How Will Condé Nast Survive?

- - Magazines

Condé Nast will survive the shift of media online because for the most part they produce something that can’t be replicated online.

This is from a story in the NY Times last weekend:

“Condé also consistently sells more ads than its competitors and at higher prices, though some of its magazines make little or no profit. Even so, spending money to make money, and focusing on premium products to attract readers and advertisers, has clearly worked for more than a decade, though its margins are thin compared with those of its competitors. Condé executives say it generates close to $5 billion in revenue, has operating margins of around 10 percent and profits of about half that. Analysts and bankers say that Advance as a whole, which carries no debt, is worth, conservatively, $15 billion.”

Read more (here).

An Important Part of Having a Great Eye is Choosing Subjects

Elisabeth Biondi, visuals editor of the New Yorker magazine on photographer Pieter Hugo’s “The Hyena Men of Nigeria:”

‘Some people have said to me that Pieter’s subject is so dramatic that it would be hard to take a bad picture,’ says Biondi, ‘but, you know, a photographer chooses his subjects, and that, too, is an important part of having a great eye. Photographers go where their instinct leads them and then try and work out their fascination for the subject through the photographs they take. That’s what Pieter’s doing but in a kind of extreme way.’ She pauses for a moment. ‘He has a vision and he pursues it relentlessly. He has what it takes.’

Read it (here), Via, Subjectify.

One of the more underrated skills of great photographers.

Panel on Stock Photography

- - Events

I moderated a panel on stock photography last Sunday and met some very talented young photo editors and learned a few things too. We had Leslie dela Vega the Photo Editor at TIME Magazine, Whitney Lawson, Photo Editor at Travel+Leisure, Michael Wichita, Photo Editor from AARP Bulletin and Ryan Schick the Photo Editor at Conde Nast Portfolio.com.

Here’s what I discovered:

Travel + Leisure, loves film. All their regular contributors shoot film so if you’d like to shoot stories for T+L you’d better go buy a film camera (or fake it somehow). Whitney was careful to point out several times that the deep rich blacks achieved in film are very important to the pictures they run. Additionally what separates a good travel photo from a brochure photo is the amount of information that’s in the frame. A brochure photo will take great pains to show the view and the bed in a hotel room, the flower on the nightstand and all the little details that are all perfect plus it’s lit like the land of a thousand suns, so you can’t tell what time of day it is. That’s four different pictures in a travel story.

Tha AARP Bulletin is different then the magazine, they’re more focussed on the issues and not as lifestyle or a slick as the magazine. Michael said that he never gets enough stories pitched from photographers and they pay good money, so that should be incentive for photographers to send him a pitch or two. He also said finding pictures of seniors with different ethnicities is nearly impossible.

Portfolio.com seems to be headed in the right direction. They have a photo editor, they’re buying stock and assigning stories. Ryan told us about how a photographer who’s work he enjoyed pitched a story on high end bone fishing and was given a 5 day assignment. Also, he showed a few of the recent stock purchases they had made and all felt fresh compared to your usual business metaphors.

Time magazine is an industry icon and heavy user of stock in the front a back of book sections of the magazine. It was interesting to hear Leslie talk about how photos get approved at the magazine. She will meet with her section designer and go over the line-up to see what stories they want to find photography for then she’ll go get a handful of images for each one from which the designer will mock up 4-5 approaches. They then take that to discuss and pick the final selection with the Editor. Also, I asked her about stories that were difficult to find stock for that they always encounter. Major issues facing youths like drugs, pregnancy and drinking we’re always hard to find pictures of because all the underage people depicted and the releases they would need from parents. In fact she recently used craigslist.org to find kids with party photos for an underage drinking story and found the perfect frame where someone was passed out face down and surrounded by beer bottles.

Everyone said they had purchased photos from Flickr or amateur photographers from time to time but they kept their standard usage rates because it was not an issue of finding something cheap just finding an image the stock sites didn’t have. Most are using micro stock for those tiny throwaway shots (worst design trend ever) in the front of the book except Whitney who had no idea what micro stock was. Also, everyone seemed very excited about Photoshelter’s stock offering and I know the feeling because if you’ve searched the big stock houses enough you become very familiar with the limitations of their collections so a new player who’s actively adding imagery and photographers to the system is a very welcome addition.

