Columns on Apps and Ebooks

By Lee Foster

My accumulating monthly columns on the subject of “apps and ebooks” can be accessed for free.  I am also gathering them in a collection here on my own website.

I publish these columns on Rohn Engh’s photo marketing site, PhotoStockNOTES at  By clicking the APPS/Ebook tab on the upper right side of his page, you can see the collection of my columns.   The most recent column appears first, with columns then going progressively back to May 2010. 

On the first Thursday of each month I discuss some new aspect of the unfolding drama around us in app and ebook publishing.  A few items of news, beyond my columns, have also been gathered by Rohn Engh in the tab “Apps/Ebooks.”

Here are my columns on this major subject of apps/ebooks.  The columns are meant to be 500-word meditations on different aspects of these vast subjects, which now have such an influence on all publishing efforts.  The most recent is listed first.  Then the sequence goes backwards to May 2010.

August 2011:

Updating in the Ebook and App Era

By Lee Foster

As I was updating my Yosemite article ( for inclusion in my forthcoming ebook Northern California Nature Travel (Spring 2012), I was reminded of how different the updating process is in the new era of ebooks and apps, as opposed to the former era of printed books.

Modern Internet readers are merciless and demanding when it comes to content being up to date.  They will scold you, or worse yet, they will ignore you if you fail them. 

I am in the process of updating all 200 of my articles and their accompanying photos at because a new website has licensed the use of all of them and because I want to use some of them in my own future ebooks.  I save myself from embarrassment by updating each article before it is absorbed by this new client or my new ebooks.

Can photos be out of date?  They certainly can.  Beware especially of city skylines in the more architecturally booming places.  I have some strong photos of Orlando, but the skyline has changed.  If I make a fool of a photo editor by recommending those out-of-date images, I will lose that client.  Clothing is another issue.  I remember how a photo editor at Outside Magazine scolded me for presenting some ski photos from Jackson Hole.  “Those outfits on the skiers are at least 5 years old,” she lamented.  I didn’t divulge to her that I had photographed the skiers while I was wearing the same “classic” or “legacy” outfit I wore in 1990s.  Only some things change, and only to some people.

One benefit of the new era is that much of the volatile information can be indicated with a link.  Rather than insist that the Veal Parmesan dish is $16.95, as might have been necessary in a former printed travel guide book, I can simply indicate that the price is Moderate and refer the reader to the clickable restaurant menu.  In this manner, I am saved from hyperinflation destroying the credibility of my article/photos about Brazil or Croatia.

Using Google/Yahoo/Bing Search for words and for images makes the process of updating much more efficient, accurate, and less costly than in the old days.  But beware of “cached” websites that may be showing you something that no longer exists.  In the Internet era, things don’t always actually die.  Some get “cached” and live on eternally.

When you make a mistake or have something out of date in an electronic product, it is much easier to resolve the problem than it was in the era of printed books.  For example, I misspelled the name of a restaurateur in my app Berkeley Essential Guide.  He let me know how he was mightily offended, and he assured me that the world revolved around him.  I was able to correct his name in the next update, a month later, not having to wait until perhaps 3,000 books were sold.

July 2011 Column

The Evolving “Engine” Running Your App or Ebook

By Lee Foster

Some basic concepts about publishing your content as apps or ebooks are different from publishing in traditional printed books.

Understanding these concepts can be vital for many reasons, including your decision about which publishing partner you choose.

One such concept is that the publishing form will evolve.  Not only will your content evolve, which is something you control, but your publishing partner’s “engine” running your content will evolve.  Therefore, it is important to choose a partner whose software is on a promising trajectory.

For example, my three travel photo guide apps in the Apple iTunes App store with Sutro Media have just been re-released in an updated form.  If you already own the apps, you will get automatic and free updates.  The apps are San Francisco Travel Photo Guide, Washington DC Travel Photo Guide, and Berkeley Essential Guide.

The new releases have new content, which is my contribution.  But the new releases also have a couple of major software advances from Sutro Media, my partners with the “engine” running my app content.

Now, for example, a user can view the app in both a vertical and a horizontal mode on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod.  Think of the pleasure of seeing horizontal photos as horizontal.  They are now bigger.

A user can also now see offline or online the maps useful in locating photo locations and travel sites.  Formerly, the maps were only viewable online.  This is a huge matter in Europe, where the user can now see the maps without requiring any connectivity.  The maps reside in the software on the device.  This greatly reduces any data access costs a user might incur.

Sutro Media is also working hard to develop a “web based” version of their software to run my app.  This would make the app accessible beyond the Apple iTunes App Store.  This “engine” change could potentially open up further markets for my apps.

Sutro Media appears to be constantly evolving, on the cutting edge of content presentation.  They need to be on the cutting edge to survive.  I need them to be there to be successful.

Suppose I had chosen another publishing partner whose software looked good at the time of the original publishing decision, but whose software was not evolving further.  I might be stuck with a software “engine” that became progressively irrelevant, compared to the competition.

