Wednesday, April 15, 2009

5B4 Photography and Books Year II

I hope you've all paid your taxes because 5B4 just got slated to receive a huge bailout as a second anniversary gift. Today marks two years of 5B4 and the very first post on April 15, 2007 was a short editorial on the Parr/Badger effect on photobook pricing. Since I recently let loose a few shots across the bow of book dealers I thought it would be interesting to open a discussion and let you know my thoughts about the photobook scene, good and bad. Please contribute your own thoughts in the comments section.

I have nothing against people making a living selling books. Someone has to do it and I have many friends who are sellers or dealers in one capacity or another. Some are high-end dealers and others penny-ante sellers supplementing their incomes. The problem I have is that commerce has become so wrapped up with photography books that it has clouded people's own opinions and aesthetic judgments about what they like about the books themselves. Some don't buy books because they want them for the content but for the book value alone. In some extreme cases, the content isn't even considered, it is just pure greed as the motivator.

The way many photobooks are being marketed is the perfect capitalist wet dream. Small quantities mixed with the hype that if you miss out in the very beginning, that same book will be very expensive in just a matter of months. This increases pressure to act quickly with clouded judgment and the wrong reasoning.

I had a funny moment with a friend who approached me in a store carrying a book that I would never have thought he'd be interested in. I skeptically asked him if he liked the work and he replied, "I feel like if I don't get it now then I'll never have the chance to really know whether I like it or not." That pretty much sums it up right there.

The other concern is inflated pricing of older books. For years photobooks were pretty cheap - even the rare ones. When I moved to NYC in 1987 I remember seeing a shoebox full of multiple copies of Ed Ruscha's books in the Strand bookstore's rare bookroom and they were around 50-60 dollars each - a price I considered absurd then. William Klein's Life is Good & Good for You in New York was commonly seen for 200 dollars. Prices held with only modest increase until the Roth 101 and Parr/Badger books smashed the ceiling ten fold. There is a cause and effect that has had considerable consequences.

Absurdly inflated pricing removes many copies completely out of circulation so that no one sees them. Books are made by artists with the intention of them being seen by somebody. I don't think talent springs up out of nowhere. It comes with the accumulation of knowledge and most great artists have learned from example somewhere along the line. Just like how new writers learn from older writers, artists look at other artists for the same reasons.

The funny thing is that there seem to be only about 200 people world-wide that are buying books at those absurd prices. The rest are dealers who keep circulating the same titles amongst themselves through trades and consignments until they find the right book for the right client within that 200 world-wide pool. Almost like a Ponzi scheme of over-priced goods, if the circulation amongst the dealers were to stop, the bottom would drop out because at some point all would realize that the prices have been artificially inflated for those couple clients for whom money is no object.

The claim that there is large demand for these books and that is what justifies these prices I think is false. I think much of the "value" is based upon the fact that these books are being noticed and acknowledged AFTER it had become almost impossible to see them. If you can't see something and are told how great it is constantly, then you're going to believe it is worth whatever price someone dictates.

Surely some books deserve the large price tags because of extreme rarity but it is across the board now and this is something I feel is detrimental to the printed history of the medium. One person puts a listing on Ebay or on ABE at a high price and every other internet dealer uses that as a guide. My friend recently saw something to this effect in reverse over a book was listed many times at $500 (all of which sat unsold for years) and someone recently listed a copy at $200 in the same condition. Within a matter of a few weeks many of the other sellers dropped their price to $180.00 or lower. There is no authority with the internet. The same as "no one knows you're not a dog" on the internet, they also don't know that you are just greedy.

Speaking of the greedy and opportunistic, I was at a recent booksigning with William Klein at the Howard Greenberg Gallery and in front of me were three known NY book sellers and they were discussing recent finds and "flipping" values about signatures etc. They were discussing this while standing five feet from the artist. Their obvious concern was value and that is entirely disrespectful and disingenuous for them to approach that artist to sign books. They couldn't have cared who was in the seat signing, just about flipping values. They want something for free from the artist that they will turn around and charge a premium for. Well I think if that is your only reason to be there then drop a twenty dollar bill on the table you greedy scumbag. It's like that New Yorker cartoon that had a man approaching a writer at a booksigning and asking him "Could you inscribe this one to Highest Bidder." Of course, those sellers were insisting that Klein just sign the books without inscription at all.

I go to booksignings and have my books inscribed to me. That is the tradition of booksignings - personalization of the book to the owner. Booksignings used to be a chance to meet an artist or writer, chat for a second or two, get a book signed because you appreciate the work. Artists should start charging money for their signatures like baseball players sometimes do at trade shows. New title $5, older rare title $50 per book. Plunk down some cash and share in your profit.

Two of the most embarrassing displays of booksigning insanity have happened at Robert Frank event
s. At the public library a couple years ago, physical altercations broke out. At a recent Steidl event at Walter Reade theater Robert was visibly uncomfortable when a crowd descended upon him with open books. One dealer who had lent his book as an example during the actual discussion opportunistically approached Robert to sign his book while on stage. That copy appeared for sale online within a couple days along with "ephemera" from the event. Had the guy had identified himself as a bookseller and asked Robert if he'd sign the book so the he could make an extra 500 dollars do you think Robert would have signed the book? Josef Koudelka had an event at Aperture last year and expressed his disappointment afterwards in finding many copies posted the next day on Ebay. He told me he'd never do that again.

If you look at the consequences
you may realize that over 90% of the recognized landmark photobooks are now out of the hands of people who may be interested in exploring the content. These books, which are visual artistic statements, in most cases have been turned into words. Now in order to learn about an older book of photographs, you read about it in short 500 word essays without seeing any of the content. What is detrimental is that each of these objects will have a multitude of reactions from different sets of eyes. The sad fact is that we no longer have the ability to see for ourselves what these works mean to each individually. There are now a couple of voices that "explain" the work to you as if we all saw through the same collective peephole.

The history of photography has always been written by a few, but what I ask is, how is it possible to open the dialogue further and make this a much richer discussion. A discussion which includes a multitude of voices and opinions that ebb and flow and lead to a deeper understanding of these objects and ultimately their intended purpose - a better understanding of the world we live in.

Your thoughts...


Anonymous said...

Brilliant commentary, one that hopefully will be picked up by every photo blog out there. Unfortunately, this is pretty standard practice in every collectible field, from baseball cards to fine art. We live in a capitalist country and there is a market for goods. And when that market is unregulated, dealers and collectors do whatever they can to make money. And in bad economic times, it becomes even more intense. And just as Roth & Parr/Badger ignited the market, your blog has also become a key instigator of collecting frenzy. I'm sure every photo book dealer reads your blog first thing every morning to discover something new and buy out inventory before anyone else (ie Top Choice Books LCC & Modern Rare). Yes, it's pathetic, but it will never change. Never. The market will dictate what people pay. If you don't want to be encumbered by the thought of books as a commodity, I'm afraid you'll just have to try and ignore it and focus on the artistry.

Matt Weber said...

Jeff, When "famous" photographers sign their books, it does get totally out of control. Watching people desperately shove each other out of the way to get to Frank or Klein is nauseating. Your books are a good alternative to these sacrasanct original editions. I can think of a few titles I hope you publish. If you want to see how bad it's gotten, just look at what a copy of "101 photo books" costs these days! I'm finished with expensive books. I'll spend my money on film, while it's still affordable.

Anonymous said...


You sound very much like Nancy Kerrigan when she got whacked on the knee by Tonya Harding "Why? Why?" Did you used to skate?

Jimmy said...

Regarding the dialogue, I think this blog is very good at promoting that.

Also, about foul play with high prices, I think the Internet will help to ease that burden. Information is easily indexable and searchable these days. When everything can be compared, and all aspects known, maybe prices will normalize. Maybe.

Sven said...

Long before Parr and Roth came along dealers were trading in photobooks. They played an important curatorial role. It's their `greed' which kept many wonderful books from the jaws of obscurity. Yes there are speculators, but most dealers buy what they believe in, often because they like it against the trend, in the expectation that they will sell fairly quickly. The idea that dealers can simply afford to buy any underpriced material and sit on it until the right punter comes along is incorrect.

Raphael Aizan Sasayama said...

i suggest sharing. gather a bunch of people interested in a book, everybody throws in some money, buy a copy, then share it with each other.

that, or piracy!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine working in a bookstore once told me Martin Parr could buy several copies of the same book. She never checked if these were books that later appeared in the Parr-Badger...

Hermann Lohss said...

First of all : Thanks a lot for two years of sharing your thoughts, fascination and knowledge about photobooks on this website. I come back again and again and i enjoy every visit a lot! Although i have to admit i also do this for professional reasons, since i am not only collecting photobooks for myself but also do some dealing. There is a lot of truth in what you describe and i am surely not free of having quite some thoughts not only about artistic value but also about the money involved. Sometimes it's the only way for me to get one of those now more expensive books. Because i actually would have financial problems to keep them all in my own collection, not selling some after enjoying to be able to look at them for a while.

On the other hand apart from all this fuss about certain titles (some of it quite justifiable), it still is easy to enjoy what is out there in the flea markets, garage sales, online- and real-life-bookstores, galleries, museums, websites and wherever. You can make your own discoveries, not necessarily connected with big names or inflated price tags. It's a really colorful world (although often in black and white), that sometimes even comes for free. And for me it's this amazing and beautiful world that makes me being interested in photography after all. Not so much the well published guidelines that tell you what has to be part of your collection.

a mind with no ceiling said...

