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Posted on 26th Nov, 2020 in Photography

It seems the late fall is my designated time of year to reflect upon my experiences and crystallize them in to something tangible. At this time last year, I had just finished exhibiting some of my photography in public for the first time. It was a fun but stressful night that would kick off a series of sleepless nights. This year I'm hunkering down for the 3rd or 4th peak in a pandemic that our Federal government has effectively chosen to ignore. What a difference a year makes! However, I want to revisit what transpired after that night and how the wild trajectory of this year put that all on hold.

After the Pop-Out Gallery

Previously I had mentioned that my friend had organized a pop-up art gallery event in the lead up to AnimeNYC 2019. I offered my full support and somehow wound up being an exhibiting artist in the event. It was my first time showing my work publicly and I had all sorts of anxieties about it. As part of that I met new people and learned a few things. I learned that my work really reflects my mood. I learned that my friends have more faith in me than I do sometimes. Most interestingly though, I learned that despite shooting exclusively on digital cameras, digital may not be my medium when it comes to displaying my work.

The work on display at the event was displayed on standard computer monitors rather than in print (which is what I'm used to). This plus the pressure of getting everything ready before the deadline, coming up with an original piece related to Kyoto Animation, and my lack of absolute faith in the new works I choose to exhibit definitely fed in to my anxieties. Which is why my panicked mind decided to bring along a backup plan.

Four years ago, around this same time of year, I had put together my first photo book from some of the photos I took on my very first trip to Japan. Since that time I had traveled to a few more places and compiled a second book of vacation photos as well. It did it mostly as a keepsake of some very precious memories as well as out of sheer inspiration at the stunningly scenic places I had traveled to. There are exactly 3 copies of each of these books. Two copies are proof prints that I have for myself and one copy I've gifted to a good friend, photographer, and mentor.

Since I didn't have a formal portfolio or website (for my work), I brought along the samples with me in the off chance that anyone might want to see more of my work. They went ignored for the first half of the evening. Once people realized it was okay to touch them though, they were met with quite the fanfare. In fact they were significantly more popular than the photos I had explicitly edited and curated for this event. This put me in a very awkward position when people started asking me if the books were available for sale. I couldn't have foreseen that and considering that they were just the proof prints containing numerous errors, I wasn't ready to part with them. So after significant hyping up by everyone there, I promised I would print some copies that were for sale.

Editing Is Easy, Sales are Harder

After a good night's sleep, a long day at work, and drafting up a blog post about the previous day's events I started to do some research. I don't know much about book making or publishing but I came up with a short list of tasks to complete before I could start selling some books. First and foremost I had to get some more copies of the book printed. That meant figuring out how much it would cost to print several copies at once rather than on demand. Once I knew that, I could calculate how many copies I should have printed and figure out the price I should sell them for.

Within 3 days, I had fixed all of the layout issues and typos contained in the proofs of my first book. I also signed a contract securing the prices for volume printing. Progress was coming along rapidly as I began to get in to the nitty gritty of book publishing and distribution. With the holidays looming, I was hoping to finish up all the research and get everything printed and shipped before Christmas.

Unfortunately, things weren't as simple as they had originally appeared. For example, you can't sell a book on Amazon unless it has an ISBN. However to get an ISBN you have to buy one and they're somewhat expensive if you don't buy them in bulk... that is unless you publish your book through Amazon's CreateSpace (now Kindle Direct Print) imprint. Of course, this means that Amazon gets a portion (at least 40%) of your sales in royalties as well as another portion for making the sale on their platform. This steep cut and all the components that I would have to understand made me hesitant to take that route. So then I floated the idea of starting my own publishing house in order to retain full control and full proceeds of my book. This would add more complexity to the situation, so I opted to forget Amazon and obtaining an ISBN entirely.

By now the holidays were upon me, so I postponed my plans to finish the book until the new year. I would proceed to set up an online store so I could sell the books only to discover that in order to sell books, I'll need the ability to collect sales taxes. To get that, I need what's called a Certificate of Authority in New York State. The only way to get one is be registered as a business (otherwise they'll hit you hard with the Unincorporated Business Tax come tax season). In order to register as a business there's paperwork and filing fees that are required... and during normal times it can take up to 4 months if you don't pay for expedited service. The process looked maddening. All I wanted to do was be able to sell some books to people who wanted them and now I needed a lawyer and an accountant?!

Hindsight is 2020

Once again I decided to procrastinate. I was flip flopping on whether to go ahead since it would wind up costing me an order of magnitude more to get all the qualifications and paperwork out of the way to sell books than it would to print them by the dozens. Also I had an upcoming trip to Japan and talk of a new respiratory illness was starting to affect my plans. I didn't know it yet, but 2020 would turn out to be a hell year.

That mystery illness was COVID-19. Despite that it was early on enough that I actually made it to my vacation but that's a whole other post in itself. When I returned I had a solid month before New York City would go in to lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy and the stock market would soon plunge and my attention would shift from incorporating to foraging for toilet paper amid rising political instability. I can't say I foresaw any of this as a possible outcome when I started but perhaps the time wasn't right.

Deep down I've always been conflicted about selling my work. I'm of a generation where everyone is encouraged to take anything and everything they do and monetize it as a side-hustle. I take photographs because I enjoy it. I don't really care about sales and am fortunate enough that I don't need to either. I just want to share something I truly enjoy with more people... but also not do that if possible. It may sound contradictory but sharing my work creates a weird external pressure that I don't know if I want to deal with. Perhaps 2021 will be the year where I find a balance between these two conflicting desires. Perhaps I'll also try to have these printed again. For now though, I think I'll keep honing my skills.


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