I first heard rumblings about Minor Matters Books, the new imprint by publishing veteran Michelle Dunn Marsh, earlier this year, but it wasn't until I read this PDN article over the summer that I fully understood the concept. It's a brilliant win-win(-win) for the artist, publisher, and audience. More and more it seems that photographers are asked to bring a large sum of money to the table in order to get their photobook published. In essence, the photographer is fronting all of the hard costs of the publishing, and in return they receive a certain number of books that they can sell (without the help of a distributor, like the publisher has) on their own. If the photographer can sell all of their copies (at galleries, exhibitions, independent bookstores that will buy direct from the artist), they have a chance to recoup most of their investment.
While there are valid reasons for a photographer to want to participate in this scenario, this model definitely economically favors the publisher. But a publisher with a "pay to play" reputation begs the question - are the books they publish truly the best of contemporary photography today, or just the best of who can afford it?
Minor Matters Books takes a new approach. They are combining crowdfunding with careful curation in a way that is collaborative, fun, and really smart. Here's how it works (from the Minor Matters Books website):
In collaboration with each artist, we develop a $50 book, then present it to you, our audience, for a maximum of six months. When at least 500 of you make an advanced purchase, the book goes into design and production, and will be shipped to you upon completion (no more than a year from the book’s initial launch on the site). The first 500 people who purchase are listed within the book, along with the artists, writers, and printers who are part of making the book happen.
This model tests the market for the book before the book is published. It also engages and helps build the audience for the artist. I have loved David Hilliard's work for years, and while I probably would have gotten around to buying his photobook once it came out, it was thrilling to be one of the people to actually help make it happen. And I become a co-publisher! I feel even more invested in him and his photography, which is something a crowdfunding model can do that ordering a book on Amazon cannot match.
Oh, sweet innovation.