| Beyond the Book Symposium
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
18 April 2008
The symposium posed the overall question of what constitutes artists’ books today? and explored the practices of making, publishing and collecting artists’ books and books made by artists. Speakers included Richard Cork (art critic and author), Stephen Bury (British Library), Simon Cutts, Douglas Dodds (V&A), Marcus Campbell (London Artist’s Book Fair), Sarah Bodman (University of the West of England), Susan Johanknecht (Camberwell), Katherine Meynell (artist), Jane Rolo (Book Works), Rowan Watson (V&A) and Zoe Whitely (V&A).
Sarah Bodman and Marcus Campbell discussed the artist’s book market, and the relationship between the artist and purchaser within this field.
The following text is a transcript of Sarah’s marketing advice:
There are now many more artists making books, than there were 10 - 15 years ago. The subject has grown rapidly and with rigour over this period, unlike the previous high of artists making books in the 1980s, which then slowly dropped off again. The interest in artists’ books is evident in the amount of courses and modules for undergraduate and postgraduate study that are now available at many colleges in the UK. This relatively recent growth looks like the subject has really established a long-term and sustainable future as a popular means of producing artwork.
The artist’s book market has grown steadily alongside the increasing output of artworks in Europe, particularly in the UK. The USA market continues to be ahead in appreciation and understanding of artists’ books, but we are steadily developing a proper “market” for them. In the UK there are now regular artist’s book fairs and special events running around the country.
Some events that will be promoting artists’ books this year include fairs in London, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton and Glasgow; a one-week conference, competition and summer school series Books That Fly, in Brighton (www.brighton.ac.uk/booksthatfly) this July, and The Liquid Page (www.ucreative.ac.uk/index.cfm?articleid=18382), one-day symposium in London this June.
The importance of these events should not be underestimated - particularly artist’s book fairs – which provide a unique opportunity for artists and their public. Where else do you get to meet the artist and ask them questions about their work? Artist’s book fairs offer a valuable chance for artists to meet other makers, talk to collectors, test new works and gauge responses to their books. Institutional and private collectors attend these events and get to know the work of established and lesser-known artists, sometimes over a period of time, and this gives artists a real boost in their output and confidence when work is purchased, sometimes for a major collection. Subsequent opportunities leading from these events, where unknown audiences are perusing your work can result in offers of exhibitions, workshops, lectures and residencies. Over the years we have built up many useful and long-standing relationships with artists and collectors, which have led to many ideas for projects and books which would not have happened otherwise. Attending an artist’s book fair can feel a bit like a lottery; will you make any money or get any opportunities? It is always worth a try, if nothing else you will meet fellow artists who are willing to share tips and information.
For many artists, the main factor in deciding whether or not to book a table at a book fair is the cost. Stands can be prohibitively expensive for one person, ranging from around £1000 for top end, international fairs like Frankfurt, down to £60 for a one-day national fair. Artists groups such as artistsbooksonline.com, initiated by Noelle Griffiths have brought fellow artists together to share the costs of stands at fairs and to arrange group exhibitions. They have attended 8 book fairs between them, curated and arranged a touring exhibition of their work over 2007-8, and are constantly planning and evolving promotional events for the group’s work.
In the USA the artist’s collective Booklyn is a great example of how a large group of artists can promote their work in person and online. Books can be purchased from their website (www.booklyn.org), they run educational classes and events promoting the book form, and travel the country selling books at fairs and by appointment.
Having a group to market work is a real asset. Not only does it give you greater bargaining power as a collective, the group can also split responsibilities between them for marketing, arranging exhibitions and manning stands. This helps when arranging selling trips to institutions, as a wide range of works can be shown in one visit, and generally, we all feel more comfortable promoting the work of another artist, rather than our own.
Other marketing opportunities are growing due to Internet developments. Most artists now have their own websites, which are a really important asset to us, as a point of contact, showcase and virtual gallery/sales room for work. Although it is always great to physically handle a book, viewing works online can still give you a very good idea of the piece of work, and when books are affordable it is quite likely that you will buy the work if you can do this as easily as ordering a book from a large company like Amazon.
