By Joseph Classen
In the ever-evolving digital world that we live in, it has become exceedingly more difficult to earn a few bucks (much less a living) as a wildlife/nature photographer. Overloaded stock agencies are giving away images for free, the methods for unethical individuals to steal one’s work are becoming easier all the time, and with so much competition among reputable, talented photographers going on out there, the markets for our work are flooded, resulting in lower prices from the few remaining print publications that still pay for quality work. With more folks doing their reading and photo viewing on digital devices, the printed page, as well as the printed photograph, is becoming a thing of the past.
Think about it, when was the last time you had a batch of photographs actually printed out to share with others, or to sell to potential buyers? On a similar note, when was the last time you actually purchased a beautiful photography print from someone else to enjoy and hang on your wall? As I find myself increasingly frustrated and discouraged with low print sales, I have to remind myself that I too, am rapidly becoming part of the printless, digital age.
Over the last few years I’ve been striving to educate myself more about how to market and sell one’s photography work in the day and age in which people don’t buy many photography prints. One recurring theme has been to produce, sell, and market your images on things that people have a real need for and regularly use, such as calendars. Another theme that constantly comes up in photography blogs, is that one must sell the story and the experiences that are attached to one’s images. There are multiple ways to do this, but at the top of the list, is the eBook.
The eBook has increased in popularity for a number of reasons. First, producing and distributing print books, especially ones with lots of big, beautiful photographs, are incredibly expensive to manufacture and distribute. Most publishers today won’t touch a photography book with a ten-foot pole, and the ones that do specialize in that area are so overloaded that many have simply shut down their submissions departments for a while. Thus, many would-be bestselling photography books are never even considered by mainstream publishers. Next comes the issue of self-publishing. Again, what one will find is that producing, shipping, and distributing your photobook (not to mention all the time and money invested in marketing) will be outrageously expensive. Unless you’ve got thousands of dollars to blow on such a project, and don’t plan on sleeping much in order to have the time to work on it, it’s a very challenging proposition, to say the least.
Now for the sake of discussion, let’s say that you do have thousands of dollars and lots of time and energy to spend on self-publishing your own high quality photography book. The next issue is storing them all someplace safe and environmentally appropriate to protect your investment, gathering all the shipping supplies, doing the marketing, accounting, etc. All this can easily become a full-time job, and if your book is not selling as you hoped it would, you’ve got even more problems.
To cut to the chase, it’s for reasons such as these that more and more photographers and authors are taking the eBook plunge. A final factor to consider is that even if one does get published by a mainstream publisher, there is a good chance that your book will first be released as an eBook anyway to test the market. And this, was the final selling point in my eBook journey.
This past winter I decided to pick up the pen and put down the camera for a while to write another book. I’ve written and had published four books over the past decade, but have never done a photo-journal style of book that I was envisioning. After writing the book and organizing the accompanying photographs, I began the process of pitching it to virtually every publisher in the USA that deals with the particular subject matter of my book. As was the usual fallout in the book publishing process, most never got back to me, some did rather half-heartedly out of courtesy, some flat-out said “no,” and a golden few said they were, indeed, interested and would seriously consider the project. Of those half-dozen or so that were interested, it came down to three that were major contenders for the project.
As time slowly passed though, as it does at a snail’s pace in the publishing world, I must admit that I got rather impatient with it all. And, since these particular publishers had the new-found practice of first releasing a book as an eBook to test the waters, I decided that I didn’t want to wait a year and take a huge financial cut over something I could easily do myself. Finally, since anyone can sell eBooks in many of the same major marketplaces that publishers do, such as Amazon, I once and for all took the eBook plunge.
But the challenges were not over yet! After designing and formatting my book exactly how I wanted it in Adobe InDesign and converting it to a PDF file for optimal reading/viewing on larger sized digital devices, I soon experienced more roadblocks. While a highly designed PDF with lots of photographs and illustrations looks great on desktop computers, laptops, and decent sized tablets, they do not work at all on smaller devices such as Kindle readers and smartphones. In fact, to even sell your eBook on places like Amazon, your PDF (and other popular file formats) have to be converted to an Epub or Mobi, which can be a cause of incredible frustration!
I could go on and on with more details, but in the end, photography books just don’t work as eBooks that are meant for small, hand-sized digital reading. Thus, after more research, I did what many eBook authors are doing these days, especially photographers, and that is making my high quality PDF eBook available for purchase on my website, and other sites that sell PDF eBooks, and also creating a smaller, lower-priced “text only” edition of the eBook available on Amazon. Of course, this is only a viable option if your particular style of book can be of value without the pictures. In my case, the photographs were a huge part of the book, but they essentially existed to better serve the text. Another reason to create an Amazon version eBook is simply for advertising. On Amazon, let people know in your eBook description that this is only the text version of a much better quality product available at your website, etc.
To conclude, I have to admit that I much prefer a print book over an eBook any day of the week. But, in the digital age, one has to improvise, adapt, and overcome in order to keep one’s work in front of the eyes of the public, which these days are glued to digital screens instead of something in actual print. Below is a link with some information about my finished eBook to give you an idea how it all turned out. And hey, while you’re there, how about buying a copy?
(The power of suggestion…another great marketing tool!) http://www.wildrevelation.com/blog/2014/4/new-ebook-release