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Monday, 10 March 2014

Jon Tonks' Empire: An Investment for your Future

On Thursday evening, Jon Tonks is talking (I'm introducing him) at another Bristol Photobooks event about his new book, Empire.

Empire is a trawl across some of the smaller 'British' islands of the South Atlantic - St Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha and the Falkland Islands.

It's a lovely book where history is embedded in the faces and lives of the people that Tonks photographs. The ancestors of the current inhabitants of the islands are the flotsam of 200 years of history; former slaves, adventurers, colonists and fortune hunters who, at some vital juncture in their lives, took a turning to the ultimate geographical dead ends of the Atlantic Ocean.

Empire is one of those books that tells you something about the impact location and topography  has on people. It's a book that goes beyond photography.

Perhaps that's why the edition of 1,000 books is very almost sold out after only two months on the market. It will sell out very shortly and after that the value will go up. There probably won't be a second edition because Jon is too busy working on another island project (different ocean, different themes) that will have anthropology as a conceptual hook.

So if you want a copy of Empire, get one now from here or here or other reputed booksellers. And if you want to make a few quid, get 10 of them now. I could do with making a few quid so I'm wondering if I should buy 10 of them. Get the 10  for £30 each and then sell them off at the end of the year for £100 each and make £70 profit on each and then I could afford a large format camera or a 100x or, more realistically, money to clear the blocked drains at the back of the house.

( It should be noted that none of the above should be taken too seriously and that it could be the case that there are loads of copies left and I'm just trying to shift a few. I'm not, but it could be the case - and if I read this elsewhere, that's what I'd think. In which case, your books would be worth diddly squat and you'd be well out of pocket. Prices more often go down as well as up. And it's only a few hundred or thousand people buying anyway. And shifting one at £100 might be relatively easy, but shifting 10? You must be joking! There simply isn't the demand unless you spread it over years and years. And who's going to do that?)

I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with that but I just couldn't be bothered to buy ten of them. That's a dealer mentality and I'm not really a dealer. I'm not a businessman. I'm not good at making money.

I live in Bath in England. If you are familiar with Bath, you will realise it is a pretty little bubble of a place, a fantasy island with badgers, alpacas and sheep. If I walk round the back of my house (the one with the blocked drains) you end up on Charlcombe Lane - that's the lane with a little plaque quoting Jane Austen; "We took a walk to Charlcombe sweetly situated in a little green valley." Charlcombe Lane is currently closed to traffic due to the annual toad migration which is odd and wonderful in equal measure. But also a little precious? Yes, sometimes.

There are a couple of great independent bookshops in Bath. Best of all is Mr B's Book Emporium. You go in there with money and you come out without any because the recommendations are so enthusiastic and spot-on. The other one is Toppings. This is also a lovely bookshop which sells lovely books, the signed ones are hand-wrapped in acetate which is definitely added value.

You get home and you know your book will always be in pristine conditon. But when you read it, it will feel plasticky and slippy. You don't get to grip it like you do an unwrapped book. It will look nice on the shelf but not to touch or hold or read.

Maybe it's the same with photobooks. They do feel nice when they are well-made and consideration is paid to materials. They are tactile things. Touching is part of the experience. But that wrecks the book. It makes it grubby and spoilt. So does lending the book out or passing them round or letting somebody else see them. So does transporting them or taking them outside a dust-free humidity controlled environment free from damp and mould spores.

But dealers, collectors, buyers, writers, freeloaders and viewers are all different beasts even if there is some overlap a lot of the time. We don't all have to look at books in the same way. I feel that I should be buying my 10 copies of Empire, but I won't because I'm too lazy and I don't have a dealer mentality. I actually wish I did, but unfortunately I undersell anything I have to offer. That is a bad thing for dealers for whom the creation of desire and need is a good thing.

And I really do feel that I should be wrapping my books in acetate, but I won't simply because I'm too lazy and stubborn.

Anyway, for the final word on the issue, and with the third volume of the Photobook History about to hit the stores, this is what Blake Andrews has to say on the subject in his 5 Tips for Photobook Collectors.

As many have commented, we live in a golden age of photobooks. All around they're blossoming like wildflowers. It seems every day another one is being popped out somewhere or other. I can hardly keep track.

Not only are these photobooks a joy to behold but, as Adam Dewar recently pointed out in The Guardian, they can be a very good investment. To take just one example from Dewar's essay, a copy of Bruce Davidson's Subway bought for £40 in 2003 is worth more than £200 today. That's a 400% return in 8 years, easily beating the S&P 500 which gained only 30% over the same period.

I've been collecting photobooks for a while. I think I have a pretty good sense of the market. I know which books have staying power and which don't, and what separates the gems from the common schlock. 

What follows are a few brief tips I've compiled for the savvy book collector written from an investment perspective. 

And here are his 5 Tips on Photobook Collecting. You may need to read the post/comments in full to get the complete sentiment of Blake's thoughts. I certainly did and I'm still not entirely sure where he's coming from. It's great advice?

1. Follow your taste 

2. Mint Condition Only 

3. You can time the market 

4. Get it in writing

5. Supply and demand

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