or maybe it’s the symptom of something deeper. A truth revealed about what we all aspire to in the art world – artists, critics, and curators alike: having our name on the cover of a book.
What most of us don’t realize is that the fancy art books on our shelves have relatively zero margins. When you buy a $60 book, it very well could have cost the publishing company around $40 to make and distribute. Leaving said company only $20 in profit, which then has to be distributed to employees, bills, artists, designers, etc. – leaving little for the bottom line.
While this isn’t always the case, it is in the majority of companies out there. So, oftentimes due to this thin bottom line, compromises are made. And it’s usually the artist featured in the book that gets the butt of a deal. Sometimes leading to only a couple hundred dollars for something that’s going to be at retailers worldwide in hardcover, softcover, digital, and anything else you can think of.
Rizzoli bookstore; photo by Howard Walfish
Yet, why would you say no to the offer of such exposure and mainstream worldwide attention? You wouldn’t, unless you were crazy.
After all, there’s always the potential someone will see your work and then buy all your really expensive paintings, or sculptures, or photographs, or whatever.
So, it’s a hard deal to make for everybody involved. Publishers make books because they love the artists they work with and artists make books because they love the other books released by the publishers. Everyone wants to get paid, but in the end no one really does. Or, do they?
Is there a better way to get the best of both worlds? Is there a new way to get paid and published without comprising anything? Yes, dear reader, there is.
Figuring out a way to make it so your book isn’t the thing sitting on your shelf or lying on your table will be the solution. If you can find a way to make your release become part of someone’s life in a functional way that’s absolved of novelty, then you will switch the world into a new paradigm. You will overthrow the old guard rule of static mediums and present the art-conscious public with a new way in which to enjoy what they already love.
Maybe it will be a game or an app or a way in which to spark conversation. But I can ensure that whatever it is, it will come from someone young who probably grew up in a world where bookstores exist as iPad applications.
But until that day comes, we’ll all just have to go about making terrible deals for books that sit on our shelves collecting dust until an old friend reminds us to pick them up, flip through the pages, and then put them back in the dust-to-friend cycle all over again.
(Image on top: Taschen's Soho shop; photo by Ken Yee)