We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.
Meet Amber, she is commissioning director at Hato Press, which is an independent printing and publishing house based in East London, who specialize in Risograph printing. We sat down for a talk with Amber about how Risograph printing works, artist collaboration and the importance of social sharing online and offline.
Hello, Amber! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of Hato Press from the beginning until today?
Amber: Jackson and Ken are the two directors of Hato Press, they met whilst studying communication design Central Saint Martins. After graduation, they decided to invest in a risograph machine, initially to explore their own work but then found that lots of their friends wanted to use it as well. Beside their friends, they realized there was a demand for risograph printing, so they decided to set up printing press and invest the profits back into the creative development of the company. Six years later we now have four main parts of Hato, the design studio, printing press and publishing house, and there’s also Hato Labo, which is the digital studio focusing on interactive design and Learn with Hato, a series of curated educational workshops.
We are a very collaborative studio in every aspect of the company both internally and externally and each department is supported by each other.
Initially we published self-initiated projects, such as Studio Cookbook. We then began to develop and evolve to collaborate with artists and illustrators that were introduced to Hato through the press and studio.
How many people are working on a full-time basis?
Amber: On a full-time basis there are eight people. Then we have freelance such as myself who work on specific projects. We also run a internship program that allows students to learn about the printing press.
Could you tell us a bit about the process of making a book from idea to finished publication?
Amber: collaboration is very important to us as a publishing studio. We have two ways of working, one is that Hato delivers the idea, and in that case everything gets done in-house. Roughly three steps characterize the process; an idea is brought to the table where we work on the concept and design, all production is then done in house and then lastly we market and distribute the book. Another way we work is more directly with an artist. They will bring an idea to us or we approach them and together we will work on the structure and concept of the book. The artist is very much in control of the creative content but we will advise them as the project develops. Once the concept is final all production is done in house, from printing to binding.
My role at Hato is to also to be aware of the financial implications of a project, the cost of production and potential revenue from distribution. All profits are spilt with the artist and invested back in to the publishing house.
You also advise about pricing of the publications?
Amber: Yes, we dictate the recommended retail price, and the artist is allowed a certain number of copies, but they are not allowed to sell the book. We do all the distribution and marketing. Some books will not generate a huge profit but we invest in them as we love the work and feel it is important to produce books that are beautify and well made regardless of profit.
At Hato Press, you are doing a lot of workshops. Could you tell us a bit about how it works?
Amber: Hato Labo just released an interactive workshop , ‘Hato Safari’ at ELCAF, which is the east London comic book fair, organized by Nobrow. The plan is that the content from these workshops will evolve into a printed book. Through working with animation director Mak Ying Ping we were able combing digital and illustration, we found that were able to visitors really enjoyed the interactive element of the project, this then lead to a direct interest in the publishing house and press.
We also do a lot of workshops around ABC, which is a children’s activity book to encourage reading and learning through printing. Most workshops are always for free. We did it at Pick-Me-Up Festival here in London and these tend to be aimed at younger children. We also do a lot of events based on the book ‘Cooking With Scorsese’, as this is book based on food we create specialized meals and film screenings to celebrate the content of the title. Because we are still a small publishing house and we don’t have a big distributor, a lot of how we promote and market our books is by doing events, so that’s really important to us to be able to have a way to promote it, with truly interesting content and images and dialogue from the people who attend.
Where do you find the inspiration for your publications?
Amber: Working in a creative design studio automatically provides you with lots of inspiration, based on the variety of people and projects we work with. Creating a publication is something that´s permanent, it has a physical presence, and it also has a different value that people choose to buy that book and they invest in it, the idea, the design and time. I think for me and for a lot others here at Hato that’s quite inspiring, having created something that is a tool to promote your ideas and what you’re trying to say, but that also has longevity in terms of content and the inspiration from that aspect, we’re really lucky that we print a lot of work, and we are see it coming through the press. I think a lot of the work is very playful, and light in content, it is really important for us to have the chance to show beautiful work and in affordable ways. Also playing around with the formats can be very inspiring. This book, for example, In the Garden by Emily Rand, is produced on different pages size pages which are dye cut (cut to size before printing), it is actually a really simple idea, yet it creates an interesting object that can be interpreted in quite different ways. We sell them in America and Australia and that’s been so exciting to enter that market.
