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Far from heralding the end of print photobooks, digital photography and digital printing are enabling a thriving new independent photobook publishing and
collecting scene.

Willibald Sauerländer was one of the greatest living German speaking and writingart historians. Having witnessed the rise and decline of art book publishing afterthe Second World War, the print runs of his books, which used to stand at between 3,000 and 5,000 copies, dropped to 500 copies; not enough to make such books worthwhile for a serious publisher today.

British illustrated book publisher Thames and Hudson reports a similar decline in niche art books. Although it is publishing more photography titles now, thecompany’s design director Johanna Neurath recognises the firm isn’t as nimble as a small start-up publisher for whom print runs of 500 would be a more exciting
proposition.

Although Neurath loved George Georgiou’s book of London photography , she recommended the artist self-published in order to realise the book with the production values he wanted to achieve.

This type of short-run, specialist photography book is part of a growing trend partly inspired by the 2004 publication of Parr and Badger’s The Photobook, A History. Not only is there a growing market for these books, it is an increasingly popular field for collectors and investors.

It is this specialist, collectors’ market that is now thriving in the digital age.

Digital printing and specialist printing techniques are making short print runs of beautifully crafted photobooks commercially viable and giving rise to an increasingly creative and desirable niche publishing phenomenon.

Social media is driving the trend; helping to popularise and promote titles and creating an advertising network for selling and swapping the books online and promoting specialist collectors’ fairs.

It’s a clear example of digital technology acting as an enabler in the physical world – making more personalised and creative approaches possible to people who previously could not have considered publishing such tomes.

The idea of the high-end photobook is now creeping into the consumer market, with a myriad of firms offering online tools which consumers can use to create their own hardback publications of a personal photo collection.

The photobooks these high-street retailers produce might not have the high production values of an art-house photobook publisher, but they do speak to the same need we seem to still have for a tangible way to experience images in our increasingly digital world; a need that nothing can meet in the same way paper does.

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