is paper hot, or not?

“Color , grace, gesture. Slipping and sliding through nights humid and intimidating. I am both lost and found in a simultaneous rush of primal feelings and needs.”

These were my words for a Bravo paper promo for their paper and printing. A commercial use of my photography but the whole concept, design and writing was  a collaboration between Polish designer Jurek Wadjowicz and yours truly. Of course the pictures were my personal work from the Caribbean and South America . I cannot publish the whole portfolio here, but it was a labor of love and flat out a whole lot of fun to make. Trust me, the kind of commission you will savor. They are rare. I have never worked with anyone in quite the same way as I did with  Jurek. It really was our baby and he made me feel like it was my baby.

Holding the final paper product in my hands now is a certain kind of experience and way of viewing photographs that cannot be duplicated on the computer screen. Yet I and many others scramble every day to make our work viable for mobile devices, like the iPad and Kindle etc. We see our books being reasonably priced iPad books as a secondary offering for the traditionally printed book, or will it be the other way around?

Either way, times are changing. Some top media executives see bookstores closing and all but boutique printing moving to the iPad. Their feeling is that the consumer will happily pay say $5. for an iPad book rather than $50. for a paper book. I will no doubt end up doing both , therefore spending $55., but perhaps I am not the average consumer of photo books. We will see how discerning consumers move on this.

While I work everyday to create a good web experience for you, I also work everyday in traditional media. I live and breathe books. Traditionally printed books. My workshops which always had as the grand finale a slide show from the week of intense shooting by students, will from now on have as the end game a handsomely printed book.

In April during the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale , Mississippi  students from my small class will start their shooting knowing that we will be producing a book titled JUKE.  This will not be an  everybody automatically gets 5 pictures in our class book, but a seriously conceived and edited book where each student is going to have to make a truly strong image to be considered for publication. We  will start building this book from day one.

Eileen Gittens, Founder/Ceo of Blurb, told me her company will sponsor JUKE and give us  very special attention.  This will be the first in a series of student produced books.  These may become a part of our upcoming Burn library of carefully thought out books of all kinds including upcoming publication of a wide variety of photographic artists from this audience both emerging and icons alike. Soon to be presented on Burn will be series of iPad  compatible essays,  starting with Chris Anderson and his Capitolio.


So what do you think? i am reading Ross in our comments section  whose book budget is blown after buying 4 books…..what about this? Ross could have perhaps had 4 iPad books for say $20. instead of the probably $200. he spent…the profit to the photographer and publisher is probably also better in the electronic version…book stores closing down….are we seeing the end of the printed book game?

You guys tell us…..we are listening

3268 Responses to “is paper hot, or not?”

  • oh and by the way – how cool is eileen gittins? love that woman!

  • Still proud of my signed copy.

  • didn’t really answer the question there; print vs pad.. i mean its hard isn’t it. simply – i see books as works of art. photographers who are taking control of the full production, authorship and distribution of their books can and will turn a profit if the content is compelling and they are savvy in their marketing. plenty of photographers are already doing this – Stephen Gill springs to mind – but it will be the few as opposed to the many who can really make this work; and of course the main market will be photographers selling to photographers and the odd collector.

    in premiership football here in the UK, money gets sloshed around between the clubs – people complain about the huge transfer fees, but ultimately the money is received by one club, and then generally spent again and given to other clubs. every so often a businessman (usually foreign!) comes in and cleans up.

    is the photographic book industry moving towards this model in microcosm?

  • I prefer looking at something tangible like an art book or photo magazine, but the “ebook” is much more environmentally friendly. I have a stack of 30 magazines in my office now that I haven’t touched (and probably won’t) that will eventually be thrown away.

  • Still proud of my signed copy.

    hmmmmm…hard to beat this argument….

  • “are we seeing the end of the printed book game?”

    i hope not!

    i love digital, started shooting with it in 2002… love the whole thing…

    BUT I LOVE LOVE LOVE BOOKS (paper printed ones that is).

    i don’t think you can replace the experience of sitting with a beautiful book.

    the ipad or whatever you use will always be a uniform electronic experience, books come in all shapes and sizes… textures… the feel and weight of a good book… the paper quality… even the smell from the print…

    my bookshelf is something i cherish…

  • a civilian-mass audience

    I wasn’t ready for this one…
    I am not prepared…
    I mean really…I don’t read fast…BUT when you see a masterpiece…
    BRAVO to our one and only one MR.DAVID ALAN HARVEY…

    I don’t see “limited”…I see the “only” edition…

    tonight in BURN …we celebrate the Soul of BURN…

  • a civilian-mass audience

    and I will be back to answer the question…
    I believe …there must be a question…somewhere,near the end…hmmm…:)))

  • David;

    I have blown my budget for about 6-months; but I also have 4 books that I haven’t had a decent chance to absorb yet; Allards Retrospective, Dorchester Days, Think of England, Story/No Story. It’s going to take a while absorbing all of that.

