The Velvet Cell at Tokyo Art Book Fair 2016

September 08, 2016

The Velvet Cell at Tokyo Art Book Fair 2016

Next week I will be participating at the Tokyo Art Book Fair here in Japan. This will be The Velvet Cell’s 3rd time to participate. I previously attended it in 2013 and 2014. The fair takes place every year and is one of the biggest art book fairs in Asia. 

This year it will be held from Friday 16th to Monday the 19th at the Kyoto University, Gaien Campus in Tokyo. Previously it was a three-day fair, but this year it will be for four days. The fair is held at a beautiful venue, not far from Shinjuku. You can see the location here: http://bit.ly/2bRZUZ5

This is the 8th year of the fair. Participants every year include a diverse range of publishers, galleries, bookstores as well as artists and artist groups from all over the world. For me one of the biggest enjoyments of my trips there is to walk around,meet new people and to see and get inspired by the many amazing books being produced by publishers big and small. Every event brings me new fascinating encounters. It is something I  always looking forward to.  

If you are interested in applying to the fair, sign up to their mailing list at http://tokyoartbookfair.com/en/#about. Usually around May you will receive an invitation to apply. Decisions come through in July or early August, at which point you will need to confirm your place, and make your travel arrangements..

Both times I participated were great experiences and I learnt a lot from both visits. In this post I will share some of the points that I learnt from my previous experience. I hope that some of you who are planning to attend fairs will find them useful. They are mostly oriented to other fellow publishers.

It’s important to be really organised. Once the fair gets going a lot of things start happening, so it important to spend time beforehand laying out the books, having your prices organised, having change ready and of course some food to keep you going.

There are a lot of great publishers there. This is great - it’s a great chance to meet very interesting people who are doing similar things to you. For me, living in Asia, it’s an incredible chance to see books that I’ve hitherto only seen online. So if you are a publisher, ask one of your stall neighbours to cover you, so you can wander around, discover new books or flip through the ones you really wanted to get your hands on.

Don’t bring too many books. It’s easy to think x number of books over y days means a lot of books sold. However, what I found was that a lot of people came on the first day and second day just to browse. They spent time to peruse the books, ask me questions, and learn more about The Velvet Cell, but they didn’t necessarily buy anything until they have seen everything at the fair. On the last day the atmosphere was usually completely different - people either come knowing what they want or they don’t spend too much time making a decision. It’s lovely to see people come back after a day or two just to get your book - that means they looked around but just couldn’t get your book out of their mind!

It’s a lot of fun! It truly is, especially being an online publishing house that doesn’t have a bricks and mortar site to display our books throughout the year, to meet people, to see them pick up the books and ask questions about them. I think it was there, in 2013, where I truly began to feel like a publisher for the first time. It was incredibly encouraging to see people interacting with the books. If only setting up a shop was easier!

Something that makes this year different from 2013 and 2014 is the location of our books. In those years I was living in Taipei and the TVC warehouse was my spare room. Therefore it was pretty straightforward -  I packed my suitcases with as many books as possible and was on my way. Since 2015, however, due to my wife and I’s relocation to Osaka and the small nature of Japanese apartments, we have been using a fulfillment and storage for all our books in the UK. Therefore, this time I’ve had to organise for books to be sent to the fair ahead of me.

To be honest, the fair itself isn’t cheap and the price has certainly gone up since I first attended in 2013. The table I booked was almost 340 GBP (up over 150 GBP from 2013) and there is no doubt it will be hard breaking even, especially with the delivery costs of the books. However, I still believe it's an amazing experience, and it is worth it in the end!

There are always a range of events that go on alongside the fair, from publishers and artist talks to installations and workshops. For example, this year there will be a Steidl Book Award Japan, a new publishing prize by the prestigious German publisher. Gerhard Steidl will personally review every submitted book dummy over the weekend. The winning project will be published by Steidl in Germany.

It is always a pleasure to be a publisher at such an event in Japan. Japan has had such a rich culture of book making and independent publishing in photography now for so long. Most importantly, however, I think fairs such as the Tokyo Art Book Fair now represent a rare chance in an increasingly “online” world to meet people and make long-lasting human connections with both fans and other publishers. It is something that should not be forgotten in this time where we spend more and more time behind the screen.




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