Serious money is now being made with photo books - mind you, not all photo books, but some of them. If only half of what various people told me about the market is true, there are a lot of things going on that I find quite unpleasant.
In any case, a few months ago, I came across Angels in Fall by Karin Apollonia Müller at my favourite second-hand book shop, and since I liked the book I wanted to buy it. But it was $300 - it was a signed first-edition copy. I don’t have $300 to spare, and I wanted the book for its photography and not for the value attached to it by the market (“signed”, “first edition”). So I went online to see whether I could find a cheaper copy, and there were none, since the book was out of print. But, I found out, there would be a second edition, and I thought I’d just wait for that.
A friend of mine, who knows a lot about photo books, then told me that he had heard that the second edition was in fact really just the first edition, since, or so the story went, someone (I am writing “someone” since I forgot whether it was the publisher or some distributor or whoever else) had found lots of boxes of the first edition in some storage somewhere (the theme of boxes of books stashed away in storage crops up frequently when you talk to people who know about the photo-book market). And sure enough, once the “second edition” was out, I saw a pile of Angels in Fall at Strand, which, upon inspection, revealed themselves as first-edition prints (Amazon’s page says: “Copies of the classic ‘New Objective’ photo book Angels in Fall, originally published in 2001 and thought to be out of print, are now available again.”)
Of course, there is nothing really wrong with all of this. After all, somebody could have really found some boxes somewhere. But this whole episode did leave a bit of a funny taste in my mouth - maybe it’s just naive me, what with me looking at photo books not as objects that might have some monetary value at some stage, but as a wonderful way to look at photography.
Coincidentally, what I just wrote (“a wonderful way to look at photography”) I could elaborate on - it’s always a real thrill for me to see self-published books, when they’re hand-made. While the possibility to get a book made via Blurb, say, has made books more easily accessible for everybody, for me, it has also “blurbed” (OK, the word is “blurred”, but I couldn’t resist!) the appeal of the self-published photo book a little.
Which doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate getting somebody’s Blurb book in the mail (so please keep them coming!), but there is something special about getting the occasional hand-made object, which usually doesn’t look quite as perfect (even though the print quality is often better) and which might even be a little bit crooked.
PS: I’m tipping my (imaginary) hat to those photographers who sent actual books to Blurb for their big contest - I wish I could see those, too!