The commercial reality of reviews, writing and blogging

It would be an understatement to say that the site has taken on a life of its own far beyond what I would have envisioned a year ago. (At that point, I’d have been happy not to see a zero traffic count when I checked at the end of the day.) We have pretty much a complete ecosystem – Facebook page with 4600+ fans, a very active Flickr pool with 4,700 accepted images, 800-odd contributors, and on average, two hundred images for me to moderate daily; there’s of course the iPad app, and various local communities of readers and fans brought together by various events and workshops.

I post at least every two days, and sometimes more frequently than that. The posts average 2,000 words in length – those of you who haven’t been out of college that long will remember essays of that length took some time and effort to complete – plus the correct images and illustrations required to support the text. Some of these are even longer – camera reviews run in the 4,000-5,000 word range, and require even more extensive testing under controlled circumstances, plus shooting images specifically for the site. Let’s not even talk about how much time is taken up by double checking anomalies that could be potentially caused by sample variation or file handling. Magnum opuses – like the Camerapedia and dictionary (exclusive to the iPad app) – have upwards of 30,000 words and take cumulative weeks of work.

Then there’s the correspondence: direct emails, comments, Facebook messages and posts, Flickr messages and posts, group threads. I have no idea how many individual messages this comes to, but I do know that on an average day, I get 200-300 emails. Long ago – perhaps foolishly – I made a promise that I’d do my best to reply to and interact with all of the readers who cared to do so. I’m sticking by that, because I think it’s one of the things that differentiates this site from others – especially the larger ones where the proprietors sit in the clouds and pontificate, then largely ignore their readers.

All in all, this takes up time. A very significant amount of time, it happens. A ‘normal’ article for me requires around half a day to produce, and a heavy review/ test like the Leica M Typ 240, a day and a half just to write up – that doesn’t include the time spent shooting, analyzing and processing images. The time I spend on the site is time that isn’t billable to clients; unfortunately, I can’t be in two places at once. I did consider hiring an assistant, but the amount of free time that would buy wasn’t worth the price of admission and time I’d have to spend training him. On top of all of this, I spend 3-4 hours a day handling email.

I’m starting to feel that my commercial work is taking a back seat and suffering somewhat because of this: there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to do both properly. After completing my accounts for tax for the last few months, it seems the numbers and my bank account are telling me the same thing, too: the more time I spend on the site and related activities, the less income-generating commercial work I’m doing*. Although I was much busier in November and December than ever before, I made less than in the early days. I’d like to be able to continue, because I think it’s important creatively to have the variety as well as because I’d get bored doing the same thing all the time. I’d also like to keep the momentum going: there’s far too much equipment masturbation and too little real photography online; I’d like to keep flying the flag as ‘the thinking photographer’s read’. Realistically, I spend about half my time or more on the site these days – and it’s a job that seems to run pretty much 24/7. I sleep about five hours a night. I’m almost certain none of the other sites online can compete for quantity or quality, and most of them have teams of writers and sponsors. I’m completely certain that none of them are run solo by people who have other day jobs.

*This is one of the reasons why I charge what I do for workshops: it’s the opportunity cost. Plus, you’re getting the opportunity to spend some time with a charming, articulate, artistic genius – I’m kidding, of course. But I’d like to think I do know both the technical and artistic aspects of photography pretty well.

Then there’s the format of the site itself: many sites spread reviews out over multiple pages to get higher traffic numbers; this is a false metric of traffic unless it’s taken into account with average time spent per page. My site is laid out to make it easy for you to read: everything loads, and you just read the entire article from the homepage without having to click around. Consequently, the stats show that though I don’t have as many page views as the competition, I’ve got nearly ten times the average time spent on page. Finally, I work with some camera companies and brands, but I’m not paid by any of them – I wish – I do it because it gives me access to equipment and people (professional equipment support is important to me). It also gives me the freedom to choose who I work with, and the ability to maintain my editorial integrity.

This brings me to the slightly sticky point of this post: In order for me to continue creating content in the quality and quantity to which you’ve become accustomed, it’s going to have to start generating more revenue – otherwise, this is simply unsustainable in the long term. Before you suggest referrals – the amounts simply aren’t sufficient to make sense; we’re talking in the mid hundreds of dollars here. (I suppose it doesn’t help that I’ve always said that it’s the image and your skill that make the difference, not your gear.) I believe Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer faced a similar conundrum a couple of years back – I don’t remember what his eventual solution was, though. I do know he’s always run ads, though. I’ve been toying with a few ideas on how to make this work:

1. Advertising.
This would take the form of sidebar ads via Google AdSense. I get some control over the kinds of ads that are posted, but by and large what you see depends on your demographic information (which Google somehow calculates presumably based on your location/ IP address and any other cookies you might happen to have on your computer). I wouldn’t take directly solicited and paid ads from camera companies because this could be seen to compromise my objectivity, which defeats the point of me writing at all. This is probably the most straightforward solution as it doesn’t fundamentally change the structure of the site much, or the way content is delivered. I have no idea if the financials will be sufficient to make much of a difference, however.

2. Subscription basis.
I’d rather not do this as I think it would probably destroy the goodwill I’ve built, and limit accessibility somewhat; administration is also a bit of a headache. However, there are several sites and magazines that illustrate there’s still a demand for high quality paid content. I’d probably do something in the form of a weekly mini-magazine – either via PDF or ipad app.

3. Pay to play.
The final idea is something I’ve been toying with, but don’t have a solid idea of the form it should take: if people want a camera reviewed, they can commit a certain nominal amount – say $5 or $10, (which really isn’t a lot if you’re considering a $5,000 camera). Once a critical threshold is reached, I’ll go out and buy one, and review it exclusively for those who paid. I’d basically have to find a happy medium between cost and volume – enough people would have to sign up to cover my time costs and the loss involved in buying then reselling the camera. This way, I’d only review the things people are interested in. Another variant of this could be if enough people are interested, and the cost of the camera and my time are covered, the review unit gets raffled off and won by one of the parties who paid. This could run nicely with the existing site, too, but administration is going to be a bit of a headache (requiring yet more time).

4. Patronage.
There was a time when the wealthy supported artisans by paying a monthly or annual stipend to enable them to continue their art; I’m considering something along these lines, too. For a fixed subscription – perhaps there are tiers. In return for the patronage, I’d do a limited fine-art print run every so often (depending on amount) for the patrons. You’d get something unique, and I’d get time to work on the site. This also has the advantage of not requiring as many people.

The bottom line is that I don’t know how much longer it will be feasible for me to continue maintaining the site in its current format if nothing changes: it’s one at the expense of the other now. The site is what it is because of the support of the readers: I’m going to keep things democratic, and open the floor to a poll : it’s multiple choice, so you can pick as many answers as you like (or if you don’t want things to change, then pick #5). Please vote, and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments – any other suggestions I might have missed would be greatly appreciated, too. MT

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Comments

  1. Ming – I think you can also try recording your workshop or your shooting process (for example watches, architecture, etc). If you’d like to share, charge on that video. I know people who are willing to pay to see that content (I certainly would love to), why not?

  2. Echoing some previous comments here: Quality over Quantity. There is such a wealth of information about photography on the web that I can read if I so wish, what brings me here is the quality of your writing and your insightfulness. Write fewer articles so you can maintain your USP, which is you. By all means split the articles into parts to keep the daily hits up if you wish. Also, perhaps some posts can be a selection of emails you have received during the week and your replies. This would share more valuable content, reduce the duplicate questions you receive via email, and increase the community feel of the website.

    Good luck with whatever you decide.

    • Thanks. Most of the emails I get really aren’t worth reading…and even if I posted the replies, the kind of people who sent them will still keep sending them :P

  3. It’s not just that you write about photography and gear with an appreciation for photography as an art and a passion, but also that you’re really f*%#ing good. Thank you for all your fantastic articles. They’ve helped me choose my gear and your photography has inspired me to get out out and shoot more creatively.

  4. Ming, I just erased a long comment about a lot of the stuff that has already been said on the blog. What I would really like to say is that I visit your site for many reasons, but I get the greatest joy when I see your best images. The art of photograhy as you practice it. Whatever you do in the future of this site, please keep developing as a photographer and keep inspiring us with your photographs.

    • I suppose that was the whole reason I landed up trying to make all of the commercial bits of photography work: because I just wanted to spend all of my time making images. I have to get the focus back to that, somehow.

  5. Gibran Hashim says:

    Love the patronage idea. Wouldn’t mind paying a small fee for limited prints. And I think some advertising would definitely help!

  6. I maintain my blog while maintaining a very demanding full time job. I don’t do nearly as much writing as you do but I do post several times a week, sometimes less when work becomes more demanding.

    I think everyone goes through this same thought process a year or two into it. I don’t do affilate links, advertising, donations or similar. I have thought about it but then I think it changes the expectation of the readers and removes a bit of the joy for me. I am staying focused on keeping mine an outlet for me and my enjoyment.

