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Tablets: An Introduction to a Brave New World of Self-Publishing

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Read Time: 9 min

You may be aware that there’s a new iPad in the shops – if not, then you’re certainly better at avoiding Apple’s advertising bombardment than I am. I succumbed to temptation and bought an iPad 2 several weeks ago. A little to my surprise, I haven’t stopped using it since.

It’s that good, and that useful. However, this is not a review of the iPad 2 – instead I’m going to take a look at what the tablets, as a whole, could mean for the publishing (and self-publishing) industry. I’ll be sharing some useful resources with you. Most of the information here applies to most tablets and even work on computers, so if you don't have an iPad, you can still stick around. The iPad is just my path into this arena.

One of my reasons for buying the iPad 2 was to use it as an ebook reader. I have quite a backlog of ebooks and magazines to read in PDF format. My main reason for not reading them is that I spend a lot of time writing and editing photos on my computer, and by the time I’ve done all that I’m tired of looking at the monitor. I don’t want to sit in my computer chair reading something on the screen when I’m relaxing.

The iPad 2 solves that problem – I can sit anywhere and read it easily, holding it just like a book. As an ebook reader it works beautifully – I use the preloaded software iBooks to store and read my ebooks and magazines. The touch screen is as intuitive to use as turning the page of a book – and I can swipe to enlarge the text to make it easy to read.

I was a bit concerned that my eyes would get tired looking at the screen, but so far that hasn’t happened. The screen’s warm tones are comfortable to look at, and there’s an auto-brightness feature that matches the screen’s brightness to the ambient light so it doesn’t get too bright.

It’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into making the iPad 2 and many tablets good devices for reading on. The strength of the iPad 2 as an ebook reader has made me realise that the publishing industry is going through a period of rapid change. How it will pan out is anyone’s guess. The answers will reveal themselves over the next decade or so, but finally we have a portable device that makes it easy and convenient to read books and magazines on an electronic screen in colour.

Print magazines and book publishers are starting to produce digital editions of their publications, either in PDF (or epub) form or as iPad apps. Could the emergence of the iPad as a colour ebook reader mark the beginning of a transition from print to digital media? And if so, how does this benefit photographers?

One of the benefits is that there is a vast amount of reading material out there for us. Whether you want to look at photographers' portfolios, or improve the technical or creative side of your photography, it seems that there is a publication out there to suit just about everybody.

Some of the material is from long-established magazine and book publishers, who are in the process of getting to grips with the new opportunities and pitfalls provided by the internet and digital publishing. There are also ebooks and magazines from photographers who are self-publishing their work.

The state of the industry

I’m involved in publishing in two different ways – on the ‘traditional’ side with my work for EOS magazine, a UK based print photography magazine, and on the ‘self-publishing side’ with writing photography ebooks for Craft & Vision and my own website. This gives me an insight into how both publishing models are doing.

Is print dead? Most definitely not. In the UK, for example, there are far more photography magazines available now than there were fifteen years ago, when film ruled. Digital cameras were just a futuristic dream. Two new photography magazines have launched this year, and few if any have folded, and all this in difficult economic times.

The photography book industry also seems to be thriving, with new titles being published each month. My personal view is that as long as print costs remain relatively low (it’s not expensive to print an issue of a magazine as long as the print run is large enough) print and digital will co-exist for many years to come.

PDF ebooks

Let’s take a look at some of the resources available for photographers on tablets. The first group is publishers and self-publishers providing ebooks. You don’t need an iPad 2 to take advantage of these as PDF files can be read on any computer with the right software. We'll go over a few of these providers now.

Peachpit deal of the week: I really like this idea. Each week Peachpit makes one of its books available in PDF (and epub) form for the low price of $19.99. This is a lot cheaper than buying the print book. Peachpit publishes books on a wide range of subjects, and whenever a photography book appears in the deals, I usually grab it.