    I’d rather spend a bit more and buy a book of high quality to hold in my hot hands. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy an Ipad book (if I had an Ipad!)

    Also; as Imants mentioned (I can’t really comment because I don’t know enough about it), is an essay that is perfect for screen display going to work as a book; and vice versa?

  • To touch….
    to hold……

  • When I opened this up and saw your lead-in pix, it was another one of those “why the hell did I have to grow up Mormon?” moments.

    Damn! Damn! Damn!

    I could have had so much fun during those years when I was walking around wearing a white shirt and tie and carrying the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

    But some good things happened that likely would not have happened otherwise, so you win and lose no matter what course you take.

    I think it is probably the same when it comes to electronic publishing vs paper.

    I am so eager to get an iPad so that I can start viewing the potential and how I might capitalize on it, but I have to keep buying harddrives, my equipment has been breaking down across the board, camera and computer, and on and on and on and so I have had to keep putting it off.

    But I will get one, I will figure it out and because my whole career has been based on creating publications that I shot, wrote, designed and produced, I just feel like electronic publishing was created just for me. I often feel like I want to abandon paper forever, but what it really is that I want to abandon is working on the payroll of others. I want to be totally free in what I photograph and publish, and it seems to me that the potential for that is strong electronically than it is with paper.

    These past few months, whenever I can afford to and often when I can’t, I have been putting the framework of a book together. I feel like the odds of me finding a paper publisher for it are not good, although I am certainly going to try, so I intend to figure out how to make iPad books and put it out as such. Plus, I see possibilities in the iPad that I do not see in print. There are certain photo series in this book that could be slowly roll over each other and thus to create an effect and tell a story that would half-a-dozen to a dozen pages to simulate on paper. That, of course that would be too expensive.

    Still, I also want to see it published as a paper book. I want to hold it in my hands, and savor the beautiful printing. I want to be able to lie in bed at night, flip through the pages and smell the ink and shellac on the paper.

    Plus, I think, if you can get a book done on paper, you will always feel that you have accomplished something a little more than if it is just published for iPad.

    iPad opens up many more opportunities, even as it would seem to lessen the intrinsic value, as practically anyone at all can do it.

    So there you have it. You asked what I think and that’s it.

    The idea of you leaving burn saddens me, but you must complete your own work. What you have done here is unprecedented and will live long past you – not as the static work of the dead but the ongoing creations of the newly inspired, discovered and motivated.

  • I think that with the Ipad and traditional publishing you could have the best of both worlds..

  • Just checked. Three self-published Blurb books sold thus far, this month. About average. Website hits? Around 3k this month. Also about average. So it goes, in today’s world.


    you made me laugh out loud..well, i did not grow up Mormon , but i was in a pretty conservative environment as well….and yes no matter which road you travel there are washouts as much as paved highway…yet either way is an adventure or a lesson…either way has its own reward…

    yes i feel the same as you about print…obviously will not go away for either of us…the markets will shift in favor of electronic publishing, but just as obviously the two can co-exist nicely as we proved with Burn 01…

    always better to walk off the stage before being thrown off..smiling…i am surrounded by lots of talented young people…the whole point of Burn was to use whatever influence i had built in the craft to harness that energy and make it something the next generation could use…they are not and never were without their own abilities, but it is always a life imperative i think to pass on a bit of the spirit if nothing else…just a touchstone of some sort…part of the passing will be Burn and the celebration of new talent , and a flattering part would be imagining that some of it would be at least some of my work

    Bill you certainly have made your mark on the net…and i will do all i can to help you think about one day having that book in your hands….so go shoot a few more from the heart…you always do…and by the time i can get to looking at your body of work , you will have added just what we needed all along….smiling

    cheers, abrazos, david

  • paper is hot…..and burns easily…..

    spent the afternoon with best friend and his two girls walking around dinosaur bones….can look at pictures of bones forever, but it aint shit compared with the bones themselve as if the weight of breath itself, palmed in the hollow of our chest….

    though i look endless at pictures via pixels, it isn’t anything compared with the book…and today, marinka and i just showed 2 of Susan Rothenberg’s books of painters to those 2 little girls….


    as long as their are books, i’ll buy them…i can read on net/ipad/ebooks, but i can’t look at photobooks via them….

    and when they disappear, i’ll consume photos the same way i consume oj in the morning, without savor but as necessity….and that will be that…

    but, i prefer to be alone with the sound and scent of a pictures instead of numbing into the silence of the data-pricked screen….

    and then there is JUNE……..

    running, wobbled


    Still friend of many distances, feel how
    your breath increases space even now.
    In the timber-frames of shadowy bell towers
    let yourself ring. That which saps your powers

    grows ever stronger from this sustenance.
    Through transformation, cross the borderline.
    What’s your most sorrowful experience?
    If drinking you is bitter, turn to wine.

