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With nearly 100 million iPad, iPhone and iTouch devices in use across the planet, liveBooks’ CMO John Philpin was recently interviewed by TWiP host Frederick Van Johnson to find out how liveBooks is responding to the lack of Flash on those devices. As it turns out, it’s all under control. In the podcast, John and Frederick explore our new iPhone and iPad settings, which are now available to all customers through the liveBooks editSuite.
Frederick and John also discussed how liveBooks plans to advance along with the ever-changing world of technology that we are part of today – and what it all means to you as a liveBooks customer and a creative professional.
Miki Johnson: How did the idea for the Menuez Archive Projects arise?
Doug Menuez: After Stanford Library acquired my archive they began to preserve, research, and scan the 250,000 images from my Silicon Valley documentary project from the ’80s and ’90s. A few years ago they called and said their budget was cut and asked if I had any ideas for funding.
I was sitting on a couple hundred thousand model-released, timeless lifestyle advertising images that we’d often thought about doing something with, but I was always busy with assignment work. This was the catalyst. I was very lucky to meet an experienced and creative entrepreneur, David Mendez, and together we wrote a business plan around selling high-end stock to this growing niche in advertising. Amazingly, we managed to secure funding from investors despite the down economy.
MJ: Who do you imagine being the primary audience and/or buyers for the archive? What kind of imagery is it providing?
DM: Ad agencies seeking never seen before, intimate, emotionally-compelling moments from everyday life for high-end ad campaigns. We have been getting a lot of calls over the past few years as more big brand campaigns go to stock and creatives seek images that are more special and not so widely seen as what’s offered by the giant houses. We are a boutique and are bringing old fashioned research and service in our collaborations with creatives on their campaigns. You can search our archive easily, but you can also send your layouts and we will custom search and present the results to you.
We are including a lot of my personal documentary work that is released, and we just completed our first shoot in Miami, covering a wide range of stories, including a working mom, an afternoon with a Hispanic family, a teen house party, Parcours daredevils, an older boomer couple traveling, and much more.
What’s exciting is that we researched and found real stories of real lives, just as on any other personal project I do. These stories and images are therefore compelling and authentic, but also model released. We also have a variety of editorial material, some historical, some current, and we are selling limited edition prints of my fine art projects.
MJ: How does MAP fit in with your larger business plan?
DM: MAP is a huge breakthrough for me in that it allows me to develop all the work I’ve done over the years, and create revenue from material sitting in boxes. That new material from assignments and stock shoots will help me stay relevant and replenish the archive over time.
I have so many projects and images that it’s hard to finish any one thing. MAP will provide a platform to build on for the next phase of my career. That includes continuing to produce documentary projects, films, and books. More »
Bryan was a natural choice to moderate the discussion on photobook funding, since his post, The Netflix of Photobooks, includes a forward-thinking collaborative funding option with real potential:
“I wonder if some type of joint venture could be organized amongst bloggers and photography organizations to share photography books? I’m not talking about Steidl books here, more like the the Photography.Book.Now winners and other on-demand books. I would love to look at all these books, but there’s no way I can buy each of them. But there maybe a few that I would buy if I could see them first.“
His comment alludes to several larger questions: It’s easier than ever to create and print an entire book yourself, but will those books ever sell enough copies to be a financial boon to the photographer? To do that, there needs to be a much more efficient and wide reaching way to connect interested buyers with individually produced books.
Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) have taken a fundamental first step toward helping bring buyers together with at least one kind of photobook — independently produced ones that can’t be bought through online chain stores. Just yesterday they launched The Independent Photo Book, a blog where photographers can send their books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse.
One remaining question for the endeavor, and one I’m sure Jörg and Hester will address as the project continues, is how do you draw people from outside the small photography and blogging world into the site?
Bryan’s comment also highlights a deeper problem with selling a physical book in the online world. I agree that I’d be more likely to buy a book if I could hold it in my hands first. I’ve settled before for being able to see a digital version of every page (instead of the one or two you can see on Amazon, etc.), but the ideal is to look through the physical book. As David Bram points out on the Fraction blog, “The print quality of the book is as important as the content of the book itself. If the photographs are not well printed in physical book form, the potential buyer needs to know this.”
What would be a good way to get books into potential buyers’ hands? What about a traveling pop-up shop that brings independently produced books to towns around the world? Are there photobook festivals that are affordable and approachable for industry non-insiders where you can see a large number of books in a short period of time?