This was not the situation in earlier print book publishing.  When the book dimensions and layout were decided on, and the printing occurred, you knew the final results.  Those results would last forever.  There might be a need or desire to update the “content” as time went forward, but the publishing vehicle itself was fixed and not variable.  Successive future printing would be “re-prints.” 

This is not so with apps and ebooks.  Future “re-prints” hopefully will have new and added functionality in the “engine” running your content, possibly opening up new markets. 
June 2011

Mark Coker, the Master of Ebooks

By Lee Foster

If you have ever dreamed of publishing an ebook, Mark Coker and his Smashwords organization is an entity you will probably want to know about.

A cluster of other authors and I had an opportunity to meet with Mark recently in the Bay Area of California, where he and I live.

Mark is now the largest distributor of independent authors and their books in the world.  He owns an ebook conversion and distribution service, Smashwords, which you can see at

He began publishing in 2008, with 140 books.  This year, 2011, he will publish an incredible 75,000 books.  By books, I mean ebooks.  Amazon is now selling more ebooks than print books. 

What he offers is a free tool, which he calls the “meatgrinder,” into which you put your text (and photos).  When the product is ready, he can distribute it to many of the major ebook vendors, such as Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook reader, and the Apple iTunes iBook store.  Format your ebook carefully with Smashwords and you have an ebook file ready to go.

When thinking of photos and ebooks, there are a few considerations.  Keep your design layout simple because readers will choose their own delivery format, such as type size.  So, make a photo an element in the layout rather than a fixed placement in a layout with wrap around text.  Place each photo between paragraphs as if it is a paragraph in itself.

Accept that one main delivery system, Amazon Kindle for Kindle Readers, is now just black and white.  However, Amazon Kindle for the iPad has color.  Accept also that your gorgeous photo book may well be read on a smart phone.  This is not a desecration, but an opportunity for you.

Mark sees the current era as a time of empowerment for authors.

“I want to unleash the great potential of authors,” he says.  “Authors are amazing.”

Tools on his website can be downloaded for free and used even if you never work with him.

The most important is the Smashwords Formatting Style Guide at  Format your book very carefully, using the Style Guide, to get the best “meatgrinder” results.

A second is the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide at

Study these two documents to bring yourself up to speed on the ebook revolution, which is now full blown.

We are in the midst of a pervasive cultural and technological shift.  Ebooks are a manifestation of this paradigm change.  Mark Coker is a major player.  I will probably do two ebooks with him in 2012 as we look ahead.

May 2011

The Tipping Point For Ebook vs Printbook Sales to Consumers

By Lee Foster

The tipping point has occurred in the long historic struggle as to whether ebooks or printbooks will be the medium of choice among consumers.

The tipping point month was February 2011.   Not only did ebooks experience triple digit growth over their number of sales from the previous February, but ebooks outsold all other categories of books.  You can read the press release yourself, from the Association of American Publishers, at

The significant paragraph is, “For February 2011, e-Books ranked as the #1 format among all categories of Trade publishing (Adult Hardcover, Adult Paperback, Adult Mass Market, Children’s/Young Adult Hardcover, Children’s/Young Adult Paperback).”

There are also smaller ongoing changes in the ebook scene of particular interest to photographers.  Barnes & Noble’s Nook, one of the important ebook reading devices, has come out in color.  Apple’s iPad has beautiful color.  Amazon Kindle, as a device, remains black and white, but the applications for reading Kindle books on the iPad or smart phones do allow color.

The opportunity for photographers to publish their work in ebooks has never been so auspicious.

In the recent past the pattern was: produce a printbook of your work, then maybe an ebook.  Increasingly, the pattern will be: produce an ebook of your work, then maybe a printbook.  Possibly the printbook can be a print-on-demand book with an entity known as Lightning Source, which would mean that any bookstore working with the Ingram system could order it.  However, quality and inexpensive print-on-demand remains black and white, as of now, but all these matters evolve.

Some basics to keep in mind are the following.  You will want your ebook to be available through Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Apple iBookstore.  There are other players, but they are now relatively minor compared to these three.

The next decision is: will you do all the coding work yourself to prepare your ebook, going through those learning curves, or will you engage a provider, such as Smashwords, to process and present your ebook to these entities?  Smashwords calls its conversion tool for all formats the “meatgrinder.”  The results are not always pretty.  All these nuances are evolving.  

The publishing barriers to entry, the gatekeeper world of the past, with a few publishers and editors determining what would be published, has changed forever.  With the rise of ebooks, which have preparation cost but little production cost, the future looks bright for the photographer who wishes to see his or her work published.

I will publish two new ebooks on my favorite subject, Northern California travel writing/photography, in 2012.  I’ll tell you more about them in future months.  You can watch this progress in my individual content segments at  I’ll explain exactly what my printbook, ebook, website, app, stock photo, and article/photo-placement-in-magazines strategies will be.  Maybe you have similar publishing dreams for your favorite subject. 

April 2011:

April Column

The Incremental Sales of Your App or Ebook

By Lee Foster

If you dream long enough about creating an app or an ebook of your work, which might be your photography and perhaps its writing accompaniment, chances are you will eventually get the product created.

The good news is that you can now develop a product of your creative work relatively easily.

