Changing Channels — by Christopher Schreck

In my last article for Paperweight, I spoke with Daniel Pianetti of No Layout, an online archive and bookstore whose business model, based on charging contributors an annual participation fee in lieu of a commission on sales, has attracted the attention of smaller art book publishers eager to explore methods of promotion, presentation, and distribution that better reflect an increasingly digital landscape.


What’s most exciting to me about projects like No Layout is that they reinforce for artists and publishers alike that now more than ever, one needn’t think of publishing in terms of “standard practices.” As conventions give way to new possibilities and greater autonomy, those committed to producing limited-run art publications have found that there are as many distinct potential audiences for a given item as there are existing modes of presentation. As a result, one finds today’s publishers developing diverse, idiosyncratic strategies for displaying and disseminating their products, inventing models that span multiple platforms (both physical and digital) and allow readers to choose how they access and experience printed content.


To gain a better sense of how art books are making their way to readers, I solicited insight from a few of my favorite publishers: Shelter Press, Gottlund Verlag, Editions FP & CF, Hassla Books, and Pau Wau Publications. While each stressed the crucial role of the internet in facilitating sales and cost-effective distribution, they also spoke to the continued importance of traditional modes of dissemination, such as international distributors, book fairs, and bookstores as means of gaining legitimacy, promoting strategically, and maintaining a presence within their given communities.




(Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)




1. What are the different distribution avenues you use for Shelter Press?


Basically, we have 4 main distribution channels:

a) Our own online store

b) Our worldwide distributor (Amsterdam-based Idea Books, who specialize in art books, and are mainly known for being Roma Publications’ distributor, as well as many good Japanese publishers’.)

c) Some “special” bookstores that work with us very closely – like Yvon Lambert in Paris, for example. They order everything we do, in a good quantity, and really support us.

d) Bookfairs. We try to go as much as possible to the fairs, but it can be super expensive, and since Shelter Press is still a very new project, we can’t go to all the fairs we are invited to (ie, NY, Tokyo, and so on…)


2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with physical bookstores?


As I said, we are now working with Idea Books, and they handle all the distribution worldwide. Money-wise, it’s not too interesting, since they take something like 65% on the public price. But it’s a very good way to spread some copies around the world, and to go to some unexpected or hard-to-reach stores.


When I was running Kaugummi Books (our previous imprint), I was selling TONS of zines online. Sometimes a whole run of 100 copies could be out of print in 1 day or so. But we moved to Belgium a year ago, where the shipping costs are INSANELY high, and it’s become kind of complicated for us to sell through our online store. For example, we are selling our vinyl at 12€, and the shipping to Japan is 22 €. This is just crazy! It’s way different from France, where the shipping costs were super low.


So we sell less online right now and more in bookstores… which is kind of tricky. You get 100% of sales from your online store and only 45% through your distributor, whereas Kaugummi was really different, because we’d be selling 80% online (good money) and 20% in bookstores (good visibility). That was a good balance. I hope to find a good balance for Shelter Press – it’s still a bit difficult for me to have a clear view on all of this since Shelter is a very new project. But for now, with the combination of online and bookstores, along with the bookfairs, Shelter Press can work on new projects, so it’s OK!


Aside from books, we also put out records, and it helps a lot economically. Everyone is saying that the record industry is dying, but it’s still way easier to sell records than art books!


3. Are there any other publishers/platforms you’ve come across using interesting strategies for displaying or distributing their publications online?


Not really; I almost feel like we are all in the same situation. One thing comes to my mind, but it’s more like a conceptual bookstore project. It’s called POST, and they are based in Japan. They feature one publisher every month, their whole catalogue, and then change the publisher the next month. I really like this approach, of displaying the publishing project as a whole thing, to give the prefect view on what each publisher is trying to say with his very own imprint.