    I don’t do guest posts as it is my outlet and I don’t want to dilute my content with others just to keep content fresh and readers coming. I would do that if it was a business not because I don’t have time to create content.

    I am glad others get pleasure from it as well but I am careful to not let it take over my life. I find some readers became very demanding, especially when I didn’t post for a few days but then I remind myself it is free and it is my outlet to share with others.

    • +1 to this. You’re trying to figure out how to turn a creative endeavor into a business. The creative is fun but doesn’t make any money, but when you transform it to a business, you may lose some of the magic that injected the passion for the site. I think you need to carefully consider what you want to get out of it and then adjust your strategy accordingly.

  7. Jack Hon says:

    Ming, like other people above has already said, I think even two posts a week given the quality and clear thought you have given to yours would more than suffice for me. I read a host of other stuff online and simply don’t check back here enough to read them all.
    Of corse there would be some who would love to read one a day from you but I think that would be a nice balance.
    Just remember, this still beats your old day job, by a country mile :)

  8. Hi Ming, I know I am late in responding to this thread (although I did vote) but PLEASE do not stop talking about photography!! That is something you offer that is so rare anywhere else. There are tons of (too many) gear head sites around and tons of “professionals” talking about gear, gear, gear – it’s almost like a circus to see who can talk the loudest about gear and never mind anything about real photography at all. I so enjoy and value your site and posts about photography! Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks for all that you do and best wishes as you go forward with the changes on the site. And I really like the pay for an image critique option too. .

  9. I’ll excuse you from a reply here. i could have done the survey, but I never seem to fit into anybody’s preconfigured category. Advertising is fine, but’ll I’ll ignore it. Yours is one of very few sites I visit that I enjoy enough and learn enough from that I’d gladly pay a subscription fee. I think the idea of patrons in a good one. Whether I’d be one, depends on the tariff. Maybe there could even be levels of patron. I wonder if it would be possible to add some advertising to a basic content, add full access (maybe even add free) for a subscription fee, and special opportunities and discounts for patrons, like limited availability prints, or a night before the workshop starts dinner or reception for patrons, or a discount on portfolio review or e-lesson. Your time is valuable, we who benefit from it have a vested interest in seeing that the benefits are mutual.

  10. Jorge Balarin says:

    Hi Ming, I understand your point. Your web page is present in my daily life and I will miss it if dissapears. So I think it is fair to pay for your effort. However, I’m not rich (actually I’m really poor), so if your subscriptions are not so costly as your mail tutorials : ) I’m ready to pay. If besides that you choose to have advertising it is also ok for me.
    I don’t like the “Pay to Play” option, because I enjoy to discover equipment that I even didn’t know that exists, and because I’m a photo equipment onanist that like to read about thinks he can’t buy.

  11. Hi Ming, maybe you could have some guest posts? Like Steve Huff is running, but with better editing and selection on who is allowed to post. The you could keep a decent amount of posts to maintain traffic and yet gaining more time to shoot commercially. Time is money if used wisely. Also I think you could slow down your posts a little and still retain traffic. Your quality is excellent, I have bought a few of your videos and really enjoyed them. Working in advertising I can say that banner ads are not really what advertisers are looking for any more. They have very poor results. Look into other ways of getting advertisers involved but still retaining your integrity.

    • The problem is finding people of a sufficient standard…glad you enjoyed the videos. I won’t be doing banner ads – targeted sidebars are about as intrusive as it’s going to get.

  12. Joseph Grunske says:

    I appreciate where you’re coming from. I suggest reducing posts (1 or 2 per week) to allow you more time for profitable pursuits.

  13. hi Ming, Have you thought of writing a book?
    I enjoy reading your blog and your photos. It’s very rare to find a talented photographer who writes as well as you do so I think gather all your writings into a book.
    This is my opinion on a book:
    - build your credentials which you have been doing
    - call it something different to others (common ones are ‘The Art of Photography, Advanced …’
    - if possible get endorsements from Leica & Nikon &… to build your reputation for wider community
    - if possible in “who you are” tell potential purchasing that you are the official photographers for big name Swiss watch companies, naming names would be good “Omega, Rolex….?”
    - include a copy of your DVD, you sell the DVD probably at the same price of the book but it’s about volume or don’t include DVD but ask purchaser to register their name and you send them the DVD, this way you have a big register of names to contact in future
    - on the DVD provide some very nice photos you have
    - give purchaser discounts on things that you sell (photos, seminars, dvd, etc…)

    There are many books on photography out there that are quite average, I think you can do much much better.
    Put me down for the first publication of the book.
    Of course, book should be 2nd priority compared to your commercial work.
    BTW: you should have an online store to sell your stuff, I wanted to buy your DVD but it’s a little inconvenient to log into PayPal, send funds etc.. frankly a lot of people don’t know how to do that. Online people just Add Cart then check out using PayPal.
    Cheers & Best Wishes.BB

  14. Hi Ming, have you ever thought to contact some business company (like for example Adorama) in order to make an indipendent adv space on your site? So you could remain objective to the reader, you will not need to advetise Nikon or Canon or Leica individually. The other solution, I think could be the Fine Art Print: take a look for exemple at the Steve McCurry website (http://stevemccurry.com/fine-art-prints). Of course the potential buyer will be different, but it could be a solution.

  15. jlmphotos says:

    Well Ming I’ve only been reading your blog since late January of this year and I knew this was coming. There was no way you can sustain the pace you work at — paid work, reviews, blog posts, plus your personal life. So you have to do whatever works for you.
    Good luck in your decision process.

  16. Your policy of getting back to everybody is suicide. Not to mention that it diminishes the value of your time.

    I’ve run a decent sized website before and the emails never stop. I decided early on that I would answer very few individually. It’s just not sustainable or scalable and it cuts into time that could be better invested elsewhere. In the end, I found that 90% of the emails were variations of the same few questions anyway, most of which I had already answered on the site.

    In the end, there is no way to help each individual that needs help. It’s like playing whack-a-mole and it never ends. Especially when we talk about people that are not accustomed to paying for value and don’t seem to respect the value of other people’s time.

    Maybe do what Zach Arias did and filter questions from the masses through a tumblr page (with comments turned off) that you can answer as time allows. You could put together a list of all the people that have bought from you in the past and give them some email privilege over the general audience. I don’t think it’s fair to you, Mrs. Ming, your students or your clients to burn yourself out trying to get back to every random Tom, Dick and Harry on the internet.

    I would skip the advertising. Like somebody else mentioned, it is getting harder by the day to make it work. People only like that option in the poll because they are spoiled by not paying for value and want to keep a good thing (for them) going. Use good free content to give people a taste of the value you offer. Then package and charge for your premium content. Stop giving so much away! You have a ton of value to offer.

    You may want to look at what people like John Paul Caponigro and Andrew S. Gibson are doing too. When I first read this article, hose guys are the first people I thought. They are writers and photographers who seem to have created something sustainable.

    • Interesting perspective – answering stupid questions is definitely going to stop, but I’ll still try to keep up with communications as much as possible. I don’t mind that being one of the distinguishing aspects of my site; the rest just has to be sufficient to make it work. Subscriptions are a last effort at this point.

  17. vinh truong says:

    Hi Ming,
    First of all, sorry to hear about the sacrifice you took to maintain this blog. I was original drawn here by your equipment reviews, but I found your photography/image making articles are what keep me going back. That’s why I bought both of your videos to advance my skills as well as support your site but I guess it was not enough. Your articles on making good images really open my eyes even though my only purpose is to make some good photos of my family, friend whenever I can for fun. Thus, I wouldn’t mind making a small pledge like $120/year just like I do to our local public classical music radio station to keep it on the air. I think many of your readers wouldn’t mind doing the same thing. Whatever you decide to do with this blog, I wish you the best.

  18. Just looking at the flood of comments to this post should tell you about your audience – they like what they see here. One person said ” your site is a treasure trove”. You’ve are faced with the conundrum of online content publishing – making it worth the time and effort. Based on how engaged your audience is ( time on page – reading full articles and repeat visits ), there is a strong case to be made for point 2 – a subscription (not subscription to content here on the site). I follow this quite closely online. There are a ton of “experiments” in the space to find the right business model for online content publishing. Yours might fit what Marco Arment is doing with his “The Magazine” – http://the-magazine.org – a simple, clutter free, monthly set of high quality editorials piped through a beautiful iPad app with sparse and minimalist design – making the content the focus and nothing else. No ads e.t.c. All this for just $1.99 a month. I subscribed immediately when it came out.

