Digital Indie Publishing

Digital Indie Publishing

iPadMiniSarinKasissaSome of you might have noticed the thing we did in DocImages couple of days ago. Well, if you didn’t, here’s a short recap.

(And here is an article I wrote in Finnish in our blog)

I am getting sick and tired of the ever tightening legacy print death spiral and especially frustrated with their total lack of vision about the future. 

But instead of whining about it — which leads nowhere — I have been doing research actively. Basically, trying to figure out where I will be in five years time and what the future might hold for us. 

Us being profes­sional photo­graphers and ‑journa­lists passionate about their work.

So I spent the Xmas holidays — plus several weeks before and after — trying to learn all I could about digital publishing.

What are the options, what are the pros and cons of each approach one takes. Because there is no “one size fits all” ‑approach in digital publishing. Some solutions work on the web, but not mobile; some are cheap but do not play rich media; some do both but are heavenly expensive to implement; some require CMS infra­structure; some require constant connection while some allow downloading, etc.

But, it’s always better to really try something real hands-on than just read about it. So we decided to give it a shot.

iran-etusivuWe constructed a simple website (well, simple is relative, its over 100 pages), based on material my buddy Arttu shot in Iran now in the past August.

We are trying to think outside the box. So instead of doing “an article plus images” ‑approach written afterwards, we based it on his initial obser­va­tions he posted in FB with pictures — plus added some 50 unpublished images. Simply as a pilot project. Call it experi­mental photo­jour­nalism, if you like.

And I am proud of. Very little bugs — if any — so far.

And we made it universal: web, pad, even mobile.

But then I thought that it would be cool to have a system where you can download the content to your iPad instead of watching it online all the time. To make the transi­tions smoother, if for nothing else. To make the reading experience a real “lean back and enjoy” ‑one.

So to make a long story short: we came up with dual — well actually a triple solution: we made an iPad app (with a possi­bility to make it iPhone and Android compa­tible) and then a universal - website based solution  — which we put behind a paywall. We also made a third system, i.e. responsive design in case we want to do something which gets updated frequently and which is compa­tible with the mobile as well, but we did not activate it for this project.

Paywalls and shared coffees

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 21.15.06The big question was how do we set a price on stuff we did and want to do in the future.

We thought of a “tip jar” solution — and had the whole thing been a web based universal solution we might have adopted that. Let people pitch in if they felt it was worth it.

However: due to the iPad app we simply put everything behind a paywall.

I perso­nally think of it as a symbolic thing. And thus the price is set to the equivalent of a cappuccino in your local coffeeshop.

My (twisted?) logic is that while you are enjoying your coffee, you might want to treat your fellow photo­jour­nalist to one as well.

I quite often treat somebody to a coffee , maybe as a gesture of friendship, simply that being good manners, or whatever. And friends treat me to one occasionally.

I thought that it is a nice compa­rison: a moment of being together, sharing — telling the photo­grapher (and the team behind) that you have taken a look and you do appreciate what they are trying to accomplish.

As corny as it may sound.


Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 21.12.41For the web pub we just quote the minimum (3,59€) — if you want to contribute extra, it is highly appreciated . In addition, if you are willing to pay 20€ or more, it opens everything behind this paywall for the next 12 months.

Initially we set the “normal price” 3,59€ /48hours, but I have been thinking that people might appreciate if I made it a week. Like a tradi­tional magazine has typically been.

(Anybody, any comments on that?)

Our present paywall does not allow per issue with no expiration option which we offer for the iPad. This is obviously something we do have to think about, but this is how it is at the moment.

Disclaimer: we might make publica­tions which are available ONLY for the iPad and mobile and thus not available in the web. But for the most part, we try to run both platforms with everything we do. Please note: the license for the two platforms are separate entities.

Is anybody willing to pay for content?

Frankly we do not know. But I do believe that quality matters — and that there are people who think the same way.

