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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Big Changes at Vivid Light
New Editors, Registering Users, Charging for PDFs, and New email Formats - we need your opinions

by Jim McGee

Big News
If things keep going in the direction they're going we'll reach 100,000 readers by the end of April. That's big news for a magazine that's just over a year old.

New Editors
Over the past few months you've seen our staff grow a bit. Bill Hartley, an experienced writer, photographer, and diver has joined us to pen two monthly columns. Family Time is directed at family photographers and children. The focus is to get those new to photography past what can be a daunting mountain of detail and jargon. Bill is also writing a column for us on underwater photography. It really is a whole other world down there and some additional rules apply if you're going to get good images. 

Dr. Lennie Lee Rue III has been a wildlife photographer longer than some of us have been around. He is the most published working wildlife photographer, an accomplished videographer, and a great source of knowledge on numerous wild species and their behaviors.  

Those of you who've been with us for a while have noticed that Vivid Light Photography has grown and undergone a lot of changes over the last year. We now have over 375 Web pages online and around 1750 pages of printed content you can download. Those pages are searchable by keyword or you can browse articles from back issues online by title or see the entire magazine from any month.  

The changes have been dictated by you, our readers. You vote for change in two ways. First is in what you write to us (I read every email). But all of you also vote with your mouse. Each month I look at what columns you're reading in the current issue and at what columns are most read among our back issues - all of which are online. You also seem to care what other readers think. Our Feedback Page is popular every month.

At one point the topic of pop-up ads was hotly debated over a three-month period. We pulled those ads because you told us you hated them, and most of you praised us for communicating the issues we were facing.

But economic realities are forcing us to make a major change to Vivid Light Photography this month. We are going to charge a separate subscription for PDF access. Access to everything else on the site will remain free. Let me tell you how the PDFs came to be and why we've decided to treat them differently than the rest of the magazine.

Why PDFs?
When I was working on the original prototypes for the magazine I noticed I often printed things out to read, instead of reading them on my monitor. This way I could go to the cafeteria and grab a cup of coffee or find a quiet spot outside on nice days to get me away from my desk for a while. I figured other people probably did the same thing. The problem was that Web browsers have the annoying habit of cutting images in half when you printed something online - a real problem for an online photo magazine. After all, one of the reason's you're reading it is for the pictures. They also have a habit of cutting off a couple of letters or whole words at the edge of a page - making it difficult to read. 

So in the early prototypes I created PDF files of individual articles so people could print them out with the images intact. The idea was a hit. Unfortunately it was too big of a hit. Getting the buggy PDF software to behave and print out decent pages from a Web page has been a struggle (though we've tamed it's worst habits). But the big surprise was how many people were downloading the magazine to read offline. In any given month 40% to 50% of readers download the magazine to print out! That's surprising when you realize that in recent months the magazine has grown from 125 to 145 printed pages on average!

The Problem
Its great when an idea turns out to be more popular than you ever imagined. But where its bitten us in the butt is the fact that Internet advertising is still unknown territory and ad buyers often don't know how to treat it or how to respond when you're doing something differently. Since we're the only site I know of offering this kind PDF support, its viewed as very different by advertisers.

The problem is that advertisers will only pay for ads that they can track online. That means that we can't get paid for ads that run in PDF files. Those ads only get counted once - when the file is created. 

You're probably thinking "no problem, you can't count how many people see an ad in a printed magazine but the agencies still pay for them." Oh, if it were that simple. Online advertising and print advertising are purchased through separate budgets. Frankly the whole thing makes my head hurt.

Incidentally everyone seems to think the PDFs area great idea and they can't figure out why more Web sites aren't doing it. Maybe because they can't get paid? 

Our Compromise
So we've got a couple of choices here. We can decide that we're simply not going to charge our advertisers for half of our circulation - which is a quick way to go out of business. Or we could stop offering the PDFs, which would tick off half of our readers - which would also be dumb on our part.

Frankly I didn't like either of those options. We decided that a compromise position would be to explain the problem to readers and offer the PDFs on a subscription basis. We'll even give you a choice of what you want to pay, based on what you think the service is worth. The subscription is good for one year. All of last years PDFs will still be available for download free of charge. You can pay for a subscription online using a credit card or you can mail us a check.

The Good News
As time goes on, more and more sites are beginning to acknowledge that you want to be able to print things out and read them offline. Many now offer "printer friendly" versions of Web pages. These pages simply remove all the graphics and give you only text. But as more sites turn to PDF or eBook formats for offline reading, agencies will be forced to deal with this issue, and eventually, sites will get paid for providing this content as well. Until then, we hope you, our readers, will understand what we're trying to do - it's not easy publishing a magazine for free.

User Registration
Very soon when you open the magazine you'll be asked to register. We won't require that you do but we're asking that you do. It's crucial that we get a handle on how many people are reading the magazine each month. Believe it or not it's difficult to get an accurate picture from our server logs because of the way a "Unique User" is defined on the Internet. So we're asking that you let us know you're out there. Increasingly advertisers are asking us for a list of registered users to prove how many readers we have. 

In exchange for registering, which we've previously referred to as subscribing, we'll send you an update each month when the new issue is released and you can opt-in to receive discounts and offers from our advertisers by email or regular mail. This won't get you on any SPAM lists and we don't sell our mailing list. What it will get you are offers, sometimes exclusive to our readers, from folks like Fuji, Minolta, and Sigma. We're limiting who can send you offers so you won't be getting mail about the latest dumb diet or coupons for Viagra shipped from Mexico.

Why do we care? Because the way advertising is purchased on the Web is changing. We are making inroads with advertisers to look at the number of readers rather than other arbitrary measures. But we need a reliable way to measure those readers that advertisers will accept - hence the registration.

New Mail Format
Since we're asking you to register we're also adding support for additional email formats. Users who have older versions of AOL, certain free services, and Lotus Notes have reported they cannot receive HTML formatted emails. Starting this month all subscribers have a choice of receiving their email from us in HTML format (with pictures) or in plain text format (without pictures). Not sure which format you've got? If you've ever gotten email with images and different types of text that looks like a Web page than you have HTML mail. If you never have than you have plain text email.

Opinion Polls
A lot of you have requested that we add opinion polls to the site. Evidently a lot of you are curious about what other photographers shoot and what they shoot with. So look for poll questions like "what's your favorite lens?" or "Do you shoot mostly slide or print film?" in upcoming issues. The polls will be in the form of a check box on the contents page. A benefit for us is that the polls will show things that our readers are interested in which helps us choose topics for upcoming articles. 

Change of Address
For those who are already registered subscribers we've moved the change of address link from the "Contact Us" page to the front page to make it easier to find.

What do You Think?
Tell us what you think about these changes. Let us know what you think, good or bad. You folks have had a large voice in the direction we've taken so far, and we want that to continue in the future. Let us know what you want to see in upcoming issues or changes to the format that you'd like to see.

Jim McGee      Click Here & Tell US
Managing Editor 

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