    You can still make your blog posts here but find some editorial angle to make what is piped to the iPad app unique and rich in a way – follow up to reviews , topical discussions, deep analysis of particular topics … Just make sure the app is really solid from a usability perspective. This also opens up an entirely new possibility for you later down the line – creating an online magazine which is essentially a hub for content / editorials from other preselected photographers – much like what Marco is doing. Do you know how many other photographers will like their content / stories featured in an app like that? I am not talking National Geographic or some Photo app – I am thinking an app that carries quality editorials about really interesting stuff.

    You have a lot to work with here! – I will be the first to subscribe (and I just stumbled on your site less than 2 weeks ago!).

    Good luck.

    • You do know I already have an app, right? This is and will continue to be ad-free, in addition to having specific content that’s exclusive to the app like the Dictionary and searchable version of the Camerapedia.

      • I think the current iPad app serves a different purpose / intent – It is not solely focused on editorials. It is essentially a portal for in-app purchases of training materials ( + other supplemental stuff). Compare it to the example in my post – which is solely a platform for weekly editorials – like you are doing here on your blog.

        Here’s one way to verify – compare the user stats ( if you are tracking it ) on the iPad app vs the blog, across various engagement metrics. I suspect the blog wins out – because it is free and also because it has a completely different proposition than what the iPad app offers. The translation ( or enhancement ) of the blog’s core proposition into a subscription based mobile platform is what I am suggesting.

        • Not quite. It’s also an offline reader and has a 40,000 word dictionary that is exclusive to the app. It would be easy to convert it to editorial-only for the content if that was the chosen direction. Of course the blog wins out, for the reasons you describe – I think that would always be the case.

  19. THEME Photo says:

    Not sure if my comment was sent properly, so here we go again… pls delete Ming if double.

    Important, great post Ming, and amazing feedback, you have all the reasons to be very proud of yourself. Just a year, and look where your are.

    The Internet is full of delusions. A prominent one is the one of seemingly easy riches. Monetizing a site is becoming more difficult by the day, no matter how hard you work for it.

    Who understands the algorithms of Google’s AdSense or eBay? As an affiliate you’ll be at their mercy, and even “serious” programs such as B&H or Adorama, what commissions do they pay? And the cookie is gone after 24 hours. They still make money with people you refer, but not you.

    Relying on commercializing the site does, however, mostly rely on content, content, content. That’s the old rule still valid. Well the content you have!

    Second most important asset: traffic.

    You got that, and very loyal one for that. Regarding monetizing the site, fact is that returning customers are, sorry to say, not the most profitable ones. Meaning they tend rather not to click ads. But maybe on your site, with a very clean design, a targeted ad may stand out positively and enrich the overall content. Who knows.

    If you start with AdSense, there will be the waiting period to get higher quality ads, then the CPC drops again, and so forth. Completely unreliable and seasonally challenging. Again, difficult to rely on such income.

    I’d cut down on work for the site and let it grow organically. There’s in not the slightest doubt in my mind that within three years your site is reasonably profitable if you take the right steps.

    Meanwhile, maybe cut down on post, don’t be on the grid 24/7 and try to take time again for things you always loved doing but forgot about. It’s easy to become a slave of the Net.

    • Very true and sensible in all areas. I’m not looking to make a living out of blogging – it’d be nice, but I’m realistic – I just want to make the most of what I’ve created, and at the same time try not to compromise too much on everything else.

  20. Important, great post Ming, and amazing feedback, you have all the reasons to be very proud of yourself. Just a year, and look where your are.

    The Internet is full of delusions. A prominent one is the one of seemingly easy riches. Monetizing a site is becoming more difficult by the day, no matter how hard you work for it.

    Who understands the algorithms of Google’s AdSense or eBay? As an affiliate you’ll be at their mercy, and even “serious” programs such as B&H or Adorama, what commissions do they pay? And the cookie is gone after 24 hours. They still make money with people you refer, but not you.

    Relying on commercializing the site does, however, mostly rely on content, content, content. That’s the old rule still valid. Well the content you have!

    Second most important asset: traffic.

    You got that, and very loyal one for that. Regarding monetizing the site, fact is that returning customers are, sorry to say, not the most profitable ones. Meaning they tend rather not to click ads. But maybe on your site, with a very clean design, a targeted ad may stand out positively and enrich the overall content. Who knows.

    If you start with AdSense, there will be the waiting period to get higher quality ads, then the CPC drops again, and so forth. Completely unreliable and seasonally challenging. Again, difficult to rely on such income.

    I’d cut down on work for the site and let it grow organically. There’s in not the slightest doubt in my mind that within three years your site is reasonably profitable if you take the right steps.

    Meanwhile, maybe cut down on post, don’t be on the grid 24/7 and try to take time again for things you always loved doing but forgot about. It’s easy to become a slave of the Net.

  21. Hi Ming
    This discussion has certainly taken on a life of its own.

    I agree with Libby and Eric and I think most of the people who have responded. You need to pace yourself for the long term. I for one would like to be reading what you have to say in five years time not shaking my head and wondering what ever happened to Ming. So I am also advocating two articles maximum a week regardless of content i.e. gear, philosophy, the non-sequential nature of time, whatever.

    Lloyd Chambers offers free articles and paid access. I have been happy to pay him $100 plus a year for several years and I know your websites offers a greater variety of photographic and artistic discussion. I find much of your writing and photography complementary in many ways.

    Ads are good if limited and only for things you feel you can promote.

    Like David duChemin I believe you could easily produce and sell a pdf magazine four times a year. You could in part base them around your teaching workshops as well as focusing on a different area e.g. architecture or wildlife, with an extended review or revisit to a camera, lens or other piece of gear, the search for the elusive perfect tripod. I also think with the number of articles written during the past year there is an opportunity to revisit, rewrite and release a number of ebooks.

    I do not have an iPad, regular or mini yet.

    • Thanks for chipping in, Paul. I think the future direction – at least in the short term – is pretty clear; I’ll be posting something tomorrow…

  22. Torbjörn Tapani says:

    I have long thought that the level of writing here must be unsustainable in some way. But if anything it has almost increased. How you manage I don’t know. For me there is a real value in knowing you write about stuff you are intrerrested in, not what anyone else wants you to. If there were fewer updates that would be fine but I really like the way this blog has operated this past year.

  23. Can you post the material in one long article in two or three parts? Keeps the blog moving, doesn’t sacrifice what you want to say, and reduces your effort.

  24. Ads are no problem – we all understand you have to cover your opportunity costs. I would assume you would get more money for photography-related ads since that is your demographic. I would have no problem with seeing ads and would actually prefer seeing photography ads rather than car ads.

    And when you do the ads, you’ll want to do everything you can to get the traffic up, so you might want to read up/invest in a few hours of a consultant’s time re Search Engine Optimization techniques.

    Maybe you fixed it, but when I did contribute via Paypal, it was a bit hard to do as the link did not automatically take me to a screen with your info filled out. That might improve the donation rate if you haven’t tried that (in addition to ads).

    Thanks for being sensitive to your readers and asking their opinion/preparing them for changes!

    • On the SEO already done – I need to fix it so the impressions are higher; time per hit apparently isn’t an important metric to advertisers.

      The PayPal thing should have worked – in any case, I received something then a cancellation notice shortly after – I suppose all is not happy in PP- land.

  25. I agree with most of the posts above. The reviews, I can find those on other review sites but I keep coming back on your philosophical views on photography. There is much more soul to it compared to reviewing gear and to which I believe most photography sites have lost. I am actually unsubscribing to one of my subscriptions because their topics are just repeated every 6 months but you have something special here Ming. Your views, and every else’s view evolve as we mature as artists. I do believe that you have instigated here something that most us, your readers, find very stimulating and encouraging. But as you said, reviews attract readers and this will eventually lead to more ad clicks if you add it so in the future. I wouldn’t mind paying for the content you are publishing.

  26. Geoffrey K W Lee says:

    I have been following your sites for a long, long time. Your site is indeed a rare gem and the quality of your essays are, invariably, very, very high (I think, to the extent that most layman (me included) cannot totally understand all the ideas that you are trying to convey.). Your writing is always impeccable (no grammatical mistakes, no typing error, ever..). You have put so much time and effort in this site that I have foreseen that it is simply not sustainable. My suggestions are as follows:

    1. Drastically cut down the time you spend on this site. It is very difficult to generate income from a website, especially with your integrity. This site should remain a hobby. In short, forget about this website, it is not cost-efficient. Our loss will be your gain.

    2. Don’t answer all e-mails (this one included). While it is very noble of you, time is simply too precious (that is why we need to spend so much on a watch!).

    3. Do spend the majority of your time talking and meeting potential clients. There should be enough business opportunities here in Malaysia (I live in Kuala Lumpur.). The more clients you talk to, the more business you will get. The standards of commercial photography in Malaysia, in my opinion, is rather low. You should beat other guys without problems.

    In fact, I am not the kind that feel comfortable writing to people that I don’t know personally, not to mention “giving suggestions”.

