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By Lee Foster

As old markets collapse, new markets emerge for the travel journalist.

For me, December 2009 was an especially poignant illustration of this phenomenon.

Another of my good travel magazine markets folded. At the same time, I released my first travel app in the Apple iTunes App Store.

The magazine that folded was National Geographic Adventure. I had five sales to them for about $1,500 in 2008-2009, so there went another good magazine outlet. Travel writers/photographers are a little like polar bears, just barely surviving on incremental protein.

Here is the December announcement, the iTunes write-up, and then my analysis of the app phenomenon as we proceed in 2010.


Lee Foster ([email protected]) has released his first travel app in the Apple iTunes App Store. The title is San Francisco Photography Guide ($1.99). The direct link to the App Store is The app, viewable on iPhones, assists users to create, collect, and enjoy their own postcard perfect photos and memories of San Francisco. Lee presents his top 100 views of The City, from vistas to iconic details, and shows the user how to duplicate them. The app has Lee’s comments on how to make the photo and why the view is significant, even if you only want to enjoy the view and not photograph it. Interactive maps show what photos/views can be savored in a given neighborhood.

Write-up from the Apple iTunes App Store:

foster-sf-app-coverHowever, on another front, my first app went on sale in the Apple iTunes App Store.

Name of App: San Francisco Photography Guide

Category: Travel

Copyright: Lee Foster

Price: $1.99

Application Description:

*Create and collect your own postcard-perfect photos and memories of San Francisco!*

San Francisco is one of the most photogenic cities in the world, but where exactly should you go and when to get the best shots? Even If you don’t photograph, use this app to enjoy the best views and collect them in your memory.

Award-winning travel photographer Lee Foster has selected his 100 top views of The City, from vistas to iconic details. He shows you how to duplicate them. Learn precisely where to aim our camera, what time of day and year offers the best light, and why the particular view is significant. Lee’s sample photo of what you can capture accompanies each entry.

Use the handy maps to find a cluster of photo opportunities in one area. See the map distance from your current position to the desired subject. If you’re just getting started, take a look at the “10 Top Photos.” Beyond that, you’ll find photo suggestions for time of day (Dawn-AM), type of subject (People), techniques (Low Light), and various lenses (Wide-Angle). All the photos are assigned to a neighborhood (North Beach) in San Francisco or to the iconic-views-beyond-The-City category (Outside SF).

If you get intrigued with a subject, a further website reference with additional information is provided. If there is any access cost to make the photo, that is noted, along with a phone number and hours open, when relevant.

*About the Author, Lee Foster*

Lee Foster is a veteran travel photographer and writer, whose work has won many awards, including eight Lowell Thomas Awards. Lee lives across the Bay from San Francisco in Berkeley and covers The City frequently. He knows the territory intimately and provides you with insider information.

You can see more than 200 of Lee’s worldwide travel photo/writing subjects and his 10 published books on his web site at Lee also has more than 5,000 travel photos ready for editors and consumers to license at his photo-selling site Consumers might want prints, products (such as cards), or inexpensive personal licenses (such as use of a photo in their blog).

You’ve probably seen Lee’s photos in magazines or books. He has published photos in more than 225 Lonely Planet travel guidebooks, for example. Now he’d like to assist you to create your own photo masterpieces and memories of San Francisco. Let Lee know how you like the app. Contact him at [email protected]

End of Apple iTunes App Store comments.

My Analysis:

As I think about my app and the iPhone, many considerations flood my mind:

-The device is quite elegant and lovely. The more time you spend with an iPhone, the more its simplicity and elegance becomes apparent. iPhones are fun, and travel info-and-image products on them are a natural.

-The market for paid apps is huge. When you Google “paid app market size for 2009” and explore around, it appears that the market is huge. A ballpark estimate in the first citation says that 44 million users spent about $2.4 billion on apps in 2009. Of course, games and other categories far surpass my own niche of travel journalism. But possibly there could be a download or two and a dollar or two in this app cornucopia for me.

