Year in Review: 2021 Photobook Review Statistics

In 2021, we reviewed at total of 108 photobooks here at Collector Daily, which was down from our previous year’s unprecedented high of 156 reviews, but up from the 2019 number of 96 reviews. As the global pandemic continued on through further ebbs and flows, our broader photography coverage re-normalized a bit (as galleries, museums, and art fairs recovered and reinvented themselves), pushing the number of photobook reviews back toward a slower progression upward.

Over the years, we have continued to systematically analyze our photobook efforts, gathering various statistical measures on the books we are reviewing and their makers. (As background, for those that might want it, our 2020 analysis can be found here, while the 2019 numbers are here.)

Last year, we identified the inter-relationship between scale and discovery, teasing out the fact that delivering a larger number of reviews is intimately connected with searching out books from farther and farther outside the mainstream. We concluded that we would need to double or even triple the number of reviews we publish in a single year to achieve the kind of coverage we think is necessary, and that to reach that scale, we would have to redouble our efforts to search far and wide for worthy books.

In 2021, while we weren’t able to grow the top line in terms of raw review totals (since the rest of our categories came back to life), we did make some measurable progress on a variety of metrics, as seen in the statistical measures below.

Photobook Reviews by Book Type
Monograph 98 reviews / 90.74%
Zine 5 reviews / 4.63%
Catalog/Retrospective 2 reviews / 1.85%
Box/Portfolio 1 review / 0.93%
Criticism/Essays 1 review / 0.93%
Photopoetry 1 review / 0.93%

The spread of book types above closely tracks the numbers in previous years, with single photographer monographs continuing to be the most dominant form. This past year also saw us branching out to other innovative photobook approaches, including the box of loose prints (as seen in Jim Goldberg’s Fingerprint) and the balanced photo/poetry hybrid.

Photobook Reviews by Gender
Male 53 reviews / 49.07%
Female 49 reviews / 45.37%
Multiple Artists 6 reviews / 5.56%

Equalizing the gender imbalance in our photobook reviews has been an active project since we first realized (several years ago) how out of balance our reviews were, and in 2021, we finally made some notable progress toward parity. While in 2020 the gender split of the artists represented in our reviews was 60% male/36% female (with 4% coming from multiple artist publications), last year we closed the gap significantly (49% male/45% female), coming within a handful of reviews of equality. With more widespread interest in and appreciation of photobooks by women (as well as people of color and other previously marginalized artistic voices) driving many of the large and midsize publishers to modify their plans and programs, progress is clearly being made, both across the photobook industry and here at Collector Daily.

Photobook Reviews by Artist Nationality (by Region)
USA/Canada 40 reviews / 37.04%
Western Europe 22 reviews / 20.37%
Asia/India 12 reviews / 11.11%
United Kingdom/Ireland 7 reviews / 6.48%
Russia/Eastern Europe 6 reviews / 5.56%
Central/South America 6 reviews / 5.56%
Middle East 6 reviews / 5.56%
Scandinavia 5 reviews / 4.63%
Africa 2 reviews / 1.85%
Australia/New Zealand 1 review / 0.93%
Multiple Geographies 1 review / 0.93%

In 2021, we wrote about photographers from 34 different countries, but our percentage of reviews from the USA/Canada returned to levels higher than we might have liked, given a fundamental desire to spread our interests more broadly. On a percentage basis, we saw improvements in the amount of reviews from Asia/India, the Middle East, and Africa, but the raw numbers remain small, meaning there is still more work to do, in terms of identifying intriguing photobooks from those regions. In general, our internationalization efforts will always fight against the ease of discovery of books from our local region, so we have to push harder to deliberately make choices that cut across that momentum.

Photobook Reviews by Publisher
Self Published 10 reviews / 9.26%
MACK 6 reviews / 5.56%
Aperture 4 reviews / 3.70%
Stanley/Barker 4 reviews / 3.70%
Loose Joints 3 reviews / 2.78%
Overlapse 3 reviews / 2.78%

One of the bigger surprises in our 2021 photobook statistics is the marked year over year decrease in reviews of self-published titles. Why this occurred isn’t entirely clear – did the pandemic broadly slow the impulse to self publish? Or did it create project delays that will catch up in the coming year or two? Or did distribution for self published titles somehow narrow? Or did we inadvertently turn our attention toward books from larger publishers? Absent an obvious cause, it’s a bit of a mystery.

What we can say is that in aggregate our reviews extended to a total of 75 publishers this year (plus the 10 self-published titles), so our reach continues to get decently far out toward the edges of the photobook world. None of the leading names above will be a surprise to those following the industry closely, as all of these publishers (and many others) are making high quality new releases each season. What the numbers show is that finding the right balance between the known and the unknown remains a challenge, and we need to come at these decisions with a decided tilt toward amplifying exciting books that may have been overlooked or underappreciated.

For us, 2021 felt a bit like a year of understated rebalancing, with the sole attention paid to photobooks in 2020 moderating back to something more balanced and sustainable.  How we thoughtfully grow the coverage in all our categories (and do so within the bounds of a workable set of repeatable economics) is the challenge for the new year ahead.

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