Could you please tell us a bit about how risograph printing works?
Amber: A very simple way to explain it is it’s a bit like screen printing but in a digital format. So the way that it works is that you print in layers, this means is that no image is ever exactly the same because the printer will slightly alter the position and it will change, and that’s why it is really popular with a lot of illustrators and artists and designers because they like that quality, they like the fact that it’s not absolutely rigid in the way that it’s produced. All the inks used are soya based so it’s much more environmentally friendly than some printing inks and it’s also much lower cost. It’s Japanese originally and was first produced in 1986, but it became popular throughout Europe; in the 90’s with churches and schools as a means to print material at very low cost. And then it had resurgence in the last 5 years in the design community because of the way that it prints. It’s also a lot quicker than screen printing, and you can print much bigger runs, and there’s a lot of people who have slight nostalgia about this kind of technique and the format, so that’s how it works.
As a printing studio, we work with all sorts of people from the British Council and also with fashion designers and art students, lots of students but also bigger commercial companies, as well.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects about being a book publisher in the digital age?
Amber: In this digital age you have so much visual information to compete with, from the internet, magazines and also in everyday TV and advertising. One can feel you are competing against desire for the new, as visually we are so saturated. But for us this is a great opportunity. The publishing house works with Labo to manifest core concept of a printed book into a digital format, not as eBooks or digital PDFs but as interactive games, site and apps. Some people will see the work that we produce and they will really like it, but they will think, ‘Well, why do I want to own this because I could look at it online’. I think that’s a question that arises to a lot of people producing artist books, since they are more categorized as being niche works. So we are competing against a vast degree of visual information and in a book form the investment from the buyer involves a more concentrated investment.
The most rewarding thing about being a publisher is sharing ideas in a different kind of format because there is so much digitally we’re exposed to. People still love having something physical. I believe there’s a small but really passionate and strong market for publishing, especially for independent publishing, which is an area filled with lots of fantastic people and a strong community spirit. Further, what is also interesting is that printing methods have changed, and you can now print a book a lot cheaper than you used to be able to; so I think more people are independently choosing to do that, and there’s some really amazing work being made that previously wouldn’t have been possible. The evolution of digital design and processes as actually allowed the development of independent publishing, in that one can now edit your images at home on your laptop and then you can send it to someone like Newspaper club and they can print your work. Mainstream publishing has really suffered from digital but I feel that the amount of independent new books being produced have increased due to technology being able to support their development.
Which market and sales channels do you use at Hato press to reach out to your audience?
Amber: Blogs are fantastic and a great way to reach new communities. We also got exposure on much bigger websites such as Graphic, which is very important to us, as well. Social media is great tool for us, we’ve got loads of subscribers on Facebook, and it is a great way to share our new products and events. We also distribute to about fifty shops, but it changes depending on the season and the books that we have, but that’s also a great way to reach people. It’s not financially that successful due to high postage costs, but it’s all about exposure and reaching new audiences. In July, we’re going to be working with an American distributor, which is exciting for us because we want to push our books in that market.
When we do focused marketing, such as events or workshops, it really influences our sales, it’s an amazing resource, although it takes time, if you get it right, the rewards are really great.
Lastly, where do you see books and technology in the future?
Cooking with Scorsese
Amber: I think they can influence each other and it is important to embrace those possibilities. Our projects such as Hato Safari and Cooking with Scorsese ‘A dish as you like it’ are testament to this.
In mainstream publishing, you have a lot of people now who will print a book but will also offer a PDF, or a Kindle version because they know that it will be more popular in that format. We are producing books based on visual content, and a PDF will not provide the same experience as the printed version so, therefore, this system would not work for Hato press but through combing digital and print with Hato Labo we are able to offer apps and interactive digital workshops that are mainly aimed at a younger audience and play on the strengths of strong visual design and narrative.
In regard to publishing and print, there’s quite a lot of nostalgia, people like having a book. They like the memories that books evoke, and they like having a physical object, something to share and pass on. It is notoriously difficult to make money on publishing, but if you support your publishing with really interesting online content, or other activities like workshops or events, technology and publishing can go really well together. You just have to be realistic about relationship between the two.
Photo credit Hato Press
To learn more about Hato Press and experience
their universe and books
go visit: hatopress.net