The Dangers of Oversold Stories

- - Working

Assigning photography to oversold stories is a very painful lesson to learn in this industry. All stories are sold to some extent, because no one is sitting around in a pitch meeting carefully outlining all the reasons why something might not work but some bear the onerous distinction of an idea that only looks good on paper. The subjects who are sold as good looking, young, healthy and fit are actually quite flabby and boring. The conceit the whole thing hangs on was more theory than fact. The Shangri-La like location is criss-crossed with power lines and it rains every single day.

Early in my career, I’d blissfully go about making assignments to match stories without even a peep in the editorial meeting, assuming all the while that the editors fully grasped the difficulties that might be encountered and that they had an inkling what the person, place or thing they just assigned looked like.

Wrong.

I quickly discovered after a series of meetings where crappy pictures were delivered to match the crappy story and I was left holding the bag, that it was my job to investigate the realities of what was being pitched. I unfortunately turned a few photographers I liked into persona non grata as I bumbled along handing out steaming piles of shit, expecting gleaming diamonds in return. A few figured it out or lucked out but many like me got run over by the fertilizer truck and had to take a lump or two to realize what was going on.

I quickly developed a method in meetings of questioning the kind of pictures we might get in return if we made that assignment and challenged the editors to confront this reality: great stories aren’t just words, they need great pictures to go along with them otherwise they’re just plain crap.

Editorial Boot Camp

- - Events

I’m giving a talk at the Photoshelter event this Sunday (Shoot The Day) that I’m calling Editorial Boot Camp (press release here). I ‘m calling it that because I’m gonna teach photographers how to kick down the photo editors door, put the CFO in a sleeper hold and throw concussion grenades into the editors office… metaphorically, of course.

If you’re attending I’ll see you there. If not I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

There’s No Shortage of Great Photography

- - Getting Hired

There’s so much great photography out there and sure, if the budget and pages are unlimited and you only answer to god then you can go about your merry way picking from the vast variety of photographers but, under a given set of circumstances where you want a specific genre and someone versed in a particular subject matter and then you throw in any number of limitations with budget, pages, location, time frame and then add to the mix the tastes of your editor, creative director, publisher, owner and the reader… well, the group to choose from can become very small. Sometimes there’s only one who fits the bill.

For many photographers it’s about finding that group of photo editors and art buyers who love your work and enjoy working with you and know you’re a perfect match for the assignments they have to make.

Outdoor Sports Photographers

- - Working

UPDATED, Outdoor Sports Photographers List.

Some of these guys have moved on and most can shoot more sports than I’ve listed but all will blow your mind with crazy action or travel photos.

Jackson Hole, WY
Wade McKoy- Skiing
Andrew McGarry- Climbing
Chris Figenshau- Skiing
Greg Von Doersten- Climbing, Skiing
Greg Epstein- Skiing
Jimmy Chin- Climbing
Gabe Rogel- Climbing, Skiing
Jeff Diener- Outdoors
David Stubbs- Outdoors
Jonathan Selkowitz- Outdoors

Cody, WY
Bobby Model- Climbing

Northern, CA
Amy Kumler- Surfing, Travel
Dan Patitucci- Climbing
Bill Stevenson- Skiing
Corey Rich- Climbing
Desre Pickers- Kayak
Christian Pondella- Skiing, Climbing
Jeff Pflueger- Kayak
Chris Burkard- Kayak
Jerry Dodrill- Climbing

San Francisco, CA
Martin Sundberg- Windsurfing
John Dickey- Climbing
Val Atkinson- Fly Fishing
Rod McLean- Outdoors

