|Big Changes at Vivid Light
New Editors, Registering Users, Charging for PDFs, and New email
Formats - we need your opinions
by Jim McGee
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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
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