© Nazraeli Press/photos by Todd Hido
Nazraeli Press is known for producing beautiful photo books by Todd Hido, Michael Kenna, Jamey Stillings and other photographers, and for pioneering sales of limited-edition books.
In PDN’s article “The Costly Business of Photo Book Publishing,” Nazraeli founder and publisher Chris Pichler says he has never expected a photographer to contribute to the cost of producing a book. Pichler is experienced in publishing in a variety of formats, and to different audiences, from the general public who loves photography to the committed collector. In 1998, Pichler launched One Picture Books, featuring modestly sized books, printed in an edition of 500 and signed by the artist; each copy sells for $40. The Six by Six series of boxed sets, each signed and numbered and printed in an edition of 100, sell for $6,000. Most trade edition photo books, however, sell for $65 or $75.
PDN talked to Pichler about the many models he follows, and what photographers should understand before publishing a photo book.
PDN: About how many photo books does Nazraeli publish annually? What is the average print run? What percentage of list price does the average book cost to print?
Chris Pichler: We are currently publishing around 25 titles each year. The print runs vary from the low hundreds, for books in the One Picture Book, NZ Library and Six by Six series, to several thousand copies for stand-alone monographs.
Regarding price versus cost, the average across these titles isn't really meaningful; rather, the reasons for deciding to publish a particular book, the print run, and the retail price independent of cost, are all important considerations. But there is an old rule of thumb, which is worth noting: A production cost to retail price ratio of 1:5. The reason for this is simple, and based on traditional methods of selling books through bookstores. If a book costs $1 to print, for example, the retail price would be $5. This is because a given bookstore would receive a discount of 40 percent off the retail price, and therefore pay $3 to the publisher. If the bookseller then sold that book for $5, they would have profit margin of $2. The publisher would likewise earn $2 on that book: $3 for the price sold, minus $1 for the price paid to produce it. In this way, publishers and booksellers are equal partners.
All of that has changed now, and in both directions: bookstores are asking for higher discounts, but publishers are making up some of that lost ground by selling books directly for full retail price. Obviously, the more books a publisher can sell for full retail price, the more they can earn on the books, especially when the 1:5 ratio is adhered to.
PDN: Some of the books you publish appear quite specialized, and the quality is high, but the prices are mostly very competitive. How do you earn a profit on these books? For example, Todd Hido's B-Sides project: This had a very limited print run of 500, the cost is relatively low ($30), and the product appears expensive to produce. How can you take on that kind of project without sustaining a loss?
CP: Todd Hido's B-Sides project was an add-on to the much larger, more expensive and obviously more profitable Excerpts from Silver Meadows. We published B-Sides as a little project to sell primarily at events like Paris Photo LA and Palm Springs Photo Festival, and to our end customers via our website. The purpose of publishing "B-Sides" wasn't to see how much money could be made, but rather to produce an unexpected, interesting and modest publication that is fun for people to buy and spend time with. Of course, at such a small print run we could have marketed it as a limited-edition, inherently valuable object and sold it for a lot of money to serious collectors only. But that wouldn't have been in the spirit of this particular project, and I've learned from countless experiences that it pays more—in ways that count—to be generous rather than greedy. Plus it's a lot more gratifying for all parties!
PDN: Is there anything you wish photographers understood better about book publishing?
CP: I'm surprised sometimes by how many people—photographers or otherwise—imagine that all books are printed in editions of tens [of thousands] or hundreds of thousands of copies. Very, very few books, especially art books, are printed in runs that even begin to approach that figure. Our highest print runs are closer to 5,000 copies, and standard runs are closer to 1,000 copies. If a regular book sells out, it can be reprinted; there is no reason to print more than you think you can sell, unless you want to end up storing books long-term.
PDN: Are photographers ever given the opportunity to help fund the production of their book with Nazraeli Press? Have you had photographers raising funds on Kickstarter or elsewhere to help cover costs or increase production value/print run?
CP: The short answer is no: I wouldn't ask a photographer to fund a publication of their own work. If one doesn't feel that there is a viable market for a book, then one should probably ask [themselves] why it is they want to publish it in the first place. This doesn't mean that every book needs to be printed in a mass-market format, though. We have published books that I adore, which are printed in small editions (and maybe sold at very high prices) because there is a small, but very serious, market for them. All books don't have to adhere to the same set of rules. But if I can't see selling a book in a standard print run, to a combination of bookstores, galleries, libraries and individuals—and if it's not the right kind of work for a small-run, more "collectible" edition—then I would be ignoring common sense if I were to publish it.
Sometimes I may be proved wrong, but in the long run, you have to make these decisions based on your own experiences and instincts, and remind yourself why you're doing this in the first place.