Southern, CA
Steve Casimiro- Skiing, Adventure
Kevin Zacher- Snowboarding
Embry Rucker- Snowboarding
Danny Zapalac- Snowboarding
Art Brewer- Surfing
Jim Russi- Surfing
Tom Servais- Surfing
Robert Brown- Surfing
David Troyer- Surfing
J. Grant Brittain- Skateboard
Scott Soens- Surfing
Jack English- Surfing
C&J Turner Forte- Travel
Tom Carey- Surfing
Chris Straley- Surfing
Mike O’Meally- Skateboard
Scott Pommier- Skateboard
Jon Humphries- Skateboard
Atiba Jefferson- Skateboard

Continue Reading

How To Buy A Photo On Flickr

- - Stock

Finding one is fairly easy, well, it’s not bad if you can’t find what you need on the traditional stock sites and you’ve run out or ideas where to look or, and this happens too, you’re sick of seeing the same handful of images for a package you run every single year and want something different this time, then suddenly when you type in your keywords there’s thousands of hits and of course most of them are garbage but usually not too far in there’s something workable.

So, you grab it and put it in your folder and it eventually ends up on the server and possibly in a layout and then on the wall where the editor approves it then it’s taken down the hall where the big chief says he loves that image and then back on your desk where suddenly you’re staring at it thinking where the hell did I get this image.

So you go on the server and look at the file name which is usually something innocuous like myfavioritephoto.jpg and then look at the meta data and there’s usually none and this is where your nightmare can begin because once you actually locate the image on flickr again the person who shot it may not even have an email (I only made that mistake once) and if they do it’s possible they loaded the image 4 years ago and never put another one up (a bad sign) but if the email is there you fire one off stressing the urgency and I usually include the siize of the publication and the price as extra motivation because we’re usually on deadline once the big chief has approved something.

The story ends one of 4 ways. 1. You never hear back. 2. You hear back but the file they send you isn’t big enough or doesn’t look good on the proof. 3. The fact checkers discover that it’s not the correct location. 4. They get back to you with the right size file and the caption is correct and everything is cool.

I’ve had all 4 happen so I know the odds are about equal and this is why Flickr will forever remain a last resort for photo editors.

What’s Up With Alec Soth

- - Blogs

Alec Soth wrote a seminal photography blog (here) then one day up and quit. And, I’m not talking “hey, I’m getting tired of this shit I think I’ll pull back a bit,” I’m talking Bermuda-triangle-sudden-radio-silence quit. I always figured the man’s got his reasons and we’ll leave it at that. But, after you’ve been on the sharp end of a blog for awhile the reasons present themselves and I started to develop theories about it. I decided to ask him “what’s up.”

Ok, so why did you quit blogging?

Well, first let me say why I started blogging in the first place. A couple years ago I had an itch to talk about creative issues. My son had just been born and I figured I wouldn’t be getting out much. More importantly, my career as a photographer was going really well but so much of my time was focused on the business side of things. While I was grateful to be making a living, I was becoming increasingly frustrated that all I talked about was prices, editions and so on. I took up the blog as a break from the business side of art. And it turned out to be a fantastic venue for that stuff. You know that feeling you have as a student where you are so hungry for knowledge and inspiration – that was the way I felt with the blog. It was great. Soon there was a sizable audience. This was flattering and cool, but it changed things. Rather than being my creative journal, the blog started feeling like a magazine. It started becoming another business. Every day I was getting dozens of emails from people showing me their work. I just couldn’t keep up. It also started affecting my real life relationships. One time I traveled to New York and was too busy to see a show by a friend of mine. The fact that I didn’t see her show and write about it on my blog, well, she hasn’t spoken to me since. It was ridiculous. As much as I loved the venue, I didn’t need the grief.

Your blog is still cited as one of the best on photography and you’ve not made a post in almost a year. Do you think any photographers will come around and usurp your title?

Of course. I’m sure it has already happened. The truth is that once I quit blogging, I also quit reading blogs. I needed to get out of the loop.

Most photographers have trouble with self promotion and so a blog probably looks like water torture. How did you deal with it?

I’m not a fan of using blogs for self-promotion. I’m as guilty as the next dork for having used my blog to talk about my new show, new book, whatever. But those were the weakest posts. You can smell self-promotion from a mile away. The good stuff would always come from genuine curiosity. If artists take up blogging just to promote their careers, their blogs won’t be worth much more than spam.