First things first: happy anniversary! Your blog is a delight for the aficionados, I've discovered quite a few works thanks to you and that's surely the most important thing.
This particular post is great and necessary. I struggle with the same thoughts every day, when I think of the few expensive titles I'd really like to have! I just saw a copy of Waffenruhe here in Berlin yesterday—480€ without signature, 580 with... At least I was able to browse through it, but as an artist I have to try and memorize what I like about it, which is quite absurd, especially since good work requires multiple viewings, as you grow in your own practice your look on these works evolves and all that process is interesting in itself.
Your anecdote with your friend sounds familiar—sometimes you don't even get to see the real book, just some visuals on internet and the hype is already rising the price so you feel you have to make up your mind quickly... I got a title that way recently and was quite disappointed when I received it.
Until (and beyond!) the point that dealers just cool out on those prices I sincerely hope you keep up your insightful writing and publishing activities regardless of other sharks in the business. They matter less than the photographers making great books.

a mind with no ceiling said...

One more thing: as for the sharing, maybe an idea would be to start off a blog where everyone interested would contribute with a pdf of a "rare" book they own, free to download in low resolution? Although I don't know if it is manageable in terms of copyrights.

mmdesign said...

"Small quantities mixed with the hype that if you miss out in the very beginning, that same book will be very expensive in just a matter of months."

Sounds like the fine art print market. Limited quantities meant only to drive up the price.

Jeff Ladd said...

A Mind,

Judging from my experience navigating copyright issues while publishing my series it would be a copyright infringement. In talking with artists I am finding many who have problems with their work being online period let alone reproducing full works.

Through the New York Public Library there is a handful of very old Russian books that they have made PDF's of and put online. I find them very unsatisfying though. (I tried to find a link but can't seem to...anyone out there with the link to the Russian Avant Garde book PDF's in the NYPL digital library?)

Then again, I am tired of everything being mediated through a fucking computer.

Chris said...

I've been using my local University library to get ahold of photo books to look at. It's revealed another disturbing trend to me; people razoring out pages of these books.

About every third book I check out has pages stolen from it.

My hope is that more photographers will start using print on demand services that will keep their works in print for a longer amount of time.

eyecurious said...

Very interesting post about the state of the photo-book market. I find that there is a particularly feverish insanity gripping the Japanese photo-book market (worth a whole separate post in itself). The problem that I have is people sometimes don't know (or care) what they are buying beyond the value that it can eventually fetch at auction. I recently was shown a collection of Japanese photo-books, including many of the most collectible from the 1960s and 1970s (some in duplicate) and many other great, but lesser-known publications. The thing that disturbed me was that the owner did not know who many of these books were by and clearly spent very little (if any) time with them. They were being treated more like wines to be aged, but not because they will improve in taste, simply because their prices will go up.

Unknown said...

This weekend i have seen for the first time some of the books made famous by the Parr book. I think that all of those books should be reprinted and sold at regular prices (like Taschen does) for all photographer to see them and buy the also. First editions have a place in the market, but i disregard "vintage" stuff, i just want to see and study all that photographic genius from the past.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post. A few people here have already touched on one antidote to the problem: a well-funded, networked library system. For those who want to *see* these books as opposed to those who want to trophy-hunt, putting pressure on library institutions to purchase these books while they're still affordable seems the only way to maintain free and fair access (looking at photobooks online is like wearing a raincoat in the shower). Getting to know my local librarian in charge of purchasing (no, I don't live in NYC) and taking advantage of interlibrary loan was the best book investment I ever made. Though doing so required me to shed preoccupations with "owning" and "having".

Jeff Ladd said...


Unfortunately reprinting isn't an option for a large portion of books that should be seen either because of reluctance on the part of the artists to reprint them or because of the impossibility of reacquiring the source material to make the new version.

These are exactly the kind of hurdles I have been faced with in my own book series with Errata.

There are some great libraries out there. In NYC there is the ICP, in Paris there is the basement library of the Maison European de la Photographie.

Anonymous said...

If the ICP in NY, the Getty in LA, and Photographer's Gallery in the UK, would all start libraries with non-profit/charitable giving, then many collectors might donate some of their prized expensive books if they could write off the primary market (inflated) value from their taxes. I know I would.

rr said...

Congratulations Jeff. After two years of inspired writing, this last post arrives at a crucial time.

I just want to say that Mr. Parr must be a very greedy man indeed. Why would I want more than one copy of a book? Because I'm a book dealer, right? Fair enough. But how many hundreds more?! ...and of a fucking reprint?!

Who wants a PARR IS EVIL t-shirt?

Mr Whiskets said...


I do think that's a bit unfair. I have done what Parr has although on a much smaller scale. I have bought an extra copy of a book to trade later for something I can't afford. Parr as I understand it does that too. It is just that he is trying to acquire books of such large price-tags that he has to be creative in finding ways to acquire them. He's actually in great position being an accomplished artists to offer some of his own limited edition books or prints in exchange for books that are now costly.

I wouldn't buy a Parr Evil shirt but I would buy one that said: Look at what you have and intellectually benefit from it because there are whole generations that will never be so lucky.

Anonymous said...

Parr & Badger very cleverly (in a Saatchi-esque) kind of way, bought multiple copies of photo books and then published the seminal book listing collectible photo books, probably in the hopes of driving up their prices (while, of course, being scholarly at the same time). I applaud them for the effort and perfect timing. Jeff, you also, if you so desired, have the ability to acquire multiple copies of a low print-run new title and then write a glowing review of it. Blogger/collector/dealers do it all the time. You're more noble than that, but it must be rather tempting I would imagine.

Unknown said...

Perhaps you all are giving the Photobook duo a hard time, they at least wrote a fantastic book on the subject, i learned about many books like that. We need to gain access to PDF copies of the book, like the British library has done with is manuscripts.

Unknown said...

You could say this about anything, and it's kind of how I feel about vintage mustangs etc. Less and less on the road as the value escalate.

But why stop where you stop? Why not blame book publishers too? The price of photo books has gone almost exponential (yes I know costs are higher etc. but still) and publishers aren't shy about reissuing, reissuing and issuing enormously priced special editions. Certainly profit is a motivational factor for them.

And while it's easy to rile up emotion and agree with your sentiment while reading your post. It's definitely on a very cynical angle and pointing out extremes.

There will always be greed and always has been, the majority of books from signings don't end up on ebay the next day and the ones that do will hopefully find a happy home. People who ask exorbitant sums are quite annoying but it's also nice to see some of these objects being given special treatment and it definitely takes effort.

Further, it's not difficult to find or see work by almost any artist online or in museums even if you can't afford some rare first edition. Maybe it is or isn't the same reaction you'd get from the rare book? Maybe times are changing? Maybe you're putting too much weight on the book objects instead of the work itself?

Paul Russell said...

When I see piles and piles of signed books sitting in the bookshop, I like to think that one day it will be the rare unsigned ones that will be more sought after...

Stuart Alexander said...

To b,

In the best cases, the book object is integral to the work itself.

Vincent Borrelli said...

Jeff, first congratulations on 2 years of well-written blogs!

I'm glad you decided to dedicate a post to your concerns about the photo book market. After your last post, I had hoped you would, as I find the occasional jabs you take at "dealers" distracting in many otherwise intelligent posts.

As I read through the issues you raise, weed out the provocative language ("Ponzi scheme" etc.) and distill what's really at issue, I come up with just a few thoughts to respond to (mostly from Economics 101).

First a little background, for what it's worth.

As you well know, interest in contemporary photography has grown exponentially in the past 10-15 years. And, more than any medium, photography has always had a very close affinity to books. Many photographers learned the history of medium, its technique and craft, developed their ideas and style, were inspired by, and came to understand what part of the artistic dialogue they were engaged with... through books.

Up to the 1970s and into the 1980s (when photography-based postmodernist work became more mainstream), photography had been, for the most part, a "small player" in the larger contemporary art world.

Then everything changed. The Reagan Era brought big money into an art world seeking the next big collectible niche. Photography boomed, went bust for a while in the 1990s, then boomed again and it was a loud boom. Naturally, as the medium was so closely tied to the books upon which its history had been largely defined, books began to boom. Roth, and others before and after him, saw this catalyst and seized the opportunity.

As in any boom, bad stuff comes with good, greed and genuine interest increased and coexisted. The art market, of course, catered to the exponential increase in interest by serving up more "product." Whether or not this period has been "good" for the development of the medium is yet to be determined. I expect the good will outweigh the bad and the best work (perhaps rescued from the past because of a strong market) will rise to the top over time and continue to have a life.

Fast forward to your post.

The book business is a little more involved than what may be implied by anecdotal stories about opportunistic and disrespectful individuals misbehaving at signing events (by the way, the people who host such events have some responsibility in taking care of their artists).

When I started my book business about 10 years ago (after 20 years of making art), I remember a colleague telling me "the only people who would start a book business either had a trust fund or were crazy." I fell into the latter group, and am grateful to the many banks and credit card companies who were so kind and generous to me then, and still are. [Insert ;-) ] for anyone who may not have seen any economic news over past 12 months.

The fact is, this business (like any other) comes down to simple economics, supply and demand.

