Volume brings crowdfunding model to art book publishing

The Kickstarter model has worked well for art and design books – the spate of identity manual reissues being a particularly high-profile case in point. Now Thames & Hudson has backed a new start-up that seeks to build on the potential demonstrated by those independent projects to create a crowdfunding publishing platform specifically for illustrated books.

Volume is run by designer Darren Wall and T&H International Editorial Director Lucas Dietrich, who suggested the idea. Though owned by the publisher, the pair are responsible for its day-to-day operations.

Wall had been consulting for T&H and had also crowdfunded books both via his own imprint, Read-Only Memory, and with others, including Mr Bingo’s Hate Mail title and Wallace Henning’s British Rail Manual.

“The books I’d been funding via Kickstarter campaigns were design-led histories on videogames – an area ignored by most big publishers – and indeed it was being turned down by trade publishers that drove me to crowdfund them in the first place,” Wall says. “All this suggested to us that there was a whole world of specialist books that would be supported by a new model – this was the key inspiration and driving force for Volume.”

As with regular Kickstarter campaigns, Volume will run time-limited campaigns from its website – http://vol.co – for each proposed book. And like Kickstarter, varied levels of reward will be available to those pledging support, which will be fulfilled if the funding goal (set by Volume) is met. If the goal is not met, pledges will be refunded.

Applying the lessons of previous successful Kickstarter campaigns, Volume backers will get to see the books come together via regular production updates – “we’ll be sharing page designs, cutting room floor materials, and scenes from the printing floor,” Wall says.

While this is all familiar from the standard crowdfunding playbook, what sets Volume apart is ambition to create a publishing brand in its own right and its relationship with Thames & Hudson. “We enjoy the freedom and pace of a startup, but with the editorial experience and production expertise of T&H there as we require it,” Wall says.

Volume, in other words, is attempting to achieve the best of both worlds – big publisher resources with startup agility and ability to sell direct to backers (something that Unit has also explored, particularly with its use of preordering to mitigate the upfront costs of print).

“Volume can move much more quickly than ‘a traditional’ publisher, direct more resources toward the quality of print and production, and perhaps most importantly, we don’t need to pay as much heed to the demands of the book trade,” Wall says. “Those who pledge for successfully funded projects will receive their books directly from Volume, so we are freed of the trends and limitations of requiring our books to sit happily in a bookshop. A good example: we’re currently working on a book that’s around A2 in size, this would cause bookstores all sorts of headaches to stock and display, but on Volume, we have none of these issues. In addition, we can offer specialist touches with ease – customised editions, one-offs, and signed books. The community aspect of crowdfunding, means we can even respond to our backers’ requests and suggestions, adding rewards or tailoring the book content to match consensus.”

The first Volume volume will be Look & See, a book on Anthony Burrill’s collection of printed ephemera. Backers can choose from an array of extras including postcard sets, a screenprint and signed copies. “We’d been speaking to Anthony for a while about producing a high production book on his amazing collection of printed ephemera and, as Volume became a tangible idea, we suggested to him it might make an ideal debut,” Wall says. “Anthony immediately understood the benefits of creating a book so closely with its eventual readers, and seemed to relish the creative control it would offer. [It’s] a perfect statement of intent for Volume.”

Megastructure – Reyner Banham

Further books planned include collaborations with John Maeda and Takenobu Igarashi and Megastructure, a collection of ‘architectural fictions’.

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