What are you up to these days?

I have two personal projects in the works. One will be ready this fall, the other in the fall of 2009. In 2010, the Walker Art Center is organizing a major traveling show & catalog. And I’m still doing plenty of editorial. I just finished a four part series for the Telegraph Magazine.

Any chance you’ll take up the blog again?

I have fantasies. I recently bought Larry Towell’s new book and was so thrilled with it. I really wish that I could go to town on it like I once did on my blog with a Tod Papageoge book. But if I go back, it will likely be on a different site. David Alan Harvey and I have been toying with the idea of functioning like columnists on the Magnum blog. Maybe I could manage being a columnist – but I’m pretty burned out on being the publisher.

Getty announces deal with Flickr

Interesting development in the stock industry, Getty Images and Flickr are working together to establish the first commercial licensing opportunity for photo-enthusiasts in the Flickr community:

Images can be tremendously powerful. Images, empowered appropriately, can challenge, convince, delight and inspire. At Flickr, we think one of our most important missions is to enabe images to be all that they can be. And as such, we are incredibly proud and excited to launch a new partnership with Getty Images, the unrivaled leader in digital media licensing, to offer a new Flickr branded collection on www.gettyimages.com.

The creative and editorial teams at Getty Images have a deep understanding of what makes images truly extraordinary as well as what their clients (on a global scale) are seeking. Marrying this expertise to the talent and breadth of the photography on Flickr is truly an incredible opportunity, for our members, for Getty Images clients, and for those who love imagery in all of its forms.

So how does it all work?

Getty Images has the best editors globally taking the pulse of the market. In the next several months, they will be exploring Flickr’s collection of public photos and inviting some of these photographers to be part of the Flickr collection on Getty Images.

Both companies are committed to providing our users with more choices. Flickr members have an unprecedented opportunity to establish even more value for their creativity and work directly with a global leader to license their images commercially. Getty Images customers will have access to even more diverse, regionally relevant imagery.

So make sure to check out the Flickr collection on www.gettyimages.com in the coming months to see what the editors at Getty Images have selected.

-Kakul Srivastav, General Manager, Flickr

From the Getty Blog (here).

I’ll be interested to see how many gems they find in the 2 billion images stored there.

Running The Best Photo

- - Working

Well, of course, everything is cool when the photographer and magazine are aligned because there are two goals with selecting a picture for a story. The first is running an image that serves the story. Something that is surprising, insightful and arresting, an attention grabber that will get the consumer to read the headline, then deck, lead and finally the entire story. The second goal is an image that serves the photographer well. Something they’d want their photo credit next to, that they can use as a tear sheet, that will land them more jobs.

Balancing these two goals is an important part of photo editing because when you throw everyone else in the mix… the editor wants an image to match his clever headline, the writer wants an image to match that crazy moment they’ve anchored the whole piece on, the EIC wants something that looks different from all the other lead images running this month, the Publisher wants to make sure it’s not something the advertisers can complain about in a pitch meeting, the designer wants something that works with the layout they’ve been designing with dummy photos waiting for the real ones to come in… things can get a little crazy.

When the goals of the magazine cause you to select an unflattering image or use images in a less than ideal manner then you’ve got a problem on your hands.

I have had my head completely chewed off by agents, a few photographers and one gallery when I’ve let the magazine’s goals stomp on the photographers. There’s usually an unspoken rule when working with a certain group of photographers “we do this for the clips.” Because, “the money is laughable, the subject has no resale value, the embargo’s are long and the contracts are ridiculous. Get us a good clip or it’s not worth the time.”

Building the trust of talented photographers is the only way to get amazing pictures on your desk in the first place.

Denis Darzacq’s Floating People

Photos from Denis Darzacq’s new project “Hyper” (here) were all over the internet a couple weeks back and they certainly deserve the attention as fascinating and unnerving images, plus there’s no photoshop involved which makes it all the more interesting.