    Be, in this night of extravagances,
    magics at the crossroads of your senses,
    the sense they oddly all cohere.

    And when the world no longer knows
    you, to the still earth say: I flow.
    To the rushing water speak: I’m here.

    Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen, fühle,
    wie dein Atem noch den Raum vermehrt.
    Im Gebälk der finstern Glockenstühle
    laß dich läuten. Das, was an dir zehrt,

    wird ein Starkes über dieser Nahrung.
    Geh in der Verwandlung aus und ein.
    Was ist deine leidenste Erfahrung?
    Ist dir Trinken bitter, werde Wein.

    Sei in dieser Nacht aus Übermaß
    Zauberkraft am Kreuzweg deiner Sinne,
    ihrer seltsamen Begegnung Sinn.

    Und wenn dich das Irdische vergaß,
    zu der stillen Erde sag: Ich rinne.
    Zu dem raschen Wasser sprich: Ich bin.

    –Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, II, 29

  • I love books. I have hordes of them. I’ve been buying a lot of them in the past year mostly online. Every time something interesting is mentioned on Burn, I end up buying a book, usually online. Just so easy, click, click, it is in your mailbox in a week or two. This week I recieved Sally Mann’s “what remains”, and Irving Penn portraits. I’ve not digested either yet. I’ve also had three 11.5″x14″ books of personal photographs printed within the last month.

    Books are cheap. It is a matter of perspective. Most books cost less than a dinner for two at a mediocre restaurant. I struck me when I recieved Bruce Davidsons wonderfully printed “Outside Inside” that this was essentially his lifes work, and it cost me less than what I charge for a couple of 8×10 prints at my studio.

    I can’t see the book going away.

  • David,

    Great to see your work published full bleed that way – as you know looking at my books I’m a big fan of that design ethos – the bigger the better…:) Perhaps you will consider such for your retrospective? :):) Please?!! :)

    Books will always be around, many (most?) crave/need that tactile experience though I foresee photo books having a tough road ahead, mostly due to their expense. Only the best will get published. Fortunately for others there is the digital format which lends itself so well to the visual.

    But no way will you ever find me reading Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, or Treasure Island to my son on an iPad – that would be a travesty. I also prefer a paperback in the hand, even while traveling despite the extra bulk. Some things just feel right….


  • I suspect for the immediate future the real life bookstores will go the same way as record stores.
    The big box stores will be gone very soon but an independent book seller might be able to stick around selling boutique printed books (just as independent record stores have survived for the time being on vinyl).

  • Most bookshops close due to bad business not lack of business.

  • David/Gordon;

    Funny; Gordon’s post pretty much said just what I was about to write! :-)

    Last year was a bad one financially for me, so I only bought one book (Sylvia Plachy). My folks go out for lunch every Sunday with my sister; and last year because I was broke I only went a few times. Sure they always offered to shout me; but I’d feel a bit stink if they did that. This year I try to go with them once every 2-3 weeks because I’ve got a little more disposable income.

    However; the meal usually costs around $25; or, half a book! So every two meals out would buy a book. I did spend around $200 on books; but that’s about all I’ll spend on them for about 6-months; the equivalent of approximately $8 per week for books.

    $8 is pretty good value for the amount of time I spend looking at them. Last year it was great to relax and look at Plachy’s book and forget how deep I was in the financial crap.

    I’m also a bit of a boring old fart and don’t drink (well; the occasional social drink) and don’t smoke (about $17 per 25-pack here!) So it’s not as though I smoke a pack a day and then say I can’t afford a book!


    As for bookstores; there’s been a big debate about them here in NZ because of the Borders book store financial strife. Our biggest bookstore chain is owned by them and has gone into voluntary receivership.

    However; the independent bookstores are all reporting that their turnover is increasing yearly for the following reasons; they know their customers (often personally and often recommend books), they don’t “dumb down” their book stocks, and they ensure that they only employ staff who are “book lovers”, they import their own books, try to provide excellent service. In other words; they fill a niche; they’re not attempting to be all things to all people.

