A while ago – about a year ago, I think – I bought the photobook Color Correction, by Ernst Haas, for about £28. I love this book with a passion and I want to have it always, but I’ve just noticed that second-hand copies are on sale on Amazon for £400 upwards. I’ve been thinking for some time that photobooks, if carefully chosen, would be an excellent investment. There have been so many times that I’ve wanted to buy a copy of some photographer’s work, only to find that it’s out of print and would cost me several hundred pounds even if bought second-hand. There have been lots of other times when I’ve thought about buying a recently published photobook but haven’t because I didn’t feel at that moment that I could spend the necessary £35. Later I’ve gone back, and found that the price has soared because it’s gone out of print, putting it out of my reach.
The average photographic monograph can be bought for between £20-60, making it affordable to buy, say, one a month. You’d probably have to keep them for quite a while (although my Haas book has soared in value very quickly) and there’s no guarantee that they will ever rocket to these giddy heights. On the other hand, these books do tend to hold their value and you’re unlikely to lose much money if you buy them at the original price – on top of that you’ll have a wonderful collection of photo books to enjoy. Of course you would have to handle them very carefully as even minor damage would reduce their value a lot, but this isn’t a problem for me as most of my books look like new even after I’ve read them several times. It’s one of the few advantages of being anally retentive 🙂
I found this article from The Guardian, dated about a year ago, that suggests photobooks are a promising way to make money over the long term. There are lots of pros and cons, of course, and I’m sure there are far more reliable investments, although not many that would be so enjoyable. I have mixed feelings about the idea, because I wouldn’t buy something I didn’t like purely as an investment, and if I do like it then I’m probably not going to want to sell it. Having said that, though, there are quite a number of photobooks that I’d very much like to have for a while and wouldn’t mind selling on once I’d had my fill of them.
There’s a book that I already have on my shelves, for example – The Edge of Vision: the rise of abstraction in photography by Lyle Rexer. I bought this a year or two back, and it didn’t live up to my expectations, so I’d be more than happy to sell it. I had to sit down when I saw how much it’s on sale for on Amazon – upwards of £1199.56 for a second-hand copy! I can’t believe that anyone would be willing to pay this, but I’ll be putting it on there for sale just in case. And if it does sell, guess who’s going to be using some of the proceeds to buy lots of photobooks?