How Benedikt Taschen conquered the global book market | Cultural | Reports on the arts, music and lifestyle of Germany | DW


Publisher Benedikt Taschen was born in Cologne on February 10, 1961. At the age of 18, he founded a comic book publishing company in his hometown and quickly began sending copies around the world.

Soon after, he turned to the art book business and in 1984 he had his first big success. With the money he had raised from his aunt and his parents, he bought 40,000 copies of an illustrated book by Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte at a fair in the United States for $ 1 each. . In no time, he had sold all volumes at a significant profit, 9.99 Deutsche Marks (equivalent to around € 5 or $ 6 today).

For Taschen, this proved that there was a market for high-quality, yet affordable, illustrated art books. “At the time, we had bought leftover books from all over the world that others couldn’t sell at regular prices. René Magritte was one of my great heroes ”, recalled Benedikt Taschen in a previous interview with DW.

It all started with ‘Basic Art’

Taschen’s first successful in-house production, Picasso – The genius of the century, was published in 1985. The first volume of what the publishing house called the “Basic Art” series has been translated into 25 languages.

Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh’s picture books followed, selling for the low price of DM 9.99, and quickly became hits.

“At first we tried to buy licenses from other publishers, but they didn’t want to sell us anything, so we had to start publishing ourselves, which was also much better. That way we could produce the books exactly as we saw fit, ”Taschen said.

At 18, he opened his first comic bookstore in Cologne

Editor of extremes, Taschen does not hesitate to stage pornography in the same way as pop art, the interiors of Parisian mansions or a collection of rare antique vases. “The fact that we’ve walked this arc from small to big, from conservative to progressive, top to bottom, is something we’re proud of,” the publisher said.

The publishing house’s offerings include volumes of Luther’s Bible, as well as books on fetish photographer Elmer Batters, who has spent his life photographing only female legs. This scale, aimed at capturing a variety of interests, is the publishing house’s sole selling point.

A photo of 9-year-old Taschen selling books on the street.

Taschen started selling comics at the age of 9

The first editorial flop

Yet all of the publisher’s efforts have not been successful. One of Taschen’s failures was the photo book Cologne Junggesellen (“Cologne Bachelors”), a who’s who of marriage-conscious boys in the city of western Germany. But for the most part, his business has been successful.

The secret of Taschen is to keep prices low through a high initial print run of 50,000 to 100,000 copies and a low cost layout. Nevertheless, the level of texts, subjects and the quality of printing remain high.

This success inspired many to emulate Taschen’s strategy. “As we are by far the most copied publisher and still are today, at some point the competition got so strong around the world that we said we couldn’t accept it. Our books are extremely cheap anyway, you can’t get any cheaper than that. So we had the idea to go in a different direction, which is to produce the most exclusive books in the world, ”he said. he declares.

Taschen and Helmut Newton pose next to a copy of SUMO

Taschen (left) entered the luxury market with “SUMO”, a large book of photographs by Helmut Newton (right)

An expensive business

As a result, Taschen decided to enter the luxury market by publishing some of the most expensive books the industry has ever seen. Twenty years ago this success came with SUMO, a book of photographs by German photographer Helmut Newton of over 400 pages and one meter high. Weighing 30 kilograms (66 pounds), the publication was priced at € 3,000 ($ 3,600). The volumes sold out quickly, with collectors demanding several times the asking price.

The company has further developed this unique approach with GOAT: Tribute to Muhammad Ali, weighing 35 kilograms. The book could no longer fit on a shelf and was delivered on a designer table by Philippe Starck, taking the concept of “coffee table” to the extreme.

Mohammad Ali poses with others at the Frankfurt Book Fair which looks like a boxing ring.

Taschen’s book on American boxer Mohammad Ali was another unique publication and came with a designer table

Yet despite this success, Taschen’s best deals don’t come from these one-off publications. “We’re a typical backlist publisher, a publisher who lives off what we’ve done before, and most books can only function economically if they stay in the program for years.”

Books remain cheap only because they are sold in 100 countries, Taschen said. All publications are translated into at least three languages. The company also does not order on a small scale – booksellers can only place orders in large quantities.

Home in Los Angeles

Benedikt Taschen was also one of the first to conquer the global book market. In addition to Cologne, it has offices in Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Madrid and London. “Basically the program is available worldwide,” Taschen said, although “in some countries in Asia or the Middle East, Gustav Klimt or Renoir’s art books cannot be sold due to censorship laws there, ”he added.

Now based in Los Angeles, Taschen co-manages the publishing house with his eldest daughter Marlene. He became a successful art collector and nurtured his interest in architecture.

A photo of a house that looks like a UFO

Taschen’s iconic modernist home in LA

Years ago, he published a book about architect John Lautner, who designed his unique home in the Californian hills, called the “Chemosphere”. The octagonal UFO-like building is accessible by cable car and is an icon of modern architecture.

Correction January 10, 2021: This article previously stated that Benedikt Taschen was 12 when he started selling comics. This has been corrected because he started at the age of 9. We apologize for the mistake.

This article was translated from German by Sarah Hucal

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