Low Cost Digital Publishing Experiments

I've taken quite a few photographs in my life, and between the series of how-to books written for McGraw-Hill and my websites, I've published over a thousand of them. One of the things I've learned is that panoramic pictures almost never capture the same feeling you get when you're looking at some distant attraction. It cost me dozens of rolls of 35 mm film and hundreds of dollars in developing to learn how to frame photographs in the view finder so the final print didn't shout - "Why didn't you move closer, dummy!"

Then the new millennia arrived, and in 2000 I bought a Olympus D-360L, a 1.3 Megapixel camera with no zoom for $300. It took me a couple days to really internalize the fact that taking photographs was now very cheap. In fact, the more I've used the camera over the years, the cheaper each individual photograph costs as it's amortized against the original $300 purchase. I almost feel like NOT taking photographs is costing me money.

Web sites follow the same economics as digital cameras. Once you're paying for a website, adding web pages doesn't cost anything extra. It's NOT adding web pages that makes a website site seem like a waste of money. Starting a website with a half dozen pre-planned pages and never updating it is like buying a digital camera and never even filling up the memory card. Imagine if you had a friend who claimed to be a big photography buff, and every time you visited he just showed you the same half dozen photographs. How often would you go visit him?

The primary value of all this digital stuff to publishers is that it makes it cheap to experiment. Whether you're talking about blogs, eBooks, print-on-demand, eMail newsletters, videos or podcasts, production cost is limited to the first copy. Reproduction, as pirates all know, is basically free. That's why I'm such a strong advocate of the incremental approach to publishing. Why tie up all of your time and money in creating a comprehensive work before you know how it will be received? Take it a web page at a time, see what interests your readers, try to find a compromise between what people want and what you want to give them. The old publishing world said, "It's our way or the highway." On the Internet, the highway is just a click away, so try to unbend a little.

Unfortunately, the ease of creating digital products has led to quite a few con artists "publishing" eBooks that serve no purpose other than enriching the publisher. All it takes is a good sales pitch and some cut-and-pasted together garbage so that the buyer doesn't cry "Fraud" and reverse the charges through their credit card company.

Besides, some of the best digital publishing experiments involve giving work away for free. I try writing about new subjects on a regular basis to see whether there's enough interest for me to start thinking about writing a book, and if that writing isn't always top-notch, at least I'm not charging anything for it. And sometimes the results of a digital experiment will even surprise me. For example, I've known for a decade that my hands are too shaky to take photographs at night (the exposure time is long even for a digital camera), and I know that taking pictures of celestial bodies is a waste of time. But I made the experiment on a bright moon shining through the clouds the other night and was impressed with the result. Click on the small picture for the full size version.


LM Preston said...

Wow! That's impressive. I love the effect, makes you want to reach out and touch it.

Anonymous said...

That's a nice analogy and a good point.

BTW, whether or not you have shaky hands, photos can be taken just by leaning the camera on something solid (or if you want to spend money, on a tripod). Using the delay on exposure (as if you were taking a photo of yourself) allows you to press the button well before the shot is actually taken thus removing the chance of capturing camera shake. (But of course you know this don't you?)


Morris Rosenthal said...


Yes, I do a lot of timer photography, but this one was off-hand. I do my normal book photography with a tripod and a timer both because my hands are shaky and because my hands are in the pictures!