Illustrated Books: A Three-Element Experiment

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May 2013
by Lee Foster

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As the publishing of illustrated titles continues to evolve, I have been asking some questions about my world of travel books:

Should we continue to include photos in print-on-paper book products?

Should we shift photos to e-book versions?

Should we present extremely photo-rich illustrated books on Websites, where images can be displayed lavishly at almost no cost to the producer or the consumer?

NorthernCaliforniaTravelI wrestled with these questions most recently as I published my new travel book, Northern California Travel: The Best Options.

What I decided may seem controversial, but I am pleased to tell you that:

  • The print book will have only text (even without illustrations, it is a hefty 284 pages, priced at $14.95).
  • The e-book version, which is available alongside the printed book at Amazon and at fostertravel.com, is cheaper ($3.99) and has ample photos, one for each of the 30 chapters.

The photos display beautifully on the iPad and other new tablets, from Kindle Fire to Samsung. The dots-per-inch display seems even more intense on some screens than on a printed page, and I suspect that photographs may look even better on tablets as tablets continue to evolve.

Photos do add to file size, of course, when a consumer is downloading an e-product, and this affects the storage space for books on a device. Still, a reasonable number of photos will not inhibit end users.

  •  The book’s full photo pageant is apparent on my Website. There, each of my 30 chapters has its own elaborate photo slideshow.

The notion that a book might be presented as a Website, instead of or in addition to being presented as a printed book and an e-book, is also controversial, but that is the way I am presenting this book, as you can see at fostertravel.com/category/norcal.

There is no limit to the number of photos visible in the slideshows, and more photos can easily be added after future travel-research trips.

Pricing, Production and Distribution

Two basic considerations went through my mind as I made my decision to leave photos out of my latest print book, use a photo per chapter in the e-book version, and use a panoply of photos in the book on the Web.

First, putting photos in the printed book would have pushed the retail price significantly higher. With 284 pages of text, I could produce a 5.5″ × 8.5″ POD edition and still price the book at $14.95, but adding any more pages would have required pushing the price up. I didn’t think the market would bear a higher retail price for this book.

Second, putting color photos in the book would have eliminated the POD option, which I wanted partly for its distribution possibilities. To date, POD does not seem to be practical for printed books with color photos. I had to have 3,000 copies of my previous book with color photos, Travels in an American Imagination: The Spiritual Geography of Our Time, printed in China to be able to set a retail price of $14.95.

Once I had decided on POD with no photos for the print version, I chose to use two vendors, CreateSpace Amazon and Lightning Source Ingram. With CreateSpace, the new book would always be immediately available on Amazon, not just available “in two or three weeks” from another POD vendor. With Lightning Source, the book could feed immediately into Ingram and into Baker and Taylor, which is critical for sales to bookstores and libraries.

Payoffs

The wisdom of abandoning photos in the print book and focusing on POD rather than offset printing became apparent the day my book was released.

CreateSpace received an order for the book in Great Britain. With a printing facility there and another in central Europe, the company fulfilled the order and credited the dollar value of the price in British pounds to my CreateSpace account. No need to ship a book from the United States.

Having a no-photo book available via the POD option has greatly simplified my publishing operation. I have no inventory storage, no shipping costs, and lighter staff responsibilities. My main necessary but pleasant task for the new text-only book (as opposed to my tasks for previous photo-plus-text books) is to promote it and then watch my accounts grow at CreateSpace and Lightning Source.

For the e-book version with its substantial number of photos, I used Brian Felsen’s company, BookBaby, and bought the $249 premium package. This allowed me to see proofs of the book before it was released and then to keep 100 percent of the net return forever (paying a $19/year maintenance fee starting in year two). Mark Coker’s Smashwords would have been another good e-book option.

(BookBaby also has what I think of as a shot-in-the-dark $99 program for e-books, but that assumes everything works perfectly and that your book as you sent it will display perfectly. I find that human errors intrude, and proofs are helpful.)

As I see it, e-books are the future of all books, but especially the future of books that benefit from photos. In the travel book field, a steady decline in sales of print travel books has been well documented. The five biggest travel book publishers are reported to have had sales of about $125 million in the United States in 2007, but only about $78 million in 2012.

Why, then, am I displaying my book as a Website? To earn additional income. Where is the income coming from? When someone looks at an article/chapter, such as “Best Beaches North of San Francisco,” Google displays ads. When 100 people come to this site, one of them will click a Google ad and I will earn perhaps 25 cents. Also, when someone looks at one of my articles/chapters, which are mainly found through Google Search, they immediately see all my books and apps on the right side of the page, and at the end of each article/chapter they see a reference to the print book version and the e-book version as available on Amazon and direct from my site.

Book and e-book sales result. If the consumer likes an article/chapter, why not buy the book with all 30 articles/chapters? Yes, visitors to the site can print the articles, but buying the book (especially the e-book) gives them all the text and many of the photos in one neat package and saves on printer cartridge costs.

As publishers, we know that the final arbiter of our decisions will be the consumer. What will the consumer desire, and what will the consumer be willing to pay? I’ve made my decisions as best I can, and I will report back if any surprises occur.


Lee Foster, an awarding-winning travel writer and photographer, has won eight Lowell Thomas Awards. He publishes 200 worldwide travel writing/photo articles for consumers and content buyers on his Foster Travel Publishing Website (fostertravel.com), where you can see his photos, his books, his e-books, his book Websites, and his apps.

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