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Archive for the ‘Art Books’ Category

Blurb vs Lulu to Publish an Art Book

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Illustrations for Jim Plaxco's Algorithmic Art Book
Illustrations for my algorithmic art book

Earlier this year I made the decision to publish a book of algorithmic art. Algorithmic art was my introduction to the world of computer art – which is also known as digital art and/or new media art – depending on who you ask.

My first challenge was to decide how the book would be organized. My next challenge was to identify what and how much algorithmic art would be included in the book. My third challenge was to write the supporting text for the book.

The answer to the question of how to organize the book came quite quickly. A general introduction followed by sections which would each feature a particular style of my algorithmic art.

Choosing the art for the book was also fairly straight forward. Given my shortcomings in not taking the time to add newly created art to my web site, I choose 76 algorithmic artworks that I had not published to my web site. In all honesty, for me the satisfaction is in the process of creating art and not in the marketing of art.

The difficult part with respect to selecting art was in dealing with the question of how many pages of illustrations did I want my book to contain. Why? Because the number of pages directly impacts the book’s manufacturing cost and consequently the list price for the buyer.

To answer the question of how many pages it is necessary to take a step back. While I was assembling the book I was also looking in to the question of how I would go about getting the book published. The three options available to me were the traditional publishing route, the traditional self-publishing route, and the newer POD (print-on-demand) electronic publishing route.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s just say that I’ve chosen the electronic POD publishing route. My three finalists in this category were Amazon’s CreateSpace, Blurb, and Lulu. I quickly ruled out CreateSpace as it is not well suited for the publishing of art and/or photography books. That left me with Blurb and Lulu.

Ignoring all other considerations for the moment, I’m going to look only at book production costs. It is the production costs that are going to have the main impact on my book’s affordability. Given that I’ve narrowed my choice of publishers down to Blurb or Lulu, it’s time to look at the base cost of a photo book on each platform.

Impacting cost are size, cover, and paper options. With respect to size and format, my options are:

BLURB Photo Book Sizes
Format Size in Inches
Small Square 7 x 7
Standard Portrait 8 x 10
Standard Landscape 10 x 8
Large Format Landscape 13 x 11
Large Square 12 x 12
LULU Photo Book Sizes
Format Size in Inches
Square 8.5 x 8.5
Landscape 9 x 7
Large Landscape 12.75 x 10.75
Portrait 8.5 x 11

Question: was it a conscious or unconscious decision that led Blurb and Lulu to insure that neither would offer photo books of the same physical dimensions?

Here is where I came to the question of cost. I’m going to accept the default options for each publisher without really knowing whether or not the quality of the two publisher’s defaults are really equal.

From Blurb, I like the large landscape hardback format with a page size of 13 x 11 and 100# paper quality. But look at the book’s base cost by page count!

  • the cost for a 20 page photo book is $69.86
  • the cost for a 60 page photo book is $93.86
  • the cost for a 80 page photo book is $105.86

And since I would like to be able to make some money on the sale of each book, my markup will be an add-on to the base cost. Ouch.

These high manufacturing costs present artists and photographers with a real dilemma. We would like to pack more art and photography into our books in order to provide the buyer with depth and diversity. However, pushing against that is the cost of publication. I would really like to be able to offer a book that is at least 80 pages long but with the cost of such a book being over $100, how many people could afford to buy it?

Taking a look at Lulu, their equivalent book is the 12.75 x 10.75 casewrap hardcover also with 100# paper quality. Pricing for this book would be:

  • the cost for a 20 page photo book is $44.39
  • the cost for a 60 page photo book is $68.39
  • the cost for a 80 page photo book is $80.39

While cheaper than Blurb, it is still not what I deem affordable. If I was willing to downgrade on quality, I could go with Lulu’s 9 x 7 landscape paperback which also has a lower quality paper (80#). If I do that, the costs become:

  • the cost for a 20 page photo book is $12.59
  • the cost for a 60 page photo book is $28.59
  • the cost for a 80 page photo book is $36.59

This is affordable but I’ve also gone with a lower quality book. If I want quality, the only way to get the total cost down is to cut the number of pages in the book. Of course there’s a hidden cost there. Using the Blurb large landscape hardcover as an example, the 20 page version has a total cost of $69.86 but a per page cost of 3.49 – whereas the 80 page version, whose total cost is $105.86, costs only 1.32 per page. So while cutting pages lowers the book’s total cost, it also increases the cost per page – which makes perfect sense if you stop to think about it. And just for perspective, if I show up at the local copy shop and want to make a two-sided color photocopy on generic copier paper, that will cost me over a dollar per page.