Craft & Vision: Photography ebooks for just $5 each. I’m proud to be a Craft & Vision author, but I was buying the ebooks before I started writing for them. Craft & Vision started when photographer David duChemin published his first ebook ‘Ten’. It’s a great example of self-publishing, and one that I’m sure more photographers will follow as a way of generating income.

Digital Photography School: You may know Digital Photography School as a photography website, but they also sell a growing selection of photography ebooks.

Bruce Percy: I’m a big fan of Scottish photographer Bruce Percy, his blog and ebooks are well worth a look. Bruce is another good example of a self-published photographer.

Rockable Press: I would be remiss not to mention Envato's own Rockpress. It's publishes a variety of ebooks on new media marketing, photography, and many guides to the computer programs other Envato sites publish tutorials about.

PDF magazines

There are also some good photography magazines that you can download in PDF format to view on your tablet or your computer. Most of these are produced by individuals who just want to create a photography magazine that they would like to read.

Adore Noir magazine: A bi-monthly photography magazine aimed at the black and white fine art photography market.

PH magazine: This is a monthly photography magazine that you can download for free. The quality of the photography is very high, and I’m amazed that they’re giving this away from free but there’s a "donate" button if you wish to contribute.

F11 magazine: Another free photography magazine, that targets itself at photographers, aficionados and anyone else who works with images.

JPG magazine: You can buy either a print or a digital edition of the magazine. JPG magazine is different from the other magazines mentioned here in that there is a whole social networking photography site built around the magazine. The content for the magazine comes from the contributions of the site's members.

Magazine iPad apps

There’s another trend within publishing and that is to make magazines available as iPad apps. I'm sure that many of these are available on other tablets as well. One benefit of this, for photographers, is that the apps are normally free to download and come with a free edition of the magazine. The main disadvantages of apps, for me, is that they tend to be slower to read than PDF files and the files are also a lot bigger. One of the reasons for this is that the publishers are starting to include video in the publications.

Personally, I have no interest in video as magazine content, and it would be interesting to hear the readers’ thoughts on this. Why don’t you let us know in the comments whether you think video, as part of electronic magazine content, is a good thing?

The other reason that I’m dubious about magazine apps is that the iPad has limited memory, and that will fill up pretty quickly, especially when you consider that some people subscribe to magazines for years. My personal preference would be to download magazines as PDFs, rather than apps – they take up less space and I can also store them on a hard drive, which means I never need to discard an issue.

Again, it will be interesting to hear what our readers views are. I’m sure that one of the reasons that magazines are creating apps is to protect their intellectual property. A PDF file is easy to pass onto other people once you have purchased it, while you can’t do this with an app.

DI magazine: An interactive publication for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Lightroom users. First edition free with the app.

Once magazine:
The publishers of Once magazine are experimenting with a new way of distributing stories (ie. through an iPad app). The pilot issue is free with the app.

British Journal of Photography: This UK photography magazine has reinvented itself over the last 12 months, and created an iPad app too. The first issue is free with the app.

Black & White Photography: One of my favourite magazines. You get to choose a free issue with the app.

Light It digital magazine: A new offering from Scott Kelby, this magazine builds on the success of websites like Strobist and is dedicated to lighting techniques. First issue free with the app.

Final thoughts

There’s no doubt that the world of professional photography has been changed radically by the internet and advances in digital camera technology. ‘Old’ business models, such as stock photography, have been changed forever. It’s well documented that the music industry has also been changed by Apple’s iPod and iTunes software. Could the same thing happen to the publishing industry?

I’m sure it will, but the difference is that publishers have the benefit of learning from the lessons of what has happened in the stock photography and music industries. Also, the price of the iPad, and the lack (so far) of a competitor making a more popular devices and delivery systems, means that the take up of the new technology amongst consumers will be slower than the adoption of the technology that changed the music industry (as the iPod and other MP3 players did).

Meanwhile, it’s a fantastic opportunity for photographers (and writers) to get involved in self-publishing, something that I’ll be looking at more closely in an upcoming article.

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