Shelter Press





(Los Angeles, CA / Kutztown, PA)



1. What are the different distribution avenues you use for Gottlund Verlag?


I primarily sell books directly through my own website. I also distribute to a handful (5-10) bookstores in the states and abroad. I have a distributor for Japan as well. I would estimate I send close to half of a given edition to Japan. The reason I sell directly through my site though, is that as a publisher who is also the designer, printer, and binder, doing all of the production in house and all by hand, I don’t make any profit if I sell to shops at 50% of retail. The wholesale cost is the same as the production cost. I only break even that way. So the only way for me to remain profitable or have any money for the next project is to have customers buy the books directly from me. I do the New York and L.A. Art Book Fairs, which are fun and good exposure. It’s always the best to speak with people in person about the books and for them to be able to deal with them physically.


2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with physical bookstores?


I ship to 5-10 stores and 1-2 distributors. I use Twelve books in Japan and Motto for Europe. I send very few books to Europe for distro, mainly for Motto’s own stores. I send around 50% of my print runs to Japan if it’s a title that does well there. Basically, because of the small edition size and huge amount of energy spent creating each book by hand, I have to sell as many books as I can through my own website. It would be different if I made bigger editions of 1-2,000 copies and could send a bunch to stores. The stores know the way I work and take as many as I can spare and they can sell. It’s a very open and honest relationship for the most part. As I mentioned, though, I only really make any money on a book if I sell it myself. The wholesale price to a bookstore is about equal to what it costs me to produce a given book.


3. Are there any other publishers/platforms you’ve come across using interesting strategies for displaying or distributing their publications online?


I’m curious about this myself, and feel like I’m a bad person to ask. I think everyone has used the existing technology so far as well as they can. Sales are the part of the business I dislike the most and shy away from. But as far as display, I’ve been toying with the idea of scanning all my books (especially for the unique ones, such as Sam Fall’s Light Work or Jason Fulford’s Variations) and creating an accessible page so that people can see them before they become privately owned. Another thought was to have people send me pictures of the books I’ve made or published that they own when they get it, or a year later or 10 years later. I’m always so interested in where all these books go and how people keep them. People keep their books so differently! It’s so telling and interesting. I enjoy keeping the blog to show the book making process and related work that artists are doing. Hopefully people follow that and now and then buy a book because it falls in line with their own interests. I try to bring what I do to the Internet in as honest a way as possible. So that’s what I look for in other publishers and platforms online as well.


Gottlund Verlag




(Paris, France)



1. What are the different distribution avenues you use for FP&CF?


Our primary means for distributing our products is via our website. We have a basic online store, and it’s the best way to sell our books. Then we also work with bookstores around the world. It depends, but generally we sell like 30% to 40% of our production through bookstores. We also take part in fairs and festivals, but we do not run after it.


2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with physical bookstores?


Working with bookstores is a good way to be known by people who would maybe never come to our website. It provides new potential and new readers. We choose every shop with whom we work, so the list is small but strong. Working with bookstores allows us to sell books to people who don’t know our organization but it also represents a significant loss for us. The bookstores take 30%to 40% of the whole price, and we do not make any money from the deal. In France, we are lucky to have a special price for the shipping of books (exclusive price for the shipping of books only), so it’s very cheap to send parcels outside the country. The other thing about bookstores is that you never know if the transaction will be safe for you. We’ve already had problems with some bookstores and distributors who do not understand that we are a small organization with low means. Once the books are sold and the deadline of 100 days is over, I think it would be normal to be paid for the books we sent, but sometimes it it’s taken more than six months. It’s really trying to have to write and call each week to claim the money for a bill…


3. Are there any other publishers/platforms you’ve come across using interesting strategies for displaying or distributing their publications online?


I don’t want to fall into any marketing practice. I don’t want to push people to buy something. If you like a book and want to have it with you, take it. If a website has some great pictures of the books with a quality description and a link for the payment (Paypal or otherwise), I think that’s sufficient.


Editions FP&CF




(New York, NY)



1. What are the different distribution avenues you use for Hassla?


I distribute through the Hassla site, bookstores, distributors, and book fairs.