That will not, however, sell your product.  In the cyberspace-dominated modern world of marketing, your further attention will be required.  Sales of your product will be incremental, and will be directly related to the level of visibility you can achieve for your product on the Internet.

For example, Terry Gardner recently wrote for the Los Angeles Times an article “Phone apps for exploring California” that included a recommendation for my app San Francisco Travel Photo Guide.  Inclusion did not happen by accident. I had gotten my information in front of that writer.

A writer named Ginny Prior did a review article about my app Berkeley Essential Guide for her Happy Wanderer column for the Bay Area Media Newsgroup, the main newspaper/website in my Berkeley region.  Her article is titled “Visiting Berkeley?  There’s an app for that.”  This review didn’t happen by accident.  I put attention into getting my app in front of the writer.

All writers/reviewers are looking for good subjects to write about, so why not assume that your app/ebook solves their problem?

Every time I send out an email, there is, in my signature, a list of my travel books and travel apps.  My Washington DC Travel Photo Guide app, therefore, gets a slight elevation of visibility every time I send out an email.

You will need to determine the answer to two basic questions if you want to sell your app or ebook product.  The questions are:  Who is your audience?  And:  Who influences your audience to make a purchase? 

You’ll need to wrestle with these questions in an ongoing manner.  It is not easy to sell anything in the modern world, whether a physical object, such as a book, or a purely intellectual object, such as an app or an ebook.  The number of apps and ebooks competing in your field may surprise you. 

Today there is an opportunity to produce and sell if you put attention into the process.  This opportunity was not possible 20 years ago, when you needed to be published by others (who had the distribution channels locked up), and the main form was a physical book.  Now you can publish (and hopefully sell) your product yourself.  The barrier to entry to get published (the cash required) is now relatively low. 

Your attention to marketing of your app or ebook will be necessary to complete the process successfully.

March 2011

The Ebook Community

By Lee Foster

The Bay Area of California, where I live, is especially strong as an ebook community.  So much is happening here, where Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook all have their headquarters. 

Wherever you live, however, you can benefit from this synergy.

Much of this ebook community, which is a subset of the independent publishing community, is centered around my friend Joel Friedlander, who publishes each day some item on his blog, The Book Designer, at

Wherever you are, you can plug into Joel’s expertise on ebooks for free.  You can read all his past postings.  You can sign up, for no cost, to receive his daily commentaries.

I meet Joel once a month at our gathering of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, BAIPA.  Each morning I glance at and sometimes I read intently his emailed blog post, especially when the subject turns to ebooks.

Click on his website and look to the lower right hand column list, choosing Ebooks & Readers.

Once you begin browsing around, the subjects get quite complicated quickly.  For example, you will want to get your ebook into a format called EPUB.  How do you do that?

Another typical question: since most print books are laid out in inDesign, how do you convert that to an ebook format?  Joel knows a lot about this highly technical subject.

The revolutionary new combination of ebooks and print-on-demand physical book production puts publishing within reach of many people.  There is even a way to get your book available now through an entity known as Lightning Source into any bookstore that would want to buy it, via the big distributor, Ingram.   Joel is following all these subjects intently.  There are always strengths and limitations in different approaches.  For example, print on demand does not yet do color economically.

Lurking in many photographers is the desire to publish a book of their work.  For many, the ebook will be an ideal medium.  A color photo ebook looks great on an Apple iPad.  The main ebook reading device, the Kindle, does not show color photos now.  But the Kindle for iPad app displays color photos.  You will want to sell your ebook through Amazon’s Kindle Store because they are the dominant player in the ballgame.

Whether you end up publishing your photography in an app, an ebook, or in a physical book, don’t underestimate the need for good design.  Good design will alert consumers that your product is a professional contender for their attention.  That’s why Joel names his blog with the overall concept, The Book Designer.  Today a critical aspect of design is getting your book into the right ebook formats and marketing channels.

February 2011

The Ebook Revolution

By Lee Foster

Turning our attention from apps to ebooks, there are several revolutions in publishing occurring simultaneously around us.  All these revolutions affect the photographer who dreams of collecting his or her work in “books” of various kinds.

A first question is: do you want your “book” to be an ebook, an ebook and a print book, or a print book?  Ten years ago this question would not have been asked.

Today, an argument can be made that an ebook may be sufficient.  As the number of iPads and various readers/tablets proliferates, to say nothing of smart phones that are used by many as ebook readers, the ebook becomes more desirable.  Your print book will probably never sell outside North America, but your ebook can sell worldwide.  The same is true of apps, as I have mentioned earlier.  My book The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco sells only in North America.  It is a physical object, sold for a modest price, and can’t be shipped economically around the world.  My app San Francisco Travel Photo Guide,  on the same subject, has sold in 46 foreign countries.

For some, however, holding a physical book in the hand is a critical aspect of the book concept.  A physical book has a special tactile solidity than can assist a consumer to feel the project is substantial.  For that desire, the rapid advance of quality print-on-demand at an economical price, making one book at a time, is a major revolution.  However, for color-photo books, print-on-demand is generally not yet economical.  You still have to print your independent color-photo book in quantity on an offset printing press.  I printed 3,000 copies in China of my color-photo/text literary book Travels in an American Imagination at a cost of $2.21 per book. That book is now an app-style ebook in the Apple iTunes App Store.

