Friday Inspiration: Pam Slim

This is the final in a trilogy of posts inspired by Austin Kleon’s SXSW keynote presentation. I can’t help but thing that much of the shabby behavior that Austin references is borne out of a sense of desperation to turn a hobby into a business or to take a business that’s bumping along to the next level.

While there are lots of resources that I could point you to that discuss the business of art, I’ve recently been enjoying Pam Slim‘s new book ‘Body of Work‘. Check out the interview below with Jonathan Fields from the Good Life Project.

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Editions and Pricing

As I gear up for the exhibition at the RMSP gallery, whether to limit the edition size of the prints displayed and how to appropriately price them has been something I’ve been giving some thought to.

Let’s start with limited editions. I struggle to understand the physical reason to limit editions of photographs. When prints were made from an object, such as a metal plate or a wood block or a potato then that object would wear and as such the quality of the print would degrade. In that case limiting the number of prints to the number of good prints that could be made makes sense. For a photograph and particularly a digital photograph this argument doesn’t hold water and so the reason to limit an edition is to help control the price. Buy now before they’re gone for ever! Buy one of the first 10 before the price steps up. That kind of thing. I have little experience with this kind of motivation to buy from a sellers perspective, as a buyer it doesn’t interest me. If what I’m buying is reasonably priced then I’ll buy it, otherwise I won’t. Limiting the edition doesn’t impact that choice for me. Brooks Jensen has an excellent piece on what size an edition should be. You can find the pdf of that here.

It seems common practice even amongst early career fine art photographers to both edition work and also to charge what one could argue are significant prices for their work. I’m not against making a living from photography, far from it but I do wonder whether the price prohibits any work getting sold at all. For instance are you more likely to sell 10 prints priced at $25 or one at $250? Perhaps when you have an established customer base that you know will support your pricing it makes sense but until then what to do? I’m not much of a salesman and as such what is important to me is not wringing every last dollar out of the transaction but making people feel like they got something that was worth at least the dollar amount that the paid.

The actual price should be dictated in part by your fixed costs – this will be different for everyone, but if you’re having someone do the printing for you then you ought to at least cover that cost, if you’re printing yourself then the base price will be fixed by the materials, paper, ink etc., your time and any other overhead – the cost of keeping the lights on and the printer running. How much beyond these costs you want to go is largely dictated by how much do you want to make and how much do you think the market will pay. I think that the answer is that there’s not one answer but to have something that will work for people with a variety of budgets from $20 to $1000 and more.

The scheme that I’m circling around has, I hope, something for everything. Paper sizes from 8×10 to 24×36 with options for print only, ready to frame and framed. The pricing scheme that I have in mind at the moment would give me a range of ~$20 to ~$1500. As I said above I don’t see a reason to limit editions and so for now I don’t plan to limit my prints.

So what do you think – reasonable or crazy? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Business Model Generation

I wonder how many photographers seriously consider business models and even applying their creativity to developing new business models. Frankly I’ve always thought business models were fir the MBA crowd and not something that I needed to worry about. With some prompting from people like ‘Photo’ Jack Hollingsworth I’ve been giving the business side of photography a harder look in recent weeks. There are lots of great resources for photographers, such as Fast Track Photographer and Fast Track Photographer Business Plan both written by Dane Sanders, although I find myself more aligned with books such as ‘Taking the Leap‘ by Cay Lang which seem to have painters as the primary audience but easily translates to the other visual arts.

The Book Business Model Generation (get a free 72 page preview here) provides a visual tool that helps you build a business model that you can use to test your ideas. I’ve been able to easily flesh out some of my ideas and identify questions that I need answering before moving ahead. A video showing how to use the tool – the Business Model Generation Canvas is below.

The Future of the Book – Part 2

I continue to be interested by the possibilities that the future holds for the book.  Seth Godin had this to say recently on his Domino Project Blog:

‘Cleaning out a moldy corner of my basement, I ended up with a stack of about 400 paperback books.

Looking at each cover, I remember what was inside. Each contained a notion or an adventure or an idea. It adds up. (With some, I even remember where I was when I read them).

The magic of books, something I haven’t found in blog posts, jewel boxes, tweets or old TV Guides, is that they perfectly encapsulate an idea. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. And they have a cover, something that wraps it all together.

Maybe I’m a fogie, but I have trouble visualizing a pile (or a wallful) of Kindle ebooks. I’m going to miss that.’

I’m not sure why we have to visualize a pile of ebooks.  Seth’s Domino Project, which is an attempt to shake up the traditional publishing model is format agnostic which makes sense to me.  There are going to be people like me who enjoy the portability of eBooks but who still crave for the actual book, particularly when the book is something special.

