Trading Up

I love the Blurb Trade Books. I’ve always loved them. Made my first one in 2007, and that book has gone on to be the most successful book I’ve done, and I made almost no effort to sell it. Strange. Many of the photographers who come to me for advice come with the learned behavior of the photo-industry on their shoulders. Do a monograph. “What is the biggest book I can get?” “What is the page limit?” I give them what they want, “11×13 with 440 pages,” but I also try to get them to understand the realities of making books, and more specifically selling books. Occasionally I see a gargantuan book that works. Lord knows I have plenty of them in my collection, not that I flip through them much, but most of the time if a photography book comes in at that size it misses its mark. Too many photographs, not enough editing, and a lack of knowledge as to what people actually want and how much they are willing to consume. Not to say you don’t make books like this. If done correctly, edited right, designed right and built for the right audience they can, and do, work, but you gotta get your plan wired tight.
The trade books, for me, are like sketches. I detest stodgy, and much of what I see coming from traditional channels, whether that be books or photography, is stodgy. The club of being chosen by a select few who are supposed to know all the secrets. Well, in short, I don’t buy it. Not at all. I like freedom. I want to make what I feel like making, and I certainly don’t need someone else’s permission.

I just dream things up. I look at what materials and processes exist and I build to compliment those things. Very simple. I don’t rule out. I don’t complain. I don’t find reasons NOT to do something. I just go. I just do. I wasn’t always this way, but I realized I was walking a thin line of being one of those people who was impossible to satisfy. Spoiled. Arrogant perhaps. Stupid without a doubt. Not anymore. I found perspective.

Two thirds of the world doesn’t own a computer and is searching for food, water and shelter. They don’t care about what I’m doing, and rightly so. Photography and photo books have found their place in my life, and it’s not the same place it once was. Still important to me, for sure, but still just one of the puzzle pieces of life. Maybe a piece with an edge. A corner piece probably.
Not that you were asking, but my advice is to play. Experiment. Test. Make books, give them to someone you think would be interested and watch. Pay attention, take notes. Then build again, fine tune, sand down your strategy to fine sheen. And then do it again. It’s so much fun. All the images you see here are from a new series of trade books, 5×8, 24-page, softcover, $2.49 books that will end up in a box set edition of either one or five depending on how much money I have. By the way, if you make a trade book, and you like it, for S$#@’s sake, send me a photo of it.

13 responses to “Trading Up”

  1. Mick Buston says:

    Hi Dan, thanks for the KUTA (kick up the arse) post.

    Any examples in your arsenal of the portrait / landscape format working with square images. Or is there a sq format trade book in the pipeline 🙂

    Good work as always sir


    • Smogranch says:

      Your wish is my command my English friend!!!×9/

      Great seeing your name here. Hope you are well. Send me something!

    • Mick Buston says:

      Thanks Dan, did have a play with dropping them in like that but dismissed it as too simple. Seeing it done by somebody else though, it is easier to be objective and remember it is about the image first.

      Bit of a sucker for full bleed though so still might go for the sq format books in Blurb but maybe make a trade book up as well – for that investment they are worth playing with.

      Will send some stuff through soon – some big changes afoot but more of that in a few weeks.

      Be well sir

    • Smogranch says:

      Often times simple is the best. Also, try the 8×10. You can squeeze in a 7×7, which actually feels rather large in print. My next move is to try the hardcover world.

    • Mick Buston says:

      That 8 x 10 idea sounds like a plan. I am off next week so will knock a little experiment up.

      My preference currently is for the softcover, feels less precious in some way if that makes sense.

      Picked up a few different types in a bookstore last week, based purely on how they felt – some square, some portrait, none of them formal photobooks. My favourite was a little tide book, retailing at £2.95, softcover, trade type paper, but just fell in love with it.

      Time to experiment I think.

  2. Are these a stapled pamphlet kind of deal, more or less? What’s the binding like?

  3. Barry says:

    Hello Daniel,

    I just discovered your work/blog after stumbling upon your interview with Marc Silber on youtube ( Which was a very inspiring interview/vid with all the tips for me as an beginner/amateur photographer. Really “feel” your personal documentary projects.

    This is just the second post i read on your blog and i like your blub book “sketch”suggestion. Hope one day i am able to show you one of my own.

    For now i just want to give my compliments.

    Kind regards,
    Barry (Amsterdam, netherlands)

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Barry from Amsterdam, nice to meet you, and thanks for the kind words. Not posting as much here now with my other site taking much of my time, but glad to have you.

  4. Tom says:

    Thanks for posting that. It runs counter to the opinion that book creation by individuals has caused artistic quality to go to hell in a hand basket. I don’t subscribe to that. In fact your post here has given me a few ideas for a new project.

    • Smogranch says:

      History proves there have been horrendous books from the dawn of publishing. Adding to this is the track record of modern day publishers who often times miss on what sells. The numbers are not encouraging. However, there are still blockbusters, and let us not forget, several of the largest in history were originally turned down by numerous publishers before being self published and exploding on the world. The key is quality material.

  5. Mick Buston says:

    Hi Dan, quick question. Just received 5x 5 x 8 trade books, one in each paper type. I am guessing you are using Std B & W paper. How do you find that for contrast? Just received mine and found the Std Colour has reproduced the contrast closest to what I wanted which surprised me. Any insider knowledge on how these different papers handle contrast gratefully received.
    And can you send me your address to and will send you a copy of ‘Pottergate Portraits’, my latest release.

    • Smogranch says:


      I mostly use economy black and white because I love its nontraditional style. The higher the level of paper, typically, the better contrast. But, it’s a testing/tweaking game really because we all like different things.

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