Musings on Photography

CreateSpace

Posted in book design, books, business by Paul Butzi on May 9, 2008

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To round out the day, I thought I would try yet another POD publisher – this time CreateSpace. The appealing thing about CreateSpace is that it appeared that I could tweak my InDesign book layout just a smidgen, and then just crank out a PDF and upload it, and be on my way.

It worked out almost that well. First, I had to create a book cover. I started out in InDesign but quickly hit the head-banging threshold. I gave up, and looked at the CreateSpace site again to see if there were any clues. I’m not too proud to look for help. Well, mostly not.

Anyway, CreateSpace had this cool feature that gave me an adjusted template (adjusted for the number of pages) as a .psd file. You download that file, load it into photoshop, and start laying your cover out over the top of the template. When you’re done, you turn off the template layer, have Photoshop save a PDF version, and you’re on your way.

It was a piece of cake; I just dropped the JPG versions of the cover that I’d cranked out for Blurb into the template, added a big black layer to give me color out past the bleed margin, and saved it all both as a PSD (so I can fix any mistakes) and as a PDF (to upload). Sweet.

And then I went, dropped the ISBN that CreateSpace gave me into my copyright page, and cranked out the PDF for the book block. And then uploaded it. Easy Peasy.

And then I submitted the whole thing for review. Presumably they’ll check to make sure I haven’t screwed it all up (I just thought of one possible mistake) and then I’ll be able to order a copy.

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Asuka Books

Posted in books, business by Paul Butzi on May 9, 2008

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Asuka Books just annoyed the bejeebers out of me.

I hate businesses which have web sites, and the web sites do a pretty good job of telling me about their wares, but don’t spill all the beans, and then, when I have concluded that perhaps I’m interested in their product and want to know the price, they tell me “Hey, bub. We’ll tell you the price, but first you have to tell us a whole lot of stuff about yourself. Tell us where you live, and what your phone number is, and what you want to do, and how much experience you have, and how old you are. And then MAYBE we’ll tell you how much our products cost.”

I hate that. I hate it to pieces. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

And Asuka Books does exactly that. To get at their God Damn Price List, you have to spend four minutes filling out their God Damn Application Form, and you have to prove that you’re sufficiently hoity-toity professional to do business with them, because They Refuse To Do Business With Consumers.

And they want to know your phone number, and your fax number, and an email address, and your web address, and a shipping address, and a billing address, and they insist that you verify your eligibility to do business with them.

And then, after I do all that crap (remember that I am just trying to get a peek at their God Damn Price List, here) they send me an email, saying that they’ll get around to turning on my account AFTER they’ve reviewed all the stuff I’ve told them, etc. etc. etc. And that they’ll send me an email approving my registration within two business days, which (because today is a Friday) presumably means that I’ll hear from them in the middle of next week.

I hate that. I hate it so much that when I discovered that I’d given all this information to Asuka Books, and they STILL weren’t going to let me see their damn price list for another four days, I made a very rude suggestion about what they might do to themselves, said suggestion involving a four meter length of rope, a garden rake, a battery powered electric drill, a one inch spade bit, a twelve volt car battery, two liters of saline solution, and a roll of duct tape. Oh, and a pint of honey and fifteen rabid rats. Because I really hate it when I give people all this information about me, and then they refuse to come across with their damn price list.

So here’s my reply to Asuka Book, in advance of their two business day process. Don’t bother. If you can’t see your way clear to telling me how much your damn products cost in less than four days, even after I drop my shorts and reveal everything about myself, even after I spend five minutes screwing around with your form, then I am pretty sure that you’re such a bunch of ignorant incompetents that I will never want to do business with you.

Asuka Books are free to run their business however they please. They can, if they want, refuse to do business with anyone who’s not a ‘professional’. They can, if they want, refuse to tell people how much their products cost until the potential customer fills out an application.

And I can do something I’ve never done before, which is to recommend that everyone just refuse to do business with Asuka Books, even though I don’t yet know how much their products cost, what the quality of their products might be like, and I’ve never done business with them.

Because why do business with someone who is intent on telling you they don’t want to make it easy for you? Life is just too damn short to put up with crap like that. If my life expectancy were five million years, it would STILL be too short do put up with crap like that.

And on second thought, make that 18 rabid rats.