People who might respect the fact that you do try to make diffe­rence and who are willing to lay down… yes the price of a coffee cup… to show their support. I underline the word support. We are building something here, constructing for the future. It is work in progress.

I was so positively surprised to see that some people had paid the 12months/20€ fee. Especially, when I explicitly made it clear that I unfor­tu­nately cannot give any promises on the number we are going to publish during the year. A big thank you!

And I really appreciate the support of everyone who has chosen to pay for this modest first attempt so far.

It is not the euros but the gesture. It’s very easy to tick your “like” button in Facebook, but every time someone takes the trouble of going thru paypal or credit card… It really makes you wanna work harder, because you feel someone is saying “you’re doing a good job, stay with it…” with their gesture.

Maybe there is a chance we might see something else than LOL cats, big boobs and “WOW, look at this!!!” ‑headlines on our screens after all?

Platform — so what now?

TUMMEMPIWe got all kinds of plans. Saara just left to Nepal and I hope she can share some great stories, images and multi­media from her experience working with the best of the best (National Geographic).

I am myself going to the Olympics in ten days, maybe I manage to cook up something worth showing from there.

I’ve pitched to couple of my friends if they would like to contribute their awesome work and colla­borate. So we’ll see what happens.

But one of the main reasons for creating the whole thing is to open it to other visual profes­sionals. You feel like you got a story — a VISUAL story — the world needs to see and hear? If you manage to convince me/us of its worth… we can do it. Need help with multi­media content? Editing, sound, design? No worries, happy to help you.

No, it does not cost you anything. If it does make some money, revenue will be evenly split.

And goes without saying: of course you keep your own copyright.

Why don’t you focus on the money?” someone asked me the other day. And I agree, to keep the things rolling, it is a necessity. But it cannot be number one priority if you want to do good work. Focusing on the money as your number one goal is the best recipe for failure if you try to stay creative.

I at least want to work with cool people, cool projects, do stuff I can be proud of… instead of focusing how could I PERSONALLY make the biggest cut financially. That shows no respect… and much of what we do in life which is of any value — is about respect. Respect for others, respect for yourself.

I remember Brian saying during our workshop in New York, when someone asked why he didn’t take MediaStorm to certain — obviously econo­mically very viable — direction.

We could do that and make money, but we would lose our souls” was his immediate answer. He didn’t hesitate a moment there.

Call me idealist, but I’d like to think the same way.

6 Replies to “Digital Indie Publishing”

  1. Looking good.…

    I think the idea of supporting others is a fine one. I guess it’s how I’ve always seen a number of the smaller photo mags I’ve bought — and certainly exhibition catalogues and turning up to peoples shows. As you say, it’s a compli­mentary way of saying to someone ‘Yes, you’re doing something interesting and I’m glad to have experienced it.’ 

    I’d be keen to submit stuff… possibly the Burlesque scene work I’ve been doing for two/three years…?

    1. The little I’ve seen your Burlesque scene work it is absolutely fantastic. Come up with a coherent set of images, with a story (I don’t mean text, but visual narrative, so that they are not just “nice pictures”); then text to go with it (you know I love your musings about the deeper meaning of art) maybe in a form of extended captions, maybe music and bit a of video…(?)

      Sounds really good. Let’s keep in touch about this.


      Funny: I’ve talked now with three people about concrete stories which we could do. All three are English speakers… Maybe the Finns just prefer to wait… for what, I really do not know?