    However, you simply have too much talent and there is nothing I loath more than seeing talent wasted.

    Best wishes.

    • I’m not sure not being able to understand is a good thing or not! Perhaps I have to work on the clarity.

      1. That would be obvious, but it doesn’t make sense when you consider how hard other people are trying to work to build traffic…I have traffic, I just need to build revenue.

      2. True.

      3. Yes and no: the standard is low because nobody is willing to pay for quality; you know Malaysians, they select on price. Most of my clients aren’t in Malaysia.

      Don’t worry about it – all thoughts appreciated!

  27. Some of the most exciting blogs on any topic–food, news, art– include a small cadre of guest posters. TOP has at least one weekly poster, a techno-geek, who adds variety to the site’s major voice. If you cultivated or curated a team approach to your blog–like The New Yorker’s house writers–you could post once or twice a week and readers would come back because they’d be intrigued by whatever or whomever intrigued you. Your guest bloggers could also expand the culture of photography: you could rotate in a historian of photography, a designer, a pop culture critic on the politics of the image (Zizek?), an interviewer posting conversations with other master photographers. Shelby Lee Adams interviewing Sally Mann? A book reviewer of books interesting to photographers (these might be more than photo books). This might be the start of a media company, along the lines of David Babsky’s suggestions but even more steroidal. Apologies if another respondent already mentioned this idea. I read most but not all of the comments above.

    • It could work with the right people – finding those and keeping them happily rewarded is going to be the challenge, because I’d think if they are at the right level they’d probably have their own site already. David knows what he’s talking about because he’s been in the industry for some time. And I do appreciate you reading through the responses before pitching in… :)

      • I respectfully disagree with your assumptions. Not all good writers and thinkers want to maintain their own sites. The consistently great blogs have a unified brand or worldview but many voices and an extended reach. Readers come to a site to be surprised, for a university feeling. There is an opportunity for someone to start a NY Times-ish content creation site for the visual or esthetic world. The shortfall in photo blogs is that there is little inventiveness or experimentation. Everybody covers the same content and the same gear. Perhaps one day that will change and readers will find something they never knew they wanted…which was always Steve Jobs’s mantra: give people what they dont yet know they want. Emphasis on the YET.

        • It’s possible I haven’t talked to the right people yet, but that isn’t the impression I’m getting.

          The trouble with giving them what they don’t know they want is you yourself have to know what that is :)

      • Ron Carroll says:

        I’d like to chime in… I don’t think the issue here is how we should re-design Ming’s site. He’s shown there’s interest in the content as it’s currently structured. 3,000,000 hits in a year doesn’t leave room for any doubt about that. That’s a pretty good reach. And he did it because he’s not simply repackaging the ‘same content,’ as you suggest. The site doesn’t need steroids; it needs a means of generating some positive cash flow, and Ming was clear about that. Those 3mm hits came from folks who look forward to reading the fresh content that he presents here. Guest bloggers would only serve to water that down, even with topical steroids.

  28. Dear Ming,
    I run a website myself that is similar to yours just in a different niche. Advertising is definitely a way to keep the site sustainable, though I think you adwords makes a site like this look cheap. I work with smaller companies and larger ones…
    Also, I switched from writing every second day to writing fewer but better pieces. Sometimes it takes me 3 days to write one piece but this is the content that creates return visitors, attracts links and readers.
    Fell free to reach out if you want to discuss.

  29. melgart says:

    hey Ming:

    with all of the excellent writing you do here and the amount of time you spend on it, you could write a full-on book. more than just a photo book , more like you philosophy of photography. I’d buy it! ads wouldn’t deter me either, and I’d probably pay for a subscription, too. the patronage-via-critiques is also something I would consider. good luck in your decisions.

  30. I found your blog this past December while looking to buy a compact camera. While I knew nothing about photography at the time, the quality of your writing and of your images has induced to read much of what is in your archives (and learn a lot more about photography in the meantime!). I would happily subscribe to your site and make a donation as well. Regarding subscriptions, you might want to look at Andrew Sullivan’s blog for his model. He ditched ads this year and through a combination of subscription and metering has brought in, I believe, roughly $950,000 (hope I am not way off with my numbers here). That said, I would be fine with ads and like many others, I think fewer posts might actually allow me to enjoy your writing and images more fully. In any case, many thanks for what you have done so far and best of luck in figuring this all out. You are doing great work and deserve to be remunerated for it.

    • Firstly, thanks for your donation! Holy wow, that’s a serious number. It does seem a little high, though I’d be happier with significantly less than that.

      Time to better moderate the post schedule. And if not, my archives are enormous. :)

  31. Love and appreciate all you do Ming. I’m relatively new to your posts but am learning lots and enjoying what you create. You have an excellent writing style and content is pertinent and highly informational.

    Couple of suggestions:

    Have you considered placing articles in an App such that in-app purchases could be made? That way Apple or whoever collects the money and you receive only one transaction per month and avoid Paypal and such. The Leica LFI has this and I purchase their PDFs often.

    Why not shorten each post by breaking it into a part 1 & 2 and post on subsequent days? That immediately halves the amount of work you must do and still gives readers a frequent read but a shorter read, which satisfies those that say they cannot spend the time to read your longer posts and maintains your desire to be detailed and complete.

    Have you considered getting some volunteer assistants (from on here) to help write or proofread your work? Might give them a discount to your seminars or other training or offer to evaluate and critique their work as compensation. I’d be interested in helping. Like an understudy or intern.

    All the best!

    • Thanks Craig. Technically, I could do that, but I can’t charge for something that’s online for free already – so new articles are pushed to your app as soon as they’re published. Apple STILL collects the same toll on in-app purchases :(

      Changing the post length is definitely going to happen because it seems that people are finding things too heavy anyway – this will definitely ease up the workload some.

      Thanks for the offer of help, but to be honest, it’s still faster for me to work solo – for now.

  32. First of all, let me just echo what’s already been said by many others: This site is the best photography related site I’ve ever come across. The time and dedication you put into this is admirable, and I have learned so much from you and your articles. (And the 1st photoshop workflow video I purchased a while ago, which was very good indeed btw). I found the site while googling for lens reviews, but the thing that’s made me a regular visitor is definately your superb articles on the creative and psychological aspects of photography.

    As for my opinion, I don’t mind ads at all, and I think the donate option is a good idea. I would definately be interested in any ebooks as well as more videos. Studio lighting setups, especially for product photography, would be an especially interesting subject for a future video in my opinion.

    I hope you come to a solution that works out for you in the long-term. I definatly think you should prioritize the missus and your own health and sleep a bit more over the blog and don’t be afraid to cut back a bit on the article frequency if needed. Just my humble thoughts on the matter. :)

    I’ll set up a monthly payment on monday when I get some paypal-stuff sorted, and hope that many more do the same!

  33. Charles says:

    I’m a regular reader. My $0.02:

    1) Advertising is an easy choice to make — do it. Make it clear that the ads have no affect whatsoever on your editorial policy, but let those of us who can’t buy your Ipad app help support you with our pageviews. This on its own is not enough.

    2) Stop replying to reader email. Seriously. Every minute that you do that is essentially private consulting to that person, but they’re not paying you for the time. Limit your interaction with readers to comments and articles on the site itself, where at least it’s available for others to read. And if it’s something that shouldn’t be discussed publicly, then they *should* be paying you for consulting. I’ve been in this situation myself; I was an active member of a technical discussion list, and constantly got private “help” emails from people who’d seen my postings to the list, and answering those took up an inordinate amount of time. I eventually started form-replying giving them two options, either post publicly to the list, and if I thought I had something to contribute, I would respond, or hire me for private consulting. Trust me, as much guilt as you think you’ll feel for not responding to email will be worth the amount of time freed up to both do commerical work, and work for public consumption on the site.

    Charles

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Charles.
      1. Agreed.
      2. People say it is one of the things that sets me apart and keeps them coming back, but yes, you’re right too. As it is, I’m cutting back the length of reply to the bare essence required to answer questions (and will probably have to ignore some in future). Private consulting…is surprisingly unattractive because the same people who ask are the type who feel it should all be free.

      • Charles says:

        > Private consulting…is surprisingly unattractive because the same people who ask are the type who feel it should all be free.

        Absolutely. And if people think your time isn’t worth anything, you shouldn’t feel any obligation to provide them with it.

        I’m much, much happier if you have a handful of hours to craft another thoughtful article that I’ll enjoy reading, than if you’re spending all your time answering dumb or repetitive questions that arrive in emails. Your past policy of responding to all email may indeed have set you apart – but it will result in burnout or commercial unsustainability, which benefits no one.

        Thanks again for a great site.

        Charles

  34. Ming,

    Just thought I’d jump in the mix and give my thoughts for what they’re worth…..