The Photos the Government Compells You to Make, update

Posted in business, ethics by Paul Butzi on April 16, 2008

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For those who are interested, a little more information on the Elane/Elaine Huguenin case is now available.

A PDF of the court opinion is available here. There’s lots of detail there, including the email correspondence between Elaine Huguenin and Vanessa Willock and Elaine Huguenin and Ms. Collinsworth. Quite a few assertions about the behavior of Elaine Huguenin are debunked.

Some further insights into the legality of the situation (and the behavior of human rights commisions) can be found in this post and this other post on http://www.volokh.com. What I find particularly chilling is this passage:

For instance, the Commission’s rationale isn’t limited to wedding photographers, who some people argued (wrongly, in my view) aren’t really “creative” enough to get First Amendment protection. Rather, it would apply to freelance writers who refuse to write press releases or Web copy for religions they disapprove of. It would apply to professional singers who routinely hire out for a wide range of events (weddings, bar mitzvahs, and so on) but who don’t want to sing at events affiliated with some religion, or for that matter at same-sex commitment ceremonies. It would apply to professional portrait painters who accept a broad range of commissions but prefer, whether for artistic or political reasons, to paint only men or only women, or not to paint people of whose religious activities or sexual orientations they disapprove.

After all, here’s the entirety of the Commission’s discussion of the First Amendment issue:
The United States Supreme Court has considered the provisions of state antidiscrimination laws similar to the provisions of NMHRA and concluded that: “Provisions like these are well within the States usual power to enact when a legislature has reason to believe that a given group is the target of discrimination, and they do not, as a general matter, violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments.” Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, 115 S.Ct. 2338, 2346 (1995). The Court has explained that “acts of invidious discrimination in the distribution of publicly available goods, services, and other advantages cause unique evils that government has a compelling interest to prevent.” Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 104 S.Ct. 3244, 3255 (1984).

That’s a judgment that the First Amendment just categorically doesn’t apply to these sorts of antidiscrimination provisions, not a judgment specific to wedding photographers.

I have my own opinions of the motivations of Elaine Huguenin, Vanessa Willock, and Ms. Collinsworth. I’m not really interested in public discussion of those views. If you have your own views, great. If not, that’s great, too. I appreciate that other people are highly interested in that aspect of the story, but because the motivations don’t bear on the free speech aspect of this issue, I’m not interested in hosting that particular discussion here. In the interests of not letting the discussion go off on tangents, if you post comments on that aspect of the story I’ll likely delete them.

Likewise, I’m uninterested in discussions of the need for anti-discrimination laws, or in discussion of my own prejudices. Again, those are perhaps interesting discussions but I’m not going to host them here, and I’ll delete comments on those subjects as well.

What I do find interesting is that a) apparently the world at large does not see being a photographer as an expressive activity on a par with being, for example, a playwright or essayist, and b) there are apparently a large number of people who feel that even if one is a ad writer or a playwright that offers to do plays on commission, or whatever, anti-discrimination law trumps your right to free speech.

Consequences

Posted in business, ethics by Paul Butzi on April 12, 2008

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Probably some of the readers of this blog are wedding photographers (I know of at least two), but I’m guessing most of us aren’t. So it might seem to those of us who are not that this issue doesn’t really touch us. That’s what I thought at first, too.

For the past month or so, I’ve been working on cleaning up my website, moving it from being maintained with Microsoft Frontpage to tools on the Mac, and getting rid of out of date content, changing my print pricing, and so on. One of the things that was on my list was lowering the prices I was going to charge for doing printing for people, and in particular the prices for doing large prints. I was actually tackling that task this morning, editing the pricing formula for printing on this page when I came across the following words:

I reserve the right to refuse to print any image, at my discretion.

I didn’t have some particular category of image in mind when I wrote those words. That sentence was just my nod to the fact that there are images that I would not want to print. Which images make me sufficiently uncomfortable that I would refuse to print them – that doesn’t much matter, and I expect that pretty much everyone on the planet has some category that they think is over the line.

Well, I can reserve the right to not print images all I want, but apparently the human rights commissions of the world may well decide that I’m discriminating against a protected class of person if I refuse to print something. The potential damages from having the Washington State Human Rights Commission or the King County Human Rights Council fine me are substantial. The standard of proof for both seems very low, there seems very little a person can do if the ruling goes against you, and in any case, a complaint will cost a lot to defend even if in the end the complaint is dismissed.

