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Ebooks - An Idea Worth Discussing

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#1 al crespo

al crespo


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Posted 25 August 2004 - 02:45 PM

Dear Colleagues,

For several years Iíve followed the debate over the shifting nature of contracts, and the efforts by media companies to gain more and more control of image rights. One of the conclusions that I came to was that photographers and photojournalists needed to explore alternative options for having their work seen while at the same time trying to generate some revenue from that effort.

I believe that the biggest concern that many photojournalists have today Ė notwithstanding the recent attention thatís been given to photojournalism by the events in the last few years Ė is that most of our work is never seen by anyone other than a photo editor at a newspaper, wire service or photo agency. How many of you stage periodic screenings or parties with friends in order that others might see some of your work because otherwise no one will?

Personal websites and stock footage sites have expanded the possibility for sales and viewing, but often the costs involved in creating and constantly upgrading a really dynamic website can be prohibitive, and stock footage I donít believe works as well for photojournalism as it does for editorial and lifestyle.

Book publishing has traditionally been the venue for photojournalism to reach a wider audience Ė once upon a time magazines played a larger role in providing photojournalists a showcase, but, with notable exceptions such as foto 8 in London, http://www.foto8.com, and several web-based efforts like Dirck Halsteadís, Digital Journalist, http://www.digitaljournalist.org, and Harperís Magazine recent decision to provide photojournalist Peter Turnley, four major eight-page photo spreads next year, the options have been getting narrower. Unfortunately Harperís decision has spurred so much interest because major magazine venues have been disappearing as the magazines that provided those opportunities changed formats or ceased to exist.

While there are wonderful photojournalism books published annually, there are several drawbacks that face photojournalists seeking to get their work published, not the least of which is the prohibitive costs associated with printing a quality 4 color book. Having gone through the process myself, I can attest that unless you win the lottery, itís not an undertaking that you can finance on an ongoing basis. After exploring a number of options several years ago I chose to self publish and the resulting experiences and lessons learned were worth it.

It was an expensive, but extremely worthwhile experience that provided me with a number of "this is what Iíd do differently next time" lessons, which only whetted my appetite to do it again. My only problem is that I couldnít afford to do it again.†

But I really wanted to. So, I went looking for alternative ways which led me to start exploring the possibility of eBooks. With an eBook, the major cost is in the layout process, making the overall costs and sale price of an eBooks relatively inexpensive. Many eBooks sells for $3.95 to $9.95, which is reasonable given the costs involved in producing a hardcover book.

And it was as a result of that research that I decided to write this in the hope of sharing what knowledge Iíve gained to date, and to stimulate some discussion about eBooks being an avenue that some of you might consider exploring yourselves.


I do not believe that books as we know them will disappear. At the same time, after some exhaustive exploration and a visit to this yearís American Library Association Conference, I do believe that eBooks are now a sizable and growing segment of many book publishers business plans.

The most significant indication of this I found at the ALA was the advent of eBook Libraries. Type eBook Library in Google, and look at all the links that pop up.

In addition, several months ago Dirck Halstead wrote about Roger Richardís eBook, Remember Sarajevo, which is available at Zone Zero. After reading Dirckís comments, I followed up by going to the site and purchasing the book, and by sending them an email inquiry Ė they state on their website a desire to publish eBooks on a continuing basis, but unfortunately I never got a response to my inquiry, and there havenít been any new books posted in months, so I donít know what problems they might be having. In any event, you can check them out at:† http://www.zonezero....le/catalog.html

Creatively, eBooks offer the opportunity not only to design a book in the traditional way, but also to include hyperlinks to websites and to use links to multimedia materials such as video and audio as part of the content. Also, while most folks I spoke with set an outer limit of between 5 and 6 megabytes as the size of a PDF document capable of being able to be transmitted without complications, thatís still a sizable amount of space to work with. There is also the option of creating an eBook and putting it on a CD, or DVD is the amount of content creates a download problem.

For someone interested in producing an eBook there are 2 ways to go about it. The first way, and one which as a Mac user I naturally gravitated to, is to use a program like QuarkExpress, or Adobe In Design. You lay your book out like you would if you were going to produce a hardcover book, and then convert your work into a PDF file.

The other way, the PC way, is using an executable language software program Ė of which there are a large number of eBook authoring programs available Ė and lay your book out in that program.

Iíve only worked with QuarkExpress, so I donít know how easy it is to work with some of the executable language programs when it comes to photographs, but hopefully someone will be able to provide some insight and guidance on which of these programs might be best. I must add though that one advantage of working with a program such as QuarkExpress is that should you wish to go forward with publishing a real book, much of you layout work is already accomplished.

No matter which way you decide to go, the critical issue once youíve laid out you book is in Copy Protecting your material. Because your work is going to be transmitted over the internet, this is the single most critical issue if you want to protect your work from being pirated or spammed.

If you go the PDF route, Adobe has software called Adobe Content Server which costs $3000.00, and which supposedly provides complete digital rights management. If anyone knows of any other copy protection software that allows you to protect PDFís Iíd like to know, because I think that $3000.00 is a bit steep.

If you go the executable language way, there are a wider selection of content protection programs Ė some very expensive Ė and others that work on a percentage of sales model through eCommerce sites.

In any event, content protection is something you donít want to leave home without.


If you decide to put out an eBook, what do you do with it? Clearly, if youíve been able to get as far as laying a book out, chances are you also have a website so therefore youíll want to try and sell it from your site with a credit card link.

Another alternative is to try and contact distributors like Zone Zero and others who you can readily find by doing a Google search on topics like eBook Marketing.

Another way, which again is something which Iím throwing out for discussion and ideas, is to create some sort of Photojournalism Collective that would undertake to either set up some content management software and a server to act as an exclusive distributor of the members books, or to act as a distributor to eBook Libraries and vendors.

Itís very clear from my talks with folks at the ALA that the business model that the major eBook Libraries are going to follow are the ones already in place for real libraries.

While they on occasion will purchase or distribute the work of one author, they prefer to work with distributors to provide them with large numbers of books. Itís just easier to do this from a bookkeeping and management perspective.


I think that eBooks offer a new opportunity for a lot of us to gain an audience for our work that might not be possible under other business models. It certainly addresses a need that I think many have to create a vehicle which allows photographers and photojournalists to exhibit their work in thematic ways and also a format that allows for larger and more comprehensive presentations. It certainly provides an opportunity to rethink how to take advantage of our libraries of images, and to explore creative new ways in which to package those images.

Itís not something that I think will make anyone rich Ė but then again, I donít think that most of us do what we do with that in mind Ė however, it does offer the possibility of some income which if nothing else can help cover the expenses of doing this.

I also think that perhaps most importantly it offers one more way of providing a historical record of the work that many have devoted lifetimes to chronicle, and another reason to try and fight for ownership of the images we sometimes bleed to get.†

I am going to attempt to circulate this as widely as possible in an effort to try and stimulate some thought, discussion, suggestions or possible alternative ideas that will provide a little more light at the end of a tunnel that seems to be growing dark and narrow lately.

In order that as many people as want to take part in this discussion can do so in a way that is inclusive, I am posting this on the Forum site of the Digital Photojournalist, as the place where everyone can log on to express their ideas:

Also, for those out on the streets in New York for the Republican Convention, Iíll be there. Maybe we can chat between protests. I got white hair and a beard, so Iíll be one of the twenty or so old white haired and bearded guys out thereJ.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your thoughts.

Al Crespo

#2 shutterblitz



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Posted 24 September 2004 - 10:14 AM

Excellent article. I have been thinking about the current scenario for photographers as well. This helps a lot. Thanks.

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