Benedikt Taschen is an unusual publisher. Who else would say exactly how much TASCHEN has lost on its least lucrative books (more than a million dollars in a couple of instances), or tell booksellers that some of his books aren't actually any good?
We challenged him via email to reveal his worst financial headaches, and if he has any regrets. Typically, he told us.
TASCHEN has lost huge sums of money on some of its books. Do you regret publishing them?
No, no regrets at all.
What have you learned from your mistakes?
I don't consider them as mistakes. I would though, had I been unhappy with the result, the final books. But really, all of these five are great books in their respective fields. What sucks is a not-so-great book, a “poor book” as I like to call them, which on top of everything else also loses money, and by the way, that also happens, luckily not too often. Unfortunately I cannot (or prefer not to) name any titles here...
Years ago, in our trade magazine we used symbols or “icons” to evaluate our own books. In our 1994 TASCHEN magazine for booksellers, we included: "Publisher's choice", "TASCHEN Bestseller", "Adults Only"... and one icon that said “Sorry, poor book.” The author of one of the books qualified as such sued us. Our lawyer did not know how to handle the case since there was no precedent of a publisher who put his own book down. So he asked me ‘Why did you do this?’ and I told him that I didn't like the book, as simple as that.
Sometimes I just find out once it’s done, published and in my hands. If it were digital, I could delete it, but an analogue book doesn't work like this. Anyhow, nobody is perfect and since I openly enjoy what I like or love, I reserve the right for me to do the same the other way round, too.
What have you learned about publishing?
Publishing is, as life, unpredictable and can be dangerous. I am an optimistic guy, like Voltaire’s Candide, kind of sleepwalking through business and life, bumping every once in a while into a genius who makes me rich, in my head, heart and financially. As a friend of mine put it: the plan is, there is no plan.
See the books that lost Taschen most money - and how much they lost: