Thursday, September 25, 2008

Errata Editions On-Press: Day Four

8:26 pm. I think I've been lucky to get two fine pressmen as my day and night shift operators. They speak almost no English so I always have a liaison with me to make my changes known. I don't even know their names but they are young, perhaps between 23 and 28. In fact, much of the workforce here seems to be around 20-30 years old and a very large percentage are women. Most live on-site in the worker's dormitories across the courtyard from where I am staying. Everyday at 11:30 am a wave of people walk to the commissary for lunch. That's the usual signal that I can have at least an hour of sleep uninterrupted.

3:20 am. More of the same for the last 5 hours. 4 checks and then my pressmen went to "lunch" at 1:30 am. Got a couple hours rest only to be awoken by the "Batphone" calling me to the pressroom for a check. Jumped out of bed, grabbed my bag with the original Evans book and dashed out the door only to discover that...I left my bloody room keys on the bed. Locked out at 3:00 am.

Attached was also the pass key to get into the printing facility. I managed to jump the turnstyle at the entrance and when I get to the pressroom, staring back at me were the first sheets of Chris Killip's book and not the expected last of the Evans sheets. Luckily they looked really good so without having the book near by as a guide (and after reciting a small prayer) I made a couple corrections (asked for a bit more black to get a better contrast: 1.7 to 1.90 - the opposite of what we did for the four color Atget book where we dropped the black down to 1.7) and signed off on the first sheet.

Gavin, my assistant for the night, walked back to the guest house with me and woke the caretaker from her deep sleep. Scowling she opened my door with the master key and shuffled off to bed with my repeated apologies trailing after her. I should give her something as a present but I see all I have is dry fiber biscuits that taste a bit like cardboard with a chewy manilla envelope filling. They would keep her regular at least.

So I see I am past the halfway point. Two books down. Two to go. First sheets of the third are looking very good. Time to celebrate with some tea and a pack of EDO™ Almond Crackers.

Now that I am well into printing In Flagrante I should tell you that Chris was the first to agree to do his book in the series. As I mentioned before I had made a mock-up of In Flagrante and Ed Grazda, who has known Chris for many years, took it up to Harvard to show him. I was dead scared of a straight rejection as he was the first we asked. I was out photographing around Brooklyn with a Fuji 6x9 when Ed called to say that Chris loved the project and said we could do it.

That quick acceptance set the project into motion with me brimming with confidence. If he had said no I wonder if this would have come about otherwise. So...thanks to Chris. He was the starting gun.

4:23 am. Another check and I have discovered something very informative. I've noticed a huge difference in the sharpness and clarity of the sheets coming off the press in relation to the last round of proofs we had done months ago. I don't know if it is a matter of the proofs coming from a Flatbed Proofing Press which I believe the sheets are actually set by hand for each pass through the press, or whether it is just a poorer quality machine/plate but one concern I have always had was the reduction of images and the loss of clarity and detail. The proof look good at normal to close up reading distance but when you put a loupe to the paper you see a drastic reduction of clarity. Some of the images seemed almost slightly pixelated and not just a dot pattern. BUT...the sheets coming off the actual press now are so tack sharp and clear that they make the proofs look more like impressionist paintings under the loupe. So lesson learned, be careful of how your proofs are made and how it might be vastly different when you actually print the book.

10:49 am. Alice is back as my liaison. She stayed up all night with me while I was printing the Atget book. Last night my liaison was Iris who is nice and has a great sense of color balance. Tonight was Gavin, a young man who is all smiles and pleasantries. I like Alice the best but she is a bit hard to communicate with because of my poor Chinese. That can be problematic when wanting her to act as the go-between for me and the pressman. I have learned to just read the densitometer and suggest corrected numbers by writing them in the margins of the proofs. No mistaking what I want then.

11:25 am. I am just waiting for a check. By my count there will be two more before the Killip book is done and we can proceed to Sophie Ristelhueber's book FAIT! The workers are now all going to lunch so I guess I will have to wait longer.

