Scalo Verlag, founded in Zurich in 1991, publishes high-quality books on the work of internationally known contemporary artists and photographers, with the added twist of offering gallery exhibitions and fine art prints.
The company also operates a large bookstore (Scalo Books & Looks) out of its Zurich headquarters. In 1993, Scalo opened its New York office in SoHo, including space for its publishing offices and a gallery space. Indeed, for the rest of the holiday season, that gallery space is exhibiting a tongue-in-cheek conceptual art installation (a four-walled cube of book-lined metal shelving, called the "mainframe") that doubles as a bookstore display. All Scalo titles are available for sale at discount. The director of the U.S. office is Ricky Lee, who previously worked at Phaidon and Vibe magazine. He told PW the installation was both "for fun" and "to do some branding. People don't know they can see prints and buy books here."
In a telephone interview from Zurich, Walter Keller, the cofounder of Scalo, told PW that the house publishes 12 to 15 books a year. "We have become an American publisher. We publish American artists and we collaborate with American museums to publish catalogues," said Keller. Scalo's print runs range from 4,000 to 20,000 copies, and it has a backlist of about 100 titles. Its biggest sellers are U.S. photographer Nan Goldin's I'll Be Your Mirror and legendary photographer Robert Frank's classic work The Americans, which has sold more than 70,000 copies in its 1994 reprint edition. Scalo's titles are distributed by D.A.P. and are available for sale through its Web site at www.scalo.com.
Keller told PW that his annual sales were in the "lower millions." He acknowledged that the art book market has had problems, but "it's a growing market despite a difficult year." Art publishing, he said, is "somewhat overdone, so quality is essential. You can sell expensive books, $75 or $85 books, to the right audience if the value is right." He also pointed to his strategy to not only publish books but to exhibit the artist and sell limited-edition fine art prints. "We put in the editorial effort; why leave the field to a gallery?"
But for Keller the biggest problem in U.S. art book publishing is a lack of outlets. "How do you find informed, international booksellers that can serve clients? Even in New York, stores are closing. There are very few good shops for art books." Which explains the seasonal bookstore/art installation in the Scalo offices. "You can lament the situation," said Keller, "or do something about it."