In the last month alone I have purchased artists’ books on a whim by Sophie Calle (abebooks) Karen Hanmer (from her own website) Bill Burns and Andrew McClaren (from Art Metropole). When ordering is as easy as “add to basket” or email to order, it makes the whole process work in favour of the seller - and when it is your own website, that is a wonderful sales asset. I recently had an order from a buyer in Spain who I had never met, who wanted a copy of my book The Marsh Test, because he had noticed it when visiting the Zybooks website, this was swiftly arranged by Paypal, but would never have happened if my book had not been out there on the Internet. Zybooks, bookstorming, Johan Deumens’ (www.artistsbooks.com) www.artmetropole.com, www.barbarawien.de and www.printedmatter.org are good places to sell and buy artists’ books.
For some examples of good practice for artists’ own websites with marketing/sales ability I would suggest visiting the following:
For providing information on works, Jackie Batey’s website (www.dampflat.com) has to be one of the best for visuals and working information that really gets people interested in her work; Paul Johnson’s Book Art Project (www.bookart.co.uk) is a great site for promoting the book arts in education, and Colin Sackett’s www.colinsackett.co.uk is a beautifully designed website full of information and back catalogue of works for sale.
Using the Internet as a sales site is only one part of marketing; relatively new sites such as lulu.com and blurb.com allow you to upload your book to print and sell, with the potential for publishing on demand, not only for your own stock, but also for listing the book online for people to buy from the site. Blurb also allows you to enrol on the free ‘Set Your Price’ programme (if you order at least one copy of your book yourself) where you use their guide to set your own profit margin and they market the book on the website at their retail price. You need to find a category to list your book under (Jana Harper wrote a helpful essay about DIY publishing for The Blue Notebook which noted that there is no category for artists’ books on blurb yet, but there may be if enough people use it). Effectively this works just like Amazon, but with the artist/author getting the profit they want.
Back to physical spaces - there are many places to sell work in the UK and further afield. Of course, bookartbookshop in London is the place to start, but other places include: Bertram Rota and Eagle Gallery in London; Permanent Bookshop in Brighton; Firecatcher books in Bolton; Here Gallery and Arnolfini Bookshop in Bristol.
Concentrating on small and specialist suppliers or dealers is much more rewarding than dealing with a large organisation, small and independent bookshops and dealers have a greater personal interest in the types of books they sell and you will build better relationships with them.
Approaching institutional collectors to sell work requires a little forward planning, collections often have a set acquisitions policy, which may be available, so it is always worth checking that your books fit their areas of interest before contacting them. Many educational library collections will concentrate on purchasing artists’ books, which relate to their teaching curriculum. Again, as with book fairs, approaches to collectors are easier when operating as part of an organised group.
One example of policies in the UK is Tate Library and Archive (www.tate.org.uk/research/researchservices/researchcentre/default.htm) which has the UK’s largest collection of contemporary artists’ books. There is an online record of books in the collection, so you can browse and see the type of things they collect, mostly larger editions and more inexpensive books. Tate has a documented acquisitions policy and price limits on purchases, which can be requested by email. Many of the active collecting institutions have online lists or databases of works in their collections, so it is always worth checking these as a starting point, to see if they would be interested in your work before you approach them.
For artists needing advice on marketing and distributing their work, we have already done lot of the work for them through a one-year Arts and Humanities Research Council supported survey project (June 04 - June 05) investigating this area.
The project resulted in the publication of Artists’ Books Creative Production and Marketing, a free download 50pp guide for book artists (ISBN 0954702514) in 2005. The guide included advice on pricing, approaching collectors, dealers, whether or not to use ISBNs, book fairs, shops and events, lists of paces to sell work and useful websites and publications.
The guide was well received and subsequently more information was forwarded to us from artists and collectors. We then interviewed new participants, dealers, gallery owners, curators and artists over 2007, and invited the 24 case study artists to update their information for an updated 2nd edition of Artists’ Books Creative Production and Marketing which has been published as a free download on our website available at www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/surv07.htm
If you have any questions, do feel free to email : Sarah.Bodman@uwe.ac.uk
The symposium was organised to coincide with the V&A museum’s major exhibition, Blood on Paper: the Art of the Book, 15 April - 29 June 2008 (http://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/future_exhibs/blood_on_paper/index.html) including work by artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Anish Kapoor, Not Vital, Isamu Noguchi and others; examining the different ways in which the book has been treated by leading artists of today and the recent past.