These costs demonstrate the basic problem of publishing with electronic PODs – they just don’t have the same economies of scale that you get with traditional publishing and printing. If I went the traditional self-publishing route I could purchase an inventory of books with the equivalent or better quality than my Blurb preference for perhaps 1/10 the cost per book. However that would require that I buy an entire run of books – which means a very large up-front expense on my part. Also, I would then have to take on the added responsibility of distribution – a task I have no expertise at.

So what do to? I’ll provide updates here as I make progress towards reaching a final decision.

Reference Links

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Contemporary Art Vanity Art Book

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

So many art books
So many art books

I recently received the following email from Julia Adison, Assistant curator, I.C.A. Publishing:

ICA Publishing is accepting submissions for the third volume of International Contemporary Artists. This publication will feature works which offer a unique sensibility and approach to art. It will be an exploring journey to painting, photography, sculpture and other media with the most talented artists all over the world creating works and experimenting with new innovating techniques.
This book will provide an in-depth look at global culture of visual arts, appealing to established and emerging artists opening out the world of visual arts to a wider audience.
All artists interested in participating should send 4-5 images of their work in jpg format and a short statement or essay, no more than 100 words by email.
The book will be published in the end of October.
Further information about the book can be found here:

I visited their web site and noted the following stipulation regarding artist inclusion in the book:

There are no participation or entry fees.
The only requirement is to buy two copies of the book.

Ah – the catch. The artists are required to buy two copies of the book. Since artists must buy the book in order to participate that makes this a vanity book. Searching, I found that the previous edition listed as being $120.00. Assuming the same price for this volume and no discount, that means a potential outlay of $240 on the part of the artist. Assuming that they get at least as many participating artists as in the last edition (287) that means the minimum revenue for the publisher will be $68,880 (287*120).

Another item I noted was that the editor for the book is listed as Eve Lemonidou and the book publisher is listed as Lemonidou Eve. In other words the editor is self-publishing the book. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing but self-published books just don’t have the same impact as book published by a recognized publishing company.

Contrast the International Contemporary Artists example with the Expose series of books published by Ballistic Publishing. Artists who are chosen to particpate receive a complimentary copy of the book. In this case, the artist actually comes out ahead in that they get a free book! What this tells you is that Ballistic Publishers is relying on their ability to market and sell the book to the general public in order to cover their costs – including the costs of providing free copies of the book to all participating artists. What this also indicates is that the audience for the International Contemporary Artists book will most likely be limited to the artists who buy the book and the folks whom they show the book to. Another data point for an interested artist to consider is that at the time of this writing the Amazon Bestsellers Rank for the second International Contemporary Artists book is 1,707,199 while the rank for EXPOSE 9 is 230,082 and 279,003 for EXPOSE 8.

My advice for artists who are considering participating in this project is this: take your money and publish your own book! There are many print on demand publishers and it’s a pretty competitive market space. For more information on print on demand photo book publishers, see my review of the article “Closeup: Photo Books On Demand in my blog post American Photo Issue Review. Here is an example from one publisher I checked: for an 8.5 x 11 paperback book that is 20 pages long I could buy 16 copies of my book for slightly less than I would pay for two copies of the International Contemporary Artists book – again assuming a $120 per book cost to the artist. And if you want to you can sell your book on Amazon by using Amazon’s CreateSpace service.

So I have decided not to particpate in the offer to be in the International Contemporary Artists book. Of course other artists may think differently and decide that paying to be included in the book is worth the expense.

Note: there is additional commentary about this at MESART Scam and Hoax List.

The Illustration

The illustration is of bookshelves translated, transformed, and slightly distorted using Photoshop. Nothing serious – just playing around.