So I’m left with a dilemma. I like providing printing services. There aren’t many places that offer to do big prints for individual photographers at prices that leave room for the photographers to sell the prints and make a profit. Virtually none of the places that offer the pricing I do offer the sort of handholding I do – I’m happy to help people through what profiles they should use with the images they send me, help them decide how big an image can be printed and still look good, and help them deal with the issues of making big prints, including sharpening and stuff. I find that sort of thing fun. My plan was to that with the big web site update I would start offering more interpretive printing services – you send me the raw image, I do my best to make the best print possible. I’ve gotten lots of requests for that.

On the other hand – it’s not a big money source for me. It pays enough to subsidize my personal work, and I expected the actual profits to rise when I dropped prices in the next few weeks. But I’m not sure I’m willing to give up the right to refuse to print images that I think are outside the pale.

So for the rest of the morning, as I do chores, I’ll be pondering whether the game is worth the candle. At this point it seems pretty clear that it’s not. There’s no way I can justify the meager profits in the face of the risk, especially the risk that someone will read those words “I reserve the right to refuse”, and come gunning for me just to set a precedent with the local Human Rights Commision.

Legal arguments often talk about the ‘chilling effect’ of certain decisions as if it were a purely abstract thing that didn’t actually happen in the real world. I can assure you that’s not the case.

Adobe Photoshop Express Online, Reprise

Posted in business by Paul Butzi on April 5, 2008

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Time for a followup to this post.

Adobe have now announced the new license terms for Adobe Photoshop Express Online.

I urge folks who want to use this product to read the license very carefully. Adobe seem to have done a good job outlining what rights Adobe has to the images you upload to the service, especially with respect to your ability to terminate Adobe’s rights to the content you upload by removing it from their service. (they retain the right to keep archive copies – I assume because it’s infeasible to purge their backups of all copies of your stuff when it’s on tape in some salt mine, etc.) It seems to me that Adobe have done a pretty good job of cutting this back to what they really need to run their service, and nothing more. It’s a shame that they didn’t start at this point, because each incident like this burns a lot of customer trust, and that trust is burned permanently and isn’t bought back by revising the contract after an uproar.

Independent of that kerfuffle, it seems to me that the license you grant to others to use your image might give some folks pause. Look carefully at Section 6(b) and section 7. Do you really want to grant other users the right to print your images? Do you really want to grant other users the right to use your images on the web, free?

I don’t, so I won’t be using the service. At the same time I don’t think the Adobe license is all that unrealistic. It’s darn hard to police people ripping off your content, and Adobe don’t want to get caught in the middle. That’s reasonable.

I’d urge folks to read those terms carefully, and then read the terms at other competitors (like Flickr) and other alternatives for sharing your photos (like WordPress.com), and perhaps consider putting together your own website (an option which is easier than ever and is surprisingly inexpensive) before you go ahead and decide to use the Adobe service.

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Adobe Photoshop Express Online

Posted in business, ethics, photoshop, software by Paul Butzi on March 28, 2008

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I see (in uncountably many places) that Adobe have released their spiffy, wonderful new online version of Photoshop Express. It will be, we are led to believe, all singing, all dancing, and will make our beds, cook our breakfasts, and keep our mugs of tea warm all the time.

So I went to the website to take a look, and because I am sort of paranoid about such things, I first took a look at the ‘Terms’, the link to which is in light gray on a grey background (almost as if Adobe would prefer that you not look at them). The terms linked to at the target to that link link further on to further terms, where we must scroll down through several pages of dense legal boilerplate before we find the following:

8. Use of Your Content.

Adobe does not claim ownership of Your Content. However, with respect to Your Content that you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Services, you grant Adobe a worldwide, royalty-free, nonexclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, derive revenue or other remuneration from, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other Materials or works in any format or medium now known or later developed.

The upshot is that any time you submit a photo for inclusion in the publicly accessible area, you are giving the photo to Adobe. Period. They’re not claiming ownership of your content. But if someone can point out something that owning your content would allow them to do that this license doesn’t let them do, I’ll be mighty surprised.

Now, Adobe are free to place any licensing agreement on their software they like. But I think this is a horrible, disgusting, unethical, lowdown, scumsucking, awful, pathetic rights grab here.

