Monday, December 24, 2007

Selling the book, or not selling the book

Would you buy a book on smoking?

Oh no you wouldn't! Oh yes we would!

Well it is pantomime season, after all.

This was the argument we had toward the end of the presentation of my book to my fellow students. I adamantly believe that the dirty subject matter of my book is too undesirable for someone to want to own. No one would by it (should it ever become available).

I base this opinion on two things: Smoking is perceived as being 'dirty', even by smokers, and photography books don't sell well at the best of times, so on the rare when someone does by one they will plump for a beautiful landscape or architectural book.

But my colleagues, and even my lecturers, disagreed.

The short debate which followed said I was being to dismissive of photography.

I do think sometimes these lovely people get a bit carried away with the ideology of photography. The conversation reminded me a group discussion I think I mentioned before where a few students got a bit ideological over what a glossy travel magazine should publish (though-provoking abstract images over chocolate box landscapes).

If a magazine has made it success on stunning landscape images, it is not going to use abstract travel snaps instead, however well-intentioned they are. What is superior and what is wanted by a commissioning editor are two different things. And I think the same argument applies to people buying books. You have to give them what they want, not what you want to give them.

There are dozens of amazing documentary photographers out there producing great, award-winning work. The problem is, a lot of these photographic essays are winning awards despite never having been published. There just isn't a market for them in the press or as books.

Every documentary photographer I have ever spoken to or interviewed has to carry out commercial work to earn a living, with their documentary passion nothing more than the unpaid bit extra.

I'm a big believer in thought-provoking photography, I just don't think it sells.

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