Whether you happen to be a single minded author determined to publish your own book or a small gallery space in lower Manhattan, Print-On-Demand publishing is transforming the ability to create and sell books of all kinds. Carriage Trade is small nonprofit gallery catering to contemporary art located in downtown Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. For the last three years Carriage Trade director Peter Scott has organized a big group show of cell phone photographs called Social Photography, featuring several hundred photos by famous artists, curators, not-so-famous artists, friends-of-Peter, and many others including “a few children and a number of DJs from WFMU.”
While the show is a “random sampling” of photos from contributors mostly from New York, it also includes images from Europe, Australia, Thailand and Canada. Scott says the show is intended to “challenge the professionalism mandated by the [fine art] gallery system. Almost everyone has an image capable cell phone these days, regardless of background, and many people come up with pretty interesting images.” (Full disclosure: this reporter has an image in the show.)
This year Social Photography III: An Exhibition of Cell Phone Photographs (December 12, 2013 – January 18, 2014) featured 204 cell phone photos, and for the first time, a handsomely designed trade paperback book presenting each one of the photos. The book sells for $50 ($45 to those in the show) and includes all 204 images, as well as an introduction written by Scott. While the gallery mounts the show each year and sells prints of the photos, this year marks its first Social Photography book collection available for sale. Every year each contributor emails their photo to the gallery and Scott and his assistants format the images, print them and mount the photos in a precise grid on the gallery walls. The gallery sells the prints in editions of five that also come with a signed certificate by the contributor. All of this helps raise funds for the small nonprofit space which has been around since 2008, when Scott began putting together independently curated shows in a space above Fanelli’s, the venerable SoHo Bar. He moved Carriage Trade to Walker Street in Trebeca in 2010.
This year, Scott says he and the book’s co-designer Nadine Schmied, “realized having done so much work soliciting, formatting and printing the images, that we were halfway there in terms of producing a book.” An artist friend recommended he use MagCloud, a HP owned company that specializes in print-on-demand printing and self-publishing. Scott said he and the designer, “did two proofs and two small print runs of 25 copies each. They were really fast and the quality is very good.” The book was produced, he says, mid-show during the Christmas holidays. “We had two weeks to sell the book while the show was up and the sales mostly took place during the book launch and show closing party in mid-January,” he says.
“In the end it was a lot of work,” Scott said, “but we now have the show ‘out there’ [in the form of a book] archive.” Scott says, and just as important: “We sold what we printed and need to order more.” Scott praised, the “upgrades” in publishing technology. “Advances in desktop publishing and on-demand printing make a show and book like this possible. We produced everything in-house over the course of a few months.” He also emphasized that , “given our limited budget, we were able to order small print runs of books on an as needed basis in terms of orders. The level of quality combined with efficiency and fast turnaround makes it possible for a small nonprofit like ourselves to do ambitious projects that would not have been possible even four or five years ago.”
Next, Scott plans to try to get wider distribution for the gallery’s first in-house book publication.” I’m planning on bringing the book around to book stores/distributors in the near future,” he said. He also hopes to do more books. “I’d love to do books for all the shows, though the tough part is getting distribution,” he said. “An exhibition is limited to the gallery, but a book makes the show portable.”