I hope nobody ever uses this online software, ever. Because I’m sure that now the uproar is started about this disgusting license, Adobe will knuckle under and remove this rights grab crap. But I’d also note that they reserve the right to change the terms at any time, and I’ll bet a nice breakfast that eventually Adobe will submarine that rights grab right in there again. I’m willing to make that wager because anyone who would put those terms into the license to begin with is such ethical scum that they’d try to get it back in there later.

I hope they all lose their jobs and have to beg on street corners. And this time, I really mean it.

Food for Thought

Posted in business, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 24, 2008

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I’ve long pondered the whole issue of copyright and public discussion forums – when you make a post, do you retain the copyright? There have been a few outright usurpations of content that I remember – photo.net pretty much copied the entire content of the discussion forum at http://www.largeformatphotography.info at one point as it transitioned away from Philip Greenspun’s non-profit thingie into the photo.net we see today. That’s one reason I never got involved in the community at photo.net – why contribute content when someone else is reaping the rewards?

So, with that to establish context, go read this article, about the rights of the people who made musical contributions to bebo.com. Ok, done that? Did you read the whole thing? Fine.

Now, let me just suggest that you read the article again, and this time, hold the word ‘flickr’ in your mind as you read.

Hmmm. Lots of content, there. Lots of pageviews. Not much compensation. Hmm.

Elton Bennett

Posted in books, business, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 24, 2008

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Let us say that art is art only when it is in a mind, either at the creating or the beholding it creates (when it is successful), a new ordering of the mind. At this point, whenever it occurs, it is art – that is, it is functioning.

Elton Bennett (From Elton Bennett – His Life and Art, by Archie Satterfield)

I got a copy of this book from the library after MIke Mundy mentioned him in this comment. From reading the book, Bennett sounds like quite the individualist, steadfastly swimming against the ‘art establishment’. Such things are hard to judge from just the one viewpoint provided by a single book, of course, but I imagine that Bennett’s steadfast insistence that his prints sell for no more than $15 probably had something to do with the rejection and heat he took from the galleries. That and the fact that Bennett doesn’t seem to have been a person who had a very tolerant view of anything he saw as pretentious behavior.

What I found interesting is that Bennett seems to have slowly built up his distribution channel until he was dealing with retailers all over the country and having difficulty dealing with the workload his sales imposed. And he did all this back when the internet and the www were not yet even a gleam in anyone’s eye.

The book is pretty breezy and loose, as opposed to being a dusty tome of scholarly effort, but a sense of the sort of person Bennett was and the philosophy that brought him to his decision to produce art that sold at prices average people could afford come through very clearly. Nice reproductions of Bennett’s work, as well.

Low Print Prices, the History

Posted in business, print pricing, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 14, 2008

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There are a fair number of comments on yesterday’s post on Size and Price which comment, not on the the strange relationship between size and price, but instead on the whole idea of low prices.

To simplify things I’ve added a ‘Print Pricing” category. You can read every post I’ve written on the subject (including, along the way, responses to most of the arguments advanced against very low print prices) by reading the entire series of posts.

Here are a couple more thoughts on low print prices which so far have not drawn much comment:

1. What about the idea that even folks without much disposable income deserve to have a bit of nice in their lives? I’ve been rather startled at the degree to which photographers, many of whom seem to tilt toward the liberal end of the political spectrum, seem absolutely determined to price all their art at a level where only the wealthy can own it. In this comment, Mike Mundy points out printmaker Elton Bennett, who apparently preferred selling more prints at a lower price and who never sold a print for more than $15 in his life. Was Bennett crazy?

2. There are aspects to selling artwork at a low price that can be appealing. Diversification is one – if your prints are priced low enough that the average Joe can afford to buy not just one but several, your potential customer pool is larger. There’s less invested, risk wise, in a single patron. On the other hand, if you sell your work into a pool of a dozen wealthy art collectors, the risk that you’ll do something to alienate a substantial fraction of that pool of patrons becomes significant. When your artwork changes a bit, you risk stepping outside the zone where your current patrons will buy. That’s bad. If you have thousands of patrons, the risk that you’ll leave them all behind in one fell swoop is substantially lower. To what extent do the folks who sell just into the wealthy crowd limit the work they do to match the upscale wealthy market? If you make ‘edgy’ work, would you find a much deeper market if your work was priced one or two orders of magnitude lower?

