Publishing

Years ago, I met a photographer who was avoiding digital. He reasoned that at his age (a bit older than me) he didn’t want to learn a whole new skillset when he was an expert at what he did (film and darkroom). This seemed like the most reasoned and fair rational for not converting to digital that I had heard, and at the time, I embraced this sentiment wholeheartedly.

Digital is a separate, albeit similar, medium to film and the skillsets are decidedly different. They overlap, but there are enough new skills to be mastered that one should not assume there is no learning curve. There is, and it can be steep.

It is true that there are a lot of things about making photographs, for instance: composition, lighting and camera handling, which apply in both media. But, once one starts “developing” and printing, the needed skills separate.

All of this is said to make a point related to my current project: creating a book.

Oy!

I now have even more respect for people I know who are in the book business, or any graphic artist types (full disclosure: this includes the spouse); but especially photographers Les McLean and Bill Schwab, who are responsible for some wonderful books.

How hard could it be?

Actually, it can be as hard as you make it, not unlike some other things, but the point is that it is not photography. Making a book of photographs uses photographs, but other than the work in preparing the images, it is not photography.

Creating a book involves a whole new set of skills.  I’m learning. The problem, like so many others, is clearer in hindsight. I should have made a “practice/learning” book first! Having to learn, experiment, fail, and re-do while actually producing the real book is not efficient. However, at this point I have no choice.

The book is of photographs from the project I have been doing on historic pipe organs. The project is in conjunction with, and in support of the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival.

Briefly, the photographs document a selection of organs connected with the late Roy Perry of Kilgore, Texas. Perry (1906-1978) is one of those typical American stories. Born poor to a widowed mother, self-taught (for the most part) and yet a genius at what he did. What he did, besides being a highly skilled church musician, was do the on-site tonal finishing of many Aeolian-Skinner organs sold in this region. Tonal finishing is a very exacting and esoteric skill that apparently came easy to him, and the organs he did are today regarded as masterpieces of the genre.  If Aeolian-Skinners were considered the “Cadillac” of pipe organs, Perry’s were the top of the line model.

The festival is an annual event (started in 2011) to celebrate the life and work of Perry.

Link to website for photos

Link to the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival

Writing text for the book is fortunately not a new skill. In my recently retired-from day-job, writing was our product (reports). But, designing and assembling the book is another story.

I have done some publishing work before. For several years in the 1990’s, I did a monthly newsletter that had a lot of text and many line illustrations. I used Microsoft Publisher™ and provided camera-ready copy to the printer. I am fairly adept at things like Acrobat™, dealing with pdf’s and such. So, how hard could this be?

For one thing, I had never really gotten into dealing with photographs for “pre-press” at a level needed for a photo book. It is similar to preparing files for printing, yet different. Initially, I was using Word™; since it does enough of what the 90s Publisher did to suit my purposes. All along, I was assuming that I would output camera-ready copy to go to a printer.

The festival is in November each year. I had set an arbitrary, but realistic deadline of October 1 to have the book draft completed. About a month ago, I decided not to have a print run, but to use print-on-demand. This made the deadline a little more flexible, but it also introduced another major variable: the publisher’s software!

I could have still done the whole thing the way I had been and output a pdf file for the publisher, but I reasoned that using their native software would be easier and eliminate a “reproduction” step, which never helps over-all quality.

Well, yes and no. I had to learn the software. Hardly difficult, it is very “WYSIWYG”, but it also has some interesting quirks and limitations. Still, the book is laid out. Now I need to go back and re-size all of the original jpegs, and replace the images in the book draft. This will not take as long as it sounds, because each photo needs to be made just a bit smaller, and Photoshop™ will make quick work of that.

Anyway, it will all work out. The morals of the story are:

  • don’t assume it will be easy
  • prepare for a learning curve
  • schedule carefully
  • add six months
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Busy, Busy, Busy

Or, when it rains, it pours.

I always told myself that when I retired, I would spend more time on the art of photography. I have not made any of my living connected to photography since 1987, so any and all work was “recreational” except arguably for the 3 years I spent on the Texas Church Project, collaborating with other photographers doing documentary work. But even that was discretionary – I didn’t have to do it.

Yet, there was only so much time. While on the TCP (2006-2009), I did virtually nothing else photographically. For most of 2010, I was building my current darkroom, and very few actual pictures were made.

2011, I retire! “Get to work”, I told myself.

Well, there was that period of adjustment (to retirement). Did some experimenting visually. Not much to show for it. Time passed quickly, while ideas were fermenting and growing. Took a photo trip to Iceland. Took a driving trip through California and the West with cameras in tow. Mounted a group exhibition. Began another documentary project, this time with color digital. I’m still not caught up with printing from Iceland, California and the doc project.

Anyway, things happen in clumps! The work on the color project continues. Although most of the shooting is done, there are still prints to be made, and I am trying to create a book to sell in concert with the non-profit that I’m doing the work for. That has to be done in the next 6-8 weeks.

Then, I was contacted by a regional magazine doing an article on said non-profit, and they want to purchase some of my photographs to illustrate the article. Next couple of weeks.

And, later this month I am taking a workshop with Alan Ross. I don’t take many workshops – the last one was 10 years ago – but this seemed like a good idea when I looked at the prospectus. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Ross has assigned “homework” before the workshop. I need to answer some questions about my work, and prepare some images to send to him ahead of time.

And, in a fit of apparent masochism, I volunteered to be the treasurer for a group I belong to (nothing to do with photography) and we are right now in the process of doing the new budget!

It’s a good thing I am retired!

Selling digital files

I have not done commercial or wedding work since the film-only era.

Currently, I am doing a project that is documentary, and I am doing the field work pro bono for the non-profit organization.

LINK:  Web page for project

However, the work has been well received and I have been able to sell quite a number of prints to supporters and to the non-profit itself for their archives.

Now a regional magazine that is doing an article on the organization has contacted me. When the director of the organization was called about sending a photographer, he told the editor that there were already pictures he could use, i.e. mine! (There are probably other reasons he didn’t want an unknown photographer showing up, but that’s another issue.) So, the editor called me to purchase digital images for publication. Well, that’s fine, but I had no idea how to price such things.

I can deal with prints, and I already have a price list, obviously. But giving a digital file to a publication, or to a church for their website is new territory. (I’ve been contacted about pictures for a church website, too, but they never followed up when I mentioned they would not be free.) This may be old hat to many, but it is new to me. I know there are still a lot of questions, because it comes up all the time on internet forums and in blogs.

Is there a convention here? A percentage based on what prints go for? A standard rate for publication? A web guide?

I was clueless, but the internet to the rescue.

Most of the websites I found fell into one of two categories. The first want to sell a photographer a software package for determining costs. The software is based on the cost-of-goods-sold COGS model of pricing. The second types offer free advice, but also based on COGS.

I finally found a site that said to forget COGS, and use opportunity cost as a basis. For those unfamiliar with the terms, opportunity cost is what you may give up by doing something or selling something a different way.

Each situation is, of course, different; but in simplest terms, if I am selling a single file (as in this case) for one time publication, then the opportunity cost to me is the revenue from the print I would have sold them pre-digital. The price of the digital file is equal to the price of the equivalent print. This particular website recommended the price of an 8×10, for instance.

Since I already have an established price list for prints, I’m going with that.