3:55 pm. Just now I have seen the first sheet from Fait and it looks really good. This is the book I was nervous about calling decisions on but the pressman had gotten us well into the ballpark before we were even at the workstation. Subtle corrections and the first sheet was signed. Shirley Chan one of the plant managers is by my side to help explain my corrections. Her English is fluent so I feel in good hands. The pressmen though are not my usual guys and I'm not sure I am going to click with these dudes. They didn't seem to like that I had corrections to their first sheets. I also had one of them grab the Fait book from my hands and start sweeping the pages bending a couple before I grabbed it back. Not a good way to make an impression on me.

We started late because of some press trouble. The press was in need of slight adjustments so I was taken to an extended lunch with several people from C+C. We ate about 7 different kinds of mushroom, "Chinese pizza," cooked cucumber and little potato cakes that are stuffed with corn (and pork). I ate well but my stomach had its mind on the first Fait sheets and returning to start. I was told that we are not going round the clock tonight but stopping at 10 pm so this will be a full nights sleep for me. I may even get through a few more pages of Cormac McCarthy's The Road which, on the plane, I blew through 112 pages in about ten minutes. Great book so it.

4:58 pm. Another check and successful sheet. Pressman are going to dinner so next will be in 2.5 hours. For three days I didn't have but a few moments to myself and now I have all the time in the world. The freedom feels - well - unnatural. Am I being indoctrinated and I don't even know it?

More tomorrow since I guess the day isn't going to be a whole lot longer.

Project background continued from Day 3:

The Final Stages

After the final design and all the content is in place the printer will send you "blues" or "bluelines." This is basically the entire book printed out on cheap paper and in poor quality so that any last minute changes or typos can be found, or any mistakes with design corrected. It is a sobering experience to receive a set of blues and discover several typos that slipped by many sets of eyes and many hours of proof-reading but that's what they are for.

After marking up the bluelines, they are sent back to the printer often with new layout files so they can be aware of the corrections you've made and make sure they've been addressed. From that point on it is time to pack and make sure your travel documents are in order.

The Economics (Do not read if you are easily discouraged)

One aspect of making a book I think is important to understand is the economics of putting a book out into the world and what you can expect as far as a financial return. I don't think I would be revealing any trade secrets by giving a basic financial breakdown of an average publishing project. Ready? Watch my hands as I make a lot of money disappear.

Lets say for the sake of easy round numbers you have produced a book that you are going to retail for $60.00. This means your actual book costs (production, design, printing costs etc) are around $12.00 per unit/book. A 5-time mark up from those costs is the usual guide for determining retail price.

So your $60.00 book exists and you want people to see it. Retail stores buy at a trade/wholesale discount which is on average 50% off cover price. So your $60.00 book is now worth $30.00.

If you use a distributor, the average distribution fee is around 30-35% of that 50% wholesale cost. So now your book after the distribution fee is actually worth $20.00.

Now from that remaining $20.00 you subtract your unit price (which we mentioned was $12.00) - so that leaves you with $8.00 clear profit per book.

Say you printed 1000 copies, that makes the potential profit $8000 dollars. Ca-ching!

$8000 dollars sounds great...I'll take it! Who wouldn't like a nice lump sum of 8 grand? I'll take that right to the bank thank you very much! But uh...remember that your book probably isn't going to sell out immediately. Could be that it never will or it may take upwards of 3-5 years. So your actually looking at $8000 dollars profit spread out over a very long time.

Hmmm...Is this why book publishing is notoriously difficult to turn a profit? Is this why over 90% of books will lose money for the publisher? Is this why established publishers will compare your book to one already published of similar subject and then run the numbers to see the sales potential instead of looking at your work in its own right? Is this why if you show a publisher work and they are interested they want you to pay for the production? Is this why Stephen Gill has created a truly great and impressive niche market for his work?

This is why young photographers like Gill and others are being creative by offering limited editions with prints or distributing it themselves through websites and blogs. Chances are unless your book sells out and goes into additional printings (where your unit production costs now drop significantly) your normal edition will barely pay for itself if it ever does. Remember 90% don't.

But to hell with turning a profit. You have a book! You have a perfect vehicle in which to put a body of work out into the world. It slips out of your grasp and becomes a part of the lives of others and it will live longer than you. What more could you want?