    Imants; “Most bookshops close due to bad business not lack of business” Exactly!!!! :-)

  • Our (small provincial city) independent bookseller opened their shop right next to the library and have a nice selection of interesting books…

  • No question in my mind, photos in print always win out over computer images. Whether in books, on walls, in magazines or newspapers, a photo only becomes real when I see it on paper. Don’t think that will ever change.

    At the same time I am grateful to have gotten serious about photography during the digital age. Would never have had the opportunity to connect with folks like DAH and all you Burnians, nor would my work have been seen by so many before the web. To be honest, I doubt if I would even have completed projects like Falling Into Place without David’s online and in-person support, critiques, edits and encouragement. The fact that it became a book (Blurb) would never have happened in a pre-web world. So I may love books best, but it was the computer that led to my own work coming into print.

    Regarding David’s decision to move forward after June and give his own work the undivided attention he has given ours over these past 4 years, I totally understand and support him. It’s been an amazing experience to have him at our side during these years, but now is HIS time to shine that laser-like focus on seeing to it that his own work gets out there where it belongs.

    DAH and I are at a stage of life where we must do what needs to be done NOW. Time is no longer the unlimited resource we imagined in our youth. Neither is energy. For myself, I find the older I get, the more focused I must become. Priorities must be carefully weighed and many worthy projects do not make the cut. It’s all about knowing myself and what I have to give. Then doing whatever is necessary to DO it. In my youth I said yes to everything and everyone. In my aging years, I say yes to my Self.

    I hear David saying that kind of elemental YES today. I celebrate this moment with him and say “Thank you for everything, dear friend. May this new chapter be a wondrous one.”


  • bad business not lack of business.

    im drinking scotch… so not thinking clearly …elaborate?

  • DAH and I are at a stage of life where we must do what needs to be done NOW

    Hey Pat, i’ll second that…i feel the same!

  • i kinda like that guy that signs under the name ross nolly!:)

  • To touch….
    to hold……

    Wendy…………u summed it all up! perfectly
    (funny thing thing is im typing through an iphone which i can also touch & hold)

  • paper is hot…..and burns easily…..

    bobus! im gonna tattoo this one!

  • Differences there is the backlit screen and non backlit nature of books books. Bold in your face stuff works in both media but there seems an extra dimension to the colour as one brushes their hand lightly over the page. One can view several books at once and view in a no linear manner or in a personal ad hock rambling manner.

    With the more subtle images books seem to work better as the tonal nuances seem to lose a bit on a screen sorta like compressed mp3 downloads. My books are different to my net stuff.
    Audiences are different ……. my art kids live with these prototypes (they even like the bag) but the Information Technology mob are indifferent.

    Time perceived is the biggest difference Ross……….

  • Ross Borders lost it when they took on Woolworths and the big department stores in a discount war, they lost 40 odd million on that move. Plus they had a weird pricing structure where the upped the prices and lowered in a free-fall manner one day the book was 23 bucks the next 33 bucks and so on it went
    In Australia books are overpriced by the publishers we neverget the cheaper US published versions just the Euro priced stuff plus that fee and this fee and why not another publishers fee on top.

  • My biggest problem is lack of space (bookshelves)! That’s one reason I offloaded most of my vinyl lps and probably will do the rest soon. And that’s a very real consideration in the world of photo books and one reason that publishers have been shying away from the oversized editions of the past (unless you are Bruce Davidson of course:)). Size and price have to be considered from the get go when planning/designing a book, as un-idealistic as that sounds. It also costs much more $ now to ship the damn things, from printer to warehouse to store.

    I’m always amazed when I go into comic book stores (the serious art kind) and see that they can do gorgeous hardcover books for $25 and under. Why is it so much more expensive to print photography?

  • “i kinda like that guy that signs under the name ross nolly!:)”

    You’re obviously not a very good judge of character Panos! ;-)

    Patricia; Even being 48 years old clarifies the mind a bit; because you know that if you want to make any sort of mark, you gotta do it soon…

  • Imants; Here they lowered the price of the Jackie Collins’ etc and upped the price of the “higher brow” books. They had 8 different owners in 15 years, tried to be all things to everyone and employed the cheapest staff. And ironically; made an absolute pig’s ear of their online business.

  • I agree, Gordon Lafleur. If people want the book they’ll buy the book (usually online for a decent price) – it’s high street books stores that need to worry.

    I don’t know about costs and profits but I’d be surprised if books for iPad outsold printed versions – it’s about value.