For most books, when prices rise, copies come on the market, and prices drop. For truly rare and collectible books, competition to find and acquire them is fierce. Sellers have many avenues to part with their desirable rarities, from auction houses, to selling directly themselves. Book dealers have no secret weapon in terms of actually getting high-quality rare books. We compete with everyone else, including collectors themselves.

Barriers to entry: There are virtually none for this business. If you would like to get into the book business, technology has made it easier than ever to hang out a shingle. It takes just a few minutes to list your books on Amazon or any other large online marketplace. With the economies of scale of the web, the price of admission is close to zero.

As for the scarcity of books (real or imagined), publishing is also a business! If publishers think they can sell more copies of a title, they will print more. Of course, these are tough times for publishers too, and many are cutting back their future offerings for financial reasons.

As for the economics (and copyright issues) of reprinting books, you only need to look at the number of titles on the "lists" that have been reissued in recent years, either as facsimile or revised editions, to know that many (I have not counted) have become available again to the wider audience in their current incarnation (thanks to the recent boom).

As for promotion and "making a market" for the purpose of creating and profiting from scarcity, there's nothing new here that the art market has not perfected for decades.

Lastly, can you email me the list of 200 collectors?

Jan V said...

Even if prices of rare, antiquarian photobooks would drop drastically there aren't enough copies around of William Klein's 'New York' or Johan van der Keuken's 'Paris Mortel' to please everybody. So what to do instead: visit the library of one of the many photomuseums or general art museums. All the people I kow that are interested in photobooks live in or near a very large city, anyway close enough to visit one of those libraries on a day trip (I've never heard of a photobook amateur living on a remote Scottish island or herding cows in the Swiss Alps).

Alternatively you can visit one of the many photofairs or festivals in Paris, New York, Miami, Arles... Put on your best suit, act professionaly and leaf through the all the very rare photobooks you like. Make a holiday out of it, meet other enthousiasts!

I must admit I sometimes by a book to sell it again. That's really the way I finance my library. And I don't think there's something wrong with that. The people that buy those books are always very happy. But the books I like and buy are always recent publications. And once a year I still have that lucky find...

But what is bit lacking in the photobook 'market' are 'neutral observers', i.e. people writing about photobooks without a commercial background (there is of course 5B4). I am a regular buyer of FOAM, a Dutch photo magazine with great portfolios and very well printed. They have a 4-page book section but the reviews are written by someone working for a well known German photobook shop. And I don't think that's very correct.

Unknown said...

But while overall I think your post is a bit too cynical I also can't quite figure out why something like a $30 Hedi Slimane book from two years ago is worth $1000 to $2000 while some absolutely classic vintage photobooks are worth about the same. Not a swipe at Slimane, nice books but 'some' people have tried pushing things too far.

Funny how dealers are really trying to push the newest Slimane book too as going to be worth the same. But it's never the books that everyone expects to be a big hit, to truly still hold that weight down the road. It's often these cheap $30 books that everyone missed.

Back in the 90s I got into comic collecting, partially fueled by seeing how pricey the vintage books were. The dealers were really pushing them and escalating prices quickly. Years later I realized my comic book collection, except for a prized few I couldn't sell for 99 cents. All the books that were pushed as being hot went nowhere. The marketplace changed and everyone kept them in perfect shape afraid to mar them. Mint copies plentiful. Unlike the truly collectible vintage ones — where few survived pristine because people actually enjoyed them and nobody hoarded them thinking they'd be priceless.

I wonder if there will be a parallel with photobooks now. We certainly have to be seeing a record number of them this decade. There will be aglut of them eventually if not already.

QT Luong said...

In one of the Parr Badger entries, there is this mention that a collector will acquire two copies, one to read, and one to remain un-opened.

That's the problem with anything that becomes collectible: it is not used.

On the other hand, there is an upside, and it is that it would have been more difficult for me justifying a four-figure monthly book bill to my wife (or even to myself) if I couldn't tell her that those are "investments" :-)

Anonymous said...

So true about not knowing what will be the most valuable. The rarest, most expensive books in my collection were not the ones I ever expected, and thus I only bought one copy. The ones I bought two (or more) of have gone nowhere and are in plentiful abundance. (B, I did the same with comic books in the '90s...remember Spawn?). So all these upcoming photo books that some of these Amazon dealers are pumping (Slimane, McGinley, etc), will likely go nowhere, while something else will slip under the radar and be ignored, only to be discovered later on. You really have to buy EVERYTHING if you want the prestige of getting that one rarity...and that will set you back four-figures a month.

df323photo said...

I've been collecting photobooks (and modern and contemporary art books) for over two decades. Overall, I think Roth and Parr/Badger (as well as other publications like The Open Book, M+M Auer, "From Fair to Fine", etc. and even 5b4) have had a tremendously positive impact on the world of photography and the sub-category of the photobook. Because of the interest they have sparked, the number and quality of new releases is simply unmatched now; moreso than at any other point in history. This is benefitting us all as the increase in demand is allowing publishers (with more cash in hand more quickly) to produce more titles (some of which might not otherwise have happened) and satisfy the tastes of a much broader audience. I see the pricing issue as an unintended consequence resulting from a huge surge in demand for a very limited supply. Personally, I think prices are at unsustainable levels (at least for recent releases, e.g., Alec Soth, Todd Hido -- not for vintage titles, e.g., Ed Ruscha, Larry Clark) and, just like the real estate and stock markets, the bubble will eventually burst and prices will return to more "normal" levels. In other words, it's just a matter of time before there's a market correction. [If you look at the auction market (e.g., Swann Galleries) versus prices on, you'll see that the "real" market is well below many bookseller's asking prices on] As for the "possession" issue -- rare books not being accessible to the public -- maybe an anology to art is in order. Some people with the financial means have Renoirs and Picassos (or works by Richard Prince and Damien Hirst) in their homes which no one but the owner (and those who visit the owner's residence) will ever get to see and appreciate. Museums fill the void for the rest of us. Unfortunately, there are very limited equivalents in the photobook world -- but maybe there will be more in the future. As for Martin Parr, I've met him and he's a super-nice guy. No one should bash him. To the extent that he has more than one copy of any title, many serious collectors have multiple copies -- a pristine copy that no one touches, and a second or third copy for viewing. If he has more than two, I'm pretty sure he's not hoarding them to make a quick buck.

Sebastian said...

Jan V, i work for schaden, i write the foam reviews, you can always mail me and tell me what exactly you think is incorrect. That is after comparing my lists with the books our bookshop offers. Do you sit at home and think i grow rich and richer? Do you think there´s a scheme to grow rich from you? Or do you read the texts and just enjoy the infos and comparisons i offer? I earn 600 Euros for the texts and get free review copies, i don´t need double copies, so don´t offer me any. Sebastian Hau

Vincent Borrelli said...

Jan V, I would be happy to forward our recent newsletter with reviews and [non-commercial] commentary. Just drop me an email. Vincent

Jan said...


I like reading your reviews but I'm always asking myself 'Is Schaden trying to push a book?'. But are you saying the books you review are not for sale at Schaden?

Sebastian said...

Dear Jan,
Jeff has raised a question about influences and deals and books. I'm not even sure how to understand the question. I feel there's a lot of strange and misleading information around (200 buyers worldwide?)(a circle of rare book dealers circulating a book to raise the price?), a lack of knowledge of the market and production conditions (not on Jeff's side of course), and quite some ugly feelings against dealers or Martin Parr for that matter. Feelings that look like envy or distrust to me. Why?
Any questions about how i work i'll be pleased to answer via the foam mail.

Jeff, congratulations and thank you for your work.

Doktor said...

the uneasyness of the artist about this is understandable. As well as the value of a signature of Klein, Frank or a Koudelka is (arguably among the greatest of living photographers) In a way being a legend comes with a prize no matter in what craft.

Your most valid argument I think is that these books cannot be seen by a large audience. And that is much more painful as I think photography is THE democratic medium.
Maybe photographers cant have it both ways though - being accepted in the art world usually always goes hand in hand with value, pricing and selling. I'm not sure if anybody want to go back to the times where photography still had to fight for its place.
Maybe there shoudl be projects where older books can be scanned and put on the web.

rr said...

Martin Parr is a great photographer and his long time enciclopedic and legendary interest for photography books is only matched by few. I don't envy that; as a matter of fact, it would be quite irrealistic of me to even think that I could one day acquire some of the books he owns.
It is thanks to people like him, that so many of us have the chance to see such books at museum exhibitions.
And the Parr / Badger books are very well conceived, no doubt about it.

I just think that there is a lot of promiscuity going on in this business right now. When some smart ass decides to reprint a Parr/Badger book in a limited edition and Mr. Parr pre-orders half of the print run to himself, excuse me Jeff but I don't think that is an honest way for Mr. Parr to acquire the rare books he doesn't own yet (and maybe he already does). What about those anonymous people who would love to buy the book and won't have much chance to?

I'm ok with people buying more than one copy: collecting is exactly that amongst other things, but there are limits. Besides, good art lasts. In the end, this will change and so many books that are now overpriced will one day have almost no value.

Buy only what you like.

Jeff Ladd said...


There are so many issues I don't know where to start but, of course I understand the basic economics of what is taking place. My critique is that for 15 of my twenty years looking at and buying books, this past five-7 years we have seen the inflation of book costs that far exceed reality. I still hold that the number of people shelling out $$ for those books is so few. I couldn't even give you 10 of the major players so I bet my guess (which by the way was a conversation I had with two book dealers a few weeks back in a cab) of 200 isn't far off the mark but true I have no real list to back it up. Sorry I'd love to pass it along.