When thinking of ebooks, you will want to see that your book is available in all the viable formats.  You will want to sell your ebook in the Amazon Kindle Store to be read on Kindle and other devices.  One aspect of this is that Kindle devices will only read black and white, not color.  However, accept that limitation and flow with it.  Kindle books are not just for the Kindle reading devices.  The free Kindle for iPad software, for example, will allow books bought in the Kindle store to be viewed in full color on the iPad.  Beyond the world of Amazon, the non-Kindle format called epub will be one further format for you to consider.  Google will become a major distributor of ebooks as we look ahead.

There is a lot to study and ponder.  One question will be: do you want to handle a lot of the details yourself, or can you get a provider to manage many of the details for you?  Some providers to peruse (after Googling them) are Lightning Source, CreateSpace, and Smashwords.  These three entities will have answers for many potential photo book publishers.

In the coming months we’ll look more specifically at some of the many issues surrounding ebooks.

January 2011

How much time does it take to make an app?

By Lee Foster

I sometimes get asked by people who might want to develop an app, especially a photo or travel app, “Just how long does it take you to develop an app?”

The answer is somewhat complicated.  A short answer is: if you work with a developer such as Sutro Media, and have an app with 120 entries, then I would allow an hour per entry of your time for the initial product, or 120 hours.

Beyond that guiding thought, here are a few of the complexities:

-For the photos, since each entry uses at least one photo, you will need your own photos or some photos you cull from other sources, such as Creative Commons on Flickr.  If your own photos are ready, good.  If not, for your desired subject, it may take a long time to develop the photos.  Possibly you have been photographing your subject for the last 20 years.  So your app may have taken you 120 hours and 20 years to develop. 

-For the texts, since each entry has some text, you will need to think through and create your succinct texts.  Sometimes a briefer text takes longer to write.  Your writing skills and speed at writing is an unknown variable.

-When you develop an app, you will need to follow it forever.  An app is never done.  It can always be improved and strengthened, possibly with more photos and more write-ups.  My San Francisco Travel Photo Guide app began with 100 entries and 100 photos.  Now it has 120 entries and 550 photos, and will grow.  Your customers expect your app to keep getting stronger. 

-Apps are software and, in the software world, a re-release of the software, with improvements, is expected.  The software engines behind apps also keep developing.  For example, the new release of my Washington DC Travel Photo Guide allows the consumer to email a section he or she likes to a friend.  I needed to do a new release to get this new modality in the app engine software to kick in.

-Working with your app developer, you need to anticipate what the requirements will be for advancing technology.  For example, all the photos in my latest app Berkeley Essential Guide are 2100 pixels on the long side.  That is necessary because the iPad reader can take a 1084 pixel size photo.  I put the photos in a little larger (at 2,100) just to protect myself from the possibility that a year from now the developer might say to me, “Lee, we need all the photos a little larger.”  The photos for my San Francisco and DC apps were originally put in at a size that was fine for the iPhone, but which proved to be too small for the iPad.  This was a big mistake.  All the photos had to be swapped in again with replacements larger in pixel size after the iPad caught on.

Produce apps only if you want to make a long term commitment.  Beyond just getting your app published, you need to promote it to get sales.  This is an ongoing effort.  Sales of apps, like sales of photos generally, don’t happen by accident.  Attention to detail in the marketing of an app is needed for success. 

However, as a start, if you must have a broad-brush guideline, plan for a 120-hour window of your time to create your 120-entry app.

December 2010:

Apps and that Socratean Question: Who Am I?

By Lee Foster

My newest app, Berkeley Essential Guide, has just been released in the Apple iTunes App store. 

The release affects me each morning when I wake up and ask again that Socratean question, “Who am I?” 

The answer still comes up, as usual, “I am a creator of travel photo/writing content.”

However, the answer comes up as usual only because I have taken a contrarian path in the creation of this Berkeley app and my other apps.

I actually created the app myself, the old fashioned way.  I wrote all the original copy for the 120 entries.  I shot all the photos, about 550, to illustrate these concepts about favored aspects of my hometown, Berkeley, California.

You are probably asking: What’s the big deal?  Doesn’t everybody do their apps this way?

No, they don’t.  Almost everybody takes a different tack.  Most creators of apps are crowd-sourcing their photos from Creative Commons on Flickr and from the local tourism bureau.  If you can crowd-source the photos, maybe you can also crowd-source the writing. 

The crowd-sourcers would have to answer that Socratean question with a different reply, perhaps, “I am a clever exploiter of crowd-sourced content, benefitting from others in my commercial products.”

I admit that my characterization of the crowd-sourcer with those words has a somewhat pejorative tone to it.  The crowd-sourced-app people are doing something said to be perfectly legal.  The message here is: many photographers so wish to “share” that they give away their work free for use in anyone’s commercial product.