  • ………… but then I do love the wwdot world

  • Ross – I just turned 47 and I have a two year old. He’ll be graduating from high school when I’m 63! Talk about clearing the mind – or fuddling it up even more! Not sure which it is yet….:) Glad I’ve made at least one mark, though would love to do it again but who knows. Point is now all I really want to make is a good one on those I love….

  • Ross same mob ran both Australia and NZ

  • With a smidgen more technology it will be all print on demand in a decade or so. the positive is that one will be able to get out of print stuff.


  • By the way David it all looks pretty schmick……..

  • I couldn’t care less if it is on paper or in bytes. As long as the picture is hot in my brain…

  • Most of you guys probably know better than I, but since DAH asked…. :-)

    Burnians seem to use analogies to music very often, given our interest and parallels to photography: To me, content seems to be consumer-driven and the ability that the artist is willing to relinquish control. The latest Radiohead album “The King of Limbs” is currently available for download in two forms: CD-quality .wav files for $14.99 USD and compressed .mp3 files for $9.95 USD. Of course, pirated versions of both are available…

    Photographers can show their work on the web for free, to the masses, on un-calibrated monitors (such as mine), to stimulate awareness of their work and/or book and print sales. iPad resolution has now been surpassed by an Android tablet (Motorla Xoom) (at least until the iPad 2 is released). I’m sure that neither of these rival print quality, in terms of resolution or color.

    I guess that it all depends on your end-game: a finished book, a “teaser” to support a Kickstarter project, etc. I’m rambling, time for bed…

  • Larry Towell’s “Mennonites”. Luscious book; lovely rice paper-like pages, gorgeous binding and beautiful black case to slide it into. And that’s before you even get to the images… Anyway; enough from me tonight :-)

  • Paper is,definitely,hot but I don’t know how viable will be from a business perspective
    in the coming decade.
    For better or worse,I think the e-option will steamroll the print side into submission
    for all but the highest profile,most known photographers.
    David can inform us based on hands on experience but I’ve heard that the majority of
    portfolio/monolith type publications don’t earn a profit.
    As I sit in my living room with a 30 year collection of some 800 books,it’s impossible
    to deny the tactile experience of working through a new book or going back to an old
    favorite as if were comfort food.
    In principal,I thought I’d love the iPad experience for consuming visual before I became an owner
    but with a handful of photo ebooks now on my iPad I’m already bored with the experience-just
    doesn’t measure up,somehow.
    Possibly,the problem lies in the fact the early releases are just trying to be the same when
    I think the iPad experience might be better suited to an enriched multimedia type piece
    That would/could incorporate motion and audio to differentiate from a printed book.

    I think a refined,more evolved, ebook will certainly enable many the ability to make available
    their work that would otherwise be impossible on the print side apart from on demand solutions
    and that’s a good thing.

    From a Burn perspective, I would gladly pay for an extended edit e-version of many essays
    published here and think it is a business opportunity that should considered.

  • I was going to bed but saw Rossy’s post. It reminded me of some that lament the day of an album’s cover art (and liner) in the age of mp3’s (for worse, in my opinion). Maybe the “finished package” concept has changed for photographers, as well. Going to bed for sure, now…

  • photography is changing
    world is changing
    consumer is changing
    creators are changing
    old masters will be masters forever
    emerging masters will be mush of bilions clones
    everything will be times million
    everything will be cheap and available
    everything will be better than is now
    will be a million of Harveys
    will be a million of Skoulidas
    Will be a milion of Gurskys
    We will have 0,2 sec per picture
    We will have 8 min per book
    We will have 0.21 of children
    10 ipods
    0.00032 God
    1.30 min for tv show
    2 hrs for commercial
    0,00043 for a friend’s post on Facebook
    0,0000021 to take own photo

  • For me books always win. It’s about the touch, about standing in front of my bookcase and seeing which one I’ll take out again to have another look at, then leaf through it and feel the paper. Nothing like it and no Ipad will ever give me the same experience.

  • I don’t think it’s the end printed book, there are more website to publish yourself, print and sell, and I think it will be continued… I love books,I love the feel of paper under your fingers, coverage, print, smell … Henri Cartier-Bresson said : “the picture looks in the books, not the wall.” (Henri Cartier-Bresson affirmait que « la photo se regarde dans les livres, pas au mur » hope my translation is good). Recently, I ordered 5 books and 2 were limited edition, maybe the limited edition is the future for the printed book as an object of art… for me, paper is HOT.

    David, I’ll always be grateful to you and Burn….
    Hope to see you again at Rencontres d’Arles, hugs, audrey

Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.