Photobook prices are soaring: Will monographs follow?


New to art collecting? Have a limited budget? The photobook market has, since the 2004 publication of the two-volume, 600 page work The Photobook: A History, become a hot new collecting category with surging prices, reports The Guardian.

At first glance they may look like overpriced coffee-table books, but photobooks are highly collectible works of art. In recent years, a boom in the market has seen prices skyrocket.

What is a photobook?

A photobook is a book of photographs that:

  • often celebrates the work of a single photographer;
  • usually has little or no text;
  • may be self-published;
  • is often printed in limited runs for a small readership.

In The Photobook: A History, authors Martin Parr and Gerry Badger argue that photobooks are the best resource for analysing the development of photography. Alternative options fall short: photographic prints are limited in number and therefore in distribution while exhibitions are transient and usually local. Photobooks on the other hand provide a more lasting, comprehensive and accessible record of a photographer’s oeuvre.

If you would like to find out more about the photobook market, read on for our condensed quick-read summary. Alternatively, head to The Guardian article, “Photobooks – Affordable Collectibles That Are Soaring in Value“, to go in-depth.

The Photobook A History Vol 2 Phaidon

The Photobook A History Vol 2 Click here to buy on Art Radar Amazon shop

Parr and Badger have arranged a selection of 400 books in 18 wide-ranging thematic categories such as:

  • Topography and Travel-The First Photobooks
  • Photo Eye-The Modernist Photobook
  • Medium and Message-Photobook as Propaganda

What about monographs?

But all is not perfect, says Rod Purcell in his review of The Photobook on The Online Photographer blog:

The authors’ definition of a photobook excludes monographs. I’m not convinced that this was due to any other reason than making the project manageable, or perhaps further monograph-based volumes are to come.

After all, you could say that what photobooks are to photography, monographs are to art. They too provide a durable, comprehensive, manageably-priced and not too scarce resource for art research.

If indeed there will be “further monograph-based volumes” that will document and canonise the best of the best, it is quite possible that a new promising monograph-based market category will emerge. Both photobooks and monographs share the same set of characteristics that make markets happy. They are:

expensive to produce and, while demand is too small to warrant long print runs or multiple reprints, it is large enough that the books remain desirable, soon become scarce and can eventually be very valuable. (Adam Dewar, The Guardian)

How will the Internet affect the market for the photobook? As the Internet becomes a leading source of reference information, will photobooks go digital? Will paper versions continue to be produced, no longer as documents but instead as works of art in their own right. It does seem likely that the photobooks in existence will become more scarce and perhaps therefore desirable to collectors.

Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and 70s

Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and 70s Click to buy from Art Radar Amazon shop

Photobook price rises

So what kinds of prices can you expect to pay? Prices can start as low as USD40 and at the other end of this sky-rocketing market:

At a dedicated auction at Christie’s in London last year, signed early editions of influential photobooks such as Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment’ sold for £43,250 and £13,750 respectively. (Adam Dewar, The Guardian)

But beware. Items must be in mint condition as imperfections can knock forty percent off the price. Signed and inscribed works go for more.

The Book of 101 Books Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century

The Book of 101 Books Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century Click here to buy on Art Radar Amazon Store


Related Topics: photography, art market, art books

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The Photobook: A History Volume 1

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Photobook prices are soaring: Will monographs follow? — 1 Comment

  1. Yes, photobooks and monographs share many similar features. They are printed in limited editions, often numbered, and are very expensive to produce.

    We (Thavibu Gallery in Bangkok) have just published a limited and numbered edition book about the old Burmese master painter U Lun Gywe – Feasting the Female Form.
    I am not aware of many limited edition books featuring Asian contemporary and modern art, but would be interested to know.

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