最新新闻
1993年10月8日
International Herald Tribune
Michael Lawton
Back to Visual Basics: Cheap Art Books!
Taschen is quick to spot a trend: Pierre et Gilles (of Mark Almond record covers fame) or the artist of the perpetual scream Gottfried Helnwein (Norman Mailer is a fan) are both the subjects of recent books.
Cologne: In 1983, Benedikt Taschen, then 22, received his first big lesson in business when he bought 40,000 copies of an American book about Magritte for $1 apiece. He sold them, for around $3 each, within two months.
Today, at 31, Taschen has his headquarters in a mansion in Cologne, from which he sells worldwide one book every three seconds. There are fresh flowers in the offices, an eclectic collection of sometimes pornographic art on the walls and a miniature Viking ship with tea chests ("Social Box Transporter" by Martin KippenHL berger) hanging in the stairwell. The eccentric, slightly shocking image extends to the boss: Taschen projects an image of a naughty schoolboy trying to impress.
But his books are the important thing, and his record there is impressive. As he says, "It's more fun selling lots of them than selling a few." His books are mainly found piled in remainder outlets, and until recently, were sold wholesale in minimum orders of 1,000. Such economies of scale help keep prices down, but, in addition, projects are conceived so that every last penny can be squeezed out of them.
Taschen publishes two main series: in the Basic Series (96 pages, 100 color illustrations, 14.95 Deutsche marks, or about $9), each volume features a single artist, photographer or designer; a more ambitious series at 29.95 DM (200 plus pages) often deals with a wider theme such as the Bauhaus, or Contemporary Japanese Architects.
B OOKS are translated in up to 20 languages, and the material may also turn up in the form of a poster book, a postcard book, a calendar, and even as illustrations on the covers of notebooks. According to Taschen, he is now the only publisher producing nonsubsidized original art books in Germany today.
But the books are not produced down to their price. Texts are authoritative, illustrations are of high quality and the books are well designed. Taschen takes pride in the quality of his publications. He argues that, by bringing art books to people who previously could not afford them, he is educating the market that he has created. The reliability of his product means that readers who have enjoyed Taschen's books on Renoir or Expressionism are likely to trust themselves to buy his books on Egon Schiele or the Villas of Dresden.
The Taschen list has always included a fair amount of erotica - Taschen's eyes twinkle as he denies its importance in his marketing strategy. In addition to cheap and nasty books, such as that on the Italian porn star Cicciolina ("sold badly," says Taschen), there are more interesting topics such as the S&M pinup Betty Page, or the drawings of Tom of Finland, who, says Taschen enthusiastically, gave gays a positive image for the first time. Taschen is quick to spot a trend: Pierre et Gilles (of Mark Almond record covers fame) or the artist of the perpetual scream Gottfried Helnwein (Norman Mailer is a fan) are both the subjects of recent books.
In 1990, on the centenary of van Gogh's death, Taschen put a monkey wrench in the works of many larger publishing houses by bringing out a two-volume edition of the artist's complete works which sold in Germany for 99.95 DM.
The success of the van Gogh has led to a new publishing line: two-volume standard texts with very generous illustrations. Taschen says that they want to produce a series - he calls them "our jumbos" - which no serious student can afford to be without, but at prices that make them universally available. The two-volume van Gogh is currently available in English in a smaller paperbound format for $24.99. Picasso is available hardbound in the original size for $79.99, and Dalí and Soutine are to follow.
Michael Lawton is a free-lance writer based in Germany.
Published: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1993




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