Assuming that photobooks continue to be financial viable for larger publishers, though, most will likely continue to be bought online through major bookstores like Amazon. Todd Walker (the mediator of our CONSUMPTION discussion) suggested an interesting dilemma that stems from this process. Since books purchased online are often reduced to a “thumbnail” image, is this a system that disadvantages complex images, favoring simple, graphic ones that read well at smaller size?
The increasing ease with which photographers can create their own books also helps them take the step up to these larger publishers and markets — so the self-published book might not turn a profit, but it can help procure a larger run that might. Nathalie Belayche gave an example of this model in her post on Food For Your Eyes:
“Robin Maddock couldn’t wait to find a publisher for his book Our Kids Are Going To Hell and so he did a Blurb book, as a dummy and to make a test. A few months later the book was redesigned and came out with the help of a brick-and-mortar publisher.”
Jonathan Worth, whose blog explores alternate funding models for photographers, weighs in with this:
“The generation currently breaking into the industry have inherited a fond nostalgia for analogue processes (think Holga, Lomography or witness the dramatic rescue of Polaroid ). Developing and exploiting this demand is one of the areas that photographer’s business practices can and should focus looking forward. The book is just one element of this.” Are there photographers who are working this angle right now?
All of these models rely on the same assumption — that a photographer has the money to print a book in the first place. What about funding the initial investment needed for printing, especially not print-on-demand?
Bryan suggests the microfunding model could be a powerful tool. One encouraging example is the 13th issue of Hamburger Eyes (a San Francisco-based street photography magazine), which was funded through Kickstarter last summer. The magazine met it’s goal in only three days and even took in an extra $1,000, allowing them to print a larger magazine than ever before.
In this situation a magazine has an advantage over a book since it has serial issues that have gained them a loyal following. How can photographers build the same kind of audience for a single book (that is likely to include just their own work, not lots of potential funders’, like Hamburger Eyes)?
I would look at something like the We English blog that Simon Roberts created in the year running up to the publication of his book by the same name. Although he worked with publisher Chris Boot, he built a loyal audience by asking for ideas on how to photograph “Englishness,” offering a print to the first 150 people who sent him ideas.
As of Wednesday, Microsoft Bing is using crowd-sourced photos to create a 3-D virtual worlds in its Maps application, according to FastCompany.com. Using a fascinating program called Photosynth (we saw it first in a TED Talk that’s included in the article), the 3-D worlds rely on images across the web tagged with a specific location to create a model that Microsoft undoubtedly hopes will improve on Google’s “street view.” Implications of this are big — from challenges to Google’s hegemony to image copyright questions — but mostly we just think it’s COOL.
Pictory, a new online photo magazine from Laura Brunow Miner, the former editor-in-chief and design director of JPG magazine, launched this week. Pictory draws images from submissions by photographers of every level and nationality, curates them under a specific topic, and asks the photographers to contextualize them with personal, sometimes intimate, captions. It’s a beautiful interface, a great idea, and more proof that magazines are not so much dying as evolving.
Collect.give is another innovative project that launched this week, this time using profits from print sales to support non-profits close to the photographers’ hearts. John Loomis, Kevin J. Miyazaki, Susana Raab, Dalton Rooney, Emily Shur, and Allison V. Smith are each selling one print through the site and have pledged to donate 100% of the profits from their print sales to their chosen charitable organizations. A simple but powerful example of how how photography can improve lives.
This week’s issue of the New Yorker includes an ambitious reimagining of Richard Avedon’s Portraits of Power done by master portrait photographer Platon. This past September, when the world’s leaders were in New York for a meeting of the United Nations, Platon set up a studio off the floor of the General Assembly and made these 49 headshots, which the New Yorker accompanies with audio commentary from the photographer.
Miki Johnson: Tell me briefly about the goals of WIPNYC and why it was important to be able to offer this grant.
WIP: Women in Photography is an online exhibition project designed to highlight the work of emerging, mid-career, and established artists. Our goal is to be a resource for curators, editors, and publishers, and also to create a visual dialog between women artists working in the photographic medium.
We have both been overwhelmed by the positive response to the site. Both of us have spent a great deal of time thinking about what we want the site to contribute to the photographic community. The next logical step in our programming was a grant. Because like the site, it allows us to both support and call attention to the work of women artists.
MJ: What is the main goal of this grant?
WIP: The main goal of the grant is to provide funding to one female photographer in support of a project. I think funding is a problem for artists working in all mediums, unless you have independent means or are extremely successful in the commercial art world. Photographers must pay for film, processing, equipment, travel, in addition to the high cost of creating work for exhibition or self-publishing. We both have struggled to fund our own work and find great importance in these types of opportunities. With so few grants available, it just seemed great to be able to give back.
MJ: How will you determine the recipient? Do you have any tips for photographers planning to submit?