    1. Ads- In a perfect world we could avoid them, but that’s just not possible when the rest of the web is swimming in them. I do believe that with your oversight and personal high standards that the ads can be done tastefully and have a minimal negative impact.
    2. Posting volume- While I enjoy posts on a daily basis I think that with the size and scope that this site has achieved it is very selfish and unreasonable for me to expect this to continue. There is something to be said for quality over quantity. Granted you are capable of both at the same time, but it would seem that you are hitting the rev limiter. I think it would perfectly reasonable to limit to 2-3 articles a week. Question, are your photoessays less labor intensive? If so, would it be possible to post 2 articles and 1-2 photoessays to give us something to tide us over till the next article posts. You have always said that the site is about the photography first! If the photoessays don’t overtax you then give us more photography! Another idea for content could be guest posts. You have created a unique photography ecosystem here. Surely there are some of your readers have excellent views and information that they could share.
    3. Comments and emails- I’m sure when this site first started the task of responding to all the readers comments/emails was very manageable. As you said yourself this site has expanded well beyond what you originally envisioned. Once again as much as I appreciate the effort and desire I find it unreasonable and selfish to expect this from you in light of the volume you face. It may be time to dial that back some. It may also be time for you readers to elevate their standards. If we want to comment and expect a reply let’s make sure that it is a well thought out comment or question that adds to the intelligent environment that this site has become. If I as a reader ask “What camera should I buy?” because I’m to stupid or to lazy to find that information for myself (either on your site or the rest of the web) do you really need to concern yourself with a response?
    4. Gear reviews- I think these need to stay for a couple of reasons. 1. The reviews open the door for new readers. Hell I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up here! Once here you realize that gear reviews are just a bonus and the real value becomes apparent. 2. I really like your gear reviews. I could honestly give a crap about mtf charts and the like. You review gear through the eyes of a photographer not a lab tech. That’s not to say that there isn’t science in your reviews! There is good value in the reviews because it offers a very unique point of view that isn’t found too often on the net!
    5. One idea that is a bit of a stretch…….. 1 or 2 fundraisers a year to help support the site. I couldn’t even begin to break down the logistics on this one. Just a thought. You’re a creative guy…. maybe something will come to mind. Some others have mentioned prints. Could be you work these in some how?

    That’s all I got. Hope it helps! When I get done here I heading over to the donation tab and gonna setup a monthly donation. In my life time I’ve pissed away too much money on useless shit. It’s about time I put some of that money toward a worthwhile cause! I bought the ipad app and I’m gonna need to grab some more vids too. Thanks Ming for all this. I hope you can make it all work, because it would be huge loss for all your readers.

    Best of luck,

    Jeff Christian

    • Hi Jeff, firstly thanks for your donation and thoughts!
      1. I’ll give them a try, but if it proves tough to fill the space with quality and quantity pays crap, then I’ll ditch the idea.
      2. We’re currently at 3 articles a week – has been bi-daily for the last six months. I try to mix up photoessays and articles; both are equally labor intensive because I actually have to go out and find something to shoot to make a photoessay, with the associated processing etc. I did think about guest posts, but this turns into a bigger question: if it continues as it does now, with the intention of the site being a platform for me to have an online presence, then having other people’s content is somewhat counter to this.
      3. I think you’ve got a point to the last one. I got a couple of emails today asking ‘Should I buy compact X or DSLR Y?’ and things in that vein. It’s an impossible question to answer, and asking it shows either callousness and rudeness for not supplying information, or that the writer is likely to be the limitation…
      4. I agree, but I’m only going to do it if I don’t have to buy the camera just for the review. Sometimes one gets carried away.
      5. I was the one who mentioned patronage and prints, but early print offers didn’t work. Perhaps it’s time to try again.

  35. A lot of fantastic suggestions here, probably a crowd sourced article there in of itself.

    At the end of the day, if you love what you do then you are very lucky indeed and I think it’s important to remember that. Yes, money will always be an important aspect to life, especially if you have a family to support, however if you have the time to write these articles and the skills that allow you to turnover $20,000 in a week for workshops (double, if you fill that 2nd course) you are already in a pretty great position.

    Photography, webblogging, writing are generally not careers one pursues to make the big bucks, and usually those in the position to make large sums of money from the day job end up simultaneously chasing more and resenting their stressed out lives. At the end of the day it’s down to the balance of both money and lifestyle that so many miss.

    I work a full time job and dedicate a large proportion of my left over time to my website and photography because I love it. I try to share tips that I find useful as I learn them. I don’t have a large following such as yourself (just starting out really) and I don’t expect to ever make as much money from this as in my day job, but if I could sustain myself pursing my artform rather than the daily grind you can bet I’d do it in a moment.

    • Absolutely – giving the people what they want is the way to go.

      I’m not sure where you’re getting $20,000 from – reality is a bit lower than that even with full courses – but I’m glad you said turnover, not profit, because the costs of me getting out there are astronomical. Meeting rooms in the locations are running $1k a day alone, excluding flights, hotels etc. and the dead time in between (travel etc) which you can’t bill to anybody. Local commercial work actually pays much better, and is less intense. You also can’t do workshops non stop (well, somehow Thorsten fills his, but he’s a sole exception as far as I can see.)

      I knew it would be a financial compromise going in. And that’s not the point, it’s also about enjoying what you do: but yes, you have reality to consider, too. In the end it’s about finding the balance…I’m still trying to figure out exactly where that is.

  36. Have you ever looked into Fotomoto? I like the idea of offering prints on demand. You would loose some control of the printing process, but I think the prints are pretty good. (plus you wouldn’t have to do the printing and shipping etc…) Couple that with some ads and maybe a few high-end signed print offers could be the answer. A little something for everyone as they say …

    • No, because I can’t control the output quality – too many bad experiences personally with results not as expected here. I’ve found a printer who produces incredible results, and I think is absolutely worth the slight premium he commands. More importantly though, my customers agree when they receive the print; unrolling it and looking at it should be a special experience.

  37. Hello Ming,

    here are few random thoughts:

    - I think that AdSense makes little sense because the payout is too small and you cannot control what your viewer sees. No doubt you’ve chosen the largely monochome look for your site on purpose, I would be quite irritated by colorful ads in the sidebar.

    - a few hand-chosen ads with a fixed monthly fee (like TOP has them in the left sidebar) are probably much better financially and optically

    - fewer articles per week will be OK for me. How about a fixed schedule so that we know when we need to check for a new article and then we go “in between” to browse old content?

    - personally I’d prefer a subscription, and your monthly donation is probably a good solution.

    - if you want to offer prints, you might want to investigate some of the printing services in each country. This way the shipping costs reduce dramatically and duty falls away. On the negative side, you don’t get to inspect the prints yourself.

    - This next idea sounds quite radical at first, but here it is anyway: Say your daily rate is 1000 USD and it takes you half a day to write and edit a blog-article. You could wait with publishing the article until 500 USD have been contributed. You could show the topic of the article immediately, so it’s teasing the readership to contribute the money. Since you are convinced that equipment content drives traffic, you can try this with an equipment article

    - I myself found this site after someone posted a link to your D600 review on TOP, but I actually find the non-technical articles much more valuable

    - The “feature” that I am missing most at this time (not only here but across the entire Internet) are image reviews. Yes, I could get those via your school of photography, but I am reluctant to spend the money-upfront. And I would profit at least half as much from reading reviews of images by other photographers. I will gladly pay for this feature alone. If you want to experiment with payed content, you could maybe start with this idea.

    - how about getting Leica to show your “Diametrical Opposites” exhibit in other countries? This would increase your audience further.

    - involve your readers more. When you travel, stay with readers; if you want to organize exhibits, have a reader support you in the country in question, ask readers to loan you equipment to review, etc.

    Regardless of the direction this blog takes, I’m sure it will remain a most excellent resource, and for this I thank you sincerely.

    Best regards

    • Thanks for the detailed thoughts. I’m already posting a few articles a week, and the schedule is fixed: it’s been every alternate day for the last, oh, six months? ;)

      If I’m offering prints, I want to be sure of the quality of the end product. And I can only do that if I QC personally – that’s part of the reason you’d buy a print from me. Too much risk and hassle if people have high expectations and aren’t happy with the product…

      Interesting idea on holding articles, but if I did that, I think nothing would be published. And the longer you wait with equipment articles, the less traffic value they have because people will have gotten their reviews elsewhere.

      Image reviews: I’m looking to increase revenue or decrease work, not increase work and not change revenue. This doesn’t make sense.

      Leica are Leica and do whatever they pleased; also, there was no change in traffic after/ during the exhibition.

      Maybe I should tap the reader pool more…

  38. Some miscellaneous thoughts based on all of the above…

    The first is, thank you so much for what you’ve already provided – but definitely agree you have to consider your own position first and foremost. I’ve been wondering for a while how you manage do do all the internet work plus maintain a professional career…

    Agree with the suggestion that you could cut back on the amount of content to 2-3 items a week. In any given week, certainly not more than two of those items being philosophical essays. They are long and do take time to digest. However, I like to read the whole thing at once, and would find piecing out the essays really irritating (unless there are natural, discrete divisions). I also enjoy the “lighter” articles like the workshop reports, your time in the watch factory, etc. whenever you have them.