-My app is totally unlike a travel photo book. In my case, there is a book parallel to the app. I have a book out, with Countryman Press, titled The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them. The first and most obvious difference, suggesting that an app is an entirely new product category, is in the number of photos. The book is frozen forever, with about 75 photos presented. My app rollout has 100 photos and the second version, in another month or so, may have 500 photos. An app allows the presentation of a much larger range of photography than a book.

-Apps require a different style of writing and research than is used in a book. App writing needs to be quite truncated and brief, just a couple of paragraphs. Books encourage a more leisurely approach to the subject. Writing more concisely is an art. Also, one critical part of the research for an app is the appropriate website to present for further information on a subject. You generally don’t need to do that for a book. A web site in a book is not “live.”

-Royalty rates for authors of apps are much higher than for authors of books, and for good reason. The deal is that I get 30% of the gross income from my $1.99 app sale, or 60 cents. I am told that this is roughly typical of the app world—30% each to the author, developer, and Apple store, with 10% going to admin. For my book, I have a 15% of net rate, which is good and possibly a little high. So, for selling two apps for $3.98, I get $1.19. For a sale of my $14.95 book, my royalty is 15% net, and the book will probably be discounted 55% to sell on Amazon or through a distributor. My royalty for that sale is $1.01. The app Author and Publisher have no printing press to buy, no paper or ink costs, no warehouse needed to store product, no distribution hassle, and no quantity manufacturing cost to get economies of scale, etc. The traditional publisher strengths of capital and distribution do not apply. However, the app publisher needs Software, and that is a substantial intellectual investment to create or license or buy off the shelf, if and when such software is available.

-The low price point of apps will build a new market. I set my price, so the price could be anything I wish. I chose $1.99. At $1.99, a purchase of my app travel product almost becomes an impulse sale. A huge number of buyers will enter the app market, compared to a small number who will pay for a book costing $14.95.

-A reference website in an app can carry the volatile information, which may go out of date. The app can concentrate on evergreen insight and helpful qualitative observations. A classic example of this would be an app entry for a restaurant. Listing the restaurant website for further information, just a click away, puts all that changeable info, such as menu and price, as a burden for the restaurant to convey and keep up-to-date. One of the major traditional problems with guidebooks has been information that is out of date.

-Apps have an interactive map capacity, far beyond the two-dimensional maps in books. The use of mapping capacity is one of the delights of an iPhone. I no longer need paper maps to get around Northern California. For this San Francisco app, the map can show me where the photo locations are, with respect to where I am. The iPhone can show me the cluster of photo opportunities in a neighborhood, such as “Golden Gate Park,” for example. The mapping revolution can now be applied to travel products. Who would want to go back to paper maps?

-The device is small and compact, not large and heavy, like a book. In the old days, one would need to carry around large guidebooks, possibly several. Or one would judiciously rip out sections of guidebooks, eliminating all the subjects irrelevant to the trip. With the app, there is nothing to carry around. You need a phone anyway, so why not carry all your info, insight, and images also on the phone, which is also your email device?

-Apps represent a virtuous future in green publishing. Print materials will eventually become assessed as another cause of global warming. It is only a matter of time before printed travel books and magazine will be stigmatized in the buyer’s mind for their “carbon footprints” and rejected as luxurious. Global warming and resource depletion will be tied to the production of physical products, such as printed travel book sand travel magazines. Why not convey all this info, insight, and photography in an electronic format at small environmental cost?

iPhones and apps are a revolution. The iPhone and parallel mobile devices will have consequences as immense for all of us as was the personal computer rollout in roughly 1980. The Apple iPad will be a further, elegant app-reading device. The Google Android platform for mobile devices will be pursuing Apple’s early lead. Each of these platforms requires a different product, so I will be cheering on my software colleagues to get their software prepared also for devices beyond the iPhone.

Apps will assist in my survival as a For Profit travel journalist. The will provide a new income stream to replace the old streams that are drying up.



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