I am not finger pointing to any one person but to the whole situation. But whatever the number is, those pockets are frequently what dictates the value of those few books. The effect is that, with the popularity of photobooks it gets extended to everything.

Is the first edition of Half Awake in the Water by Asako Narahashi really worth a starting price of $375.00 (check ABE)? You have to see what I mean. There are countless examples of this. How many of those are selling for that? There are hundreds of recent books that have skyrocketed like that.

My argument may have cynicism in its tone but I have a real concern here. If this was literature we are talking about lets erase Hemingway, Joyce, Orwell, Salinger, Beckett, Borges from in-print books. If you want to read any of those greats then go spend a few hundred or a thousand dollars on first editions. What would literature 100 years later look like if aspiring writers couldn't access their predecessors? That, to me, is the equivalent of what has happened for photography. Am I being alarmist? maybe.

I understand that books cannot always be around. I am expressing a concern for what later effects this will have on the richness this medium has produced. For newer generations these things are gone. Period. Someone may argue that that doesn't matter. Perhaps people don't really care or would be interested if there were books available for every library but the fact that it is gone for most is disturbing to me.

Jeff Ladd said...

To those whose cynicism extends to book reviewers there will always be a sense of conflict of interest. I get free books So people could easily say I am just a shill or fluffer for book publishers. It isn't the book that buys me, its the $200 dollar bill tucked inside that does the trick.

There are many who try to write original material and relay important thoughts like Sebastian Hau but you shouldn't take my word for that because I know him. So you surely can't trust me either.

Marcel said...

Congrats on 2 years Jeff.

I do believe that a day is coming, perhaps soon, when high quality PDF scans of entire photobooks (unedited cover to cover) will be readily available via search engines and torrent indexes. A peer to peer network of students and enthusiasts shut out of the big money game will likely put together a networked collection of big beautiful high-quality PDFs from library copies, then host them on off-shore and mirrored servers. And there won't be a damn thing anyone can do about it.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for the day I can download these rarities as high quality PDFs and for a few dollars in printer ink and paper, make my own reference copy for study.

Great work on this blog.

intellectual property lawyer #5095762 said...

Will the artists have any say in that? I had no idea so many people would be willing to trample on artist's copyrights.

awkward silence said...

So much is being said in this oh so trenchant blog. I have so many thoughts to think about the subject of photobook collecting. Please forgive me if what I say is inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Intellectual property lawyer,

The answer is probably not. The same forces that have reshaped the music industry and the newspaper business are moving through all aspects of the culture.

Vincent Borrelli said...


I see what you mean about good books potentially disappearing into collections, hidden from future generations. I would say the strong market of recent years has done more good than bad, however, in providing the financial incentive for publishers to take more chances and issue more books of work that would otherwise [without the boom] never see ink on paper.

The other point is that it is in the interest of publishers to reprint titles that sell out, as later printings are more profitable. The design is done, and the plates (the biggest expense) are already at the printer, ready for another press run. It's much less risky for a publisher to keep an initial print-run low, and then do a second printing/or "edition" if and when it sells out.

"Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water" is a good example. When Martin Parr chose this work for the second title in the “Parr/Nazraeli Edition of Ten," the extra demand (i.e., "Parr-effect") bumped the book into a second printing earlier than would normally be the case. I don't know what the right price should be for the first printing, but at least the book is in-print and available in its second printing at a nice discount (Strand, etc.).

Blake Andrews said...

Jeff, I think you'd hit on the major issue here which is the collecting frenzy leading to inaccessibility. When books become inaccessible the art suffers. Can you imagine the same situation in science, if certain scientific papers were allowed to go out of print and become available only to the wealthy? Or if important musical compositions were snatched up and out of reach by collectors? Innovation would suffer. The photography community is currently facing that exact scenario, with very little backlash until now.

Vincent Borelli says, "As for the scarcity of books (real or imagined), publishing is also a business! If publishers think they can sell more copies of a title, they will print more." I don't believe that's true. I think publishers very commonly print photos books in deliberately limited runs to keep the price inflated. If a first printing of any normal book sells out, publishers run a second printing, or third, etc. For photo books, the printing is deliberately kept at one run to help keep the value up.

If publishers want to print a limited first edition for collectors, fine. But please do us the service of printing as many other copies as the community needs.

The simplest solution to all of this is to do what several have alluded to above, make copies of books available in some form online. There are copyright issues, quality issues, royalty issues associated, all of which can be dealt with as has already started to happen with music and film. If book publishers are smart they will get ahead of the curve and make lo-res versions available before pirates do it for them. The important thing, the ONLY thing that should matter for photographers, is that we have open democratic access to important historical work.

All the rest of it is relatively unimportant. Who cares if someone wants to spend thousands building a precious collection? It's their money. But I think it's vital that accessibility be preserved. After all this is photography! This is the most accessible, democratic art medium on the planet. Why should its legacy be locked up behind closed doors?

Congrats on two great years.

BC said...

Jeff, congrats on your 2 year anniversary of 5b4. I've really enjoyed reading it and I know others have also.

I think the problem with photography books compared with other types of books (ie popular fiction) is that despite the growing interest in photography the book market is small and printing costs are high. Demand for a new book is difficult for any of us to predict so even some very good books (i.e. Tim Davis's - My life in politics) end up remaindered while others sell out quickly and skyrocket in price on the secondary market. Print-on-demand technology isn't quite there for quality photography reproduction, and it often doesn't make economic sense for a publisher to reprint something unless they can sell several thousand copies.

I think it is fortunate that several classics have been reprinted recently (Robert Adams, 'The New West', William Eggleston's Guide, Lyon's the Bikeriders,Bruce Davidson's East 100th st, etc.). Of course most of these reprints have now also gone out of print and increased in value. However I'm sure the publishers will release new editions again when there is enough pent up demand to support a fresh print run.

For those that can't afford the books in addition to libraries there is the option of viewing at least some of the photographs online at gallery, museum, or the photographers own website without having to deal with the copyright issues of reproducing the whole book.

Unknown said...

Jeff said: If this was literature ... lets erase Hemingway, Joyce, Orwell, Salinger, Beckett, Borges from in-print books. ... What would literature 100 years later look like if aspiring writers couldn't access their predecessors?

I may be missing it ...but the Arbus monograph, $20 pprbk. Frank's Americans, $20 steidl, I got an Amr. Prospects paperback used for ...$15, Tulsa can be had for $15, Koudelka books exist under retail, Davidson reprints exist, Lyons Bikeriders reprinted numerous times, Evidence reprinted, the Park reprinted, etc. all very affordable, I could go on.

Will future generations really be stunted? Is there an inalienable right of students and poor to be able to own some of the more obscure photobooks?

Not defending people charging 375 for Asako for example, the market will eventually find balance. But despite fear of sounding elitist, I find the overzealous reprinting by some publishers just as annoying as dealers charging unfair prices.

Dalumra said...

I don't understand why all photographers don't sign with the name of the book's owner like "To Joe" when they are at public events and reserve the signature alone for limited and expensive editions, that solve the problem ...

Jeff Ladd said...


You mention six books where there is a history of several hundred different voices expressing themselves. People you may never even have heard of. It is far richer than Arbus or Frank or the few that you mention. And if you "went on" you'd start having some trouble around 40 books. And no there is no inalienable right, it's called caring about history.

If its not your interest that's cool too.

And responding to your previous comment about me concentrating on the book object rather than the work...for me they are inseparable. The work IS the book. Shuffle pictures in The Americans like a deck of cards and you will not have that great book. It is an edit and sequencing, the layout, the captions that make a work of art.

As for the PDF it possible that we have a couple things in life that aren't mediated through a computer. Books are tangible objects which dictate their own terms of use. It is a physical act to read a book. One which I argue holds an entirely different perception from seeing an exhibition or the same images on the web. It is a relationship I respect and always will choose the physical object than one mediated through ones and zeros.

Lastly, People comparing photographers and their copyright with music...sorry, do photographers go on tour to make $$ like musicians do? That has been the model change, the ticket prices of concerts has risen greatly. If artists like myself are to give away all our images for free how am I earning a living? I guess I'll pick up a guitar and go on tour?

Jan said...


You wanted 'our - 2nd - toughts' so don't get to wind up if we give them. Reading your reviews - and those in FOAM and other periodicals - is one of my favourite things. And I love different insights.

Anyway, congratulations with the anniversary!

Stuart Alexander said...

First of all, congratulations on two years of hard work on the blog. Nearly 350 posts in two years is very impressive! I don't know how you can keep up that pace.

I enjoyed your rant. I agreed with much of what you wrote such as your disappointment that so many are blinded by the commercial value of a book that they completely overlook the esthetic value. I share your disgust with book signings. People have always been greedy, rude and boorish and I imagine they always will whether it is over signed photobooks or cabbage patch dolls.

