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The history of the exquisite publishing house Taschen Verlag begins in the German city of Cologne in 1980 when Benedikt Taschen bought 40,000 copies of a book about the Belgian painter, René Magritte. He acquired them at a reduced price, and in a masterful move, sold them for double the purchase price. The young entrepreneur decided to start his own publishing business with the profits he made. The label’s debut was a photographic tome by Annie Leibovitz followed by books on the works of Picasso and later, Dali.
However, the German publisher had already delved into the world of book sales. When he was only twelve years old, he was selling used comic books door-to-door, and by eighteen, he opened his first store under the name Taschen Comics. Since then—and in collaboration with a highly trained and creative international team—the successful publisher has managed to place his books in the windows of the greatest bookstores of the world.Few publishers have been as bold as Taschen. In his catalogs, we find publications dedicated to little known or controversial subjects such as fetishism, gay photography and erotic historiography, topics where the publisher has played an important role in the research, registration, and dissemination of volumes to the general public. Another of the company’s strengths has been the introduction of its books as decorative objects, something we are all grateful for.
The year 1999 marked a milestone in the history of the company with the publication of SOMA, a limited edition of 10,000 copies numbered and signed by the author. The book contains 400 photographs by Helmut Newton, the most influential, fascinating and controversial photographer of the 20th century, according to the note that accompanies the book.
At the time of publication, it was considered the largest and most expensive literary production of the 20th century. All the copies of SOMA were sold shortly after publication, which turned the monograph into a cult classic. It is now available in several of the most valuable book collections in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (MoMA).
The first original copy, signed by 100 of the famous personalities whose portraits fill its pages, was sold in a Berlin auction on April 6, 2000, for a record price of 620,000 DEM (around $423,000).Four years later, Taschen published a volume titled GOAT (Greatest Of All Times), a tribute to American boxer Muhammad Ali, published in 2003 and, according to the German daily Der Spiegel, it is “the biggest, heaviest and most radiant book ever printed” in the history of civilization.
As you can read on their website, “in this volume, we pay tribute to one of the most outstanding personalities of our time, for whom it was created. This work is as epic, unique and vibrant as the man himself.” With 700 pages, weighing 75 pounds and accompanied by a soundtrack, GOAT is one of the most expensive books in history, with a price of $15,000.The end of this story has yet to be written, but we guess that thanks to the innate ability of the editor being ahead of his time, the company will long remain at the forefront of the publishing business.
Taschen is already working on future strategies, led by among others, the digital director and one of the brains of the company, Julius Wiedemann. He is convinced that in two or three years, a new publishing model will be defined and roughly divided into physical books printed on paper and informative books in digital format. ■
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