    As far as additional content goes, I’d personally be very interested in more detailed critique (not necessarily long) of your own images. Some of these could be broken out from your essays. I’d consider one photo, with your description of the thought process, how you balanced elements of photography you’ve discussed, what you did or didn’t like, etc. to be a great individual read, and helpful to my development as a photographer.

    Not crazy about ads, but if necessary, I trust you to be reasonable about what and how things appear.

    For some reason the subscription model always turns me off. (Note however that I’ve purchased the first DVD, the iPad app, and individual video segments, and will make a donation). I’m not sure why this is, though part of the reason is that certain content doesn’t interest me – on your site, for example, film and developing, equipment that I’ll never purchase (Leica, expensive lenses), and to some extent, black and white photography (though used as illustration of principles this is always interesting).

    The patronage model sounds intriguing though unfortunately would not apply to me.

    Sorry if I offend anyone, but I think it’s crazy for you to have to answer “What should I buy?” questions unless someone has a very specific question about a certain piece of equipment. With all the information you provide, and that’s available all over the internet (including forums), there should be more than enough for someone to make a decision – but it means taking the time to look.
    Hopefully the Recommended Equipment List will help with this, though you may want to add a sentence referring people to the Archive for other valuable articles on equipment.

    Some interesting ideas contained in all the comments. Good luck however you decide to proceed.

    • Thanks Wia. I’ve tried to make it work, but honestly the site has just run away from me. I think content management is definitely going to improve; I hate cliffhangers too – the essays are logically organized into chunks anyway, so finding a sensible break shouldn’t be an issue. What you suggest is an alternative form of POTD, but with a bit more on the why of the image itself – this is content that doesn’t take so long to generate, so it’s a good thing.

      As for irrelevant material – you don’t have to read everything, but at the same time, sometimes it’s fun to live vicariously. I’ll probably never go medium format digital, but that doesn’t mean I’m not curious to try it.

      I’ve just fixed the Archive to make it far more obvious that there’s a lot more content in there than people realize…hopefully this helps. If not, I’m going to be removing the ‘Ask a question’ link.

      • Certainly don’t mean to imply what doesn’t specifically interest me is irrelevant – plenty of people here are most certainly interested in what I’m not! For example, my past includes b&w film photography and developing; for me, been there, done that, but can see how it might be appealing to others at different stages in their creative lives.

        The problem with living vicariously is I end up buying something anyway! – just not, say, the Leica. I do like to keep track generally of what’s out there, even if I do get into reading the details of some of the reviews.

        I will be interested in seeing what you think of the X20, once you get it…

  39. Gary Morris says:

    Here’s the issue… while the internet has produced a revolution in information sharing, this sharing has also devalued the worth of information. Put another way, if there are 500 people writing photo blogs and one starts to charge for their blog, then most readers will simply switch to one of the other 499 free bloggers. You MIGHT get a small number of people to initially follow you but in time they too will migrate to the next “hot” FREE site. This in no way indicates that your information is not worthy of being paid for; it’s just too hard to compete against free.

    As for your five ideas for generating revenue, they’re all just nibbling at the edges. You won’t in any way gain enough money in the mid-term or long-term (2-5 years) to make the effort worthwhile to you. Time to think different.

    Sorry for being blunt but you’ve got to formulate some other ideas. I wrote the software that runs an international horse registry that’s run as a US 501c3 non-profit corporation and we have this kind of discussion A LOT (vis-a-vis how to generate revenue beyond the edges — surprisingly, running an international horse registry is not too dissimilar to running a globally followed blog). Lots of good ideas get aired and considered. In the end most fall into your nibbling at the edges category. I’d be happy to take a few minutes to share with you but not in the comments section of your blog.

    • Unfortunately, I think you’re right, Gary – I don’t think the tradeoff between audience size and subscription is going to be a good one. But if you could shoot me an email with those other ideas…it would be very much appreciated indeed. :)

    • I think Steve Huff does pretty well with his blog which is financed by ads. John Gruber from Daring Fireball does really well, too. Admittedly, he has a gigantic audience and he has sponsors which he occasionally features in weekly “this is what they do and it’s kinda cool” posts. I think this could be an option for you, too: Not camera makers of course, but maybe manufacturers of accessories and stuff. Like GorillaPod or BlackRapid, something like that?

  40. I’d be perfectly fine with 1, 2 and 4. Actually, I’d even be okay with (a less dramatic) option 5: I love your blog and am really impressed by the quantity of posts. But I’m reading your blog on a regular basis because of the quality, not the quantity. So if you want to cut back to 2 or 3 high-quality posts per week, I don’t think anybody would object. 5 hours per night really doesn’t sound healthy to me!

  41. Hello Ming,
    You have received already lots of advice on revenue generation, nothing I can add here. I am also not knowledgeable enough. But I wanted to just let you know how much I appreciate all the effort & the quality of the work you do. Whatever you decide to do, I will support (and I wish Amazon and company would ship photo gear internationally).

    An idea? In order to reduce your costs: if you travel, why not let your readers in the area you travel to, know? I am sure many will be happy to offer their hospitality and so be able to give something back in return.

  42. I agree with 2 posts/week, well thought. And reduce the gear reviews (there are tons out there), or combine it with option 3 “Pay to play” to see what gear people really are interested about. This way, less time on the blog, keep the community happy, more free time to work with clients. Looks to me the most realistic way to go. Good luck anyway.

  43. I’m always amazed at how long your posts are and also how often you post. Like someone earlier stated, I think you could cut back on the number of posts, or even space them out a little to give yourself more free time to go out and make money or just live life. I know some bloggers have it setup so the site will auto post every two days or however often it’s needed.

    You also always seem to respond to a lot of the comments, which really makes us feel special and even makes us feel closer to actually knowing you but I wouldn’t say it’s needed. If you pop in every so often I think your readership would still appreciate all that you do for this site.

    No need to be a slave to your fans, though we might love you more for it :)

    • I’m on auto post too – I run my site with a tighter discipline than most magazines (I used to be editor of a photo magazine) – I’m written up a month or so in advance and have an editorial plan for the next six months. If I don’t operate with a buffer, I’d be in trouble when I have extended shoots. That said, I still try to write on a regular basis to maintain that buffer…

  44. How do the photo competitions work out financially? I think the format was people had a pay a small fee to lodge a photo, then you reviewed the top 10? A variation might be a weekly photo critique: people lodge a photo + fee and each week you pick out an image to discuss. The discussion might start out as a critique but you can use the image to discuss other topics as well. And for the people who don’t get picked for the week … well these people need to improve their images + they made a donation to Ming’s blog ! ;-)
    I think by getting more reader involvement (but only the good stuff) will generate interest and reader loyalty. Steve Huff publishes posts written by his readers — which has some appeal — but the quality is very uneven and the reader comments are the usual rubbish.

    • Lots of work and not worthwhile unless the volumes get huge. I could increase the price and give feedback on every image…don’t know how that would affect volume, though. The response and feedback was good, though.

  45. Hi Ming,

    The fact that you take the time to read and reply – and reply substantially – to each and every comment here speaks volumes for your committment. And that is a key point, when there is a surge in the number of bloggers in a similar position to yours, many asking for contributions in one way or another, but being very vague and open-ended about their obligations in return. My feeling is that you would be best served by trying some form of tiered access driven by a subscription model.

    I’m not sure if you want to share this, but how succesful has the iPad app been? What proportion of your audence reads your articles through the app, rather than the site? Because that might give you at least some feel of what the general appetite for paying is. Obviously you need to factor in the limted proportion of your readers who own iPads, but even so. Personally, I do read via the app, and actually I might be a little annoyed if there were any intrusive advertising in a channel I’ve already paid for, even if it was a pittance.

    I think the idea of some form of extra service, for example a personal critique, or access to a “top teir” Flickr group, etc, might be a good basis to sell subscriptions on. Perhaps also a certain amount of subscriber-only content on the site. But there is the fact that as things stand now, tomorrow you could wake up, decide that you’ve had enough of this blogging nonsense, and just stop. We’d all be sorry to see you go, but we’ve got no hold over you. But the more you start entering in contracts with your readership, the more it becomes a labour, as opposed to a labour of love…

    As I noted, there are more and more sites asking for donations and subscriptions. I’ve responded to 2 just this week, and although $5 here and $10 isn’t so much, it slowly starts to add up, until you realise that reading blogs is starting to become an expensive habit. I enjoy your blog, and you’re an excellent writer as well as photographer, but actually your focus is quite some way away from mine. I don’t do monochrome (much), I don’t own a Leica, and never will, I don’t really do “street”, but opening up to different perspectives is both educating and entertaing. But if all the sites and resources start lining up and asking for an entrance fee, I’d have to start prioritising. And I doubt I’m the only one. Once you, and your peers, start getting into competing for the reader’s dollar, things are going to change, drastically. And you’ll still be competing for free. That genie is well and truly out stable ( or do I mean the horse is out of the bottle?)