Anonymous said...

Just wondering, re costs, who did the design, production, typesetting, authors corrections, checking images for correct dot/screen size, curves, levels, and all the other production details?

Anonymous said...


Before they get thrown away, have the pressmen put aside the make ready sheets. Have them bound into a small limited set of books called the abbreviated history of photography by Jeff Ladd. Sell the 50 or so books as a signed limited edition of one of a kind books, to weird book collectors, like Martin and I. A little extra money for your troubles.

Great set of posts on production, that make me miss the lunches of " Duck Lips" at C&C.

Our interview is up on Photo-Eye as of today by the way.



Anonymous said...

That's why most of China & Taiwan Photographers are mading their books through Government Publishing. Printed a photo book is very easy thing, but sell a photo book is very difficult.

When you leaved China, perhaps you
have to buy two photo books back to USA.

Endorse a book - homeland photo book from Mr. Li Qiang

Another book is Mr Lu Nan / Magnum Photographer - Four Seasons/Tibet'S peoples.

Both of China photo books were printed on 2008. Worthy to buy it back to your country if you can buying it on local book store.

Good Lucky!

Anonymous said...


I wanted to suggest a special edition of your Chinese adventures but Mr Gossage has the same idea.

In order to have maximum profit you should of course recieve some award. Preferably a few weeks prior to the ParisPhoto or the Rencontres d'Arles-festivals. Ask one of the dealers present at those fairs to sell your book (for a very small percentage af course). And double the price!

It might also help to use an obscure Dutch bookdesigner working in the Dusseldorf-school style.

A few months after the ParisPhoto-fair your book will sell out, but hey you find a box with some more copies you'd totally forgotten. Triple the price!

I'm of course joking but it might work. I've read an interview with a Dutch photographer who still has a box of copies of his very rare soldout-book (It's in Parr/Badger). Each year at ParisPhoto he gives 1 or 2 copies to a bookdealer present at that fair. They are always sold at ca. 500 euro each.

Matt Weber said...


This brings back memories from the
two days I spent at Meridian in '04

Despite my current money problems,
please put aside a complete set of the
LTD Ed. for me...I'm good for it...



Anonymous said...

Jeff (& John G.),
I just finished reading the new piece in Photo-Eye magazine and it was wonderful. Thanks to you both for your keen insight and eloquent remarks. Jeff, being in John's library must have been like making a pilgrimage to Photobook Mecca.

Jeff have been able to sneak out of your "dorm" room to make some photographs? The area you are in looks to be interesting. I hope things continue to go well with the last stages of your printing odyssey and thanks as well for the play-by-play diary of how things are going. It has been great reading each morning whilst I toil away in provincial obscurity at my day job.

Take care,

Unknown said...

Really enjoying these behind-the-scenes updates, Jeff. Keep 'em coming.

Anonymous said...

Great job Jeff. I'm really enjoying reading your blow-by-blow account of this project. I agree with J. Gossage, making books from the sheets that have been printed over and over. That would make a wonderful object. A friend of mine was on press for a kids book he wrote and illustrated, he took those sheets home with him, signed them and gave them to people.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

I'm loving your posts on press! And your photos in the plant are terrific! I also enjoyed your interview with John about books (John, I've got to visit you man).

I'm really plugged into your posts Jeff... I was on press last year in Dongguan and it was an amazing experience, and every single detail was interesting. I'm not sure if it was the jet lag, smell of the inks, or bean curd, pork and moon pie lunches... but I was in a state of mind I imagine you may be in. Hopefully, you'll be able to get a few good nights sleep splayed out (ref. Cormac M.) in the super nice hotel. Travel safely and keep the posts coming!


Anonymous said...

As everybody else here, I'm really enjoying your chinese diary. It's a real treat every morning. Thanks Jeff.

I also enjoyed your interview to John Gossage, especially his (wickedly funny) last line.

a mind with no ceiling said...

Thanks for taking the time to write those daily reports which are really interesting. As for the photo-eye chat, it had me burn my meal while hooked on the screen...