Future Shock

Posted on 5/2/2000 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



May 9, 2000

In my continuing effort to suggest alternative ways for stock photographers to earn income

I am reprinting a story by Blain Seitz that first appeared in the ASMP Philadelphia newsletter.

Blair has had great success in self-publishing picture books. In this article he goes into

unusual detail about the business aspects of his experience.

Blair started his career as a social worker in 1969 and in 1972 he and his wife, Ruth, moved

to Nairobi, Kenya where they did work for UNICEF, WHO, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services and

other organizations producing information pieces and magazine articles about relief effoarts

and development programs in Africa.

After five years they moved to the Philippines where they spent four years before returning

to Harrisburg in 1982. Blair shoots corporate work, but in 1991 he and Ruth founded RB Books

to publish books about Pennnsylvania.

Blair will release a new book the Poconos and Endless Mountains--Pennsylavnia's Northeast:

Poconos, Endless Mountains and Urban Centers this month. He is working with a writer on

two new books that will go to design and press this fall.

Debunking Photography Self-publishing Myths

©2000 Blair Seitz

In the spring of 1991 when the tractor-trailer rolled back into the loading

dock where I stood giving directions, my heart raced with excitement. There

before me were 15,000 Amish Ways , the first RB Book written, photographed and

published with our own skills and effort. Fait accompli!

My exhilaration continued, after reloading books onto a Ryder truck, as I

drove into the sunset south on I-81 toward our Virginia-based distributor who

had purchased 10,000 copies.

I had learned, after disappointments in my first two books published by London

and local publishers, that independent (self) publishing is dramatically more

satisfying. Working independently, I controlled the schedule, chose the

photos, did a layout and had oversight of the design and printing. From A to

Z the result was the creation of my writing partner, Ruth Hoover Seitz and

myself. And, upon delivery, the joy I felt was very fulfilling.

After nine years and the sale of over 130,000 books (12 titles) the efforts, I

have made can dispel three myths: 1) photographers cannot profit from photo

books; 2) self-publishing is not an honorable endeavor; 3) and one needs to

be rich to self-publish.

Myth One

While my salary is modest and much of the financial rewards are in anticipated

residuals sales and corporate equity, my experience certainly indicates that

photo book publishing stands as an alternative livelihood for photographers.

At the end of 1998 I did an analysis to compare making stock photos and

shooting for books. What I learned was rather astonishing.

After deducting out 57 percent of the income for research/writing and

prepress/printing, each photograph reproduced in my books had earned an

average of $503. By comparison, over the same 8 year period, prime stock

photos had grossed $146 per picture (before agency commissions and advertising

were deducted).

Furthermore, if the books had been published by another publisher, I would

have collected $101 per photo (assuming a 10% royalty on gross sales).

So my book pictures earned three and one-half times more than my stock and

five times more than I would have earned from a typical royalty contract from

another publisher. The facts did not cause me to shut down my stock business

but they gave a huge affirmation to my publishing efforts.

Myth Two

In recent years the number of high quality independent (self) publishers has

dramatically increased. Each quarter R.R. Bowker (industry statistic keepers)

adds 1,200 new publishers to their list, many of them small (self) publishers.

Self publishing is an attractive alternative to sending a manuscript to an

editor who doesn't open many of the 100 unsolicited queries received each day.

Notables such as Mark Twain, Zane Grey, James Joyce, Walt Whitman and Carl

Sandburg were all self-publishers. Current top sellers such as What Color is

Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise

Hay were first self-published.

The Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) is a strong

organization which includes many of us self-publishers. The Self-Publishing

Manual by Dan Poynter or The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and

Marilyn Ross are two of the 'bibles' we self-publishers use. I have attended

conferences featuring both Poynter and the Rosses. They take you step by step

through the technical aspects of the publishing process. Guidance is required

because independent publishers are jumping into a market that is overwhelmed

with new product. In 1997 there were 63,000 new books published in the U.S.

and there is no reason to believe there will be less in 2000.

Myth Three

Granted, it would be much easier if I were independently wealthy; but, alas,

all the dollars invested in RB Books have come from bank loans. It takes

good credit, good business plans and some luck. Our break came when a

distributor contracted with us for Amish Ways . The bank accepted the contract

as collateral (along with everything else we owned!) and extended a line of

credit (LOC) of $60,000 for the unusually high print run.

Making good on that LOC set us up for the next book, Susquehanna Heartland ,

which cost about $28,000 to print on Hong Kong presses which are 40% less than

US printers. All photography, writing and design is investment paid for

through cash flow from the sale of the previous book.

About 500 on-time payments later and with acceptable profits and improving

balance sheets, our banking relationship is now much easier.

The Business Plan And Budget

Bankers don't take unnecessary risks.

Without realistic figures and

strategies to back up my vision, my best laid plan would have evaporated in

the bank meeting. While I have always enjoyed planning ahead and strategizing

my photography business, publishing forced me to write a business plan which

would meet banking requirements. With assistance from my consultant, I wrote

a 20-page plan which included a market analysis, sales goals and strategies

for meeting them as well as time-lines and charts showing the growth of Seitz

and Seitz, Inc. Personal and business financial statements prepared by a

Certified Public Accountant accompanied the plan.

The business plan sought to confirm the reliability of our three-legged

business which also had a track record of income from stock and assignment

photography. Nonetheless, no matter how much paperwork I could produce I knew

that in the end the bankers were sizing up the character factor. Would Ruth

and I be reliable partners with the bank?

Before my current bank relationship using the business plan started, I had a

few days of panic. Suddenly, my small rural family bank said, "Oops. We'd

like to help you, but we have a problem. We can't handle the International

Letter of Credit." I needed the letter of credit, an official international

banking instrument, to show the printer that the money was guaranteed. From

that high stress point when the book was ready to go to press, we had to

build a new relationship. It started with a lunch with a bank president

seeking new business and grew from there.