Here’s a behind the scenes video I found on the Lens Culture blog (here) from his book La Chute.

I suppose the only editorial application of a technique like this would be a fashion story since you need the talented street performers to do the jumps but whenever I see something like this I start to think of all the different ways I can get it into the book. Now, with all the hype certain types of photography can receive on the internet there’s a little extra incentive to find something quickly.

Photographers and Blogs

- - Blogs

If you’re a professional photographer there are 4 reasons to have a blog and 1 good one not to:

1. Community Building. Talking about the industry, helping photographers just starting out, linking to sites and news about photography you think the community would be interested in. This is a great reason to have a blog and a big reason why blogs are popular, bringing people together from all over the planet who are interested in similar topics.

2. Marketing. You can use a blog like a big promo card and post tears, new personal projects and generally just pimp yourself out to whomever might be stopping by. Google seems to be ultra sticky when it comes to blog posts so just posting your name with an image from your portfolio or the city you live in with genre you shoot will probably attract some clients. I have been known to type professional, photographer, Juneau, AK into google from time to time.

3. News and information. You can use the blog like you would a newsletter and let people know where you’re going to be and what images you just added to your stock library so someone visiting because they like your landscape photography can discover that you just had a portrait session with Angelina Jolie and the images are available for syndication.

4. Building a fan base. Talking to your fans, who at this point are mostly amateur photographers and giving them photography tips and telling stories about your experiences on assignment has turned into a real moneymaker for some photographers. It’s important that you have something to sell your fans like a photography book you wrote or a lighting seminar you give.

__

1. Posting things that will get you un-hired. Mostly just bad photography that you wouldn’t put in your portfolio (this is still your portfolio) and weird rants that might make me think you’re someone I don’t want to forge a relationship with. The biggest reason to not have a blog is that you have nothing interesting to show or say or you’re just not the type of person who likes to sit at a computer and write because you’d rather be taking pictures.

At this point most of your clients aren’t going past the first dozen pictures in your portfolio so a blog is not a “make or break” deal. Although, in one version of the future I see media companies building communities of people who are interested in a topic and they’re helping consumers edit through all the crap and selling advertising into the different content that’s created and photographers who blog become a valuable asset and a reason to give an assignment in the first place.

So, whatever your reasons might be for starting a blog remember that it’s still your portfolio and there will be client rooting around from time to time and google never forgets (college grads are finding out the hard way about this) so, whatever you do don’t post a rant about the goddam CFO and the Editor’s crappy story ideas and the Creative Director’s shitty layout and expect Condé Naste to be calling.

The End Of Book Publishing

- - The Future

I think I’ve read enough glowing reviews of the kindle in the last month to know that combined with a flailing economy, skyrocketing fuel prices and a fundamental shift in the way we interact with text, that it signals the eventual death of book publishing.

Anymore, it’s going to start to seem ridiculous to print all those books to throw in the trash (I don’t know the sell-through numbers for books but if it’s anywhere near magazines where 70% go unsold on the newsstand then there’s a ton of waste) or store in warehouses or sit on your shelf collecting dust. And, then you have the fuel cost to drive something around the country that essentially started electronically and was printed on paper for distribution. With a device like this you’ve eliminated the single biggest cost in book publishing and the main reason book publishers exist in the first place. Now, authors can distribute their books for free and take most of the profits if they want.

I stopped short of buying one myself because I don’t need to spend any time on stuff without pictures and because what I’d really like to buy is a magazine reader. There’s about 40 magazine’s I’d like to check out on a regular basis, something I used to do at the newsstand in Grand Central, but now out here in the sticks (there are newsstands but the selection is somewhat limited) I’m faced with the prospect of signing up to receive close to 500 issues in a year to stay on top of who is shooting what in this industry.

Not to mention the fact that I was emailing the photo editor of City Magazine and reading about Seed Magazine over on Shoot Blog and wanted desperately to check out their latest issues and would have instantly bought a copy if there were some electronic way to do it. If I sign up for a subscription today the first issue should arrive in 12-16 weeks. That’s hilarious.

