Written for Outdoor Photography © Niall Benvie 2010
How would it be if, instead of buying a whole magazine that contained only one article you wanted to read, you could buy that article alone? How about if you got to the end of the week or month or year and were still able to buy that same article with a couple of mouse clicks? And most exciting of all, what if authors were able to bypass the traditional barriers of editorial control and publish work just as they wanted it to appear? Fantasy? I don’t think so: there is every reason to hope that the Apple iPad will do for photojournalists and independent creatives what the iPod has done for music. But we will be expected to deliver a whole lot more for our money than we do now to magazines.
As I was writing my new book, Outdoor Photography Masterclass, last year I was troubled by the thought that this was an out-moded (albeit convenient) way to present instructional information. One issue was how to pitch the level to appeal to as many people as possible. Editorially, it was resolved by writing the body text for an ambitious, quite knowledgeable readership while information valuable to less experienced photographers was contained in a series of box-outs. Had this book been created in electronic form, any more technically complex explanation could have been catered for by links that open up further pages. It would have been possible to show full-page screen grabs of all the stages in image processing and printing, providing a comprehensive account of good practice. And crucially, video and sound could have been incorporated in the product to bring it alive in a way that even the most enthusiastic writing and inspired design is hard pushed to match. All the software is developed and available to enable us to do this now but until readers are comfortable with virtual books (and, it has to be said, have £500 or 600 spare to buy an iPad), we will probably have printed instructional books for a bit longer. But what follows, potentially, will offer the reader so much more.
Most photographic e-books currently take the form of pdfs, partly for ease of delivery as well as cross platform compatibility: you can simply read them on a computer. But apps. for the iPad are already developed that will enable a richer viewing and reading experience. Part of that, however, must include video. And this is where we’ve got to start working for our money, whether you are an established professional or talented recreational photographer wishing to take your work to a wider audience. Although many photographers now have digital SLR’s capable of capturing HD video, I wonder how many have been deterred already by the length of time it takes to render even a short video clip, let alone the complexities of recoding sound to a high standard while concentrating on shooting the video at the same time. Frankly, it is almost impossible and that is why I think anyone serious about generating video content needs to team up with people from other disciplines (including editors) to make something that viewers will be prepared to pay for. If iBookstore articles and books are to replace conventional print, then they are going to have to offer a good deal more than can be bought on the newsstand.
The big downside of any form of self-publishing is the lack of an editorial brake on the production of rubbish. True, “the marketplace” can be the ultimate editor but “the Alamy effect” could lead to a situation where on any download site it is hard to find the gems amongst the substandard work. Perhaps there will be employment for a new breed of freelance editor working for self e-publishers who will help to maintain a high standard.
Publishing, ultimately, is about creating what American photographer Chase Jarvis has dubbed “impressions” – something that stops the viewer in their tracks for a few moments, perhaps changes the way they think about the subject, or informs their own approach to its photography. Impressions may make people smile or wince; but crucially, they affect people. Traditionally, we made these impressions through printed media, or perhaps by giving shows but now bloging creates the potential to make many more impressions on many more people. And that applies whether you are a “professional” or “recreational” photographer: at a visceral level, the reaction we have to a piece of work isn’t predicated on the status if its creator. As a way to get your ideas out into the world, to attempt to make those “impressions”, bloging (for anyone unable to secure very long print runs) actually offers more potential than traditional print media to reach your audience – and is hugely cheaper.
Nevertheless it is hard to get away from the notion that the only respectable form of publishing is between two hard covers. Perhaps the iPad and similar devices will change that for instructional titles but I am convinced that the demand for portfolio books as objects of intrigue, wonder and inspiration, will continue. Perhaps instead of buying ten or a dozen printed photo books a year, we will acquire the majority as e-books and save our money for those one or two expensive, beautifully designed, crafted and presented “real” books” that give pleasure as objects in their own right.
However electronic publishing develops, there are unprecedented opportunities just round the corner for anyone with anything worthwhile to say or show, to be heard and seen. The barriers are being kicked down.