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Why Publishing an Art Book May Do Nothing For Your Career
by Daniel Rolnik

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.


Daniel Rolnik 



(Image on top: Taschen's Soho shop; photo by Ken Yee)

Posted by Daniel Rolnik on 11/19/13 | tags: career collector's catalogue Art Books publishing

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Placeholder70x70-2 Simplistic and Naive
This is a very simplistic view of publishing, the book market, and how it is aligned with an artist's career. Indeed Art books are expensive to produce and if you are with a small time publisher even more so. If a publisher is paying $60 per book than they apparently have not discovered that there are companies in Asia who print books. If your friend thinks that publishing art books would, at anytime in history, ever bring enough revenue to support himself and his family, he was sorely misled and naive. Absolutely Art book publishing IS able to bring a small amount of revenue if it is 1)Filled with incredible Art work and 2) used as a marketing tool to support the artist's exhibitions/events/signings or used a vehicle to secure exhibitions/ speaking opportunities. Publishing in all it's forms has been going through a revolution beginning with the invention of the Laser printer. Artists need to think creatively about how they approach publishing a book. Today print, ebook or enhanced ebook ..etc are all options. To be viable as an artist, you need to be proactive in utilizing the available media formats to extend the reach of your artwork. Books are not passe - au contraire they are evolving. Social media is indeed and important vehicle but it is not the end all - just one tool that is available to extend the artists to share the content he/she has produced. Your friend needs to run the hell out of McDonald's, plug in to the world, and fuel efforts to sell his books as well as seek to pub it in digital formats so he can parse it out to the multitudes and create drips of revenue. Book publishing can indeed do a lot for your career IF you have vision and drive! @gpbprince
20110207170917-jerryhicks__copy Comment on art-book publishing
The old paradym was to commit money to a large book run, to reduce per item cost, then warehouse the books, then distribute to book stores who would not pay for the books until 6 months after they sold, if they sold. Otherwise, they would cut up part of the book and return it to the published. Called remainders, the books might sell for pennies on original cost. That era is dead and may rest in piece but I doubt it. A good art book with about 100 pages of material should sell for about $300 to $400. If you can't make a book that will sell for that price or much more, you should be flipping hamburgers in MacDonalds. I sell 13 x 19 pictures for $135 to $185, but they are superb. One cannot purchase anything near that quality from an on demand publisher. Jerry Hicks Torrance, CA
Placeholder70x70-2 Great Article about Relevancy
Your article spawned our own about relevancy. It's absolutely true, books are passe--the game now is social media and how engaged in it you are--and if people are engaging in your work. This really is the end of times for hardbound publishing of artists (unless you have the superstars like Banksy, etc..)

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