    My vew is that you’re at a decision point: is your blog part of your marketing for your job as a commercial photographer, or is it now your job in itself? Actually it seems it could go either way, which isn’t a bad position to be in.

    I think that’s my say well and truly had :-)
    David

    • I’ve always thought that if you’re going to do something it might as well be done properly – so yes, even thought this started out as a hobby, I figure on taking it seriously – and that also means listening to my readers/ customers. No point in taking the time to build up the audience then alienate everybody with a bad decision.

      My gut feel is that paid access will maximise revenue, but I will land up losing a lot of people in the process – not to mention adding a large amount of administrative overhead. The aim of anything I do now is to reduce the total amount of work, rather than increase it – unless the revenue increases much faster than the extra work.

      The ipad app has a few thousand users. Moderately successful, but about break even on the development costs. It’s just establishment of another delivery platform for the time being – there was a lot of demand for videos via iTunes. If I do have any advertising, it won’t appear on the ipad app as everything will be contained in the sidebar – this doesn’t port over.

      The honest box subscription model might be the solution for this – donate what you feel like, and so long as it makes sense for me, I’ll keep doing it; when things change again, there’ll be another one of these posts. I could easily decide to do things one way or another independently, but I think that would be doing a disservice to my readers. I may be competing for free – or ultimately having to charge too – but I will have experience and background beyond that of your average blogger, and this will show in the content.

      I intended this to be a hobby. It’s turning into a job: the short answer is that I don’t mind, but it has to work financially – we all have to make a living. Thanks for your detailed thoughts!

  46. Why not try a hybrid model where some of the content is free and other “premium” content is via a paid subscription? I see nothing wrong in asking for a modest amount if you have spent your resources to create that content. I have found a couple of paid subscription sites worth the money for my use (Sean Reid which I let expire as the flash format was just annoying and Llyod Chambers who I currently subscribe to). As a reader, I wouldn’t mind clicking through advertising links either.

    • Too much administrative work – I’d like to settle on one or the other…but there would have to be some free stuff to give readers a taste of the paid content.

      • “but there would have to be some free stuff to give readers a taste of the paid content.” –> this is the hybrid model. And not hard to manage administratively as a lot can be automated once setup is done properly (former experience with helping run a large health and nutrition site)..

  47. I think the problem with all your proposed solutions is that they all require more of your time and increase your headaches. Why don’t you try to see if you can get donations from people who like the site. I’d give you money. It’s like a subscription, but without the admin. If it doesn’t work, you can still try other solutions.

    • Spot on: and that’s why I now have a subscription donation option :)

      I like to think of it as a digital honesty box. That said, ads don’t really increase my workload – but the revenue and effectiveness is also an unknown.

  48. Hi Ming,

    After paying $25 dollars for a one year subscription to reidreviews, I would definitely pay double to read your articles. His format is in flash and the whole review is in a tiny windows with the text crammed together. On top of that I found his images flat and lifeless, maybe that has something to do with flash. Either way, your content is of much higher quality and I really appreciate the time you have put into it so far. So for me, adverts are fine, subscription is also fine. Even both!

    Good luck and I’m sure whatever you do you will keep a high readership, due to the effort and especially the quality of the content.

    • Thanks for the thoughts and compliments, James – here’s a thought though: would you still pay the same amount if the content was free? Think of it as a digital ‘honesty box’.

      • Hi Ming,

        That’s a tough one really. If there was some sort of guide to an amount you would be happy with it would make me feel better paying that amount. If I don’t know how much you expect or would like, it would leave me wondering if I had paid enough or not. :)

        When I have visited places in the past that have an honesty box, they tend to have an amount. I always pay that amount and sometimes more if I have enjoyed the visit.

        I used to live near a restaurant which ironically was called ‘just around the corner’ It had a lovely atmosphere and the thing that was different about it was there were no prices for anything on the menu, including champagne! I used to always worry whether I had left enough or not, but the owner always greeted me with a smile, so I guess not just I, but others did too. :) The restaurant is still running today and does well. So I guess, with your personal replies, well written articles and stunning photos, the same could work in the virtual world.

        • I’m not being coy, I just can’t answer it: if it’s one person, then well, say $5,000. If it’s 5,000 people, say $1. And so on…

          Put it this way: more is always better, but at this point, something is better than nothing! I’ve given some suggestions for the honesty box – I think anything from $2 to $100 per month is not unreasonable, but I wouldn’t expect too many in the extreme categories (and so far, it seems the $5-10 range is about right – which is similar to what I was thinking).

          Interesting idea with the restaurant: if you felt happy, you probably paid more than he would have charged – and this would be his aim. I suppose it’s also indirectly my aim, though I’m approaching it in reverse…

  49. I know that the gear articles spike traffic, but I have more enjoyed the “art” articles. As it stands now however, I can’t keep up with all of the quality articles on the site. I would like to see a once every 3 day update. I read the gear articles, but usually to support a decision that I have already made or want to make. I would like to see more ways to support the site at different amounts. Last time I purchased the Introductory video and of course the iPad app. Coming up I may get the advanced, but if there were more choices at differing monetary amounts? I know some like print sales, but that’s not my thing either. Maybe an ebook collecting articles? I would love to attend a class, but a bad case of gear acquisition syndrome keeps me from spending money on a class. :) If you find a solution to that….

  50. Faruk Senoglu says:

    By the way you wrote about the donation button: “…and it felt a bit too much like begging…”. I think you should just look at it as a kind of subscription on a voluntary basis depending on the appreciation and the financial possibilities of your readers. That’s a good way I think. And to tell the truth I have never seen this button, so putting it on a more prominent postion was a good idea! Keep on alluding to it from time to time!

  51. Oskar O says:

    I’m critical of subscriptions, largely because those discourage new readers and readers like me who simply don’t have time to read everything you write have to ask if they’re willing to pay just to read once a week. That leads to my other point, which is the amount of content can be a bit overwhelming and I doubt I’m alone. Reviews are easy to skim through, but the more contemplative posts require more effort and cannot be read as casually (I bet this also explains why reviews are so popular; instant gratification). I would actually be happy that some posts would be a bit shorter, more condensed in form, in order to focus on the essence and provide us busy readers will more easily palatable pieces of thoughts :-)

    Other than that, you’re doing great — I’ve added your sit to the list of photo sites I check regularly. And it’s quite natural that you are at some sort of crossroads now, keeping things as they are isn’t really suistainable with the current size of the blog.

    • Piecing things out makes sense. Some articles can’t be shorter – most of them, in fact – simply because they deal with concepts that take some time to explain. I suspect the reason so few other writers deal with it is because it’s not straightforward…

  52. Ming
    The quality of information on your site is far beyond others. To improve the financial situation, you will need to:

    1. Spend less time on maintaining the site: (so you can have more time shooting commercial works)
    - Less amount of post; limited 2 articles a week
    - Reduce time spent on emails and getting back to readers; personally I think you reply your readers way too fast which is good but if you pace yourself down a bit, it would still be good.
    - Add helps – glad to hear Mrs. Ming agrees to pitch in helping hands :D

    2. Increase avenues for you to earn income from this site:
    - Advertisement links and Patronage are good. I personally like patronage idea a lot more than ads because I normally never click on any ads. If you can create interesting offer for sponsorship it can make good income.
    - I also do not mind if you have more products or services to offer like workshops in asian countries, prints, e-books, t-shirts, etc…

    It would help to do both 1 and 2. Also the more products/services you have to offer the better chance your revenue will grow.

    Cheers

    • 1. Totally agreed.
      2. What do you think is a fair annual amount for patronage? To receive say one 20×30″ fine art print every quarter? Workshops in Asia tend not to be worth doing because Asians generally would rather buy equipment…as for merchandising, the holding costs and thin margins make it not worthwhile. But I’m looking into development of a few interesting products…

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      • I think you can do various level of amount for patronage and in certain amount you receive specific reward. I see this along the line of backers and rewards in kickstart.com. For 20×30″ fine print every quarter, this means 4 of these prints a year so I would say $1,000 USD range? It would be $250 per photo which is not too far out. In any case, I believe the persons that want to participate in the sponsorship of your blog will not just do it for the rewards but more for support you. :)

        • It sounds reasonable, so my thinking wasn’t too out of line. I don’t want to have too many tiers because that makes admin a nightmare, but I get your point. I think there should be something in it for everybody: support for me and nice prints for you :)

    • To add to the product/service you can offer, it could be interesting to offer your analytical thoughts and feedbacks on the famous photo-books (like Vivian Maier street photoghaphy book) to demonstrate why these photos are considered good like the way you do on email school. It would help readers understand the various elements that make such photo famous… not sure how this will be received by other people but to me this is interesting…..

