Photo books published by Libraryman have frequented the feed of Thisispaper for long enough. It's high time that light is shed on the man behind them — their publisher, art director and designer in one, Tony Cederteg. He is a renaissance man, though he would certainly shudder at being called that — he even frowns at "self-taught," not because it implies being at odds with the academia, but because it sounds like the teaching process is over. A Swedish expat in Paris, next year he will be celebrating Libraryman's 10th anniversary. It is safe to say that over these ten years his one-man publishing house has built its own kind of legacy, one made up not only of books, but also, as you'll finding out after reading, of an uncompromising way of doing things. It remains to be seen what Libraryman's teenage years will bring. In the meantime, its founder talks about things all book geeks love: special editions, rare book hunting (and its traps), and why books beat magazines.
How exactly is Studio Tony Cederteg different from Libraryman?
The distinction isn't complicated, they are both my practices, so I guess the foundation is somewhat the same. The design studio make assignments for clients, as well as all book designs for Libraryman and other publishers. It’s a bit comical when I try to formulate each book for Libraryman differently on the studio’s website. Libraryman is a platform for publishing photo books, which has been involving great risks, yet even though Libraryman doesn’t exclude being a benefactor of funds, the studio is the most contributing factor to the rent being paid.
Does that mean that Libraryman doesn't have a financial purpose?
We have sold books successfully at Libraryman but our guideline has always been greater than that. If it were for the fact of only making money we would have published a whole lot of other work and feeling miserable in the end. We’ve managed a decent balance throughout the years, with all its highs and lows.
When it comes to photography work, I couldn't care less about the level of greatness or fame a photographer is on. It’s a personal journey of balancing equal levels. Even if we foresee that a book won’t be a financial success, we still have to publish it because of its great importance for the artist and for the legacy of Libraryman’s catalogue. And for the small world to see. I just want to build something that I am proud of.
When we last spoke, you talked about running Libraryman a certain way for 9 years and then overriding it in a month. What kind of changes have you made?
It’s just an internal structure that is reevaluated and put into work. It’s a way of decreasing risks and giving back to the artists at the same time. It has always been problematic actually to find great artists to work with. The new structure is giving us the opportunity of embracing each project much more intimately in terms of time—to really strengthen the business side of Libraryman. Throughout the years we haven’t always been able to take the time that we need in terms of promotion, marketing and distribution—it’s never been secondary but it has been tough to have the right balance that we recently have found.
It seems that when you do find an artist that you want to publish, you almost always end up doing more than one book together. It has been the case with Viviane Sassen, Ola Rindal, Gerry Johansson, to name a few…
Gerry Johansson is one of the easiest people to work with and he finds that in me as well. It’s just a great collaboration where we can focus on very special and interesting projects that are a little fragile. And then he can produce his other books at commercial publishers, such as Steidl and Mack.
Does it mean that artists come to you when they want more freedom?
Not necessarily. First of all no one comes to me because I don’t take any submissions.
I noticed that is very clearly stated on the website.
That doesn't stop people from emailing me five times a day with submissions.
Do you look at them?
Of course I look at them. Even though I say I don’t accept unsolicited submissions, I’m still human and I’m still interested. I may not get back to everyone, but that’s the thing about the website—it clearly states that I don’t have to. But of course I look at everything. I wish I had the time to review work and give feedback more thoroughly.
Let’s get back to your relationships with artists for a second. We were talking about Gerry Johansson.
When Gerry and I started making books together I got in touch with him about a specific idea I had, and ever since he has initiated a lot of projects as well. As soon as you’re in the sphere of Libraryman you can almost call it home. I always want to work long term with people and have long-lasting relationships. It’s always of importance. If I reach out to someone to make a book, that means I have great interest in that person’s work and that’s not going to fade and go out of fashion.
Whenever you publish a book at Libraryman, it comes both as a standard and special edition. What’s the reasoning behind it?
The reason for our special editions was the simple need to provide something even more limited than the book itself, and the book itself is quite limited already. It’s a beautiful object with high collector’s value. The margin on the special editions, which include a numbered first edition and a signed print in special packaging, is higher than the book itself. It is first of all an aesthetic choice but at the end of the day it’s also a business choice, since it is a business and you have to cover costs.
I guess books are appealing to collectors because they have a much longer lifespan than, let’s say, a niche magazine that also claims to be collectible, but in fact only lasts till the next issue comes out.
I always say to myself that Libraryman is a really boring publishing house but it will last a lifetime. I think the misconception of the business and the mistake that people make, at least according to my taste, is trying to find ‘what’s now’ instead of longevity. I work with people of all ages, with diverse originality, and I wouldn't be able to tell them apart—they’re all amazing and equally trying to be understood through the creativity. But I’m not chasing for something brief; the only thing I desire is beauty. And beauty can of course reveal itself in so many different ways. But I’m not looking at flashy things; I do not wish to scream. I have no appetite to fool the audience to buy something that I don’t stand for. I just want to make calm, beautiful books, by letting the work speak for itself.
Since Libraryman is 9 years old, I think it’s safe to say you’ve succeeded.
To put this in perspective, I have made three magazines, two issues of each. That just proves the fact that I should make books, because they’re not something that is apparent or immediate, they don’t always have to be current. And they can go in and out of fashion but their value is somewhat more personal.
With photo books, as soon as you release them, the value becomes much higher, both on a personal and financial level. If you publish literature, no matter if you’re a newcomer or a famous writer, the edition will still be substantially larger than a photo book, since photo books has higher production costs and obviously a smaller target group, yet that is the pure beauty of the craft itself. Mainstream publishers of photo books still do limited print runs in comparison to literature, no matter if you’re a big photographer or a new photographer, in the long run it will just be these selected individuals that hold this item.
Photo books can in fact reach insane prices once they go out of print. There’s almost an auction market for them, but the most interesting thing to me is that there are people, and actually quite many of them, that will pay these prices for a book.
Yeah, and I’m one of them. When you first start getting interested in books, you’re interested in quantity, but further down the line the only thing you think about is quality. And that makes you buy fewer but older, or bigger, or more expensive books. Increasing prices tend to be a bit ridiculous sometimes.
It takes a very discerning customer to know if that particular book is worth 1000 euros or not.
Yes, and some book vendors take advantage of that and market new and rare photo books in such a forceful manner, almost as a substitute for your own conscience, or as if educating a child for bad behaviour. People just want to buy into a lifestyle, whatever it might be at the time, into its social norm, if they can’t figure it out themselves. They buy the idea of knowing more than they should without knowing it at all. Reference library: done. It’s sad.
Libraryman, established in 2008 by creative director Tony Cederteg, produces and publishes contemporary photo books and is based in Paris, France and Stockholm, Sweden. Working with a varied group of photographers and artists from around the world, Libraryman selects its collaborators with interest and sincerity and believes in establishing a relationship with everyone involved in a project’s process.