To Book or Not to Book by Joe Nalven PDF Print E-mail
 Sample ImageAt the intersect of the internet, software applications and distributed commerce lies an interesting opportunity for artists in need of an instant portfolio or one that is tailored to a specific client or exhibition.

The quest for a published book leads in many directions. In one direction, there are the Harry Potter blockbusters; in another, there are the how-to books that race to keep up with new technology and last only until the new version of the software is released. There are illustrated books and those with only words. There are also one of a kind art-books. The list goes on.

At the intersect of the internet, software applications and distributed commerce lies an interesting opportunity for artists in need of an instant portfolio or one that is tailored to a specific client or exhibition. These are the self-published books that skip over the time, energy and mad-hatter model of the large publishing company. They may not supplant the books found in Borders and Barnes & Nobles bookstores, but they can easily be added to what is found on

These self-published books generally use free downloaded software from the online publisher. The author uses the templates provided in this software or full bleeds (edge-to-edge) can be substituted to craft the author’s own style. Some companies will actually talk to you if you have questions or require human contact; other companies simply say, use the software and any questions are either answered in the FAQs or treated as incident reports and answered in an email.

One such artist author is Tom Chambers. Chambers’ self-published collection can be found at his personal bookstore .    Chambers has more than a half dozen books that provide a portfolio/thematic organization of his work, some of them tied to specific exhibitions. For example, his Malevich-inspired collection is now available at his storefront at --   The DAG webzine also ran an article by Chambers on his Malevich collection, The Pixel as Minimal Art  

At the time of this writing his Lulu Sales Rank for this book was  45,002. From a marketing perspective, perhaps this is not a major sales number.  But is the sales ranking what this book publishing opportunity is about? Hardly.

Here is what I see for artists when making their art public in this format:

Providing a coherent organization for the artwork. Most artists have different focus points. These books can remake the potpourri collection into discernible themes or media or time periods and the like.

Having a book of one’s art available for sale at the time of an exhibition. Ordinarily, an artist might have smaller prints of an image that is up on the wall or postcards, or in the case of a high-end art gallery having giclee prints of an ‘original’ oil or acrylic painting. All of these are different ways to sell and market the image. What can be attractive about these books,  if done well,  is that they often look like they are available at a “real” bookstore. But what is real? These are illusions tied to a particular cultural context. So why not offer an object that looks equally attractive and perhaps looks more real than other such objects? This approach works as well for a group exhibition as well as a solo one.

The book serves to memorialize and make a history of an art show. If one thinks about linking and cross-promoting, well, what better way to link a time-specific show with a book with a longer life span. This becomes even more intriguing when the book can be available online and purchased through the webstore without the artist having to stock or mail the book to individual purchasers, whether at the time of a show or just by the happenstance of someone surfing the net.

The price is unbeatable for a small run. While one can get the price down to several dollars for a traditionally published large run book, the price break requires the printing of, say, a thousand or more books. Here a single book may cost $20 for a soft cover book of, say, 30 full color pages. The price per unit is quite a bit higher than for a large run of the same book, BUT you can run just one book (or none, depending on the online publisher). 

Having stock on hand for a group show can be structured so that there is no left over inventory. Imagine twenty artists having a group show.  If they each bought a book, that would be twenty books and these could all be made available for sale at the show. If four books sold, well, only four books would be needed to be reordered to make up the twenty that will be delivered to the artists. This is a flexible way to have stock on hand at the time of the exhibit and none left over as the exhibit ends.

The book can be used as an inexpensive way to show a portfolio to a gallery, a magazine, a collector, etc. If one wanted better paper and prints to reveal the quality of the image, there are higher end one-off books that fit this same model for a higher price.

The book can be used as a added gift with a gallery sale of more than X amount of dollars. This  is reminiscent of ‘buy one, get one free’ type of incentive. At higher end purchases, this may be more meaningful than having a gift card or a poster.

Similar self-published books can be found at , , Apple’s iPhoto   and many others. Higher quality variations can be found at .

Booksmart Studio offers a mid-range book referred to as a catalog edition book and plans on adding their own online bookstore aimed at artist books. Catalog edition books are produced with a digital press and bound utilizing multiple sewing techniques, rather than only glue like most other digital books. The catalog edition books are only offered in hardcovers. Catalog edition books are published in editions ranging from 5 to 1500, depending on the artist needs.

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Digital Art Guild portfolio book, Reflections, published by BookSmart Studio.
Note inset image printed on metallic paper.  

Eric Kunsman, the founder of BookSmart Studio, describes the company’s objective: “Booksmart Studio's foundation is preserving the notion that a book is an art form or a way of expressing one's art. Digital has brought new trends to the way a book serves artists; however we must not devalue the very structure of the book.

From a different approach, Russell Brown offers a free downloadable action to create a fold out book formated as a six image, 6"x 38" book. This leads the artist into the direction of crafting his or her own book. RedRiver and other paper distributors offer pre-cut paper with guidelines to make this self-crafted book relatively easy to assemble. Kathy Beal demonstrated this approach at SIGGRAPH 2007 in the Guerrilla Studio. The SIGGRAPH Art Gallery included several artist books and although this particular action is on the simpler part of this spectrum, it provides a useful steppingstone for artists interested in the craft-look rather than the magazine-look.

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Kathy Beal assembling folding portfolio book at SIGGRAPH Studio 2007. 

Beal urges a broad use of this type of bookmaking, “This idea can be elaborated in many ways. In the Guerilla studio at SIGGRAPH conferences, we printed books that are 22 images long (22 x 6") printing 7 at a time, setting them up side by side to run on an Epson 9800 on 44" wide paper, then cutting and folding (with a group of volunteers).  I printed a book of 7 images each with an 8-1/2" x 11" dimension (portrait) printing 2up on an Epson 7600 printer. I printed some smaller versions, using a 4" x4"  image size for marketing give-aways.

The internet and online webzines can also be used to summarize previous work done by an artist. Dorothy Simpson Krause has synthesized her artist books in The Page Turning Flipbook.  


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For other articles on self-published books, see PC World  , Taming the Beast , and The Washington Post 


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