The interesting thing here is to look at iTunes and now Kindle and think about the recording executives and the book publishing executives who completely missed the boat and an opportunity to maintain a monopoly on distribution by bringing a revolutionary device to market. And now how we’ve got a handful of magazine publishers who run this industry, essentially to foot the enormous costs of taking something created electronically, print it on paper and drive it around the country.

I suppose there’s still time if any of the publishers are working on a device right now which somehow I highly doubt because many are still wrapping their heads around the internet (and telling me it takes 12-16 weeks for a magazine to arrive). But, when the device finally arrives we can talk about the eventual death of magazine publishing and the revolutionary device that put the power back in the hands of the content creators.

Crappy Old Cameras

When I used to send Teru Kuwayama out on assignment I would marvel at the amazing images he would coerce out of a piece-of-shit Holga and how he was never afraid to rely on it for some of the most important shots in the story. And, I’ve always been a fan of imperfection in photography so when I find a photographer who does their primary work with old, unique and sometimes crap cameras I make a note of it because they always seem to bring something interesting to the page.

Here’s a site (Andreas Wolkerstorfer :: cameras) where the photographer runs film through all types of cameras so you can see what kind of pictures they take and although the general theme seems to be vignette with the older cameras, I still enjoy seeing images that aren’t perfect.

Of course, boring subjects still make for boring pictures no matter what camera you’re using.

Photographers Should Embrace Richard Prince

- - copyright

Whether you think it’s art is irrelevant. Nancy Spector, Chief Curator at the Guggenheim decided that “Prince’s work has been among the most innovative art produced in the United States during the past 30 years. His deceptively simple act in 1977 of rephotographing advertising images and presenting them as his own ushered in an entirely new, critical approach to art-making—one that questioned notions of originality and the privileged status of the unique aesthetic object.”

Whether or not you think it’s worth 3.4 million dollars is irrelevant. The value of a Richard Prince re-photograph has nothing to do with what’s depicted in the photograph. It has everything to do with the number of editions made (2 plus an artist proof in this case) and the reputation and stature of the artist within the community of collectors, curators and gallerists. Becoming the sole private owner of one of these photographs, when the other edition lives in a museum, is certainly worth millions to collectors.

You should embrace Richard Prince because he’s exercising a right all photographers enjoy and need. The ability to photograph copyrighted and even trademarked objects and sell the pictures for a use that doesn’t interfere with the copyrighted objects intended use–if he’d used those pictures to sell cigarettes then there’d be a problem. When you take a picture of a street scene and there are people wearing t-shirts with slogans, listening to ipods, talking on cell phones, billboards with advertisements in the background, cars, buildings and then you sell that photograph you don’t have to worry about lawsuits from all that copyrighted material.

I’m sure it’s not a very pleasant feeling to be the photographer (video of Sam Abell) who’s work Richard re-photographed, who now have to stand around and watch as their pictures hang on museum walls and set new records at auction. But, this is such a fundamental right photographers enjoy that without it we’d all be screwed.

Darius Himes, Publisher- Radius Books

I first met Darius at Review Santa Fe many years ago when he was the editor of Photo-Eye Booklist, the quarterly, highly collectible catalog of books for the renowned local photography bookstore. When I heard several months ago that he’d founded a photography book publishing company called Radius Books (website here) I was curious to find out more on how the book publishing side of this industry works.

Tell me a little bit of your background.

My education history and work history are basically interrelated and flow one into the other. I received a BFA in Photography at ASU, Tempe back in the early 90s and then went overseas where I worked for an organization that had a large, permanent collection of historical photographs, which dated back to the 1870s. While there, I pursued my own photography and got called upon to do everything from photograph visiting prime ministers to documenting deteriorating historical buildings.

I came to Santa Fe in 1998 to pursue a Master’s degree at St. John’s College, which, as you know, has a Great Books program. On the surface, it may seem to have nothing to do with a career in the arts, but to me it brought intellectual balance to an undergraduate fine arts degree. At the heart of the program are a couple concepts that I gravitated to. One is the idea of books serving a centuries-old dialogue about core ideas that affect humanity, regardless of race, culture, language, or class. Another was a cluster of ideas about the role of the arts in society and where image-making, artists, language, communication, and what it means to be human all figure in.

