2018: WritingBOOK FAIRS?EVB
Publishers Assembly, London Art Book FairSunday 9 September 2018, Whitechapel Gallery
Eleanor Vonne Brown (LABF Guest Programmer)For me a great art book fair has a good combination of selling and sociability. There should be a platform for publishers to open up their books to the public through talks, discussions and book launches to give visibility and context to their books. On Sunday morning on the last day of the London Art Book Fair 2018, I hosted a Publishers Assembly for exhibitors to discuss with fair organisers what they think makes a good book fair, and to share ideas that can be used shape future fairs. Organisers from D.I.Y Cultures, Strange Perfume, Dublin Art Book Fair and the London Art Book Fair spoke informally alongside Ju Hee Hong editor of European Art Book Fairs; On the Shelf and Mark Pawson a regular fair exhibitor.
Daniel James Wilkinson (Strange Perfume)Strange Perfume is a queer culture book fair. The reason that we started it was because we have been losing so many queer spaces. The language between generations and the queer community has been lost. If you go around the studios, publishers, printers and queer people making printed matter, they are not communicating with one another. That’s why we thought it would be a good idea just to make an umbrella, getting people to come together, talking and sharing.
Órla Goodwin (Dublin Art Book Fair)We are a contemporary art gallery and we’ve been running the book fair for 8 years now, this is my second year coordinating it. It started off just on a wing and prayer by somebody who wanted to get the fair going. We put on events as well. For us it brings in a whole new audience into the gallery space. It creates an engaging atmosphere. We are quite unique in that we curate a selection of books for the fair but we don’t have the publishers present. It’s a different way of working within a smaller space.
Marcus Campbell (Marcus Campbell Books)25 years ago, it was called the London Artist Book fair which I started in 1993 in the Southbank Centre. It was one day only and over in a flash. It was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer, and I thought ‘Can’t we do this every year?!’ We were in the Southbank for two years, then the Barbican for 5 years, then the ICA. Then the New York Art Book Fair came into existence in 2004 and Printed Matter organized it. I thought it was very interesting that they called it the New York Art Book Fair. Not artist book fair, because by then in England there were numerous artist book fairs going on; Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow. There was a sense that what New York was doing was opening everything up again to get a new invigorated audience to come and look at art books without preconceived ideas. You had big publishers like Taschen, distributors like D.A.P and that created a momentum for a while. I took this new idea to the Whitechapel Gallery, to open the fair up again to artists books and art books. They are very different things. That’s one of the issues at the moment I think, that it is a bit confusing. I think one of the way forwards is to be aware of themes within the fair and to try to make the pockets of types of publishers more strongly identified.
Iwona Blazwick (Whitechapel Gallery Director)We are a publishing house and primarily we make catalogues and the series Documents of Contemporary Art with MIT Press. We are aware that publications from our regional colleagues, from Kunsthalles to Museums, are slightly under the radar so we thought that this would be a fantastic platform to show an international audience in London. The exhibition catalogue, which is my passion, often have tiny print runs of around 500 copies, yet the amount of scholarship and passion that goes into them is huge. We all know that with exhibition catalogues, distribution is always a great challenge, to get recognition for them in places where art publishing tends to be dominated by the big houses, like Phaidon and Thames and Hudson, so this was our motivation to do the book fair. I actually think that the boundaries between an exhibition catalogue and an artist book are really being dissolved because artists play such a huge role in the shaping of catalogues. Graphic designers work very closely with artists too, they are very malleable these kinds of distinctions and we wanted to provide a platform to celebrate everyone.
Ju Hee Hong (European Art Book Fairs; On the Shelf)I visited European and Korean book fairs and thought the fairs play a key role in distribution and discourse based on international connections and networks. I think especially in the European book fair scene the tradition of production and discourse are always connected together. Through doing my survey I was able to interact with publishers from Tokyo to London. I wanted to make a book project that could share ideas because at the time I was only a visitor to the fairs but I was able to meet graphic designers and publishers and there were good opportunities as a visitor to learn about publishing. Most publishers that I met to interview for my book I was able to meet again in the different cities that I visited. I think that books fairs are like a festival for publisher and book lovers.
Sofia Niazi (D.I.Y Cultures / Process Festival)I started D.I.Y Cultures with Helena Wee and Hamja Ahsan as an annual day festival exploring intersections of art and activism, Hamja’s brother had been extradited to America on Terrorism charges. And his ambition was to show art and activism together. We started in 2013 and are taking a break this year. This summer as OOMK we ran PROCESS! a two-day festival celebrating independent media & making at Somerset House.
Mark Pawson (Regular Exhibitor)I sell at book fairs and events that could be described as more comic or zine focused fairs. My remit takes in broader things than those that just have ‘art’ in the title. The reason that I do fairs is to make work available, to share work and to distribute it, which very often happens though selling the books. I said those words in a specific order because all those instincts and impulses are important. Making money is quite an important part of it as well, being able to cover your costs. I don’t make a living out of doing fairs but I do make money and I am not ashamed of that. I will give you my daily break down of what I need to make today: I paid £300 for my table which is £250 + VAT. I am not VAT registered so I can’t claim the VAT back. Most of the book fairs that I do are not VAT registered. The cost of my table today is £85. If we work on a markup of a third I need to make £255 today to break even. Not to make any money, not to lose any money, but to break even (which I could also do by staying at home in my living room). If I want to make money to buy some new stock I need to make £408 (that’s to replace things that I have sold) which again sort of means that I break even. If I want to pay myself (I’m self-employed as many of you are, and we don’t always pay ourselves properly) if I want to work this into the figures, a 7-hour day at London living wage is £71. So, I would need to make £480 a day, that means I can pay my rent and go to Sainsburys on the way home. This figure varies for different fairs. The reason that I want to talk about this is that is because people very rarely talk about money.
