The German publisher Taschen repeatedly takes the coffee table book to new dimensions. Whether the subject is art, erotica, or design, the company's goal is: make it colorful, readable, and above all, affordable.
Tempting as candy: Taschen books
Benedikt Taschen is a publisher of the extreme. He's just as willing to press pornography between a book cover as pop art, the interiors of exclusive hotels, or collections of antique vases.
But it all started with comic books. The son of a doctor in Cologne and the youngest of five children, Taschen remembers being a somewhat lonely child who liked Donald Duck comics. At the age of 12, Taschen started a comic-book mail-order business. Three years later, he opened a comic bookstore and, at age 18, became a publisher of comics. For four years, he struggled for survival.
Then came the breakthrough: In 1984, Taschen bought 40,000 books about Belgian artist Rene Magritte for a dollar each. Within a short time, he'd sold them all for 9.99 deutsche marks (approximately $6.60) each. The "art book for the masses" was born.
"Back then we bought leftover stock from all over the world -- books that other publishers couldn't sell," Taschen remembers. "All the booksellers were skeptical, but in the end it was the consumers who decided things."
Taschen's book on art project "The Gates" by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
The formula has proved to be a winning one. The Taschen company recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Its featured title at the moment is a collectors' edition book about the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude's project "The Gates," which has set New York's Central Park ablaze in swathes of bright orange fabric.
One extreme to the next
Benedikt Taschen, now aged 44, was likely the first "global player" of the book business. He has his own shops in major cities such as Tokyo, Los Angeles, Paris and London. His titles are produced in at least three languages. From Asia to America, Taschen books fill up the shelves and bargain bins of bookshops and department stores.
With the help of huge print runs and low-cost finishing, Taschen lifted the art book out of its elitist niche and made it mainstream. Over the years, other publishers started following a similar strategy.
"We're the most copied publishing house in the world," said Taschen. "Our books are very inexpensive -- you can't make them any cheaper." But it was along the low-cost road that Taschen happened upon the idea to go in a completely different direction -- to produce the most exclusive and expensive books in the world.
Taschen achieved a major coup with the publication five years ago of "SUMO," a 460-plus-page collection of images by photographer Helmut Newton. At 50 x 70 centimeters (20 x 27.5 inches) and weighing 30 kilograms (66 pounds), the book was so big, it came with its own table, designed by Philipp Starck. "SUMO" was printed in a limited edition of 10,000 copies, each costing €3,000 -- all of which sold. Collectors are now demanding as much as €5,000 for a copy of the megabook.
Back to basics
Taschen presents the oversize book on Muhammad Ali, "GOAT" (Greatest of All Time)
Taschen's latest oversize, epic work is "GOAT" (Greatest of All Time), a comprehensive study of Muhammad Ali with nearly 800 pages of archival and original photographs.
To mark its 25th anniversary, though, Taschen is reverting back to his original philosophy of cheap books for the masses. He's producing a "Best Of" range of 25 titles -- available at the dumping price of €9.99 each.