Daniele Dainelli is one of the first photographers to use Crowdbooks to produce his upcoming Green monograph. Image © Daniele Dainelli / Contrasto.
Self-publishing can be a minefield for photographers. But Crowdbooks hopes to make it easier by providing a one-stop-shop for funding and producing limited-edition photobooks, its founder Stefano Bianchi tells Olivier Laurent
When Magnum photographer Larry Towell was looking for funding for his upcoming Crisis in Afghanistan book, he turned to Kickstarter and raised more than $14,000 from 143 independent backers. The funds allowed the photographer to return to Afghanistan to continue with his work before pitching the book to a traditional publishing house. Now, a new crowdfunding company operating out of Paris has launched, offering a one-stop-shop for photographers in search of a book deal.
Billed as the first art and photography book-publishing network that uses online crowdsourcing to fund its projects, Crowdbooks was founded by graphic designer Stefano Bianchi. “I have a lot of appreciation for craftsmanship and high-quality materials,” he tells BJP.
Bianchi worked for Diesel Jeans and Fabrica before launching N2o Studio, a creative consulting agency in Paris that helps artists to create visual identities and produce printed products – from brochures and catalogues to books. “I thought it was about time I put these interests to work for photographers,” he says.
Using the power of social networking and the online community, Crowdbooks aims to fund and produce “unique, limited-edition photo-based books that challenge the conventional methods of publishing, as well as the artistic limitations associated with the offline model,” he says.
“Crowdbooks is a platform that helps photographers find funding for the production of their own photobooks. But while other crowdfunding platforms are only involved with fundraising, Crowdbooks brings an entire package to these photographers. We act as a publishing house as well. We’ll help photographers design their books, choose the right paper and the right printer.”
Bianchi came up with the concept when he noticed that some photographers, after raising the funds they needed, “didn’t necessarily know what to do next”. He explains, “I have a lot of experience working in publishing, so I can help photographers develop their ideas into an actual photobook,” he says. He has also developed a network of contacts in the industry who he’ll be drawing on for the project. “I have good relationships with printers across France – so if a photographer, for example, is looking to publish a book of black-and-white images, we’ll be using the same printer that’s been printing Sebastião Salgado’s books.”
Bianchi will also use his contacts to distribute the books beyond the Crowdbooks website and, as with other crowdfunding initiatives, most financial backers will receive a copy of the produced book they contributed to. “We’ll get the books in specialised libraries across France and Europe, and even beyond,” he says.
Bianchi has enlisted Nathalie Belayche to help him out. She is an independent curator and photo editor who regularly collaborates with galleries, book publishers and festivals across Europe. Twitter and Facebook will be at the centre of Crowdbooks, she says. “Social networking is very important for photographers today, especially when they’re trying to raise funds via crowdfunding websites. They need to have a large network of friends, followers and fans.”
But what attracted Belayche most was the fact that, “It was a surprise to find someone else in France that was interested in self-publishing.” In the US and UK, self-publishing is a booming sector, with market players such as Blurb and Ubyu offering tools to just about anyone looking to publish their work. Organisations such as Self Publish, Be Happy, founded by Bruno Ceschel in 2010, are also dedicated to promoting self-published photobooks (BJP #7777). Bianchi and Belayche hope to ride this wave of interest, while helping photographers get published.
Like a traditional publishing company, though, Crowdbooks will select the photographers it wants to work with. “What we are looking for is authors,” says Belayche. “We want photographers who have a specific story they need to tell.” A committee of reviewers, headed by Belayche, will pick the best proposals, to ensure the site isn’t flooded by photographers looking to publish their latest holiday snaps. “Of course, we’ll also be looking for photobooks that can sell and make a profit, but I’d like to stay close to the spirit of self-publishing.”
Crowdbooks’ founders expect most projects will require a minimum investment of €5000. “In some cases, we will be able to do it for less, but it will all depend on the specific projects and the paper and printer used,” says Belayche. “Usually photographers will have to raise between €5000 and €10,000.”
After spending a year developing the concept, Bianchi has been preparing for the most critical part – the launch. “We’ve been ready for a couple of months now,” he says. “But we’ve had to wait for the French authorities to officially register the company."
On 19 July, the site was officially unveiled with two projects - including a book by Contrasto’s Daniele Dainelli called Green, and Purgatorio, by Marco Garofalo.
Now Bianchi and Belayche need to raise awareness for Crowdbooks, and they’re turning to social media to help them. “We’ll be using our networks on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter,” says Belayche. “It’s part of our job.” And, as with all crowdfunding projects now, it will be part of the photographers’ jobs too.
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