But there is one thing about which I disagree. I have been looking at and buying books for about ten or fifteen years longer than you and I know there are readers out there who we have not heard from yet who have been in it even longer than that. Over all that time, I find the situation that you describe about great books disappearing, to be absolutely the opposite. I have found that there have been more opportunities to see, handle and learn about interesting, rare and obscure photobooks than ever before. It is true that prices have gone up and to often absurd levels but the books are not disappearing. And yes, it would be nice to be able to own a copy of every great book but that is not going to happen. It is not so terrible to have to lust after something you can't have but that must be shared with others. Think of so many wonderful paintings in public museums. There are more and more photobooks everywhere. I find it overwhelming. In the seventies, one felt that one could keep up with all the books that were being issued. Now, despite all the wonderful resources at hand, it is nearly impossible. I used to have to go to special collections or use interlibrary loan to get my hands on certain books and that will always be the case. The difference is that now there are many more books, both the older ones and the newer ones, available in those repositories saf-er from the jerks with razor blades that one previous commenter mentioned. I have seen too many examples of great photobooks in the open stacks destroyed by vandals to complain about having to go to special collections. Because of the increase in commercial value, more attention is paid to the books, more care is given them and more of them actually do circulate. Roth, Parr/Badger, the more the merrier. Commercial interests will always have both their negative and positive aspects but I think despite the uglier sides of it we are ultimately better off now than before the photobook "boom."

Anonymous said...

While everyone is quibbling over books, head out and take some photographs! Who has time for this..

Jan said...

I really agree with Stuart on photobooks being more easily 'available' then 20 years back. When I started buying photobooks (between 1980 & 1985) and somewhere until the late nineties, you could only wonder how some of the classic photobooks looked like. There were less photo museums & museum libraries, no Parr/Badger-style reference works, no themed exhibitions and booksellers issued badly-printed, very cheap looking catalogues.

Today I know of at least a few good museum libraries, there are exhibitions on photobooks worldwide (see the Parr collection at Jeu de Paume, Paris this summer!), there are re-editions, at photofairs and auctions where I can leaf through those books and contact with other photobook lovers worldwide is very easy (this blog). And some of those bookseller catalogues I recieve for free are really great!

But it's true, with those ridiculous prices I can't afford to buy the cclassics. That is the reason why I only buy recent publications.

Unknown said...

Jeff Lad, about the books on pfd, i too love books, but i care more for the images and to look at them. If pdf (or similar digital file) is the way to be able to see more of these lovely and priceless images, then let's see them that way.

Stuart Alexander said...

On the subject of pdf versions of books, Google has already started. I just did a quick search on Google Books for 'American Photographs' and discovered that title is available only in 'snippet' views, but there is another book reproduced in its entirety titled 'Our American Wonderlands' with dozens of photographs by George Wharton James and published in 1915. I can leaf through or even download and print out the whole book quietly at home in the middle of the night if I wish. I will let you know if upon further searches any really great books turn up.

E. Söderlund said...

As an occasional, infrequent reader of these fine texts, I have to say that the art-book market has never lived such exciting times. And I suppose, in the end, ironically we must all be somehow "grateful" to the promiscuity and greediness of others.

The sentimental value and significance of books in our personal lives is undeniable. As physical objects, they are indispensable to our history. I don't think PDF's would do much to change that. But the availability of images is necessary, especially to students - and in this context, I sincerely wish a lasting life for Errata Editions and hope that artists do understand the importance of such project.

To end my commnents, as an artist - marginal like thousands - I have never felt so tempted to self publish my own work. But because photographing, like painting or sculpting, is in most cases a deeply solitary act of call and response to our inner needs of expression, editing images for a book comes with great responsability.

Jeff Ladd said...

Thanks Stuart...I agree to a point. I was one of the lucky ones to have come to this medium when I did and have been able to view a lot of stuff most never will. I go to auction previews now to see the super obscure rarities. I just wish there was more to directly share with students.

And just to be clear I don't want to own every book. I think if I get another book sent to me I'll puke blood. I own too many now and want to get rid of the ones I don't appreciate anymore. I'm a minimalist. Looking over my shelves I know I could drop over a third of them and not bat an eye. Mary Ellen Mark anyone??

And I also want to be clear (I've said this before) I cherish the Parr/Badger books and the two minds behind them as they are the best of the books on books for scholarship and letting us know what is out there and well off the beaten path. Where as the Roth book was not enlightening in choices in the least for me. I am just pointing out the consequence of the rise in popularity.

I'm just a bit tired of the rare book insanity. Its elitist. As an example, a donor bought a set of our books for a library and when I happened to be there I didn't see them out so I asked where to find them...they were in the "rare book case." Reference books like ours hidden in rare book cases. Here I imagined that students might discover these works and they were hidden away again.


I'm not riled up. If my comments seemed to be it was a misreading. One of those internet disconnects. :) See emoticons! I'm happy.

Unknown said...


Then list the cadre of photobooks that are unavailable to us and that are vital to our survival and we can see. But I still think you're taking it too far. There are affordable books on almost every historically important photographer I know ...if you want to compare this to Hemingway etc. And many obscure books can bee seen in Parr's books. Plus there's anthologies, museums, libraries.

I don't think the next great thing is going to be left off the map because he/she wasn't inspired by some rare photobook. In fact the more naive talent going into it the better imo. I went to art school, we had a great library with rare titles and we had professors who enlightened us to esoteric artists we should pay attention to. I didn't need to 'own' their work or book though. You either have a driving force within you to create or you don't, a book isn't going to give it to you.

And again, why not blame publishers as well if this is your angle. Random example, there are affordable books on Mappelthorpe. But two recent titles come in at a retail price of $150 to $125. Many budding and young artists can barely afford to purchase books at retail.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations - this post has made the heaviest traffic I've seen in a while!

I prefer to remain 'anonymous' but as a photographer with various books that are pretty well collected, and sold at high prices, I have to ask: so what do you do after a talk/lecture and a bunch of people come up at the end with books, multiple books, even knapsacks of books, to be signed. How do you say 'no' and not seem an asshole?

Those people are sometimes genuine enthusiasts, who have come a long way, and you woudl like to help/ thank them for their support, but other times they are dealers with their own stock (including some who have posted here...) You cant accurately tell who is who, and you can't charge people - it's a funny comment, but not realistic.

I too saw the altercation at NY Library for poor Robert Frank, and dealers were there buying 20 copies of his new book, on sale right there, and lining up to get them signed, others arrived with luggage carts (!) full of his past books. Ridiculous, and avaricious. They protested vehemently when DAP stopped the signing while they were in line. Nauseating.

Releasing a book has also is a problem. My last title got cleaned out by dealers, in 4 months flat, with perhaps only 40-50% going to actual bookshops/photographers/readers. I was recently passing through one shop's storage back room and saw a pile of 40 of them stacked high. That's more copies than I ever had, as the author, for a title totally out of print, and now 3x the original price. Well done them in one way - for dealing in book 'futures' successfully (how else do you triple your money in 12 months?) but deeply frustrating for an author who wants to see the work 'out there' available to the public it seeks a dialogue with.

dolphin said...

I buy photobooks, not only buy American Photographic book, but also buy myself Country's Photographic books. Like another blog in NL - Bint Photobooks, I try to collect these photographic books in local end.

It is funny thing from Parr / Badger, they only list one classic photographic book from my Country in the photobook, a history vol. II (921 earthquake).
But unfortunately most of local peoples never heard the photographic books listed in Parr/Badger photobook vol II since it was only sold 3,000 copies in my country. I got this photobooks from local bookstore only need to take approx. US$5. : ). In fact 3000 copies photographic books is a huge
amounts in my country. : ) But I am not understand why Parr/Badger
only listing this photobook?

There are many many great photogrpahic books in Asia or other areas, but perhaps all of yours are not know how to buy these great photobooks ex your country. : )

The photobook in Japan sold out over 110,000 copies. a terrible record.

over 70,000 peoples to visit the website of Japanese Photographer in every day.

Anonymous said...

5b4 "As for the PDF it possible that we have a couple things in life that aren't mediated through a computer."

It's not that it is mediated through a computer, (wich I am sure most books that are physically published today are mediated through a computer at some during prodution) it is that the computer makes the communal availability of information - in this case, photobooks - easily accessible.
"Books are tangible objects which dictate their own terms of use. It is a physical act to read a book. "
I agree with this sentiment, however a downloaded / printed PDF would serve as a functionable substitute. It is not necessary for a PDF to be "read" on a computer screen.

Obviously the original books are better, but the PDF argument falls perfectly in line with your concerns about loosing not only the great names in photo history, but even the obscure ones.

In terms of rights and artist dues,
I am sure a relative fee for downloading would work the same way iTunes and other music sites have done. And if the photographers feel like writing a guitar soundtrack to there books... endless fun and possibility.

rr said...

I'm a music label manager and I can tell you how fees don't work, even with iTunes. As a matter of fact, few things work in the music business right now.

Anonymous said...

Do photographers make money off of their photobooks? Seriously.

The more people are able to see the work, even on PDF's or god forbid, shuffled out of sequence online, the easier it is for that photographer to find an audience, get physical shows, sell prints (even on their own websites and blogs), eliminate middle men (the publishers make the money most of the time), and possibly get a chance to make a "brand name" publisher produced photo book.

Blake Andrews said...

About the PDF thing, I agree with you Jeff that they will never replace the feel of a book. But as Anonymous pointed out above, it's not just about that. It's about accessibility. The easiest way to make books accessible to all is via an online database. This service needn't replace books, but it could act as an invaluable supplement. Right now, if you want to find out what's in Rexroth's Iowa or Sultan's Pictures from Home, e.g., there is absolutely no way to do that if you're not rich or near a good library. All such important works should be available for study, realizing of course that PDF files would not be a substitute for the real thing, only a scholarly tool.

