Two spreads from Nick Turpin Publishing's 10-10 years of in-public,showing an image by David Gibson (left) and by Magnum Photos' Trent Parke (right).
Ever since the internet got going, print publishers have nervously predicted the end. But for photographers, the trend is for quite the opposite. Self-published books and zines are currently experiencing a renaissance because photographers now have the means to publicise, market and sell them online, as last month’s Self Publish, Be Happy event at The Photographers’ Gallery affirmed.
Some photographers are now taking this trend to its logical conclusion and setting up shop as publishers, putting out other artists’ work as well as their own. Alec Soth is planning to publish Trent Parke’s next book via his Little Brown Mushroom site, for example, while here in the UK, Nick Turpin has already put together two publications – a book and a magazine, called 10-10 years of in-public and Publication respectively. Both feature street photography and members of the inpublic collective Turpin founded a decade ago, and both are beautifully designed and created with offset printing.
“I am actually a reluctant publisher. I consider myself a photographer first and foremost,” says Turpin. “But I started Nick Turpin Publishing because I felt very frustrated I couldn’t buy the kind of photography I most admired – magazines rarely featured street photography and the last major street photography book, Bystander, was published in 1994. Mainstream publishers produce some wonderful books but they won’t touch anything that won’t sell more than 1000 copies or so, because it’s not worth it for them to get the whole design, print, marketing, distribution machine rolling. I don’t have a big infrastructure to feed so I can produce a little book and maybe make a small profit from it.
“My business model is very specific, I have to make my publications quickly and efficiently, sell them directly to the public through the internet, thereby avoiding the loss of 45 percent of my cover price to distributors and bookshops, and market them using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and my own website. I build a community around the publications allowing, for example, street photographers to submit their work for inclusion in the next Publication magazine. More than 1000 have done so. I hesitated to show too much of my first magazine online, but I actually found that the more I displayed images from it, the more people wanted to buy and own it – the opposite of what I had expected.”
Turpin plans to publish more work in future, focusing on photographers that mainstream publishers can’t and won’t take. Unlike those publishers he doesn’t have to make a profit, but he’s already been pleasantly surprised by his success – the first edition of Publication, which came with 22 prints, covered its production costs within five weeks. The main cost he faces is printing, which is done in London by Push-Print, but though there are cheaper options he says there’s currently no alternative.
“I want to oversee each stage of the production of my publications, and I want the freedom to do 22 unbound prints or bind my book in pale blue cotton,” he says. “I am making objects and I want them to be beautiful in every detail. I am also publishing other photographers’ work – 10 contains images from 20 photographers, including Magnum’s Trent Parke – so I feel a responsibility to make sure their work is reproduced as faithfully as possible.
“I can only verify that by going down on press and signing off the print. The real breakthrough will come when digital printing is of good enough quality compare to today’s offset printing and photographers can produce high-quality photobooks in very short print runs. That’s what will open the doors to everyone, because currently you still need multiple thousands of pounds to get a quality publication out. That could be a real time of change for the big publishing houses.”
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