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Art Magazines and My Ith Rule of Composition

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Vermeer Art of Painting
Cropped The Art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer

I visited a local bookstore yesterday to go through their various art magazines. Going through these magazines I am in search of visual inspiration, art news, resources on the web, and digital art techniques. In yesterday’s session, I looked through the following magazines:

  • Artforum
  • Computer Arts
  • Computer Arts Projects
  • Digital Artist
  • Digital Arts
  • Digital Studio
  • Elephant (first issue of a new art magazine).
  • Eye
  • Frieze
  • New Art International
  • Raw Vision

While reading Artforum, I came across an article More than Meets the Eye and my gaze fell upon one sentence in that article:

"The compositional rigor of Noland’s painting was, in my opinion, beyond reproach."

Compositional rigor? My first thought upon reading this sentence was that it made judging art sound like judging the figure skaters in the Olympics. The judges have their rules, check lists, and parameters in order to grade the performance of the athletes. It seems to me a rather cold way in which to consider a painting.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, composition in art is basically about how the picture is put together. It is about the individual elements of the image and how they are arranged and used with respect to one another. With this in mind, there are a number of so-called rules that the artist should follow in order to create an aesthetically pleasing painting.

Personally I like to think that I do not consciously consider the rules of composition when I either look at or create a picture. In fact with respect to my own art, I try to follow the Ith rule of composition which is a rule that I created. The Ith rule of composition says to ignore rules 1 through I-1. Following the Ith rule of composition insures that creativity is not constrained.

The Illustration

Rather than use one of my own works of art, I opted to use The Art of Painting painted by Johannes Vermeer circa 1661. Note that I have cropped the painting to fit this space. To learn more about Vermeer and his art, check out the Essential Vermeer web site.


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Book Review: NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration
NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration Art and Book Cover

I have just completed a book review of the space art book NASA/ART: 50 Years of Exploration. I was originally going to post it here but the review turned out to be longer than I originally anticipated. I therefore decided to add the book review to my web site. In addition to the book review, I’ve also included a number of links to related space art resources on the web

The bottom line is that if you are a fan of space art then this book is a worthwhile purchase. Note that the artwork shown in this book is restricted to the space art that was created as a part of the NASA Art Program.

Enjoy, Jim

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Quantumscapes – The Art of Stephan Martiniere

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008
Quantumscapes - The Art of Stephan Martiniere
Quantumscapes – The Art of Stephan Martiniere book cover

I was in the book store the other day and came across a copy of Stephan Martiniere’s book Quantumscapes: The Art of Stephan Martiniere. I was surprised to see that it was published in 2006 – surprised that its publication escaped my notice. Either that or has escaped my memory. Surprising since in November of 2006 I had the privilege of moderating a panel – Designing a Spaceship – at the Windycon Science Fiction Convention and Stephan was one of the panelists. It was standing room only for the panel due entirely, I’m sure, to Stephan’s presence. 2006 was the year Stephan won the Chesley Award (named for Chesley Bonestell) for best hardcover cover art – although the award wasn’t given until 2007. He has also won a number of other awards as well. Check out Stephan’s web site at

If you’re not familiar with Stephan Martiniere’s art, his speciality is science fiction art. The cover art for Quantumscapes is a piece titled Variable Star which was used as the cover for the science fiction novel Variable Star by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson. Quantumscapes is divided into five chapters with each chapter focusing on a different aspect of Martiniere’s art.

Chapter 1 – Books
This is the chapter that shines. It consists of finished book covers which are truly original in concept and execution. Splendid art. Far and away the best chapter in the book.
Chapter 2 – Film and Commercial Work
This chapter consists entirely of alien character sketches and studies.
Chapter 3 – Games
Sketches of aliens dominate this chapter with some landscapes as well.
Chapter 4 – Personal
Composed of a small collection of alien life studies.
Chapter 5 – Process
This chapter takes the reader through the creative process using as an example the cover art Variable Star starting with rough sketches and finishing with the final artwork.

While Stephan’s aliens are original and very well done, it is his landscapes, cityscapes, and spacescapes that excite me and these are only really found in the book’s first chapter. If you are a fan of science fiction art, then you should check out Quantumscapes: The Art of Stephan Martiniere.

Ad Astra, Jim

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