During my time in graduate school, I began working at photo-eye part-time, in the bookstore. I stayed on after graduation to launch the magazine, which was a quarterly devoted to photography books. It was here that my love of photography and a latent but deep-seated love for books–as art objects as well as conveyors of ideas and images–merged.

So, I guess you spent so much time looking at photography books working on booklist for Photo Eye you decided it looked pretty easy and you’d start your own imprint. Isn’t the photography book business notoriously unprofitable? Doesn’t that frighten you?

There was always a paradox floating around out there that didn’t make sense to me. The illustrated art book business was notorious for being unprofitable, true, but each year as editor at photo-eye, I was dealing with more and more publishers coming onto the scene that were producing great books. The two didn’t jive for me. There was a great article written by Christopher Lyon in Art in America in September, 2006 which gave a key to understanding this bigger picture. The large, illustrated book publishers (think Prestel, Rizzoli, Harry N. Abrams, Bulfinch) simply weren’t able to sell tens of thousands of copies of fine art books to the masses the way they used to. So their world was changing drastically, and Lyon detailed how and why in that article. But similar to the music industry, where genres were reproducing and splitting and creating sub-categories faster than bunnies, the art and photography book scene had become filled with lots of nimble, savvy, smaller publishers who had very smart, sophisticated collectors buying their books. If you don’t have to maintain office space on Madison Ave and you’ve got a staff of 1 to 3, you don’t need to sell 25,000 copies of each title. As people like Jack Woody of Twin Palms Publishers or Chris Pichler of Nazraeli Press proved, you can sell 1000 or 2000 copies of a book, watch it go out of print in a couple years, recouping your costs in the meantime and move on to the next list of projects.

It’s definitely not easy. But loving what you do helps (and being small and nimble is an asset).

Seems like portfolio reviews like the one in Santa Fe where you live are a great place to find projects to publish. Alec Soth was discovered there and I’m sure there were many others that got started that way. Is that your primary source for finding a book project?

Actually, they’re not the primary source for finding a book project, but they are a piece of the bigger picture. Portfolio review events are a primary way of staying in touch with the photography community overall. We, meaning publishers, editors, gallerists, dealers, collectors, curators and writers like to see and know what photographers are up to, what they’re working on, where their traveling, who they’re shooting for, and where they’re showing their work. Signing up a photographer on the spot at a portfolio review event happens more with galleries than it does with publishers, but things happen afterwards, and seeing people at these portfolio events is important.

What are the big considerations when looking at a photographer for a book? How much of a factor is potential commercial success?

First and foremost on the list is that we are deeply moved by the work and think that it is important in some lasting way. We’ve got two photography books on our Fall 2008 list. One is a book of brilliant photographs made in New Mexico by Lee Friedlander. The other is a lyrical group of photographs by Phoenix-based photographer Michael Lundgren. In terms of their careers, they couldn’t be further apart from each other. Friedlander is, well, Friedlander. How do you even summarize his influence on photography as a medium? Lundgren is a couple years out of grad school and passionate about his work and makes stunning prints based on an intelligent and soulful approach to the landscape but virtually no one has heard of him. No one, apart from the lovely Rebecca Solnit, who is contributing a wonderful essay, which will help bring attention to the work. If we looked at Mike’s book purely from a commercial standpoint, we probably wouldn’t publish it. But we love the work and are publishing a modest number of copies, which will be supported by a limited edition book which comes with a print. And we’re extremely proud to be one of the first to commit to this relatively young artist with a strong vision.

Defining “commercial success” is different for each publisher. Again, it’s tied in to how many mouths you have to feed. Being a small publisher brings certain advantages and nimbleness that are inherently different than the advantages of being a really big publishing house.

Do you think that books will continue to be a hot ticket for collectors and photography lovers? Are there any cool innovations coming that can keep this market growing?

