In the final installment of our ‘Life Cycle of a Book’ series, we talk to a freelance arts and books PR and Thames & Hudson’s Territory Manager for Central London, about publicizing and selling Magnum Contact Sheets.
When did you start planning the publicity of Magnum Contact Sheets?
I started about six months ahead. I set up meetings with the commissioning editor and T&H team first, then on to Magnum offices, then a conversation with the New York-based editor of the book, Kristen Lubben. Research is really key for PR – you need to know your subject, know the stories, and be aware of any new aspects.
What elements did you have to take into consideration?
It’s really important to get the press release and text right, so that journalists and editors immediately see the importance of the book. The first thing, when planning the press release, is to decide what is most unique about the book and how it is relevant to now. I thought lots of people would like the book because it tells the story behind some of the most iconic images of our time – the classic shots of Che Guevara and Malcolm X, as well as those intriguing images of the Eiffel Tower painter, Salvador Dali and a fallen satellite – by the world’s greatest photographers, accompanied by very personal texts from the photographers themselves. I was also struck by the timing of the publication in relation to the opening of Tacita Dean’s work, FILM, at Tate Modern. FILM marks the end of the analogue film era and the shift to digital, much in the same way as Magnum Contact Sheets does. Another element I had to consider was picture rights. Images are crucial to most campaigns, yet they are usually just as valuable to their owners, so negotiating picture rights can be quite difficult. In this case, it was particularly sensitive as obviously Magnum’s business is based on its images, but Magnum was very generous and let us use three images that we could choose from a wide selection. Which images to choose was the biggest challenge.
Did you have any particular goals for the publicity of the book?
Obviously the end goal for publicity is to get people to buy the book, but I also like to tell the story and do justice to the subject. Needless to say national newspapers are key to this, as to write intelligently about photography is very hard and I’m always keen to have really good writing. That’s my thing. Luckily I’ve worked on big photography books before (e.g. Magnum Magnum) and know that people such as Geoff Dyer, John Banville, Peter Conrad, Andrew Motion and others are very good at writing and talking about these far-reaching and historic books. I’m also keen on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme (I listen most days) and so I was determined to fix something on that.
What was your favourite/most frustrating thing about publicizing Magnum Contact Sheets?
The best thing was getting the book on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme. David Hurn, the Magnum photographer, spoke, as did Geoff Dyer, who was brilliant and offered to be on the programme. The piece was then picked up by BBC World News, so our story was told to thousands globally, with a copy of Magnum Contact Sheets sitting on the newsreader’s desk. The hardest thing was the restricted picture rights. Many publications understandably couldn’t buy images from Magnum simply to publicize a book, so we did have to drop quite a few stories.
How do you measure success?
It’s good to hear that a book with a big print run has sold out of the warehouse within a few weeks of publication. I would say that marks a success.
And about working in arts and books PR in general?
Bigger subject! I’m a specialist arts & art books freelance PR so I work differently from most people. I always choose to work on subjects with strong images, so the kind of PR I do doesn’t always mean books page coverage – it can mean supplements, features, and yes, BBC World News stories. It makes it fun when your ideas translate into print, onto the airwaves, and into Twitter and blogs.
When did you start selling Magnum Contact Sheets?
As soon as I got the Advance Information (AI) sheet, about 3-5 months ahead of the publication date. The AI sheet includes all the key sales information and data about each book.
What elements did you have to take into consideration when selling?
Price, market profile, previous sales of similar titles, and how much information and resources I had – such as the AI, the blad (a selection of page samples colour-printed onto laminated paper). On top of all that I had to look at the economic climate, book format, author, type of bookshop, where the book would be in the bookshop if stocked, the buyer, was the buyer happy/ grumpy, was the buyer enthusiastic for the subject, among many other things.
Did you have any particular goals?
Like selling any book, I wanted to sell it (out), to enthuse the buyer about it so much that it stuck in their mind until a customer asks ‘Do you have any interesting books on photography?’ (Why, yes we do!)
What processes did you employ?
Charm and guile covered by a fondant mask of naivety.
What is your favourite/most frustrating thing about selling books?
Being asked impossible questions on the spot and picking satisfactory answers from the air.
How did you measure success?
In general, the measurement of success differs for each person and could include selling out a print run, selling more than any other rep, being a problem solver for customers, selling a difficult book into a shop however small the quantity, gathering people to the cause of an unusual book against their first inclinations, having buyers that actually want to see you and your books, and look forward to the T&H visits and have now become friends.