Pay to Print Vanity Press

By Armand Cabrera

Traditional publishers have been facing lackluster sales of books for quite some time. The competition from cheap e-books and the free content of blogs has put a downward pressure on revenues. This is especially true for art book publishers.  To combat this they have come up with a way to guarantee their returns for publishing. It is based on multi-level marketing techniques that have been around for years. It is not actually a pyramid scheme because the participant gets something for their money. What is this something?

 Publishers are now making group art books where they get lower level artists to pay up to 3 or 4 thousand dollars for a spot in the book. They seed the book with bigger name artists who pay reduced fees or in some case no fee. The paying artists are hoping they get status from being in a book with a better artist as if that somehow translates to their career just by association. 
They give a copy or copies to each participant to prevent it from being a pyramid scheme. This is just another variation on the Vanity Press books of old at a much higher price. I started out as an illustrator,  what a lot of these current  gallery artists so desperate for press  don’t know or understand is that illustrators actually get paid to produce art for books not the other way around.

Is it a good way to advertise? Not really, most art books are published at around 20,000 copies, an art magazine can have a circulation of 100,000 targeted opt in customers. It is true books stay on the shelves a little longer than a magazine but not much. There is no guarantee that because a book is on the shelves it will be looked at by someone interested in art enough to buy paintings from artists. The low print count makes them harder to find and of course more expensive to buy and most art books end up remaindered or recycled.

It is said most artists aren’t good at business and the continuation of these books is proof of that old adage.

5 thoughts on “Pay to Print Vanity Press

  1. P.T. Barnum said it best, but your examples of Rockwell and Wyeth's carpetbaggers speak volumes — scammers all. Getting your work in print is a big thrill the first couple times, but consider the potential fall out; like most art magazine advertising sections — you got the scratch, they'll print your ad, no matter how horrible an artist you are (too bad for the other guy's ad next to yours). These vanity books are a real gamble with no guarantee of the quality of the others 'artists' in the book, let alone the print quality of your image. The guise under which they promise "world-wide exposure" and "international markets" can be interpreted in a number of irresponsible and misleading ways as well. First red flag should be that they approached you instead of the other way around, and don't be fooled by flattering lips — they'll sing the same praise for a Jane Seymore painting as they would a Richard Schmid…
    Better to spend that money on a targeted magazine (if you're ready — and that's another subject Armand can expand on) or go to Costco and have a book made that's all about your work alone and skip the slum-lord publisher who really doesn't care anyway — I'll tell you right now, it ain't ever gonna end up on a real collectors coffee table.

  2. Eric,

    I'm right with you. Its bad enough lending your art for free or next to nothing but to pay to show is just wrong. It hurts the industry and the artist. To paraphrase Harlan Ellison its not like these corporations are in the street begging with a tin cup.

  3. Thanks for writing this, Armand!!! I just fielded a call today for such an offer to be in a book. It feels predatory!!!

  4. Armand, I think your comments on the vanity press for artists scheme are sound. This is a fairly old game. I've seen vanity books and magazines coming out since the '80's.

    I have to ask, however, where you got the mistaken idea most artists aren't good at business. I have seen no reason to consider artists worse at their business than others. They neither go out of business altogether the way restaurant owners do, at a failure rate of 60%, nor do they work at other jobs at a rate exceeding that of writers or actors. Yet I find it rare to see comments like yours applied even to writers or actors, much less the spectacularly unsuccessful majority of restaurant owners.

    I try not to promote stereotypes. I have simply seen too many of them fail when held up to scrutiny. Artists' business acumen is not the problem, it is usually sales. And sales depend on style, technique and many other factors entirely unrelated to business decisions.

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