WIP: We will select the recipient based on the quality of work, and the need of the applicant along with the strength of their project proposal. The most important thing is to submit five of your strongest images from a cohesive body of work as well as make sure to write clear, concise, and persuasive project goals. The grant is open to women at any stage in their career, except students. It is open to the artists previously shown on WIPNYC.org as well.
MJ: And the grant recipient will also be exhibited at WIPNYC.org?
WIP: The grant recipient will have a solo show on the site in June. In addition, we will have an award reception, including a slideshow presentation of the grant recipients’ work at the National Arts Club in New York City.
Because the solo shows we feature are online, we can reach a broader audience. Our visitors do not need to be in a specific city because they are accessing the work worldwide. The site traffic has grown dramatically with each show, which is one of the benefits of exhibiting work online. Several of our artists have seen a noticeable increase of traffic on their own sites. Being featured on the site has led to many things, including magazine assignments and inquiries from publishers and galley representation.
We have a wedding site, an Indian wedding site, a site for David, a site for me, and an associate site for weddings. Then we have a commercial site, a portrait site, a catering site for my brother-in-law who is a chef, an Italian event site for two of my sisters who are living in Rome, and a couple others. We use our sites and the blog to be able to cross link and drive traffic to each other. We also invested in the liveBooks SEO service and now about a third of our business comes from people who are just searching for us on the internet. Another third of our business comes from vendor referrals — people in the industry who we work with. A perfect example of that is the photographer Robert Evans. He shot Brad Pitt’s wedding simply because he had given images back to a florist he worked with. No one had done that for that florist before, so he stood out and they recommended him for the wedding. So if you can find ways to give back to your vendors, it always pays off because they’ll send you some business. The other third of our business comes from word-of-mouth bridal referrals and people who endorse us in the community.
We advertise on a few exclusive websites and we’re part of organizations that help us create buzz, like WPJA, WPPI, and PPA. We also advertise in publications in our local markets, but the best way to get publicity in magazines is to just send them images from real weddings. That’s a great way doing editorial work, and it also helps the magazines out. My basic analogy about your business is, it’s like you have a container that you want to put a bunch of water in. Some of the cups that you’re using are big cups, and some are Dixie cups. But the more you’re pouring in, the better off you’re going to be. So whether it’s SEO or word of mouth, every little bit helps.
Then when potential clients come to us or to our websites, we found that for all our clients, when they initially have contact with us, they want see content that is very targeted towards exactly what they’re asking us about. If they ask about baby photos, they want to go to a site that looks like nothing but babies; if they want us to do a wedding, they want to go to a site that is nothing but weddings.
Most websites I see have portfolios divided up into four or five different types of photography. Then they have their blog link there, and their pricing. And they blend together after a while, because all the sites are the same. Everybody is showing that they do a variety of stuff. We just found that, for us, to connect with our clients, especially a higher-end clientele, they like things that are rare and unique, or specialized. They want to go to someone that is considered an expert in their field. So if you present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades, you may come off as a master of none. Versus if you have different websites, you’re able to show these different clients that you invest yourself into this particular niche, whatever it is. All of a sudden they’re building this trust with you. And you’re giving them a reason to want to use you because they think this is what you eat, dream, and sleep about, is taking baby photos, or taking commercial photos, or taking wedding photos. And it doesn’t actually have to be that way. It’s just the way that you’re presenting it to them.
And then, when they’re looking at our work, we don’t come up to them and necessarily start telling them all the other different kinds of stuff we do. We just show it. It’s like when we meet with wedding clients, we still have a few of our commercial products up and available, because it builds our trust. We’ve shot a number of recording artists and we have their gold records up. And they’ll start to think, if this band I know trusts them to do their photography, why can’t I? Typically, people when they come to meet us, they already know that they like our work. The only reason why they come to meet us is to find out our personalities, because they’ve seen the work online or someone else has put in a good word for us. So we don’t have to do a lot of selling then, at the point that they’re coming to meet us.
Then over time, once they get to know you, they like you, and they love your work, you can introduce them to some of the different types of photography that you do if you have different sites. All of a sudden they start to be your ambassador looking for ways to help you promote your business. And when you’re talking about today’s economic times, we all know that it’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, because all of a sudden if that hype, for whatever reason, start to slow down, you’re dead in the water.
When we started working together, my father’s business was primarily commercial photography: magazines, books, CD covers, annual reports. So one week I got sent to the West Coast for an assignment, and he got sent to the East Coast for an assignment. And I said to my father, I came back here so that we could shoot together, but I don’t feel like we’re doing that. This is the commercial world, and that’s the way it’s going be; but we have our Saturdays, and wedding photography has changed. Have you ever considered doing weddings? I showed him that wedding photography today is little bit more lifestyle, more photojournalistic. I also showed him how the coffee table wedding books now are more of a magazine layout, which he could relate to.