Blurb are also evolving their idea of publishing from a traditional model

to one that is more supportive of the author in today’s environment.

The images above are from a recent article on the ‘Future of the Book Blog‘ in which Ben Clemens suggests that ‘eBooks will save the book‘ in part because ‘e-books re-focus books around their essence: words and images, assembled and carefully edited.’

I’m not sure how or why this is true because with the advent of digital it is so much easier for everyone to generate an eBook.  What is true is that exceptionally prepared eBooks, iPad apps etc. will set the bar for everyone and while it will be easy to convert pages of text into eBooks we will come to expect a high quality product.  Jim Goldstein‘s iPad photo books that he prepared for himself and for William Neill caught my eye as an example of what we might come to expect as normal, with more multimedia offerings to come.

So what about the physical artifact – the traditional book?  Is there still a place for it?  I’d like to think so – what about you?

The Future of the Book

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I’ve been on the road a fair bit over the last week or so. One the topics that we kept returning to was the future of the book. I find it hard to imagine that the book will completely go away. At least I don’t want to imagine that future but it’s increasingly likely that the majority of new books will be electronic.

It seems that there are amazing opportunities here – electronic books can be a much richer experience than a physical book, with the ability to link out to the web, to incorporate still images or video to illustrate a point the future looks very interesting. Bookstores are going to have to adapt to this new reality and are doing so by producing their own e-book readers. Of course not everyone gets this right.

I do wonder how small bookstores will adapt to the rise of e-books. Will they essentially become electronics retailers like their big box counter parts? Will most small bookstores be shuttered? Time will obviously tell, but I can certainly envision a place for the smaller specialty bookstore that meets the needs of a very specific group of customers in a way that can’t be met online.

For author it’s now quite cheap and relatively easy to skip the publisher and publish your own work. That has to be a good thing but it also shifts more of the burden of publishing the work onto the author. The author now becomes the content creator, editor, book designer and marketer. It would be rare to find someone who’s abilities cut across all of these areas. The sensible author would be one who looks to partner with editors, designers and marketers. Perhaps this is how the specialty book store comes in – to help with marketing.

Watching the Weather

As a photographer and a sailor the weather has a major impact on my activities. As a photographer I look for weather that suits the style of photographs that I’m currently working towards and plan appropriately. As a sailor I’m watching the weather and modifying the sails to match changes in wind and changing plans to account for storms.

We need to be equally skilled at looking for and responding to the winds of change in our careers and personal lives. We must change and continue to innovate if the hope is to build and sustain our business and career. Being creative, looking beyond the obvious, offering something more than just what the camera is able to bring seems to be the way to succeed. Opportunities abound for those willing to try small experiments, review the feedback from those experiments and try again until something is found that works.

Getting Things Done

How do you keep track of and manage your commitments?  Most people are wearing multiple hats – this could be husband, father, dutiful employee, or at a more granular level – little league coach, counselor, accountant, marketer, content creator, etc. all of which have a pull on your time.  There is a real skill to keep track of your commitments, to maintain balance and to allow for enough space to be creative and productive.  How ready you are to engage productively with your life is proportional to how much psychic clutter you are toting around.

One of the tools that I’ve been using for almost a decade now is David Allen’s Getting Things Done or GTD system.  GTD helps cut the psychic clutter and provides control and perspective.  It’s well described in David Allen’s Book of the same name, and with the follow-ups ‘Ready For Anything’ and ‘Making it all Work’.

The central tenant to the GTD system is to get everything out of your head and into an efficient capture system.  Once there you can review and define what the next steps are.  This can be tremendously freeing and can result in remarkable increases in productivity.

The capture system can be as simple as a stack of 3×5 notecards clipped together or something significantly more sophisticated such as the tasks function built into Microsoft Outlook. Your capture system should be portable, or at least you should have a way to make sure ideas can be captured off-line and then entered into your system promptly.  This and not regularly reviewing my lists of projects and associated next actions are the main reasons that I have fallen off the wagon in the past, while my calendar system where appointments get entered automatically is rock solid.

In addition to resulting in bursts of creativity and productivity the other thing a system where you can see all of your commitments in one place does, is to make you realize how much stuff you have going on.  Consequently it’s much easier to say no to taking on additional tasks, or at least have the conversation about reprioritizing activities to allow a focus on the one you’re going to pick up.

And so it is with me.  Since photography is something I do in addition to many other things, I need to fit it into an already busy schedule.  I’ve been using my ‘photography time’ in the last couple of weeks to print and mat photographs. The people who’ve received the prints have been genuinely pleased with them and that in turn spurs me on.