The crowd-sourced-app people then go a step further.  Joe Jones advertises that he is the author of record of The Widgetville USA App by Joe Jones, even if he uses 100% free, crowd-sourced photos.  It is said that no criminal acts have been committed.  When Joe Jones deposits his royalties in the bank, it is said that he is simply a modern person following the trend and aware of the opportunities.  It is said that this is the American way.   

But I hope that all my slow and painstaking work, creating an app that is actually my own work, with all my own writing and photography in it, will triumph in the end.  My hope is that the user will recognize the quality and consistency of the photos and the text.

At least when an editor looks at a Lee Foster app on San Francisco, Washington DC, or Berkeley, and sees writing or photography content that he or she might want to license, the editor won’t have to ask, “Is Lee Foster actually the author?”

November 2010

The New World of Independent Publishing

By Lee Foster

Here is a prediction: The new technology of apps and ebooks will stimulate a new wave of “independent” publishing of printed books by photographers and writers. 

How are the two connected, apps/ebook and independently produced printed books?

Well, consider the posture regarding ebooks of traditional print book publishers, such as Countryman Press, which published my The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco and The Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC.

They printed the books and pay me a royalty when a book sells.  But the publisher also has the right to produce the page-turning ebook.  Are they developing the ebook?  No.  They don’t want to. They feel an ebook will compete with their print book and not be worth the investment.

Authors are able to do apps of their subjects because apps are considered an entirely different kind of product, unlike a book or an ebook.  This understanding has been established.  Like many other authors, I have re-presented my content in the apps San Francisco Travel Photo Guide and Washington DC Travel Photo Guide in the Apple iTunes App Store.

But I and other authors would also like to have page-turning ebooks available of our printed books.

Photographers/authors need every possible outlet for their subject, meaning a printed book, an ebook, an app, a website, and a blog.  Some traditional print book publishers are restricting authors.  Traditional publishers are generally nervous about ebooks and author websites.

A separate technology advance–the improving quality of print on demand books–will also have a profound effect on this question.  A photographer/author can now produce a quality print-on-demand book for 1.3 cents a page plus .90 for the color cover.  Today, the printed book still needs to be black-and-white, but the electronic ebook product and the app could have lavish color.

Lightning Source is the entity with whom I will probably do my next two books, which will be about California and will be print-on-demand.  I already have done one independent book, a travel literary book with color photos, Travels in an American Imagination, in 2005.  My experience on that was good, and the sales were probably higher than I would have received from a traditional publisher relationship.  That book is now out as an ebook-style app in the App Store.

But it gets better.  Lightning Source has a deal with Ingram to distribute books to bookstores.  If you can create demand in the bookstore world for your book, Lightning Source can supply it through Ingram.  These new possibilities in book distribution will encourage independent publishing.   

2010 will go down in history as The Year of the App.  2011-2012 will, I predict, become The Years of Independent Publishing. 

October 2010

Competing With Free

By Lee Foster

Can you compete with Free?

That’s a modern challenge for the for-profit photographer.  The challenge has expressed itself in the editorial world, where free photos have reduced the prices and opportunities for the for-profit photographer.

Free photos are part of the pervasive wikipedification of our lives. 

The concept of Free has permeated the world of apps also.  I have just downloaded a Free app titled Fotopedia Heritage, which has photos and writing on 890 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  The app purports to be “an endless visual journey.”  Thousands of photographers and hundreds of curators from the “community” have provided more than 20,000 photos illustrating 3,000 points of interest on these sites.

If a photographer had vision and huge energy perhaps 25 years ago, a proposal could have been made to a publisher to fund going out and photographing these sites and producing a coffee table book.

If you have that desire today, with a goal to produce a book or app on these sites, it is best to suppress the impulse.  There is a meager market when people compete with you by giving away their product for Free. 

This truth is worth considering for anyone producing photo apps (or any other photo product) of any kind.  In my own world of travel and photo apps, I am fortunate that the Visitors Bureau of San Francisco has chosen NOT to produce a free app competing with my San Francisco Travel Photo Guide.  Similarly, I am fortunate in Washington DC that the Visitors Bureau there has DECLINED to produce a free app competing with my Washington DC Travel Photo Guide.  Of course, quality matters and content creators like myself pride ourselves on the uniqueness of our products.  But Free is definitely a consideration from the consumer’s perspective.

What motivates people to give away their content for Free?  Sometimes virtue and altruism are involved.  It is virtuous to contribute for free to a UNESCO world guide.  One can educate humanity about these wondrous sites.  Sometimes vanity is an incentive.   When getting published is such a status symbol, who needs money?  Sometimes promotional pressures are uppermost.  The company selling widgets wants to see photos of its widgets in every possible medium, so it gives photos of them away Free.

Technology opportunities allowing people to give away content for Free continue to develop, such as the Creative Commons photo licenses on Flickr, which allow anyone to use photos for Free, even in commercial products such as apps.

If you have any ambition to develop a photo app on any subject, it is wise to look around in the app store and see what’s available for Free.  Each category of app in the Apple iTunes App Store has both Paid App and Free App listings for the 200 top apps downloaded in that category.  

September 2010

Can a Single App Make It All Worthwhile?