Anonymous said...

But how do the artists actually feel about releasing unlimited quantities of a book? Is there something special in it being a limited edition? Does the art get watered down when it's mass produced? Is it still art when you're trying to please an audience instead of yourself? Does it take something away when you see these cheapo mass produced 'art' books like I see at B&N etc. for $10. Should artists think they're so self important that the whole world needs to own a copy? In a world where waste and resources are such an issue do we need to produce more? Or what if the market for an artist appears flooded? What negative effects occur when too many books exist and they wind up remaindered for $5 a pop? Does it harm the artist? Is it a disservice to their collectors? Would you really love that hard to find vintage scarce photobook just as much if it was reprinted and hanging out in $5 bins? Really? The answers will depend on the person. And all the while it's not too hard to find images by almost any artist on the internets despite all of this.

This thread seems to be revolving around greed and elitism targeted at dealers and publishers but I also can see the root of this stemming from an idea of self entitlement and desire to own physical objects. Somewhere in the middle is where it will and already is finding a balance.

Vincent Borrelli said...

The idea that any books are truly "rare" and not available at reasonable prices is simply false. If you are willing to overlook condition, you can find just about any title at a reasonable price. To collectors, condition is extremely important and the most significant issue in determining a book's value. I picked up a copy of the first American edition of The Americans for about $100 a few years ago. Anyone who wants the book for its contents, and is willing to live with a stain on the cover, or some chips on the dust jacket can really get just about any title... this idea that books are being hidden away in collections due to scarcity is absurd (only truly rare copies in exceptional condition sell for such premiums). If you look around, you can get just about any book in lesser condition.

Anonymous said...

The Parr and Roth books remaining out-of-print present an interesting case all by themselves. These titles are in demand as reference works. Few people, if any, value these works as objects. What is sought after is the information contained within, the details, the essays, the reproduced spreads of other people's work.

Phaidon ususally puts out an affordable soft-cover edition of its many monographs and surveys a few years after the original hard covers. Yet in the case of Parr no soft cover has appeared or been announced. Why? Who is resisting? Who stands to lose?

Again, these are simply reference works - not works of art in their own right. That they remain out of print is bizarre and almost a perversion of the field.

Anonymous said...

Parr is in print. It is only the first edition that dealers charge up for. So no big deal there.

Sebastian said...

Parr/Badger I is just very recently out-of-print, will go into reprint this spring, Parr/Badger II is not out-of-print. Check your facts!

Anonymous said...

The whole damn thing started when someone thought its a good thing to establish photography in the art world and thereby limit editions of prints. From there it was all downhill (or up depending how you see it)

Theres people putting up whole editorials on webpages photo decadent for fashion editorials for example. So lets just start scanning. I got a few gems here myself.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, as a photo book collector, I would NEVER buy a book with a large print run. If "the masses" can easily acquire it, I'm not interested. I only buy titles that have "shelf power." Being a speculator also requires being a connoisseur. Buying multiple copies of a book you think is important AND a low print run is rare in itself, and I don't want to ever regret not making the purchase. However, having 40 copies in the backroom of a new-ish book - like from Hido, Misrach or Soth - does suck in its greediness for other collectors and dealers, but it's difficult to fault the perpetrators of this speculation as they are risking an equal chance of failure as much as success. Sure it's a game. It's a shame people like 5B4 are annoyed by it, but it won't change...ever.

Merritt Hewitt said...

This situation is just all too too familiar in the art world. But to photographers and people who love photography it's just relatively new. Was just reading about a similar situation in John Richardson's biography of Picasso, vol 2. Relatively speaking there are, and always have been, a relatively small number of art dealers and their collectors for any particular genre. Richardson describes the tactics of Kahnweiler & Vollard when Picasso and cubism first became popular, and what you describe pales in comparison to what they practiced every day.

Sebastian said...

some basic conditions: let's take "kind of blue" surely one of the best-sold albums around (and beloved by all of us nerds), and important to the sub-history of jazz and the history of pop-music and maybe the history of music, too. "print" a thousand copies for each and everyone to buy (students, artists, the general public), at (I´m guessing) 1 Euro each, is an investment of 1.000 Euros (production costs)(marketing is added after - to keep things simple).
Printing a thousand copies of the Parr/Badger (an example of an important, large-size photobook) is probably something between 20 to 40 Euros each.
A print-run of a 1.000 copies thus equals an investment of let's say 30.000 Euros (at least). Anyone would surely agree that that's a lot of money.
the book-business is 300 years old simply because it doesn't deal in ("Martin Parr is evil") T-shirts or compact discs or comics for that matter.

This is simply far outside of the world of itunes or pdf's or garage bands (or cubism).

I just find the notion of publishers doing this or that for a huge profit incredibly ridiculous. (it's true however that they do it for the fame, which is worse yet).

anonymous anonymous said...

"For what it's worth, as a photo book collector, I would NEVER buy a book with a large print run. If "the masses" can easily acquire it, I'm not interested."

Who thinks like this?? If you want the example of what is the problem. It's douchebags like this.

R.G. said...

You've helped me redefined the idea of what a book can be in just over a year of following this blog. As a practicing artist that represents a whole new dimension of excitement, regardless (and nor do I care) that I can't afford many of the books profiled.

There seems a kind of bubble of interest on the heels of Martin and Parr and Roth. It may last a few years but will inevitably subside when book prices don't rocket to the moon, when no one is offering even what you paid for that obscure 1st edition. Disappointment always follows elation, and this seems a form of elation. It's more about markets than art but artists and photographers will benefit in the meantime... so don't sweat it Jeff.

Anonymous said...

A reader above may be confusing Parr/Badger for Roth 101, no?

Other than that, great thread.

dolphin said...

Recently Simon is discharging
the great book - Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment
and requested someone write an email to Magnum Photos to re-issue The Decisive Moment.

Anonymous said...

I would not underestimate the advancements we're seeing on the web. Most younger photographers are publishing their work on the web long before they even think about publishing a book, so in the future I imagine most work will be readily available on the web. As for the older work that's become inaccessible, who really gives a shit? It's probably borderline boring and only valued where it is because it benefits a very few, and not because it's interesting work.

The paradigm is shifting and this whole debate sounds like a bunch of old wealthy elitists pricks attempting to keep their medieval grip on power and influence.

How do we know that future generations won't view Alec Soth or Todd Hido as minor photographers not really worthy of consideration?

And in short time, I imagine most photographers will be self-publishing at the highest imaginable quality. I'm not one to bet against technology.

Of course, there will still be an industry that needs to inflate and over value certain work in order to maintain their cultural status.

Lastly, if you can't recognize the parallel's here to the entire economic mess we're in then you're out of touch with reality. The wealthy and privileged have robbed and looted from the masses in the most despicable ways imaginable in the last 30 years. Why would anyone ever think the photography world would be immune...

indecisive momento said...

He used to have the entire book posted online. I always wondered why the estate allowed that ONLY because it was done in such a horrible way. Bad scans and the quality was an abomination. A shameful presentation of the world's greatest photographer.

Other than it was good.

Bresson said he never wanted The Decisive Moment reprinted.

Jeff Ladd said...

Anonymous. With respect I strongly suggest you check out Bill Brandt's A Night in London and Zdenek Tmej's Alphabet of Spiritual Emptiness as two of THE GREATEST books that sadly may never be again. Go to an auction preview and check out some of the books, especially the Japanese stuff. It may not be your thing but those certainly not easy to ignore. It is hardly boring but don't take my word for it. I wouldn't be talking about them if these were just old and useless.

Rene Girard said...

I can't help but feel (ah hell...THINK) that some or most of you GUYS (because you ARE guys for the most part...) are just buying these fetishes in the hopes of attaining approval from your peers, i.e. your fellow small-edition-worshiping douche bags....

Rene Girard said...

but hey, I'm French, so what the fuck....

richard said...

So what if people buy several copies of the same book as an investment.

Would you prefer that the government regulates the sales of photo books? May be have a public lottery one ticket each.

By placing an inflated value on these books, it insures they get looked after for generations to come.

"Oh but whats the point in looking after a book if no one can see it." I hear you say.

Use the internet and get over it.

Vincent Borrelli said...

Rene, you bring up an excellent and crucial point: all this collecting business is such a male thing! Jeff's comment (in the Dash Snow review) about "fluffers" was very prescient!

Rene Girard said...

Google me, bitches!

Double E said...

vincent makes a good point: where are the ladies? has anyone done a study about why the men are the collectors. the men are the hunters gatherers the women are the nest builders (ie librarians).

Matt Weber said...

I bet you didn't think you'd get this much of a response! Since I've been collecting photobooks for over twenty years and I've been working at bookstores too, I can actually credit this explosion to THREE people. I know there were others in California, but Cahan, Caney and Pawprint books were issuing catalogs in the days when that was how you would find rare books. Pawprint in particular charged so much for his books that you almost had to have a trust fund to buy from him. Eventually the other booksellers who were very knowledgeable about all types of books, recognized that photobooks were selling like "Hotcakes" and at higher prices than ever before. I suppose we'd still be in the same situation without those three guys, but I can say with a lot of certainty that they had a huge affect on this market, since they were also among the first to list their books on "Interloc" back when that was the first rare book site with search capabilities...(as if anyone cares)

My wife collects refrigerator magnets!

