Paul Greenleaf: on editioned artist books

Artist Paul Greenleaf was awarded a £1,000 bursary as part of Artquest’s Selling Out programme in 2012, to produce a new edition of his book works. Here, Paul summarises his decisions on edition type, explains how his initial proposal changed, details his marketing plan, costs, and projected earnings.

I am a photographic artist whose work examines relationships between people and places with particular emphasis on built environments and manipulated landscapes. I am interested in the similarities and idiosyncrasies found in suburban housing and I had been developing ideas based on a discontinued Hornby Railways model kit called R.275 Modern House. My plan was to track down the house the model was based on and create a series of photographs based on this.

My proposal for the Selling Out bursary centred around producing a high value limited edition artist book which would include an inkjet print. I estimated 30 copies, selling at £200 per copy. If the books sold I could possibly achieve a higher return from a smaller number of sales, however the difficulty might be finding buyers who are willing to pay this price. I spent considerable time developing and producing the photographs whilst researching various formats for the book, each with different cost implications. Research for the editions mainly consisted of visiting bookshops and related exhibitions. I wanted to create an artist book, with individual personality and character that could not be achieved using standard off-the-shelf print-on-demand (POD) solutions.

I met with AND Publishing who have considerable knowledge about various POD publishing options and run consultations and workshops and Bookworks who produce high quality innovative small run artist books and publications. I chose to develop a solution using a POD service which I was keen on experimenting with and then I intended to personalise each copy.

Having explored many options I decided to use a Blurb hardback book with dustjacket which I planned to customise. I devised a method of refolding the dustjacket to create a pocket inside the front & back cover in which I intended to incorporate additional elements – an archival inkjet print, initially printed at London Print Studio (specialist in traditional print processes and graphic arts) and later at The Print Space (high quality, cost effective digital photographic printing facility but requires some understanding of digital workflow) and a leaflet printed by AND Publishing. I planned to emboss a design onto the linen cover and cut some of the inner pages down in size to delineate different sections within the book. The embossing technique requires a zinc (or more expensive copper) block to be made which is then used by a bookbinder (I went to Shepherds bookbinders) to make an impression into the cover. Different colour foils can be used to augment this process. These processes would introduce a large amount of hand finishing which adds a considerable amount of time, cost and risk into the production of each copy.

Upon receipt of the proof copy I could make an objective evaluation of the book. The print quality was lacking – this probably could have been improved by changing paper stock which in turn would require further proofing. The price would need to be set to cover the significant production costs (hardback book, embossing, adding inkjet print etc.) and as I intended to sell some copies through third parties (galleries, bookshops etc.) who typically charge 40-50% commission then the price would end up being too high in relation to the quality I would be able to achieve through these production methods.

After some consideration I took the view that the book fell short of what I was aiming for and I needed a new approach. Rather than opt for a very limited run high cost high value edition I decided to go for a larger edition with lower production costs per unit. I wanted to make unique artist publications and also hoped I could use these to promote the photographic series I was making. A lower price would potentially mean more buyers, possibly over a longer period of time. With no deadline to sell by I was happy that the editions may take a while to sell.

I had been working on two different series of work which I originally included into a single book. I decided to separate the work and make two editions using different production methods which I felt suited each concept. For the first, R.275 Modern House based on the Hornby model kit, I wanted to emulate an instruction manual and required low quality recycled paper to reflect this. I chose to use a standard format from Newspaper Club  (digitally printed short-run newspapers – fast, efficient, cost effective, 1-5000+ copies) which I could refold into the smaller leaflet format that I was aiming for. The second series of work, Optimism Revisited featuring photographic reproductions of skies, required better print quality but I wanted to reduce costs and opted for a softback cover. This publication represents a moment in time, almost a work in progress, I had in mind a small catalogue typically used to accompany an exhibition but one that functions primarily as a vehicle for connecting the various pieces of work in this series.

For each series of work I had organised an exhibition which would coincide with Photomonth East London Photography Festival (October to November) and I hoped to benefit from the publicity and interest created by the festival. This created deadlines for completion of the publications. Work from Optimism Revisited was displayed on noticeboards outside Tower Hamlets police stations and each edition was shown locally as part of a joint exhibition at Penny Fielding Gallery Nov 2012 – Jan 2013. The opening night in early November provided an opportunity to discuss the work and receive feedback as did regular meetings and updates with the Artquest team which were very beneficial.

Both exhibitions have received interest from local press, with an article being written about each on East London Guardian and East London Lines. Various blogs featured reviews and mentioned the work. The exhibitions provided further opportunity to publicise the work on Twitter and other social media channels. I wrote about various stages of production of the editions in a detailed blog and developed a simple online shop using Paypal merchant services which enables me to sell copies direct to buyers.

At the time of writing I have sold several copies of each edition including to a notable collector whose collection, I am told, will be displayed at the British Museum 2017/18.  I continue to promote the editions which feature on The Independent Photo Blog and I have received interest to exhibit Optimism Revisited in summer of 2013. I am in the process of contacting various independent bookshops and galleries and I continue to look into and apply for other opportunities to exhibit (and sell) the work.

© Paul Greenleaf, 2012

Expenditure

Blurb

  • £4.95 Swatch sample (refunded with first order)
  • £35 Proof copy (- £4.95 swatch sample refund)
  • £490 Book 100 copies (sale price £12 each), after proofing an initial run of 20 copies were printed, with batches to follow based on demand
  • £125 Shipping

Newspaper Club

  • £485 Leaflet/Poster 1000 copies (sale price £6 each) an initial run of 60 copies were printed (with batches to follow based on demand)

London Print Studio

  • £350 Digital Prints and supporting services

Shepherds Bookbinders

  • £78 Foli blocking & tooling

Misc

  • £100 Travel, approx cost to different printers and associated meetings
  • £30 Art supplies, equipment and consumables (clear envelopes, etc)
  • £130 PR (exhibition/award submission entry fees)

Total expenditure

  • £1823 

Income (gross)

  • £7200 – if all copies sold at full initial price

NB. These are the production costs of the editions themselves, and do not take into account the costs to produce the artwork that is included with the publication.


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