By Lee Foster

Sometimes when a new technology hits, one use of it alone can make the whole development worthwhile.

Could this be true for apps?  It is for me.  The new technology of apps has made my life more creative, more productive, and more enjoyable in many ways, but this one application would have been enough.

I refer to one of my frequent tasks.  As a travel photo journalist, one of my ongoing challenges is getting model releases.  The release is important.  It makes my photos more saleable, and at higher prices.  Releases are critical for potential “commercial” sales of photos.   

Managing paper releases in the past has been tedious.  Sometimes I would look at a paper release and try to remember, exactly who was that person?  Attaching the release to the photo was cumbersome.  I would have to scan the paper release and email in the scan to an agency or photo buyer.

That has all changed for me with an app called Easy Release ($9.99).  My agencies love it, and so do I.

Here’s how it works.  The release form appears right on my iPhone (or iPod, iPad).  I fill in the blanks.  The resulting form gets exported as a pdf (Adobe’s ubiquitous “portable document format”) and as a jpg. 

The release has prompts for data fields for all the expected info, such as Name of Model, Name of Shoot, Shoot Location, Shoot Date, Date of Birth (which kicks in the Minor prompt for parents to sign), Address, Phone, and Email.  Some fields in the form are optional but may be handy, such as Gender and Ethnicity.  There is a release for Models and for Property. 

The language of the release is acceptable to the agencies with whom I work.  The language can be customized if you prefer to change it.  The release comes in 13 languages, useful if you want to get a Russian or Chinese subject, for example, to sign a release.

However, there are three special and nifty aspects of the release. 

First, I get a prompt to use the iPhone itself to take a photo of the model, which becomes part of the pdf. 

Second, the model physically signs his or her name on the iPhone with a finger as a pen, authenticating the release. 

And third, at the end I am prompted to email the release to whomever I want, which might be myself, the model, and my agency.  This is handy.  The pdf/jpg emailed to me can also later be sent to any photo buyer or agent.  I now have a folder for all my digital model releases created with the iPhone.

The pdf result of the release can be printed out to look clean and professional.

It takes a while to get comfortable with the small touch keyboard on the iPhone, but one can eventually develop a facility for it.  If one older and pejorative metaphor has totally lost its punch in the modern world, it is, “He is all thumbs.”

For Model Releases alone, the apps technology and the iPhone would be worth it to me.

August 2010

What is Available in Apps for the Photographer?

By Lee Foster

To see what is available to the photographer in apps, start by setting up an iTunes Account (at no charge) and browse around the Apple ITunes App Store.  Start at if you do not have an iTunes account. Click on the Store. You will need to have a credit card for payment and a billing address to set up your account.  You will not need to buy anything.

Then begin browsing around the App Store, thinking of your area of interest, Photography.  Browse, but don’t buy, unless you have an iPod, iPhone, or iPad on which to view the app content.  However, browsing can be informative.

To browse, once you get into iTunes, click on the App Store.  Then, on the right side of the App Store choice, you’ll see a dropdown menu.  Choose Photography.  (Ignore, for the moment, that some apps possibly of interest to you might be in a different category.  For example, my travel photo guide apps are listed in Travel rather than in Photography.)  Make Photography your first stop.

As you look at the iPhone Photography Apps page, what will jump out is the listing All Photography iPhone Apps.  As I write this, there are 2,594 photography apps in the App Store.  The creators of these products decided that what they fashioned was best categorized under Photography.  Creators can put their app in only one category.  As you consider all these apps, it may seem daunting to think that you will have to wade through all the 2,593 apps to find what you might want.

The Photography Apps page makes some recommendations on photography apps to help you choose.  A New & Noteworthy list suggests 20 new photography apps that might be of interest.   There’s also a What’s Hot list of 120 photography apps that Apple staff deems of greatest interest.  And, on the right side of the page, you can see the 200 Top Paid Photo Apps and the 200 Top Free Photo Apps.

When a lot of people voluntarily buy a photo app, there must be something to recommend it.

The current best seller is the app iMovie ($4.99), which allows you to edit movies shot with the iPhone4.  When browsing apps, be sure to click on “More” on the right side of the description page to see the full, informative text about the app.  You’ll also see a few screenshots from the app.

Another top seller is Color Splash ($1.99), which turns your photos into black-and-white but allows you to save color in a selected portion, dramatically drawing attention to this effect.  It’s an interesting photo manipulation possibility.  You’ll find many photo apps of this kind, stretching your creative horizons if you like to alter photos.

Browse long enough and you are likely to get hooked, determining that you will want to get an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to display apps.  Next month I’ll talk about just one app, which I purchased and use often.  This app can make almost every photographer’s life easier, happier, and more productive.  I’ll leave you wondering until next month what that app might be. 

July 2010:

Lee Foster’s Photo Travel App Sells 1000/Month

By Lee Foster

Can a photographer who develops and sells apps actually make a dollar or two?

The short answer is yes, based on my own experience.  But the path is not simple or smooth.

One of my photo travel apps just sold more than 1,000 units in a 31 day period in May-June 2010.  I earned about $600 from this effort.