Raphael Aizan Sasayama said...

it's true that reasonably priced copies in the $100-200 range will occasionally go up for sale. what i am most frustrated about is the difficulty of seeing out-of-print books in the first place. i've only seen about 30% of the books on my list, and who knows what else is out there.

this becomes pretty important when i shop on the internet. i'm not one to bite the bullet on a "reasonably priced" book in so-so condition if i haven't seen a copy, even if it's been written about, considered lustworthy, or whatever.

Jeff Ladd said...


You raise the name of someone I always wondered what was the deal with his pricing. Pawprint. In those early internet days, his books were always 40--50% more than everyone elses. Caney I used to buy from and they had decent prices. Fred and Elizabeth Pajerski on 23rd street here in NYC also had good stuff at reasonable prices.

Anonymous said...

My God! I thought Rene Girard died 30 years ago.

Matt Weber said...

Pawprint had and still has amazing inventory...I guess he was the one guy who knew what these books would one day be worth, and thus was extremely patient when it came to selling. He was always first on line when it came to buying books.

His prices affected almost all the other listings which came later, and even today his impact is still being felt!

Stuart Alexander said...

Et alors, M. Girard?
I find your remarks shocking, rude and unconstructive. Isn't obtaining admission to the French Academy the ultimate in seeking peer approval? Does this give you the right to throw out vulgar dismissive comments? C'est honteux!

Vincent Borrelli said...

Has anyone done a count/percentage of male/female artists/books on the Roth/Parr lists (not that it would be a surprise or not mirror the art world)?

Unknown said...

Jeff said "Go to an auction preview and check out some of the books"

Sure, just like people do when they want to see classic paintings, exotic vehicles etc.?

Would the world really be that much better if you could buy Alphabet of.. for $25? Would it really save some prodigy who would otherwise ignore photography? I doubt it. Does its scarcity give it more weight and importance than it should? Possibly.

I feel like you're argument is the other extreme of the same spectrum. On the one hand you have greedy dealer/collectors and on the other you have entitlement, disguised as populism supporting this idea one has a right to own whatever they want. I don't like either sentiment personally.

Anonymous said...

"Google me, bitches!"

Brilliant, or should I say brillant.

Tati Ragu said...

A fascinating strand of opinion, insight and surmise. Some of this stuff with a look at specific prices and fluctuations is discussed at the estimable Bookride which I visit weekly
Some of the books in Parr and Badger have value because they are art objects in themselves (say Bellmer's Die Puppe, Man Ray 'Electricité'). There is a problem with Parr that has been mentioned--what he recommends goes up in value and he would need to be a saint not to be influenced by this. The photo market collapsed in the 1980s something people have forgotten and it may be heading for a flat or falling period as we speak. T.R.

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned Pawprint--what an overcharging bastard! A pox on his seven houses.

Anonymous said...

Yes rene Girard - audio interview

Stuart Alexander said...

Non, Anonymous, c,est null, pas brillant!

Gary said...

Thanks, again, Jeff -- not just for this thread but for the two years of wonderful posts.

While I agree with your basic point -- that the growth of the collector market has removed some books from public access -- I don't think the impact on future generations of artists is as dire as you suggest. Artists get their inspiration from all sorts of stimuli. Removing one source of potential knowledge and inspiration will simply result in a greater reliance on other sources. This could, potentially, have beneficial results as more eclectic sources of inspiration become the norm.

Speaking as a collector, rather than bitch and moan about how things have changed, I've simply adjusted my buying habits. As vintage photobooks have escalated in price, I've shifted to current releases. If you make your choices on the basis that the work speaks to you, rather than because someone suggests it is a must have or a potential investment opportunity, there is an amazing variety of fairly reasonably priced options. Similarly, the internet has put a generation of artists in direct connection with collectors and original prints, which I began collecting in the early 80's but left as prices soared beyond my budget, are again comparatively accessible.

Jeff Ladd said...

I thank everyone for the comments and the interesting thread.

I do however think that most of you have missed my basic point. I am not always talking about owning these books (I never mention owning once in my post if you read closely). I am talking about accessing them which is now only done through a few libraries and auction previews.

AND it is not that someone has told me how great these books are...I have SEEN MOST OF THEM through auction previews and I am shocked at how great they are.

My thought about future generations is in regard to THE POTENTIAL of what could shift in the medium should this stuff be readily accessible. Maybe nothing. (Francis Coppola once said that the democratization of film was now complete because of camcorders. He said maybe now the next great masterpiece will be made by some fat girl in Ohio with a video recorder. Has that happened? Look at Youtube and you decide. A cat being flung from a ceiling fan has had more viewers than Coppala's last film so I am not sure).

With accessibility comes a deeper understanding. My passion with this medium is my own image making and how I can move as far away from mediocrity. With writing I have been perceiving the medium a bit more complexly. With photographing I have always learned and improved my own game. My though was that if the BEST OF THE BEST EXAMPLES were available then there would be some really important progression possible. People like "B" don't think so. They think the best books are already on the shelves and, for whatever reason seems stubbornly reluctant to even want to see them (the list you asked for by the way is about 40% of Parr/Badger which is around 250-300 works).

I also am not running through my apartment with flailing hands screaming about this. These are ideas and perceptions. My action is bringing out the Errata books but there is a ton of content that unfortunately won't be seen.

My point about commerce is that it is extremely unfortunate that anytime something becomes popular that a whole herd of opportunists come along and jump the content. I am not talking strictly about high end dealers. Some have their hearts in the right place and love the content. Others could give a shit whether it is photobooks or pingpong balls.

The last point Gary is that I know that artists draw inspiration from many sources. I know it is a surprise to many of you who had no idea I'm a photographer but I am in that process. My point is that highwater marks like these should be learned from. I say again, it is like if you pulled Checkov from literature.

Thanks again for the comments. The traffic from this posting alone has been insane and the most comments lent yet.

Awkward Moment said...

You SAY that you're not running through your apartment flailing your arms and screaming about this but you know what? I'd like to think you really are...BTW the 'word verification' for this comment is "dissedne"!

Anonymous said...

First off, congratulations Jeff on the blog and on starting what obviously is an impassioned conversation.

Second off, I'm not at all sure what the ruckus is about. I've been collecting photobooks for many years (compulsively, some would say). I was lucky to be able to buy many of what are now the most inaccessible books when they were just expensive. I'm fortunate that I can still buy some even though they've become stupidly expensive. I've never bought a book to sell it, and I've never sold a book I bought. I've never purposely paid more for a book because it was signed (though I love it when photographer friends sign their books to me). I buy books at auction, from dealers, on eBay and Amazon, and just about everywhere else you might imagine.

I buy older photobooks because I already love them, having spent time with them at auction previews or book fairs. If I love them enough, I pay what I have to in order to be able to sit with them at home for as much time as some of them deserve. What are they "worth"? It depends only on what I can afford just then. Yes, it sometimes seems silly to spend as much on a book as on a car, but I already said I'm fortunate.

I buy new books because I want to give them the time necessary to figure out whether I love them. What are they worth? Who the hell knows. But the answer certainly has nothing to do with how limited an edition is, or whether the photographer signed all of them. If I feel good about parting with the asking price and going home with the book . . . then it's worth it. The bottom line for me is this: Collecting photobooks (and other books, and prints, and paintings, and the other things that seem to follow me home) has absolutely no "investment component." It's pure consumption; I assume when I buy a book that I'll never be able to sell it at a price anywhere near what I paid for it. If the price being asked is less than the amount of pleasure I expect to get from it, then I don't buy it. Sorry, but it really is that simple.

Does my buying a book keep it out of the hands of others? I guess so. (Just as someone else's buying it would keep it out of my hands.) I'm not sure it matters, though. Early editions of books exist in a finite number; they are fragile; their condition never gets better; they slowly disappear or fall apart. They are what they are, and sitting on my shelves (during my lifetime) seems of little consequence. I haven't completely figured out what will happen to them after that, but the choices are basically two: They will either go to a good library, or they'll be sold off and disbursed back into the world for others to enjoy (or donate to libraries). I didn't make Man Ray's 1929 more "scarce" by paying what I paid for it . . . it's just scarce!

A couple more words, and then I'll shut up: If there is really a sufficient demand for a book that's become impossibly expensive, and if the artist (or other rights holder) consents, it will be republished. The last ten years have taught us that, I think. If it's not being republished, it's because the demand is thin (though I'm sure it's sincerely held by some). Or, it's because the photographer doesn't want it reprinted. I may quarrel with that decision, but I respect it. She (or he) made the pictures and the book; I didn't. (Yes, I know about the problems caused by not being able to locate the rights holders, but it's not worth going off on that tangent.)

For those who say, "The hell with the photographer's wishes. Everything should be free and available on the web." . . . well, I'm probably not going to change your mind any more than you're going to change mine. These views are becoming acts of faith, and I don't share your faith. I think it's up to the creator of a work to decide how it's disseminated. Or not disseminated. I know you disagree, and that you feel as strongly as I do (even though you're wrong).

It's both wonderful and awful that so many people are passionate about poor old photobooks these days. I both thank and curse Messrs. Roth and Parr for that. (Mostly, I thank them for their scholarship and, in Mr. Parr's case, for his directing us away from a Western and somewhat xenophobic view of what's "worthwhile.") It was nice when you could pick up treasures for a song. Now, treasures are priced as treasures should be (although a lot of junk is priced that way as well). It will all shake out. In 50 years, nobody will remember (or pay much for) books by _________ [you fill in the blank]. By contrast, nobody will ever print another gravure copy of The Decisive Moment, and it will never become less important in the history of photography or bookmaking. Taking a fifty year view makes it all so much more enjoyable. Try it.