Size and Price

Posted in business, print pricing, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 13, 2008

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Pretty much everywhere you look, bigger art costs more than smaller art.

For an illuminating example, take a look at the very interesting website www.20×200.com [hat tip: Adam’s very interesting comments on this post].

The 20×200 project is about making art affordable. To that end, it sells art in three editions, differentiated by size. These editions are:

  • small: roughly 8×10, edition size 200, price $20
  • medium: roughly 17×22, edition size 20, price $200
  • large: roughly 30×40, edition size 2, price $2000

I think that’s pretty interesting, and I learned a lot of interesting stuff by browsing back through the various offerings and noting how many of each size sold.

At this point, I don’t have any conclusions from all this. Just an interesting observation.

Here are my Cost of Goods Sold for three sizes of print, printed on my HP Z3100 on Crane Museo Portfolio paper:

  • 6″x9″ : $2.11
  • 14″x21″: $6.64
  • 20″x30″: $12.87

That’s just the cost of consumables. I’ve not included wear and tear on the printer, nor have I included the cost of the time it takes me to sit down, load paper, push buttons, pack the print for shipping, etc. When I add in my costs for my time, I get a price scale that looks like this:

  • 6″x9″ : $19
  • 14″x21″: $24
  • 20″x30″: $30

Now, what’s interesting is that when I add in the cost of my time, I get a price for the smallest print which is not very different from the cost 20×200 charges for their smallest print. But when we bump up the size, the 20×200 price jumps by a factor of ten. My price jumps by about $5, because that’s the difference in cost for me to crank out the larger print. It basically boils down to more ink and more paper. And when we take the next bump in size, the 20×200 price jumps by a factor of ten again, and my price jumps by about $6. The 20×200 price is now about 67 times more expensive than what I plan to sell a 20″x30″ print for.

If you go and look at the 20×200 web site, they’re not just offering big prints for these higher prices. If you believe what they’re saying about how many prints they’ve sold in the various editions (and I see no reason not to believe them), they’re actually selling them at these prices.

Now, I understand that they’re using product differentiation to sell similar but slightly different products at a set of prices that span a wide range, and they’re doing that so that they can snap up what in the pricing world is called ‘consumer surplus’. I understand that if someone has $2000 in their pocket to spend on one of my prints and is willing to spend the entire $2000 to get that print, and I sell it to him for $30 I’ve essentially left $1970 in his pocket instead of putting it in mine. Let’s ignore that problem for a second. It’s an interesting issue and I’ve not fully thought all that through, although I’d point out that there’s nothing stopping me from selling that guy 67 different prints at $30 and having a very happy customer.

No, there’s a different question on my mind, and it comes from the fact that 20×200 are using the same reproduction technique I’m using (inkjet printing) and if their volume is larger than mine, their COGS is certainly lower than mine. It’s not like their costs to produce that large edition print are a factor of 100 higher than their costs for the smallest print. My question, really, is this: why are people willing to actually pony up $2000 for that large print? Is it just that they’re unaware that the cost to produce the small print is 2 bucks (about 20% of the sales price) but that the cost to produce the largest print is something like $13 (and thus less than 1% of the sales price)?

I suspect that some of this has to do with tradition. A big painting costs much more than a small painting because it takes the painter longer to make the large painting than the small one. And buyers haven’t really come to grips with the fact that when it comes to buying SOME kinds of art, the cost of goods sold is now very low, and so they haven’t really adjusted their expectation of price.

When I started making big prints, a lot of my photographer friends told me the advice they got in school was “If you can’t make it better, make it bigger”. They told me bigger isn’t necessarily better. They told me that smaller prints suited their artistic vision, and that size wasn’t important. And then they went and sold different sized prints, and guess what – they priced the bigger prints higher. On the one hand, they’d say that size didn’t matter, and then on the other hand, they’d say that size mattered a whole lot.

I find all this fascinating and confusing, and looked at from a purely production side point of view I don’t see a whole lot of reasons why a 20″x30″ print ought to be priced at 100x the price of a 6″ x 9″ print. What would happen if 20×200 inverted their pricing, and sold the smallest prints in the smallest edition size and the highest price, and the largest prints in the largest edition size and the lowest price? Would it suddenly become very fashionable to have very small prints on your walls?