So we kind of put our sign up in the world to do weddings. The first year, we did everything wrong. We did 120 weddings at $1,000 each, which was way too much. But you learn from your mistakes. So we changed our prices and we ended up doing more weddings the next year. We almost burned ourselves out because we were just all about volume — that’s what we thought success was.
So we learned from our mistakes again and changed our business model. One of the big ways we did that was with our websites. I have background working with websites, so when I very first started, I started off doing it all by myself, ’cause I thought nobody can do it as good as I could. But then I ended up realizing that the only way to grow your business is if you free yourself up to do what you’re best at, which is getting business, running your business, being a photographer. So we started out with four sites. Those first four were a site tailored to our American weddings, a site tailored to our Indian clients for Indian weddings, a website for David Edmonson, and a website for Luke Edmonson. One of the reasons we had our two individual sites was because some of the organizations that we are part of, for instance WPJA, have specific parameters for the type of images that you show, and if you can identify who the photographer is. For us it was much simpler just to say, let’s take our consistent look and feel from our wedding sites, and we’ll make separate sites dedicated to each target audience.
The second reason we wanted separate sites was that, when we looked at our client, we saw that our most profitable clients are either our high-end Indian clients and our high-end American clients. We’re not making much profit on the in-between, middle-ground clients. But if we were only going after one group or the other, then we would be limiting ourselves. So we said, let’s go ahead and invest in completely separate websites.
Then number one, we could choose a domain name that meant something special to our Indian clients. That’s why our domain for that site is EdmonsonShaadi. “Shaadi” means matrimony in the Hindi language. And the messaging, the tone of what we wanted to say to clients was different, simply because culturally Indians are Hindus, Muslims, and Christians and have 10 thousand different languages and dialects. So rather than presenting ourselves in English, we wanted to be able to talk to say thanks to them in their own languages -– the different greetings that they would expect from other people who understand their culture. We were blessed to shoot a wedding in New Delhi, India, and we had the ability to see things first-hand. For us, when we’re looking at how to divide up the website, it was really important to be able to show our Indian clients things that relate specifically to their expectations. And then, vice-versa, for our American clients we could do the same.
Another thing that was important to us was that our separate sites link to one another, to allow people to navigate to the different types of photography we do. So for our wedding sites, at the bottom you’ll see that it says “Wedding,” “Indian,” “David,” and “Luke.” That is simply because we want our Indian clients who maybe know somebody who is non-Indian, to realize that we do work other than just Indian weddings, and hopefully recommend a new client. And likewise for our American clients, who could see we do Indian weddings and might tell a friend.
The same thing goes for our commercial and portraits and other related businesses. One of the things my father taught me long ago was that it’s very hard to be profitable the first time you do business. Profitability comes from a lifetime relationship working with someone. So we start out showing clients that we put an emphasis of the type of photography that we’re doing for them, but then we expand to their other needs.
For instance, someone might start out as a wedding client; then, of course, they’re going to have portrait needs. Maybe that starts with babies, maternity photos, and eventually those become senior portraits, family portraits, and so forth. Perhaps the dad has a business, so it’s awesome if he can see that we do commercial work as well. There are an infinite number of ways to grow your business by just putting it out there. One of the things that we found was that whenever we were initially introduced to a client, they wanted to be able to see that we focused on them. If it’s a commercial client, they didn’t want to see any portraits. They didn’t want to see any wedding photos. They wanted to see commercial photos. Likewise a bride who is looking for wedding photos, that’s all she wants to see. It’s only later in the relationship, when they started to explore some of our other offerings, and once they’ve already gotten connected to you and liked you, all of a sudden they start thinking of you and other ways that they can use you in their life.
When working with consumer photographers (anyone who markets directly to the public), I always like to encourage them to show images that will make their potential clients believe that if they hire them, they’ll create that same MAGICAL moment for them. Those magical moments are why a consumer client hires a photographer. Regardless if it’s to capture their baby’s first year, their family portrait, or especially that bride’s special day, they want to believe you are the person to make that moment happen.
These are my recommendations for putting together a website of your wedding photography, which have helped my wedding photographers increase their bookings from 25-45% to 50-100%.
Finally, remember you are being hired to help capture that special day (a.k.a. that MAGICAL moment). Everything — including your website, portfolio, and personal presentation — has to convey that you are exactly the right person to do that.