That best-selling app is San Francisco Travel and Photo Guide (Sutro Media, $1.99) in the Apple iTunes App Store.

My royalty is 30% of list price, or 60 cents per $1.99 app sale.  Do the math and 60 cents for 1,000 sales is about $600.   

My app ranked between #40 and #50 among all paid travel app for a two-week period.  I was competing with more than 11,000 paid travel apps now on sale in the App Store.  I discuss this in more detail at

Why have I become successful?  Partly, I am practicing patiently that you have to build your “brand.”  You have to develop a product and give consistent service to your customers.  Each of us has our subject in photography.  Mine happens to be travel.  I give this service to my viewers day after day, year after year, at my website

Partly, I have also been fortunate.  Someone at Apple liked my San Francisco app.  Apple declared my app a Staff Favorite and put it for awhile on the front page of the Apple iTunes App Store.  We live in a new world of marketing where such viral recommendations can create market opportunities.

The new world of app publishing creates new opportunities for all of us who wish to market our photography.  For example, my San Francisco app has been purchased in 42 foreign countries.  My parallel travel photo book on San Francisco will never sell a copy outside North America. 

Rohn has asked me to develop an app column for you, which is now appearing the first Thursday of each month.  You can see the earlier columns, starting in May, at the Apps/Ebooks tab upper right.  If you have question, and I know you have a dozen, leave a comment and I will answer it there and in future monthly columns.

June 2010

Clearing Up Some Confusion about Apps

By Lee Foster

The subject of apps can be confusing and frustrating.  Some of you experienced that after my first column on May 6.

However, it’s worth bearing the burden of this confusion because apps may become an important part of your future.  Apps may assist you, as we look ahead, to present your photos to an audience and to experience the photos of others.

Here are some of the basic issues in the frustration:

Apps work only on “mobile” devices, not on your computer.  They are designed for the mobile device world.  You can download them to your mobile device or to your computer.  If you download to your computer, you will need to sync up your mobile device to the computer to load them and play them on the mobile device.

Apple iTunes App Store apps work only on the Apple iPhone, iPod, and iPad.  They don’t work on other types of phones, such as Google Android and Blackberry phones.  This is frustrating to a consumer, who will want something to work on all devices.  Why can’t the apps work on all devices?  Good question.   Each of the main developer systems has its own software world and its own range of apps.  They are not compatible with each other.  Apple is now the main player in consumer apps for photography, travel, and other subjects.

Don’t buy any apps (even at $1.99) unless you have the proper mobile device on which to play them. 

But also, don’t hesitate to browse on the Internet at the Apple iTunes App Store, at no charge, to learn about apps in your favorite subject area, which might be photography or travel.  It’s free and easy to set up an iTunes account at

After you’ve signed up for an iTunes account, it will reside on your computer.  You can then go in and browse.  Choose Apps rather than other media, such as music.  In the App Store, as I write this, there are 173 pages of photo apps and 636 pages of travel apps, with 20 items on each page.  That’s a lot of apps.

You can see my travel photo guide apps on San Francisco and on Washington DC by searching for my name “Lee Foster” or by going to their pages.  The apps are San Francisco Travel and Photo Guide, ( and Washington DC Travel and Photo Guide ((

When you explore the description of an app, you will see a text describing it and view some screen shots showing what the app looks like.  Look at apps in your area of interest (photography, travel, or other subjects) to learn what’s out there and who publishes that subject.

For example, suppose you are interested in publishing a portfolio of your best photography.  You might consider looking at Peter Guttman’s fine app called Beautiful Planet as a model.  It is a lovely collection of his worldwide photography, keyed to a map, with only a brief caption about the photos.  I met Peter recently at an event in San Francisco. He indicated that his app is one of the best-selling apps in travel, which is why his publisher had versions optimized for the iPad as well as the iPhone.  Peter’s publisher obviously has an engine developed to present portfolios of photography.

So, don’t get discouraged about the frustrations sometimes associated with apps.  It is likely that apps will have some role in assisting you to present your photography to others and to enjoy their photos.  In another year or two, many of the Apple iTunes apps may also be available for Google Android phones.

May 2010:

Can I do an App Myself or Do I Need a Publisher?

By Lee Foster

We photographers tend to be an independent lot.  We like to control what we publish and sell.

When thinking of apps, can you do an app yourself?

At the present time, the answer is “probably not.”  That may change, as app developers create off-the-shelf software for running content.

In October 2009 I met two young men in San Francisco, Tobin Fisher and Kevin Collins, who had developed a software to run travel and photo guide apps.  They called their company Sutro media and hired Kim Grant ([email protected]) as their Acquisitions Editor. 

I had some of their first products in the Apple App Store when they published my my San Francisco Travel Photo Guide and Washington DC Travel Photo Guide. Now they have more than 60 products in the app store if you search Sutro Media there.

The software needed to run my content was way, way beyond my software competence.  It was best to partner with Sutro and use their software. 

In the rapidly developing app publishing world, it is appropriate to call Sutro and their parallels Developers rather than Publishers, though they are both.  Many of the burdens of traditional book publishing, such as editing of content, culturally falls on the content creator rather than the editor, as in a traditional book publishing company.