I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think books were important, and therefore worth saving and cherishing and collecting. The market for the book-as-object is getting more firmly established every passing auction season. And more and more artists, not just photographers, are seeing the book as a central means of expression. Concurrently, more and more curators and galleries are seeing books as a central means of expression, and are collecting accordingly. For instance Charlotte Cotton, curator and head of the photography department at LACMA recently purchased an entire set of prints by Paul Graham that make up one of his twelve volumes in A Shimmer of Possibility, which was published by Steidl last Fall.

What will keep the market growing are artists engaging with the book in this manner, where the book is seen as more than just a repository for images, but rather the seat of artistic expression. And then persuading collectors to buy them. Honestly, this is where I see the role of curators, critics/writers, and publishers. We have the chance to guide others–the public, the collectors, the institutions–to work that will have lasting importance, explaining why along the way. At least, that’s how I see my role as writer and publisher (and I know that my partners at Radius Books feel the same way). I get excited about work and I want to show others and elucidate how I see this work fitting into a broad and rich cultural dialogue. That’s the St. John’s influence speaking! One thing we’re excited about at Radius is the implementation of our library donation program–over 200 copies of every book we publish is being donated to libraries across North America in an effort to further the dialogue surrounding great art. We’ve got a strong group of donors that are helping this happen (though we’re looking for more to assist) and they are very excited about the role the book can play in stimulating dialogue.

What do you think of these self published solutions like Blurb? Will they ever compete with the traditional book publishers for market share?

I love them. I think they demystify the process of publishing a book, on a certain level. Print-on-demand won’t replace traditional publishers, but it can supplement them in important ways. It’s like having another tool in the toolbox for artists and photographers. Not sure what your current edit looks like in book form or want to try two or three sequences? Do a Blurb book (or two or three)! Not sure what the ideal trim size is for the book that’s in your mind’s eye, or not sure how long that essay will be on the page? Do a Blurb book! Going to a portfolio review event and want something really well done to give to your five favorite galleries? Do a Blurb book!

Blurb is hosting Photography Book Now, an open competition that ends in mid-July, and I’m involved with both the judging process (which I’m very excited about) as well as the traveling symposium that will take place in San Francisco, London and New York this Fall. One of things that we’re aiming to do with the symposium is to crack the door to what happens at publishing houses. Doing a Blurb book is a little like DIY publishing, right? We want the symposium to give you insight on the role of a good editor, how designers approach text and image combinations, how other book artists are using the book as object, etc.

Through the contest, we’re hopeful that the cream of the crop will rise to the top. We know there are photographers out there who think in terms of book-length projects and who simply haven’t had a chance to get that work in front of people in the photography industry. This is their chance.

Who Should We Put On The Cover?

- - Working

In my career I’ve gone from “let’s see which of the stories we have this month will make a good cover” to “we’re going to call every single A list celebrity that has a movie this month till someone says yes” and then of course, task some writer with throwing a story together in a week or less. The cover of the magazine was the single source of more anxiety, stress and nightmares than anything else I’ve ever worked on. There was always a deadline looming and unreturned phone calls to publicists, a photographer to figure out, location, wardrobe and then what will he be doing on the cover, it was always just hanging out there for weeks on end waiting for a date, time and place to land so the rest of the pieces could be jammed in.

I’m sure it’s quite a different experience working at GQ, VF or Time where the celebrities and politicians have heard of your publication and are actually interested in appearing on the cover. I’ve always been in the hapless position of pitching a publicist and providing material to actually prove we’re worthy enough for a celebrity to grace us with their presence.

The importance of the cover image, coverlines, background, expression, wardrobe is at an all time high these days because advertisers need some sign of the health of a magazine and newsstand sales are a decent indicator because consumers are free to decide what purchase to make that month. Except everyone is trying to game the system so the coverlines, subjects and many times the photography have turned into such predictable garbage, because everyone is using the same handful of words and subjects that have proven effective at capturing eyeballs.

Who should we put on the cover? How about someone who actually wants to be there and that the audience cares about. How about someone we can spend some time with a write a meaningful story and take interesting pictures of. I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you’re stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines.