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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online

Virtually every feedback email we received last month involved my column about the hurdles that we face as an online publication and our proposal that we begin charging for access to PDF files. Frankly the response was overwhelming. For several days after the issue was released all I did was answer emails and I didn't get to answer everyone. There were some surprises in those emails. Thankfully all of them were pleasant surprises. Since so many of you echoed similar sentiments I've broken them down here by common threads with my responses. In some cases I've excerpted a paragraph or two from an email for the sake of brevity.

In my column I said that I thought the readers should let us know what we should charge for PDF access. The fact that no one else is doing this makes it difficult to determine a fair price; not to mention the fact that I was unsure how readers would respond to the idea of paying in the first place. If your emails are any kind of gauge you're a pretty fair minded bunch. You seemed to think we're being reasonable in charging a subscription fee as long as we charge a reasonable amount. And you told us that amount should be about what you pay for printed magazines. Most folks suggested an amount between $10 and $15 per year. In the end we settled on a middle ground of $12.95. To subscribe CLICK HERE.

I like the idea of the PDF files if it is not too expensive.

Leonard Gordon

The Vivid Light offerings are primarily for the benefit of the readers with virtually no commercial hype - which is highly commendable. In the real world, however, a modest cost to subscribers is in my opinion not out of line at all.

Don Crasco

The subscription idea is fair enough and understandable. I will definitely subscribe - depending on the price :-) 
Keep up the good work,
Finnur P. Frodason 

Charging for some or all the services is a necessary evil. We all know that pure internet plays ultimately don't work. I subscribe to a UK online magazine and pay a fixed subscription for complete access to their "mag". Its no different than buying a magazine 20% full of ads.

Why do people think that online magazines should be free?

Steve Wyman

I would be willing to pay for this as long as it compared to the price of the street mags. Keep up the great work.

Ed Montpart

I'm one of those who download the entire magazine each month to read at my leisure. I'm happy to pay for a PDF subscription - the other (print) photo magazines I receive range in price from $18 to $25 per year. Let me know where to send my $25 check.

Bob Schnack

Quite a few folks suggested that they would like to kick in some money even though they don't use the PDF feature. As a result we also added a service called WebPledge that allows you to make a contribution. You can do so by clicking here.

Have you considered asking for donations such as becoming a contributing member. This could help you offset some expenses. I know does this and it seems to work for them. I would probably contribute more under those circumstances. I am just tossing out suggestions that may work for you. Anyway keep up the great work. I have been surfing the web for nearly 10 years and am a member of almost every decent photography oriented site out there. As I said before, your site is the best of the web and if you have to charge to continue such a high level of service, you have to charge.

Jim Talkington

Did you ever consider making some way for readers to make contributions the way they do on PBS? Just no annoying telethons OK. 

Dennis Wolfington

Honesty & Pop-Up Ads
Many of you thanked us for being honest and up-front about all of this and some of you applauded us for allowing you guys to have a voice, something that some felt was lacking in printed magazines. In fairness to those publications, we have the advantage of email. That allows you to tell us with a click of a mouse what's on your mind. The fact that it’s easier for you to tell us what you think makes it easier for us to listen and I think we'd be foolish if we didn't.

A surprising number of folks wrote that they'd be willing to pay a subscription for the whole site as long as we didn't take pop-up ads. The anger generated by pop-ups runs so deep that it amazes me how many companies are still trying to use them.

Your honesty is refreshing! I look forward to each issue of the magazine and I often print it out to read at the doctor's office or in the car. I think it is very fair to charge for the PDF version. I think targeted special offers are a good idea as long as you don't send Viagra ads. Thank you for such a wonderful magazine.

Rebecca Rehmel 

That's the best explanation of why it's necessary for a website to charge for access that I've seen. Thanks for a good publication, 

Roger Steen

Three Web sites that I read regularly went from free to pay sites. In every case they pretty much said "Here's how it is" so in every case I pretty much said "Go to hell" and didn't pay them a dime. Every one of them is now gone. 

You're different for a couple of reasons. First the quality just keeps getting better and I always seem to learn something. Second you actually took the time to explain your position and find a solution that works for everybody. Honesty, what a gimmick! Seriously I appreciate it. I don't read the PDFs but I'll get a subscription anyway just to help keep you guys around. Where do I send the check, I'll trust you guys to fill in the amount.

Martin Kaiser

I just read your editorial - I thought it was well written. Even though I am very cheap (no cell phone, no cable, etc) you article makes me re-think my ideas about subscribing.

Roger Remus

Privacy Remains a Concern 
and No Login Please

Its no surprise that privacy remains a concern among readers. I want to stress again that we have no intention of reselling your information to anyone. If you want, we give you the option to "opt-in" to receive special offers and/or coupons from in-category manufacturers (that means only those that make or service anything to do with photography); and you have a choice of receiving them by mail or email. The key is that you have a choice. If you don't want to ever hear from anyone just check the box that says so when you register. 

The other concern was that people don't want to have to log in to the site. Rest assured there are no plans to add a log-in.

I don't mind registering or signing in when I visit your site. I do however object to being sent any type of mail, whether it's an advertisement or info on a new "great" product you or someone else may think I'm interested in. I prefer to have a choice if I want those items sent to me. Otherwise, I would not want to "sign in".

Jennifer Harman

I don't mind registering for the magazine. I really love Vivid Light and look forward to it each month. But please don't force me to have to log in. I have a common name and every site that requires a log in assigns me yet another goofy screen name and password that I'm supposed to remember. As for a price for the PDF files, most of the magazines I subscribe to cost anywhere from $9.95 to $14.95 per year. Anything in that range would be fair.

Allan Johnson

I agree with you 100%. It's nice to have everything for free, but I'm one of those seemingly rare people who believe in paying a fair price for fair value. I look forward to the new issue of Vivid Light each month and usually start checking it daily beginning the Monday of the week posted as to when the next issue will be available. So that in itself seems to say it has value to me.

I especially appreciate your explanation of the dilemma you face. And most especially appreciate NO pop-ups and NO selling of names.

Ed Shields

Your editorial addressed the problem of user lists being sold. You must resist that temptation.

Don Ferrario

"Increasingly advertisers are asking us for a list of registered users to prove how many readers we have."

That single sentence scares me. I don't want advertisers to know what sites I go to. I don't want them to have any way of knowing who I am. It's bad enough having them know what I'm interested in - which they should only be able to associate with a changing IP address.

When you say "we don't sell our mailing list", how does this refer to the previous quote? Selling advertising on the basis of providing a list of users sounds distinctly like selling your mailing list.

I'm already registered. I'd like to know how you're treating that information.


Barrett raises a good point. Frankly I didn't phrase that sentence very well. We wouldn't be turning over emails to advertisers. But advertisers want to know that we reach as many people as we say we do. That means being able to stand up to an audit if it ever came to that. For print media there is a standard, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). Right now there is nothing for the Web, so being able to say to an advertiser we have 100,000 readers each month and 75,000 are registered users carries a lot of weight.

The Gold Mine We're Sitting On - Well Almost
Not surprisingly a lot of folks suggested that we simply charge $5 or $10 dollars a year for access and make Vivid Light a "pay only" site. That would solve all our problems. 100,000 readers times $5 is a half million dollars and times $10 is a million dollars. How are we missing the obvious?

Well it is so obvious that even we figured it out. The problem came when I looked into what happened to other sites that tried it. It seems almost every one of them is out of business. The "conversion rate" of free readers to paying readers is usually less than 13% and most sites have fared far worse than 13%. That means that even if we were among the best and converted 13% of you to paying readers at $10 we'd only receive $13,000. Not much money when you're trying to run a business. Worse yet we'd have reduced our readership from 100,000 to only 13,000 readers.

So we tried to find a compromise position where you would feel like you were getting something for your money and that you wouldn't feel like we were backing you into a corner. 

Jim, You have one hell of a great online magazine! Your authors are super and I for one learn something every issue. Concerning the money crunch; why not let members let you know how they appreciate your hard work by asking them to become sustaining members, $10.00 a pop, that's a cool 1 mil with your membership. Less $$$ than those other photo rags filled with page after page of ads and maybe one good article. Keep up the great standards. 

Bob Eliasen

Left Out in the Cold
A number of folks expressed concerns about being overseas and not being able to make payments or of being in countries where they’re routinely declined when making Web purchases. The good news is that our credit card processor, iBill, only restricts charges from Indonesia where Web fraud is evidently rampant. They will accept payment from anywhere else in the world.

I am from Romania. I love photography. I love using the Internet. I print out the PDF files so I do not have to read your articles at my computer. I am worried that I have been refused my credit card at some Web sites when trying to make purchases. The credit card is through my employer in Germany but some Web sites will not ship to Romania because they say there is much fraud here. 


Your reasoning behind charging for the PDF files is quite right. So there is no arguing with that at all.

But could you possibly have some kind of special consideration for a very limited number of avid readers like me who are located in countries that have Foreign Exchange Controls and restrictions on remittances and are truly mortified by the thought of losing the opportunity of downloading valuable and educative articles from our most favorite web mag? Some special thought/consideration shall be gratefully appreciated.

Raj Banerji

Other Ideas
You folks also wrote in with ideas about other ways we could make money. Some were good, some were interesting, and some were (I hope) tongue in cheek. Finally some were things that we already have in the pipeline so I'll tell you about them today.

As an alternate source of income did you ever consider male modeling for other photographers?

I'd say as a group we all look better behind the lens than in front of it. I would also say that its time for you to get your glasses checked.

...You guys publish so many great images did you ever think about selling stuff with those images like calendars, mugs, and stuff like that?

Rob McWinter

It's actually something we're looking into. It will depend on if we can offer the stuff cost effectively over the Web.

Did you ever consider selling high quality art prints of some of the images that run in the magazine. We were on a cruise last year and every port we went into there were galleries selling paintings and photographs. The stuff you guys publish looks a lot better that what I saw hanging in some of those galleries.

Cathy Halapchuk

This is also something that we're looking into. The big issue with some of the printers we've talked to is cost. Fine art prints are expensive to produce and our concern is whether anyone is willing to spend that kind of money on a print they can't see for themselves first.

...I'd really like to see e-book downloads...

Jon Rank

We hope to offer an eBook format by the end of the year and we're trying to determine if we can offer AvantGo.

You may want to consider offering a CD annual with the whole year’s PDF's. That would make it easy and a nice way to archive the entire year. Just an idea. 
Keep up the good work. 
Don Henderson 
San Diego, CA

Look for us to offer this option in the coming months. But we need to go back through all the existing PDF files and clean them up first. We've learned a lot about Acrobat's quirks concerning Web pages over the last year or so and have gotten a lot better at producing the PDF files. 

I think that you should not worry about charging a reasonable amount for your magazine. Most people who are into photography already subscribe to several magazines on the subject. I would not hesitate to pay for your services. I also like the idea of polls. Perhaps a 'Wish List' for readers on articles they would like to see in your magazine. I think you are doing a good and honorable job! 


I think a wish list is a great idea. I just have to figure out where and how we should add it.

What about a printed version of the magazine? I'm one of the folks that downloads the whole magazine every month and prints it out so I can read it on the train. But I'd like to get a printed copy by mail. That way it would be bound and I wouldn't have to worry about keeping all the pages together.

New York, NY

Being an online publication we were surprised at how many people asked about us starting a printed version. So we've started talking to some printers about the idea. If we can keep the price down while printing on a high quality paper we'll offer it as an option.

Wishing Us Well
Finally it really made us feel good how many readers have taken ownership of the magazine and really consider it to be "their magazine". Some of your letters were so glowing that I'm embarrassed to include them here for fear of sounding like I'm stroking my own ego. But here are a few. 

After reading Vivid Light for the past year, I can tell you that I have really enjoyed the magazine and have gotten a lot of useful information from the articles. Count me in as a charter subscriber, just let me know where to mail the check. I really look forward to each issue so keep up the great work. 

Tom Coelho

I am not surprised that your service has grown so rapidly, it is the most informative photography information I have read. Being a business man I understand the need to charge for your services and information. I for one would not have a problem supporting any additional fees that you feel are necessary to continue to supply us with all that wonderful information. After all, you get what you pay for.

Johnny Conrad

Your on-line magazine is great! Sincerely, you give us Photographers, from whatever level of skill, a very interesting, thought provoking and useful Magazine! Please do whatever you must do to continue its existence. You know best what is required and apparently you have done your homework. Your publication is indeed useful and we Photographers need it. I support you in your move.

Jim Boylan

Good work. Surviving in the Internet isn't easy. You are growing a base of trusting loyal readers...this is one of the very few times I've ever registered for something with real information <grin> or for that matter registered at all.

I don't care about PDF or other email formats...just more good articles and examples like you've been delivering.

Keep up the good work and good luck with it.

Tom O'Connell 

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