Tique | art paper asks eight questions to an international art book publisher about its motivation, practice and role today. This week: Peperoni Books.
What motivated you to start publishing?
I grew up in a printing company – literally. I also started taking photographs seriously very early, but the private pictures were never meant to be published. Later I was cofounder of an advertising agency and made all the photographs for our campaigns. In 2003 I started a personal series on empty stores in Berlin, but publishers were not interested. So I finished the series, took care for image processing, layout and preprint myself and had my brother, who still runs the printing press, produce the book. It was successful and other photographers turned to me with their projects, some of them too good to let them go. That’s how it started. 13 years later I now have published 130 books.
How would you describe your role in the creation of a publication?
Even if the first Peperoni Book comes with my own photographs I never thought of following a career as an artist. I consider myself to be a bookmaker and I’m better at that. I grew up with the sound and rhythm of printing machines and the smell of ink in my nose. I learned preprint processes in times before even scanners existed and never stop to increase my knowledge about concept, editing, design, print technologies, manufacturing processes and materials. All these skills go into the creation of a Peperoni Book. Every book is the result of a dedicated collaboration between photographers, authors, producers and me as the publisher.
What do you look for in a project?
Depth, meaning, visual excitement, insight, emotions, surprise, humor…
What advice would you give to anyone planning to make a publication?
Think twice. Ask yourself if you really have something to say, give or share. Be aware that the creation of a book is a very complex process. Good photographs must not result in a good book, if wrong choices are made regarding selection and sequence, format, layout, text included and also preprint, choice of materials, print and binding. Look for help if you are not completely sure you can handle all these things yourself. A good photographer must not be a good designer and seldom is a good writer. Many great projects have been spoiled by lack of expertise regarding design, preprint, manufacturing – just the knowledge that it takes to make a great book.
What do you consider to be your biggest challenge?
I know how to make books. The biggest challenge is the distribution. The question how to get the books in front of an audience and into the right hands.
As a lot specialised (art)bookstores are disappearing, is it harder to present the publications to a wide audience? Are you using new channels to reach them?
Allow me to mention that I run a bookstore dedicated to photography in Berlin myself. It’s called 25books and also exists online. So I know the perspective as a publisher and as a bookseller. I wrote an article about the fundamental changes regarding the distribution of photobooks lately. It’s called Permanent Black Friday – Welcome to the Discount Spiral. You can find it on my 25books blog. The article answers your question in detail, in short I can say this: Due to the small print runs which result in high production costs per copy it has become complicated to reach a return of investment or make a profit on the publisher’s side when books are sold through regular channels with reseller discount and distribution fees. Most publishers therefore offer their books also directly to the customers. For the book trade, however, it becomes problematic at the latest when retail customers can obtain books from the publishers on much more favorable terms. This is often the case. World Wide Free Shipping, Exclusively signed, Bundles are just the beginning. Finally, the book trade has to capitulate in the face of the numerous discount campaigns regarding the direct customer business: Black Friday, Christmas Sale, Spring Discount, pre-sales with discounts between 20 and 50%. It’s a vicious circle that on the long run harms the reputation of the photobook, that is experienced more and more as a discount article.
I am very critical about short-term individual concepts as I can’t see how sustained, consolidated business models can be derived from them.
And how do I adapt to the changes?
As a publisher of course I also use new channels to advertise my books: Website, blog, facebook … But I don’t participate in any discount activities and at this moment use regular distribution channels with fair reseller discounts as I am interested to have Peperoni Books in stores.
What do you find the most rewarding?
The process of turning a photographic work into a great photobook together with photographers, authors and producers with all the decisions that have to be made regarding choice of images, sequence, format, layout, materials, print and binding. To hold the first copy in my hand to find out if it works as planned. To get behind it, present it, advertise it and hopefully get a good response from critics and audience. To see how a book helps to make the photographer and his work visible and to experience how the photographs therefore also appear in other media and surroundings such as magazines, online portfolios, group and solo shows. To see how this response inspires the photographers to go on with their work.
What does the future hold?
Too big a question! But for Peperoni Books I’d say: More great books that celebrate the power of photography regarding the examination of life on our planet with all the different aspects, may they be personal, societal or political.