2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with physical bookstores?


I think it’s important to have books in physical stores and not just online. People need to see the books in person and be able to pick them up and hold them. Sales-wise it varies, I might sell more to bookstores of one title and more online of another. I also sell books to artists’ galleries when possible, as they can also expose the books to a crowd that might not normally come across Hassla.


3. Are there any other publishers/platforms you’ve come across using interesting strategies for displaying or distributing their publications online?


Nieves has been digitizing all of their sold-out zines and making them available for the iPad and iPhone. Not a new idea, but some small publishers have been offering subscriptions at a discounted rate. I find fairs to be really good as it’s an opportunity for people to get a chance to see a lot (or all) of a publisher’s books together all in one spot.






(Brooklyn, NY)



1. What are the different distribution avenues you use for Pau Wau?


We use different avenues of distribution in various ways. We have always felt it was important to maintain a diverse distribution model, as it helps to reach different audiences and provides different benefits. The online store generates most of the profit but, more importantly, allows access to the micro audiences in Luxembourg that you never even knew existed. The independent bookstores help reach your main audience, but also provide a certain level of legitimacy and prestige in a climate in which everyone seems to be publishing and making books and zines. However, our favorite way to distribute and sell is at fairs, because it allows for great interactions between the people who actually spend their hard-earned money on our publications and us. All in all, each channel plays an integral part of the equation. In the future, we may focus more on a certain side of that equation, but ultimately, I think you need all of them to be successful and relevant.


2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with physical bookstores?


I think these stores provide a certain level of exposure and legitimacy in this small culture of self-publishing that is invaluable. For example, David at Dashwood Books was an early supporter of ours, and without a doubt delivered our books to certain people who would have never seen it if we had gone at it alone. We have since gotten much better about announcing and publicizing our books, but there are still people who will only end up buying them because they are stocked on certain shelves. Lastly, I think it’s important to remember these bookstores, in most part, are just like everyone involved in this small publishing movement: they are doing something they love and are probably not getting rich off it. It’s a symbiotic relationship – they provide a place for people to find these beautiful books, and we make sure they have plenty of beautiful books to be found. Of course, using bookstores is becoming more difficult due to the Internet and the ability of e-commerce. As I said above, it’s an incredibly important relationship, but when you’re looking at losing 40% of your profit, it makes the decision that much harder. Ideally, we set out with the idea that a certain percent of the edition, say 50%, will be saved for bookstores and the remainder will be sold directly either at fairs or online. With our latest publication, however, we are doing an edition of 300 with only 100 of those being signed by the artist. The idea is that the bookstores will sell the unsigned ones and we’ll be exclusively selling the signed ones. I think this is a nice compromise to the problem, as it makes those first 100 slightly more sought after, yet we still maintain the presence in the physical stores. Other than the benefits I have already mentioned, I think one major advantage to working with bookstores is the sense of community, which is created and celebrated through events, signings, and so forth. Dashwood, Printed Matter and Ed. Varie here in New York understand and execute this flawlessly. Each event builds a stronger and stronger community that allows for more collaboration, exposure to each other’s work, and conversations, all of which ultimate sparks new creation.


3. Are there any other publishers/platforms you’ve come across who are using interesting strategies for displaying or distributing their publications online?


The first time I saw Preston is My Paris, I was extremely impressed with some of the ideas they were exploring. It was mainly an app for the iPhone they had developed. I think they only released one issue, but the idea of exploring photo books on an iPhone was fascinating. I strongly believe in the future of the digital; it’s not going anywhere and is becoming more and more ubiquitous in our culture. As someone who is obsessed with print, this realization can be challenging at times, but also exciting. Personally, we are starting to heavily present our work online via videos and are currently working on re-designing our site to be much more video-friendly. To simply digitize something that is physical is somewhat boring to me; reinterpreting that idea or object into a digital landscape is much more where my interest lies right now.


Pau Wau Publications

Posted On:

February 12, 2013
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