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 far...read 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?