For eight years, the four of us staff members have met in December for several

days of planning from which I develop the upcoming year's business plan and


From Concept to Consumer Sales

Publishing a photographic book with text is a step by step process that begins

with brainstorming a concept, and goes on to research, developing outlines

and shoot lists then, about one year later launching a publicity campaign to

entice buyers to go into the bookstore to purchase the book. In between, the

book has to be shot and written as well as designed and produced.


Until now I have had a writing and marketing partner in my wife, Ruth, which

enabled us to handle A to Z with the help of two staff members. However,

since Ruth wishes to change the nature of her work, I have contracted with

another Pennsylvania-line publisher which has an aggressive sales team to

market and distribute for us. Our books will double their Pennsylvania line

and RB Books will add two books per year.

Partnership with a writer and/or marketing professional is essential if I want

to continue making photographs. Otherwise, the publishing and marketing would

overwhelm me so I wouldnœt be able to shoot. My greater reward is in making

the photographs. Books are the means of presenting them.

Production and marketing overlap

In January 2000 as I write this article, we have just completed launching

Harrisburg: Renaissance of a Capital City . Over the same time, I finished and

chose the photographs for our spring 2000 book on the Poconos and Endless

Mountains of NE PA ; and concurrently was doing some of the shooting for our

spring 2001 book and planning with a writer for a smaller book to be released in

the fall of 2000.

When the Northeast PA book goes to press this month (January), the publicity

and advertising plans already prepared for the book will go into high gear.

The Harrisburg book just launched included a party with the Mayor as guest of

honor at the Art Association of Harrisburg and a Harrisburg 2000 slide show at

Historic Harrisburg Association.


As a photographer, selecting, arranging and overseeing the printing of my own

photographs is "Nirvana". I am currently laying out the photos on two page

spreads which I pencil out and hand over to the Quark Express expert at

prepress who sets up the digital pages as the separations are being made and

imported into the design. Doing the layout myself, selecting among subjects,

compositions and nuances of color, is the "beauty of it all". I love this

stage of the work. I am choosing the final 185 photos from 500 selects.

Tough decisions are dictated by "must" content and what "works" on the page.

Fortunately, I am not perfectionist. Making some "imperfect" decisions moves

the project along to meet deadlines.

Digital proofs are made at prepress. This process, used instead of sending

the photos to a design house, has saved $5,000 on our design and production

costs. The book is then sent to the printer on 7 or 8 CD's with the hard

copy proofs to guide the press person.

Marketing Push/Pull

Book marketing is a fine art of pushing books into the bookstores through

sales contacts with a network of distributors, wholesalers and regional chain

store buyers and, at the same time, pulling the books out of the bookstores

through publicity to consumers who must get interested in walking into the

bookstore and buying the book. It takes up to six exposures before a sale; and

a book is not sold until the consumer buys it from the bookstore. Since news

stories about the book secure the desired response, garnering press

relationships is essential.

High points

Due to the capital investment needed for book publishing and as one who

worries a lot, usually unnecessarily, about money and cash flow, my anxiety

is rewarded with the "big sale". Corporate sales for gifts and premiums put

us "over the top" and stabilize the bookstore sales. Banks, real estate

firms, among others, buy books as gifts. A special insert is printed for the

books. We ended 1996 with a single sale of 3,000 copies of Philadelphia and

its Countryside to a financial institution. We serviced the account with a

special jacket, inserts, packaging and mailing for a total sale of $100,000.

I had never made a corporate photo sale of that amount so I felt quite

rewarded for my investment in book publishing. Philadelphia and its

Countryside has been reprinted four times.

I still personally rent a Ryder truck (my secret love is trucking) to

transport shipments of books from Philadelphia to our distributor in New

Jersey and back to Harrisburg. My trip saves $500 dollars over having the

books shipped to our warehouse.

I no longer get a "high" from seeing the shipment of books, but I am

enormously rewarded by the process of launching the book and the positive

feedback received in press reviews and the pleasure of those who are

represented in the book. We give free copies of the book to many who are

included in the book and who have assisted us.

Low points

A year after a book was released, Ruth received a phone call from an artist

whose work was in the background of a portrait I made for the book. He

threatened a $50,000 lawsuit for using his work without permission.

While I had received permission at the location and identified the artist in

the caption, I did not have a written release from the artist. This threat,

followed up by a call from his attorney, shook me. I have conscientiously

obtained model and property releases so I felt upset with my omission.

I called ASMP's Bruce Blank. Thanks to Bruce, he put my feet back on the

ground reminding me that, assuming the copyright of the artwork had not been

registered, we would owe the artist only the profits earned on that single

picture in the book. Max might be $150.

The copyright was not registered; after interchange over several weeks, my

attorney wrote a release which the artist signed and we settled for $2,000,

still too much, but I wanted the artist to be happy and it ended a nasty


Where From Here

Under the banner "Celebrate Pennsylvania!", publishing has led me away from

corporate photography to producing more books and stock photography of PA

historic and natural as well as outdoor recreation themes. With many requests

for photo wall decor, I am preparing to open a sales gallery in May 2000.

We will move our publishing and stock photography offices to the new location

in Harrisburg's Midtown Market District.

The gallery presents the challenge of taking my photography to a higher

level. To achieve that goal requires that I spend more time shooting in PA

wilds, which achieves another goal: "retreats" to shooting with longer

reprieves from business details.

It's been a long journey from receiving that first trailer load of Amish Ways ,

in 1991; but a road I do not regret taking. Despite some bumps along the

way, it has settled some myths about self-publishing in my own mind with

positive outcomes.

Copyright © 2000 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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