Anonymous said...

I live in a country where there isn't one single shop entirely devoted to art books, let alone photography books in particular. Even so, I have been buying photography books for years, and with internet and especially with Amazon, I have broadened my horizons.

But the really decisive moment in my long time relationship with photography books has been the appearance of your fine blog.
These days, most of the books I buy are mentioned by you. Of course a lot of the stuff you write about isn't exactly my cup of tea, but through time, I have been able to understand your tastes in relation to mines, meaning: I buy books without ever having seen, touched or leafed through them. And most of the times, these are books I really like.

As to the discussion caused by your post, amongst intelligent remarks, sadly I see a lot of silly comments here, and I sincerely hope you don't grow tired of your blog simply because of the bullshit one ocasionally reads here.

To end, I have a suggestion: post your 50 favourite books ever. And every now and then, why not invite photographers, collectors and even dealers you know to do the same?

Anonymous said...


I think you need to distinguish between the importance of access to these works for a) a new generation of photographers verses b)photographers who want to embody their work in book form. It is, for example, perfectly possible to come to know and understand Cartier-Bresson's photographic style without ever seeing a copy of the Decisive Moment. But, I would agree with you, that there is something to be learned from the original when it comes to understanding how to present bodies of work in a coherent way in the book.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ladd-
I have a somewhat different perspective. I started out collecting letterpress printed books, mostly circa 1900 to 1930s, when the finely printed book was a recognized art form. As late as 1995 or so, it was still commonplace to discover an exquisite find in a small Vermont used bookstore for $20 or less. A bit of legwork and knowledge were amply rewarded.
Ah, but then the Internet arrived. Almost overnight, the nicest letterpress books disappeared from bookshelves and were listed online, where the deepest pockets bid their prices out of reach for those of more modest means. Now it's a rich-person's hobby.
Evidently the same dynamic is at work when it comes to photobooks. Profit-hungry publishers print 100,000 copies of the latest atrocity by Anne Geddes, but at most 5,000 copies of a photobook that is artistically significant and beautiful, yet a financial gamble.

It still makes sense for folks to become knowledgeable about photography and to buy what they like (now there's a concept!) æsthetically and in terms of book craft when it's available. Then, don't worry too much about opportunties you miss. I still kick myself about passing on a beautiful book printed and designed by Bruce Rogers ten years ago because it was a few dollars over my budget; but life goes on.

So many books, so little time.

Geoff Wittig.

Shane Godfrey said...

I think a few of your points are valid, but a lot are just neivity to the art world in general. To think that people are selling 200 photo books at high prices is any different than say selling a print in edition of 7 at 10,000 dollars each. Who makes up that arbitrary number? Gallerists? The artist? It isn't much different then that, most people would just like to think so. And in the case of the internet ruining prices, thats mostly true but really no different than either points stated above. Sure the good ol' days were great, but the art world has been this way for a long while now, the rest of the commodities surrounding that are just playing the same game.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Nice post except for the SCREAMING. Learn to type in upper and lowercase and your audience will actually read your message. Otherwise, people like me find something easier to read.

Nancy Spungen said...

You left your "ALL CAPS" button on, dude....Siiiiiiiiiiiiiddddddddd!!!! Siiiiiiiiiiiiiidddddddddddd!!!!!! Can I return this copy of "The Americans"? It's stamped 'PRESS' on the da Goddamn title page....SIIIIIDDDDDDDD!!!!!!

Gerry Badger said...

A very interesting thread, but I’d like to put the record straight on a few things. First of all, Martin and I were and are clearly aware of our effect on prices, and regret it, but the alternative is not to talk about the history of photography through photobooks at all. And that was our aim, to write an alternative history of photography, not make a list of the most collectable books. I am amazed when both Roth and Parr/Badger get quoted in dealers’ lists, as if a book that wasn’t in either volume is somehow less worthy. There were many great books that didn’t make it in, for all sorts of reasons. Ken Schless’s Invisible City for instance – a great book, but you have to draw the line somewhere, and sometimes it’s difficult.

And many of the books, especially in volume two, are still available at list price, or at least they certainly were when the book came out. Of course the problem with photobooks is that editions tend to be small, and as soon as it’s perceived to have sold out, they’re selling at a premium. But that’s always been the case.

Yes, we knew we would create some kind of canon, but our intention was that this would be only a beginning, and that it would broaden out, with others creating photobook studies, perhaps concentrating on single countries, and bringing other books out of the woodwork. And this is exactly what is happening. Aperture are publishing a book on Japanese photobooks, and Martin is working, with others, on a study of Latin American books. He is also involved in a project to publish a box of facsimile reproductions of ‘protest’ books, similar to the Japanese box published by Steidl a few years ago, making some very rare books more widely available.

And there is the counter to the rare book dealers, the increasing availability of facsimile reprints, and the good work being done by Jeff at Errata, for which maybe the photobooks histories could be given a little credit. Contrary to what some wrote, I did not go out and buy books on the ‘list’ before the book came out. I bought some, because I wanted them, in the normal course of events, and I’m still buying books from our two volumes whenever I can. I’m not a collector, and I’m more than happy to buy the great Steidl reprints of books like The Americans (I sold my first edition some fifteen years ago - it was making a premium even then, and I remember buying about 20 other books with the proceeds), Ehrenburg’s My Paris or Pornografie.

I’m currently writing an intro to a new facsimile of Lisboa: Cidade Triste e Alegre. Few people have even seen this great book, and it goes for $10,000 or more. The reprint won’t be that cheap, but the price won’t be stupid, around 100 bucks, because it’s a complicated book, with fold-outs, different coloured pages and so on, but another superb book will be made available again. I don’t have an original. So I’m pleased this is about to happen, thanks to the enthusiasm of two young Portuguese photographers, who are making it happen. And it wouldn’t have happened if Martin hadn’t discovered it and enthused about it until we included it in the History, because the Portuguese market alone probably wouldn’t have sustained a reprint.

Of course, even reprints are a problem, especially facsimiles. If you didn’t quickly grab The Map reprint, or Kamatachi,, or Daido’s new version of Bye Bye, you’ll find they’ve shot up and are already out of print (maybe not the Daido so don’t quote me on that). Even Jeff’s series retails at £33 here in the UK, which is not exactly cheap, but that’s the fault of exchange rates, not Jeff’s. However, that’s another factor, especially with things like Japanese books.

Now let’s set the record straight about Martin the collector, though I’m sure he can speak for himself. Yes, we used his superb collection as a basis for our research, it was wholly expedient to do so. When you have a number of books from an era laid out on the floor you can get startling insights into what was going – say in 30s Russia, or 60s Japan – and you can’t really do that in a regular library. And Martin sometimes buys doubles of things, partly to trade up to a better copy of a book, partly because he keeps a ‘trades’ section. Sure, he truly has the mad collecting bug – has he ever denied it? - and he trades books like kids with baseball cards – not for money, for other books.

But he also has a great passion for the photobook as a platform for good photography. He believes it’s where photography sings its loudest and most satisfying song, and he also has a love for them as objects in their own right - incorporating design, text, typography and so on

I’ll tell you a little story. Martin has a first edition of The Map – current value, up to $40,000 if it’s in good condition. And that’s something to remember when looking at those high-end collecting prices – the ‘in good condition’ bit is crucial. If you ever go to see Martin, he’ll drag out his latest acquisitions to show you – not necessarily rare and valuable books, often new and perfectly regular editions. For instance, the last time I went he was enthusing – rightly – about Susan Meiselas’s In History. But with first-time visitors, he always used to get out The Map first, saying ‘you to have see this. Isn’t this an amazing book?’ Now The Map is a particularly fragile volume, and the result of all those visitors being encouraged to look at and freely handle this great book – and the first edition is truly amazing – is that his copy is now (to use a technical term) – a little on the fucked side. I don’t know if he’s traded up to a better copy yet, but the point is, he is so generous in showing this, and all the other books in his collection, to any visitor, not because he wants to boast about owning them, but out of sheer enthusiasm for them as photographic works. And he’s not in the least fussy about them. No linen gloves or any of that shit. For him, it’s simply a working library.

Martin also – and this is crucial I think - has a passion for the people who make photobooks, and this was one of our more crucial missions when making the photobook history - to find photographers who had been ignored by the art museum and gallery history of photography, or in countries ignored by the standard histories. Nothing pleased us more than when we got e-mails along the lines of ‘thank you, no one had paid much attention to Argentine photography before’, or ‘thank you, including my long forgotten book in your history has resurrected my career.’ That happened a lot.

So I’m not going to be apologetic for doing the photobook history. It has had its regrettable downside, in terms of its effect on the collecting market – but that market was pretty much in full flow before we began. It certainly has had an upside, we believe, in terms of the fact that the photobook is beginning to take its proper place in photographic history, and the history of photography is broader and richer as a result.

I trust – and hope – that many of the classics will become more available in reprints at reasonable prices. If more and more classics are kept more or less continuously in print, like the classics of written literature, they will be readily available to those on beer rather than champagne incomes, and the high-end collecting market can carry on regardless.