Sofia Niazi (D.I.Y Cultures / Process Festival)At D.I.Y Cultures at the Rich Mix centre we charge everybody £11 for half a table and the door admission is £1. At Process Festival at Somerset House this year we charged £15 for half a table for the day and there was an entrance fee of £7. That wasn’t our choice and that entrance fee was too much for some of our audience. I don’t think this was a good model. At D.I.Y Cultures we are not paying for the venue so we not operating at a loss and we are not looking to make back a lot of money. The last three fairs were also Arts Council funded so we were in a position that we were comfortable with a £1 entrance fee where if you are renting a gallery then you have to charge more to cover costs.
Mark PawsonI did 19 events in the last year. 6 of those had an admission charge that were between £1 to £7. Only one of those (which was Process Festival) affected the sales, the other 5 which charged £1- £5 didn’t affect sales or attendance. They were all in London. I wish everything was free but it doesn’t seem to really effect things. There are walk-in crowds but there are also slightly more dedicated crowds and those the £1, £3, £5 charges don’t seem to effect people in London.
Arnaud Desjardin (The Everyday Press)I think that the money thing is complicated because you have to consider there are different agendas and different types of people involved with all these events. You have institutions and small independent publishers and institutions who are publishers, and dealers, and collectors. You have a number of different positions involved in the process of publishing from distribution to collecting, to accumulating books, so it’s not really a level playing field. We talk about ‘publishers’, but it’s a generalisation. Is someone who is publishing fanzines from £3 - £5 on a par with big institutions selling catalogues for £60? You have to make distinctions and categories, like Marcus said earlier. Printed Matter is organised to try to get the most money from big galleries like Gagosian, they will pay more. They get a bigger table in a bigger room, they pay more and get more space, but that means that the zine table is still only 150 dollars. The hierarchies at the NYBF are really prevalent, they are really in your face and some publishers can’t really take it. Do you create a seemingly level playing field where everyone gets the same table but then it becomes more expensive for the small people? There is not really one answer but it is important to have these debates with the organisers of the event because very often there isn’t the attention given to these kind of details.
Marcus Campbell (Marcus Campbell Books)I’m paying £850 plus VAT for this fair. It seems quite a lot. I have a relationship with the fair that goes back a long time so I will sign the cheque, but I do think it’s a bit high considering that we all get the same size table. If it is non-hierarchical then be non-hierarchal, don’t be hierarchical about the price and then give everyone the same space.
Arnaud DesjardinBook fairs tend to start small and then they grow and grow. The first New York Art Book Fair really came from a desire to give more visibility to books that were being distributed through Printed Matter’s shop. AA Bronson was the Director at the time and he saw they had a range of different printed material which attracted different people in. They sold all manner of different printed matter and that meant that everyone was involved, from artists to dealers. All the NY art scenes came together alongside the NY zine scenes, they all came together in one space. It was invitation only but not everyone had to pay. The first year there were around 80 exhibitors and this year there are around 350. They found a space for the fair and then moved to PS1 when they needed to expand. It’s about scale and finding a space where you can do that, that can accomodate 40 new exhibitors every year, that can expand with the growth of the fair. The situation is different here in England, at The Whitechapel there is not the room to expand. So where do you go? What do you do to accommodate expansion?
Mark Pawson On one occasion Publish and be Damned was on at the same time as The Whitechapel Book Fair.
Marthe Lisson (LABF Coordinator)Frankfurt book fair is a huge machine it is a money-making company. It is open to the public and to trade. It is about selling books and and making money for the publishers and the company. Fairs like The Whitechapel LABF are more intimate but we are still a company and need to cover costs.
Eleanor Vonne BrownDo you get to go to any of the talks organised during the fair? So many of the events are not available to the publishers participating at the fair as they have to stay behind their table.
Audience (Publisher)I went to a fair in Norwich and the day before the fair was the programme of the events so people could go to both.
Audience (Egidija Čiricaitė)I went to an academic symposium and the book fair was arranged for the day after it so that people at the fair could benefit from the people who had come to the town to visit it, if they chose to stay on to visit the fair.
Daniel James Wilkinson (Strange Perfume)Publish and be Damned was my favourite. It was a community. It a zeitgeist. It was fun. It was only one day. Everyone was happy and talking.
Ju Hee Hong (European Art Book Fairs; On the Shelf)Ghent Art Book Fair, I am a graphic designer and there is a lot of work by designer /publishers there.
Eleanor Vonne Brown (LABF Guest Programmer)Miss Read in Berlin. It is run by artist publishers and they have as great programme of talks and events.
Audience (Jane Rolo, Book Works)I prefer fairs that are just starting. I really liked the first few manifestations of Printed Matter. We are going this year but now it is too big and too many people. We are about to work with Strange Perfume and it will be around 15 or 16 tables.
Sofia Niazi (D.I.Y Cultures / Process Festival)Try to partner with an organisation so that you don’t have to pay for a venue. Other fairs that I know that have stopped have been because the organisers have to put money in out of their own pockets and the process became really tense.
Mark PawsonBook Fairs organised by bookshops artists and other publishers are always cheaper than book fairs organised by institutions.
Daniel James Wilkinson Put on smaller fairs at the same time. In Manchester for the next Strange Perfume there with 3 fairs on the same day.
Audience (Fraser Muggeridge)I think it would be good to think about visitors. Some visitors are coming for the first time and they think this is amazing, but there are a lot of visitors who have been to many book fairs, and what is new for them?
Mark Pawson As someone who has attended book fairs for many years – as a service user, I just wanted to say I respect the immense amount of co-ordination and efforts that goes on behind the scenes, so I just wanted to say thank you!