"Corporate Philosophy"

Excerpts from a lecture held by Andreas Magdanz

Netherlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam
Photobook Weekend, 2011, Sunday, February 13th

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Let me thank you for organising such a great event and for giving me this opportunity to speak.
Today, I'd like to talk about MagBooks, a label I founded exactly a year ago and now in possession of its own registered trademark for three months.
It was my iPhone and its touch screen that gave me the idea of a digital photobook for this format back in 2009. I started by developing the first (perfectly) animated photobook for the iPhone together with Apple iTunes as a widely familiar platform for saving and distributing data.
Essential from the outset was the ability to send turning pages and the availability of other useful features the device provides. The first MagBook went on sale after eight months of development and testing work.

For the first book, I decided to use one of my most successful publications, the book about "Dienststelle Marienthal", the former German government shelter, which came out in 2000 and now sold out for many years. As you can see, it's a large-format book, produced at the time with all the energy anyone could possibly muster for a project of this scale – involving seven months of work on location and taking nearly a year to complete from initial layout to first copy. It was printed by George Charlier at Salto in Belgium, in their day one of the best team of printers around. It's a shame they were driven into insolvency, forcing them to close down nearly five years ago.

Funded out of my own pocket and distributed myself, it turned out to be an international breakthrough and financial success thanks to the response from the world's media, the MagBook website and enthusiastic booksellers, such as Markus Schaden.
Originally selling for about € 100, and currently changing hands for between € 300 and over € 1000 in antiquarian bookstores, the book is now available for € 3.99 from the iTunes App Store.
Okay, it may not be comparable, and don't misunderstand my intention – technical media could never take the place of a real printed photobook – but it's a perfect complement with huge benefits. And most importantly for me, as someone who works on large projects with a social, political and historical background, this small application, the MagBook, can convey the content of stories I like to tell.
At the same time, everybody wants to develop and register software like this, be independent as a publisher and distributor, and reap financial reward.

Let me begin by looking at the aspect of publishing independence; even if you're established, it's hard to find a publisher who might be interested in what you're doing, is responsive enough to understand what you want, can give you the technical and creative support you need, loves his job and not only looks at profit, and has got the money it takes to get a big project off the ground. If you can find someone like this in the publishing world, you can think yourself lucky.
Closely associated with this first aspect – distribution – your publisher should be networked within a nationwide or, better still, worldwide system of media people and booksellers. If you have that too, it's as good as winning the lottery.
And this brings me to the last aspect – the financial gain. This should be as good as certain if everything else I've mentioned goes to plan. Not wanting to disillusion anyone though – because what I'm about to say doesn't happen all that often – if you are lucky enough to have a responsive, well-connected and financially sound publisher at your side and your book is well-marketed – and we are talking about 1500 to 4000 copies for artistic photobooks – you can expect a contract that'll give you six or, at best, 9 per cent of the margin. If, and I think I can speak for many artists and photographers as well as dedicated booksellers in this context, we weren't driven from within to work on subjects, convey content and meanings by publishing books, we'd never publish anything for commercial reasons.
This is strange in a way, but – hey – we're talking about art. It helps to serve our inner obsession and bring us peace. For 99 per cent of society, money comes first, leaving the actual job people do to come second.

But let me return to MagBooks. Even though no substitute for the high-quality photobook, I originally set up this label to market my own books, gain greater independence and make money from a very low price but high volume. For a few months now, I have been trying to interest photographers, artists and other people wanting to publish their work, offering the label at a reduced price that opens the way for anyone to publish.
This makes the price for publishing your own work incomparable with any printed book. When I talk about a book, I'm thinking somewhere in the region of € 35,000 to € 75,000 for 2000 copies, although this is where the sky's the limit.
(On the technical side, colours are far more reliable than with a printed version.)

Compared to a printed book, content can be published much more quickly and, at under € 1000, for far less money. And with iTunes, right from the first day and distributed worldwide in up to four languages in just one MagBook.
Among the most important reasons for choosing this medium is the chance to attract attention by publishing your own work and generate sales in an unprecedented dimension – this being the most important aspect for artists to go on working. MagBooks takes 20%, iTunes 30%, with a return of almost 50% going to the author.

It was my own experience that made me take this step. Even for my latest project about Stuttgart Stammheim that I'm working on at the moment, it's incredibly hard to find anybody who's prepared to help me on my way. Despite my experience with publishers and booksellers being fairly good, I am aware there are plenty of arrogant and disinterested publishers out there. And the so-called art scene is full of people only too keen to pursue their own hedonistic interests by exploiting others, artists in particular.

This is a story you really need to hear. For my Stuttgart Stammheim project, I applied for grants from the German Art Foundation while also contacting several organisations – regrettably all in vain. The most irritating comment, though, came from a small art society in Baden Württemberg, where Stammheim is situated, by a guy called Hans Christ. I'm not interested, he said, because it's not my idea. How very honest, but what an infuriating response. There are too many people like this in the art scene, but there are also too many artists who encourage this type of response by crawling. It's like politics: upstarts with an entourage of lackeys.

This is something we have to dismantle. I remember my first website for Marienthal and the infrastructure it gave me. MagBooks is an instrument that can do just this, which leaves me to give a few examples of how it works...

Netherlands Fotomuseum, Photobook Weekend, 2011