As I will emphasize to you often, there is no substitute for spending some time browsing around the iTunes App Store (after setting up a free account) to learn who the publishers are of content that might parallel your own.

For example, at a media event recently in San Francisco, I met a talented photographer named Peter Guttman.  He whipped out his iPad (this was shortly after the iPad came out) and showed me his lovely app called Beautiful Planet.  He indicated that it was one of the best selling travel apps in the App Store. 

The software running his app was built primarily for photo portfolio presentation.  His app consisted of photos from around the world, with a short caption only.  If I wanted to a do a portfolio-style photo app, I would consider approaching his publisher.  They have an engine developed for this kind of publishing.  With every app in the App Store, the publisher is listed
May 2010

Defining Apps and EBooks

By Lee Foster

As we begin our conversation on “Apps, EBooks, and Your Photography,” we need to deal with the confusion associated with these slippery terms.

Our goal is the presentation of our photography to an audience.  For many  purposes, putting the photos on our websites is sufficient.  For example, I have about 5,000 of my travel photos on my PhotoShelter site at  I have these photos with my travel writing on 200 worldwide subjects at

Chances are your have some photo specialty also, which might range from organic gardening to diving in the Caribbean.

Suppose you want to create and sell a “product” beyond outing the content on your website.  The traditional opportunity has been a “book.”  We all know what a book is.  For example, I have a new travel photo book The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco.  

What is new is that we now have opportunities to present our content in products that are electronic.  The most obvious use of this content would be a direct facsimile of the printed book in electronic form.  We’ll call that an “ebook.”  It’s worth noting that, contractually, you may not have the legal right to transform your content from a book to an ebook.  In my agreement with Countryman Press, for example, only they have the right to make the facsimile ebook.  They have chosen not to do this.  Consider this when you weigh whether to publish “independently” vs with a traditional print book publisher.

The term “ebook” will confuse you because when you look in the Apple iTunes store, the main place for selling “apps,” some ebooks will be listed as apps.  Accept this and think of the concept of those products as as “eBook-style apps.”

But, beyond eBooks, there is an even newer publishing opportunity, and that is apps, or “app-style apps,” if you permit me to coin the term.  New software developments have created software with special functionality for displaying content on mobile devices.  That is the main world of modern app publishing.  The content in a traditional book needs to be totally reworked for a true app.  The end user has an entirely different experience.  My app San Francisco Travel Photo Guide is an example.  I’ll discuss this software “functionality” as we proceed.

There is no substitute, as we get started, for you to set up a free Apple iTunes account and browse around the App Store to see what is available, especially in your favorite field, which may be photography or travel, for example. 

You can look through the Apple App Store on any computer, but you can only play the apps on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad.  That is a further confusing aspect of apps.  The worlds of Google Android Phones and Blackberries are entirely different universes.  They have their own app worlds.  The huge market now for consumer apps is in the Apple app world.

Are you still with me?  Next month we’ll consider, “Can I do an app myself or do I need a publisher?”

May 2010:

Apps and Your Photographic Dreams

By Lee Foster

Occasionally a new technology emerges that can have a dramatic effect on the way we realize our dreams.  That’s happening today, with the new technology of “apps.”

Chances are you have dreams of publishing your photography.  You also enjoy seeing the photography of others.  I share those dreams. 

Rohn Engh helps you achieve your dream with his publication of this newsletter.  Rohn is aware of the new technology and has asked me to pen a new column for you, called “Apps, Ebooks, and Your Photography,” to appear on the first Thursday of each month.

Like you, I have dreamed of publishing my photography in printed books.  I have had success with this.  My most recent books are The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them (Countryman Press).  I also published a parallel volume, The Photographer’s Guide to Washington, D.C.

But are there possibilities now for publishing our photos in an entirely different way, beyond books?  Yes, there are.  It’s the technology of “apps” and “ebooks.”  You can create an app and sell it in the Apple iTunes App Store.  Apps are different from books, and we’ll explore those differences.

My first two apps are San Francisco Travel Photo Guide and D.C. Travel Photo Guide.  You can get a free account in the Apple iTunes App Store and browse around, seeing all the photography and travel apps available now for the iPhone.  Eventually, different versions of apps will be readable on all “mobile devices.”  If you have a cell phone, there are apps in your future.

A lot of questions are likely to emerge in your mind.  We’ll consider them as this column unfolds.  This is a big subject, and we can’t get it all said in a short space.  What is an app?  What if I don’t have an iPhone or iPod?  Can I make an app myself or do I need a publisher?  What special functionality in app software makes apps unlike books?  How will things change as Google and its Android phone system for viewing apps becomes a bigger player?

So, let’s begin our ongoing conversation on this exciting subject.  I guarantee you one thing: The new technology of apps and ebooks will dramatically change in positive ways your opportunity to publish your photography and enjoy the photography of others.

(Note: Lee Foster presents several instructional articles on his web site. If you find this instruction useful, you are encouraged to make a contribution/donation of $1 or more to Lee Foster’s PayPal account at [email protected] Funds will be used to develop further such instruction.)