Interview: Magnum Photographer Christopher Anderson

As the publishing world changes, noted photojournalist turns his latest photo book into an iPad app.

This article originally appeared in the Adorama Rental Co. Blog

In 2009, Magnum Photographer Christopher Anderson released his beautiful photobook, Capitolio, capturing the tumultuous upheavals of Caracas, Venezuela under Hugo Chavez. Less than two years later, as first run copies dwindle, the publishing world is a very different place. The digital age that has long since transformed music, video and media distribution and now digital alternatives are quickly replacing printed long-form books, with ebook and tablet readers.

The last bastion of physical media is still and was always destined to be high-quality image reproduction, embodied in the photobook. But as the march of digital overthrow prepares its final coup de grâce, Anderson asked himself what form this will take. How will audiences be consuming photobooks in the digital age? This week, he’s launching his answer to that question, with the first monographed photobook reproduced as an iPad app.

We recently interviewed Anderson on his thought process behind the book’s launch, and how he sees the future of high-end photography reproduction.

Nathan Lee Bush: How did you get this idea, and why now?
Christopher Anderson: The print edition is almost sold out, and that got me thinking about the finite audience that sees a photo book (3,000 in this case), and the fact that they are expensive and therefore out of reach of many people. Now seemed the time to try the experiment because the technology is available (iPhones and iPads) and this particular book is inspired by a cinematic, film reel experience in terms of design. The book’s design concept could actually be enhanced by the swipeable version.



NLB: Could you describe the digital version – the interface, etc? Did you rethink the book’s presentation, or try to remain faithful to the print version?
CA: Well, the app contains the book in its original form…a swipeable PDF, essentially. When the app opens, there is a menu screen much like a DVD: there is the option to “play movie” (book in this case), a director’s cut with images not included in the print version, and a 10-minute video interview by Oscar-nominated director, Tim Hetherington, where I discuss the book in-depth.




NLB: How did you approach pricing?
CA: Well, pricing less than the print version was obvious. Each print version has the same cost (paper, ink, etc.) as the next. But in the app version, that cost is incurred once, and the amount to sell is potentially infinite. But in the end, it is still a bit of a pricing experiment. After much deliberation, I decided on $4.99, which I believe is on the cheap side. But this is an experiment, and that price seemed to be the threshold for me when buying from the app store. More than that, and I really want something to change my life.

NLB: How do the promotional channels change with an iPad book?
CA: I am not sure, this is unchartered territory. I guess I won’t do a book signing, but I am hoping for some press, some social media buzz, all those type of things.

NLB: Are you self-publishing directly through Apple, or through a publisher? How did the process compare to working with a book publisher for the physical book? How quick was the approval process? How does the profit distribution compare?
CA: I am self-publishing through Apple. I found the designer and hired him (Justin Stahl) who had experience bringing apps to market. As far as profit, print photobooks are rarely profitable for photographers. They are a labor of love. I think that an app version might be profitable, but I don’t think it will be huge money. I certainly won’t get rich.


"Just because [digital media] is limitless in terms of costs does not mean that limitless is good. The importance of proper editing still applies."




NLB: How many extra images did you include? Every page printed adds extra cost to a book, but there are effectively no limits to digital formats. Do you view the limits of physical media as something that adds to the work’s quality, by cutting out the fat, so to speak, or do you embrace the limitlessness of digital media?
CA: No, I wanted to recreate the experience of the original book. And the original was not limited by costs, it was limited by editing and trying to make a good book. So in this sense, I think that is where people go wrong with a digital medium: just because it is limitless in terms of costs does not mean that limitless is good. The importance of proper editing still applies.

NLB: Does moving media (like the video interview with you by Tim Hetherington) change the definition of the offering? When does it cease to be a book?
CA: Hmmm. I guess I define it as book because the main experience of it is the book itself. the other stuff was just “added features.”

NB: How does it change the value proposition when the ‘object quality’ is not there (not collectible, individual, physical)?
CA: The collectible is still there (if you can find it, because it is selling out), and that to me is still the ultimate, ideal presentation of the work. But I actually believe that the existence of the app version will increase the value of the printed version. And perhaps in the future, someone might choose to first do an app book and that might create the market for an eventual print version.

NLB: Could this extend the essential digital conundrum, with a bunch of free self-published offerings drowning the market and driving prices down?
CA: I think that eventually the cream rises to the top. The glut of self-published stuff will be weeded out by the good stuff. in other words, the market takes care of it (I promise I am not a neo-con, haha).

NLB: Would you ever consider publishing only to iPad?
CA: That is possible, yes.

NLB: How does this fit into the larger progression from old media to new media? Can they coexist and complement one another, or is that just the transition period we’re in?
CA: That is partly why I did this book. I think the answer cannot be known, and this is an experiment. But I do like the idea of this being a potential model for new media. Time will tell.

NLB: Do you have an iPad?
CA: Haha. Yes.



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