The print is dead, long live the book. / by Neil Alexander

Last week I watched an episode of the Grid with Scott Kelby, Matt Kloskowski and guest Zack Arias in which Matt proceeded to predict the demise of the printed photograph and state that it's only an elder generation of photographers who still like to print. With the ever increasing rate of digital consumption, the slowing pace of traditionally printed newspapers and magazines, he may have a point. But from a fine art perspective, I felt he must be wrong. So I did some investigating, and found results that did not make me happy.... 

Richard Avedon's Dovima with elephants sold at auction for $1.2 million

Richard Avedon's Dovima with elephants sold at auction for $1.2 million

Industry insiders calculated that the global fine art market revenues totalled $10 billion in 2010, up from $2.7 billion in 2006. Whilst a significant proportion of this is undoubtedly made up of traditional art sales; water colours, oil on canvas etc, sales of fine art photographic prints in the big auction houses are on the decline. In 2010 photography accounted for only 1.4% of fine art auction sales from results polled from auction houses such as Sothebys and Christies which totals $140 million, and this is proportionately significantly down from 2.2% in 2006 and 2.1% in 2003.

However, it's not all bad news. Outside of the fine art auction houses, the digital fine market was reputed to be worth just short of $1 billion in 2010, up from $500 million in 2005. Sales of Photobooks are growing at an exponential rate. In 2010, Blurb reported a 3 year growth rate of 4,829.6%. In 2009 alone, Blurb created and shipped more than 1.2 million book, generating sales of $45 million from people who wanted to look at printed rather than ditigal copies of their images. Online sales of fine art prints and canvases are also at an all time high.

So where the hell am I going with all this, and why do you care?

I had originally intended on a post denouncing the Kelby media team and their predictions. However there was one particularly valid point that Monsieur Kelby made which was that whilst prints may decline, photobook sales will continue to increase. And with this point specifically I have to say that I agree, and so do the numbers. But the bulk of these sales will not be mass market photography books. They'll be books of the kids for the grandparents, wedding albums and the like. I would envision that the majority of Blurb's sales only actually go to a handful of people, but with the new book building features in Lightroom 4, the advances in Aperture and the plethora of self-publishing avenues now available I envision that this will be a growth area for some years to come.

Data sourced from artprice.com and artmarket.com