Publishing isn’t well adapted to doing things together, or doing things fast. The traditional story of a book is a single author labouring to compile the content, perhaps to a deadline or perhaps in the hope of being published. It’s easy to manage because a single contract with the creator secures rights which the publisher then controls.
When Tanya Nagar proposed bringing street photographers from around the world together to create a book and raise money for covid causes – what would become Covid Street – all these obstacles loomed, as well as the clock.
Social media could form a basis, but while it brings people together when it comes to sharing, it has limitations. For one thing you can point to someone else’s image from your own channel without gaining any rights to it. Even images you post need not be of printable resolution.
These limitations added to the clickable links are what make social media so well adapted to encourage lending / sharing – there is a perception of retained control by the users. How could this enthusiasm be brought to print, and the money earned for a good cause?
We designed Covid Street to address those challenges without dumping all the work on an author who, as well as being a respected street photographer, also had a day job.
There wasn’t time or the resource for individual photographers to be negotiated with, so we built a mechanism for photographers to upload images of a suitable standard which guided them through the rights we’d need – and only those rights.
As a charity project, people taking the time to share were being generous and many publishers will over-reach with extensive small print. We didn’t want to put people off, but did want to engage with creatives who might not be into copyright detail or, indeed, English.
The result was over 100 contributors delivering material from around the world; fewer than for the Instagram feed but, crucially, all were enthusiastic and understanding.
To reward the photographers, we included not only the photographer’s names, but their Instagram handle in each caption. This gives even print a more interactive feeling; plenty of people ‘double screen’ – have the TV on while they look at their phones – so why not give a book a potential to connect?
In the end the hardest things was deciding when to close the gates and say “It’s time to print.” On the plus side waiting until 2022 gave us the chance to include some of the backlash, but perhaps we should have gone sooner.
“Everything is a learning process, and this project certainly was, but we’ve now got a proven approach to creating books which tens or even hundreds of contributors from all round the world can be proud of. Now we’re looking for the next challenge.” – Adam Juniper