  2. I dislike the limited time viewing. I enjoyed the content, it is great, but I want to choose when and where I digest it and for how long, and if I want to return to a strong image, I want to be able to return to it any time in the future as long as I live. Thus the terms of payment and access are unaccep­table to me. It puts time pressure on digesting the content which makes the whole experience unpleasant and stressful. True, a magazine is displayed for a week on the stand, but if you buy it, you get to keep it. You can share it by showing it to friends or colleagues, and discuss the images and content at your pleasure. Even if I continue to subscribe there is no guarantee that the content that can be seen today will be available for viewing 5 or 10 years from now which might be when I might want to see it again. To me this is a huge downgrade from paper media and it’s not likely I would be interested in purchasing content with such terms again. Now, if you make it a PDF that I can download and keep, or if there is guarantee that if the content is no longer provided online in the future, it is made available for permanent download e.g. in PDF format, then it is a different matter and such terms might be consi­dered accep­table to me. Quality content deserves quality time for digesting it. That’s one of the problems of television ; it controls the viewers’ time, and the viewer is not in control of the experience. If the so called new media wants to impose restric­tions on the time of viewing it is difficult not to see it as going backwards.

    Access to content using multiple viewing platforms is a good thing, but it should not be necessary to spend time making things work on different platforms. Any time making content cross platform compa­tible (or provide platform-specific features), if additional time is required to do it, is time away from making content (or making existing content better), and it will make things more expensive for everyone in the end.

    1. Appreciate the feedback.
      As I have stated before, this is work in progress and liable for a change. Paywall as it is presently is the simplest solution we could come by. Sure, we can go for a full blown API and offer all kinds of models — but doing that takes some time and frankly, as most of what we to trans­lates to “I do” I really do not have the time to get into that at the moment. Also, a SMS-paying method would be essential… and yes, the same excuse.

      Downloa­dable PDF…? Well, in this particular piece it would have worked; in general with stuff I have lined up and aspire to do no. No way. PDF is very limited in the rich media capabi­lities and handles interac­tivity very poorly.

      You want to download it? Use an iPad. That’s where we really designed this for. The “universal” version exists because we are totally aware that there are other devices and platforms out there and wanted to give everybody a chance to see this. Also, using an iPad you are not limited to a conti­nuous connection.

      You do raise an interesting question: what happens if the service provider goes out of business? What happens if the publisher goes out of business? I have no answers there. If I try to guarantee that anything you pay for now will be available until the hell freezes over… I’d be making promises I really couldn’t keep. 

      So in a way I am playing it safe. Promising that the content will be there at least for the 48 hours. Or a week. Or a whatever time it is I promise. Anything else would be empty promises. I might go bankrupt, not pay my ISP bills… Or whatever.

      Please notice that the same thing goes for all digital content providers. Even if you pay for HS … and they go out of business… and you try to restore your purchases. What happens? Nobody knows. Or even bigger players, say National Geographic. Yes, you may have downloaded their issues, but much of the content, e.g. HD video is stored in the web and requires a connection. What if they go out of business? How do you claim your purchases?

      It is a good question and I have no answers.

      Also, please notice that if — although you state this is unaccep­table to you — you should pay for another access to something else we publish in the future: that opens all the previously published content as well, as it is behind the same paywall.

      Maybe the problem is that we should not think about such content as something you “own” — as a tradi­tional magazine or a dvd. It is more like an fee to rent the content to a period you feel suits your needs. Which we offer presently up to a year.

      Having said that I cannot emphasize enough: this is experi­menting and work in progress and by paying for this you make a statement saying “I support you”. Which we appreciate tremendously.
      It is not “what’s the best deal and most suitable terms I would be willing to pay for so and so many words and so and so many images…” At least that is not as I see it. 

      Still back to making it downloa­dable PDF. As I said, PDF as a format is very limited. Also one runs into difficulties with copyrights and licensing, especially when it comes to video. We are e.g. planning an issue which among other visual material includes over three hours of extremely high quality video. There is no way we could pay for a license that people could download it and do whatever they could do with it. And purely technically we are talking about several gigabytes of footage here, so that also says no to straight downloading to an device with a limited memory such as the iPad.

      So the only option really is to offer the whole package to the public more in terms of “rent and watch as many times as you want over a agreed period” — which btw in our iPad app is unlimited — and not to think of it as buying a physical product.

      I hope this answer was helpful.

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