      Cheers…

      • Hey, that sounds like more work :P And I have to buy the books…which aren’t easy to find here. But yes, it’s possible…though I don’t feel like I’m in a position to be able to critique the established greats. I can merely offer an opinion.

  53. I agree with the suggestion of ads and links and reduced content in terms of frequency. Perhaps you can also see what is the most viewed or longest viewed type of article and be more focused on that (and match the links!) – it’s just a reality. At the end of the day everyone knows it takes time to put a thorough article together. It is nice to see something everyday but this will almost always be shallow or short. (or guest posts).
    I am sure your audience will stay – I will.
    Best regards
    Stefan

    • I can’t do that, because otherwise I’d just produce a Ken Rockwell clone – flimsy ‘reviews’ and lots and lots of ads/ links. Surely that’s not what people want :)

  54. Todd Lawton says:

    I agree with Libby: I’d be happy with one or two posts a week. You’re spoiling us by giving us more than that for free; it must be difficult to sustain in terms of ideas, as well as financially.

    A thought on gear reviews and what you said in response to Eric: OK, so gear reviews lead to more readers, but are they what you want to be doing? For me, your essays on philosophy and photography are what make this site unique; they’re what’s kept me coming back over the last year–along with the consistently top-quality of your photos. I appreciate that many, many photographers are gearheads, and that many of your regulars will have discovered you through your gear reviews (myself included), but if they’re generating traffic that doesn’t actually pay for itself, maybe it’s time to cut down to writing only about the aspects of photography that you’re most passionate about?

    In short: reviews I can get elsewhere; intellectual, philosophical, photographic Zen of this quality is, as far as I’m concerned/aware, only attainable here. It’s your USP! I think the audience for that might be more than 10 people (though I’m always prepared to be disappointed! D:).

    Finally, I paid for your iPad app and several of the videos on it, including the longer/more expensive ones, was very pleased, and would be happy to do so again. I thought you got the quality/pricing/distribution model spot-on, and the quality of your work (pictoral and written) is the best possible advertisement for your tuition.

    Thank you for being so generous with your time, and for choosing to share so much of yourself and your work methods when many photographers are so secretive about what they do. It’s inspiring, right down to the little touches, like trying to respond to everyone. Reading this site has helped me to become not only a better photographer, but a better, more complete artist–even a better person. For that I’m enormously grateful, and I want you to succeed so I can continue enjoying the fruits of that success! Hopefully I’m not alone amongst your readers.

    Good luck.

    • Thanks for the detailed thoughts, Todd.

      “but if they’re generating traffic that doesn’t actually pay for itself, maybe it’s time to cut down to writing only about the aspects of photography that you’re most passionate about?”

      Very true.

      “In short: reviews I can get elsewhere”

      I doubt they’re as comprehensive or the output looks the same (which thus questions the validity of the opinion) but yes, I suppose…

      Thanks for the support – the iPad app was a serious investment, which so far has just about broken even – the videos on the other hand do reasonably well. Perhaps that’s the direction things should take in future – product, rather than contributions/ subscriptions.

      No point in being secretive. The more open you are, the easier it is for clients to see the value in what you do – especially when they try to do everything themselves :)

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Personally, of all gear review alternatives out there, I give yours the most weight, easily, because (a) I love the way your photographs look, and (b) you cater to a deeper level of understanding than most. For example, I got excited when you wrote about how the tonal response of the M240′s new sensor differs to the M9′s CCD, because you know what tonal response *is* and how it’s realistically going to affect output (taking PP into account), and you’re able to put that into words articulately; I haven’t found any other site that goes much beyond “camera X has a film-like look”, without explaining what that is or why.

        The problem with your output from a gear review point of view is that one of your great strengths is your distinctive look, and your ability to get that out of any camera: you, more than anyone, have taught me that gear doesn’t matter (many photographers say it, but few actually prove it through their photos!), and in my opinion that is counterproductive to judging the basic quality of Lens X/Camera Y. I wasn’t new to photography when I started reading your site a year ago, but it still made me want to go out and buy an M9 to help get the look of my photos closer to your Prague set. Fast forward a year, and I notice your M240 samples are littered with “wow! Unique Leica look!” comments, and you’ve kinda had to say to people “no, this is primarily a light/PP thing… I could have taken this with any camera… there’s not even an ACR profile out for this one yet!”. The relative insignificance of gear (from a technical point of view, at least) is such a major part of your ethos… it’s all about the end result–making beautiful photos–and I’m not sure that’s entirely compatible with gear reviews, which, whether they realise it or not, people need to illustrate the difference between Starting Point A (Leica M9 w/ 50mm APO) and Starting Point B (Sony RX100).

        In other words, after reading your opinion, I’d still go in search of SOOC JPEGs elsewhere: crappy, unprocessed, full-size images are like the other side to the story.

        • I think a lot of the people who *claim* certain cameras have certain ‘looks’ have a) never shot film and b) don’t know that both film and digital ‘looks’ depend heavily on the processing… ;)

          Interesting point about gear reviews though. The counter-argument is that I wouldn’t waste my time reviewing something that didn’t work for me (well, there’s one exception coming up soon) – and that’s a binary thing: either I can get the output I want, or I can’t. This is why the words matter: I’m using my storehouse of experience to compare one camera to another, not providing samples for people to download – that’s what the manufacturers and a zillion and one other sites are for (usually those which can’t produce interesting images).

          I have a (perhaps irrational) fear of putting SOOC jpegs out there: clients might think they’re finished work, especially if they get separated from the commentary. Or I might decide I like the RAW file, and it has commercial value; except now it doesn’t, because there’s a SOOC full-size jpeg elsewhere for somebody to download and process. I could always post second-rate images to counter that, but then we return to the first point…

      • Todd Lawton says:

        FYI: most of my friends (I live near London, England) go to DPReview, Rockwell *shudder* and DigitalRev *shudder* for opinion, and Photozone for data.

        • I go to keep tabs of news and the competition…but yes, the content is abysmal. The ‘articles’ on photography DPR post are absolutely terrible.

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Yes, I got into shooting film seriously at the beginning of 2012, thinking like many people that it was somehow more “pure”; it’s shocking how digital the process is. I’d go as far as to say the big difference is the shooting experience, not the look.

        I’m not sure it is binary, is it? It’s not just whether you can get the look or not, but how easy it is to get there. For example, you said that the D800E *can* provide the tonal response of a Leica, it’s just not as easy to get there. Point taken about the words being the important bit, though. Personally, as I say, I love your reviews, so by all means keep ‘em coming! But if you’re looking at reducing your workload, I do think this site could carry on just fine without them–it might not get as many hits, but that’s to be expected if your efforts are being redirected elsewhere.

        I can absolutely understand your reluctance to share SOOC JPEGs; I’d venture to say that’s one of the things that separates an artist from a reviewer.

        Put me down as another vote for ads by the way. They’re so utterly ubiquitous, they’ve become part of the furniture IMO. Only the particularly invasive ones are annoying (full screen/anything with sound).

        • True about film. I do the film workflow, then a digital conversion workflow which…still uses a D800E, ACR and Photoshop. :P

          The result is binary: it boils down to ‘can I be bothered’ or not? With sufficient time and PS skill, you could ultimately draw the image you wanted, but this somewhat defeats the point of photography.

          Oh hell no to invasive ads! Passive, at very least, and hopefully interesting in the way that I’d be interested in the products personally.

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Absolutely. It’s liberating to feel like you can get the end result you want from just about anything, and I suppose an ego boost to know that it’s one’s own vision that shines through. On the flipside, I slightly miss being young and foolish enough to think that film /was/ the photo; there’s a certain romance and gravitas to that idea.

        • Actually, it’s more to do with consistency for commercial work…I can’t give clients the excuse ‘oh, it looks different because I used the wrong camera…’

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Oh, I was speaking only for myself there :)

    • Todd Lawton says:

      I think the most depressing thing about DPR is the comments. Nobody has anything nice to say about anything–not gear, not anybody else’s work. And it’s not constructive criticism, either. It’s just such a horribly negative mindset. “Internet” should not be an excuse for being an arsehole :)

      • People hide behind their anonymity. I suppose it’s the diametric opposite of Flickr, where everything is all group hugs and rainbows…

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Ha! Group hugs, rainbows, and terrible, terrible animated GIF banners. “You’ve won an award!!!”

        • It’s almost worse than pop-up advertising, isn’t it?

          Here’s the other interesting tidbit: my flickr stream has almost as much traffic as the blog, but there’s only 10% cross-traffic between the two, even with obvious links in both directions. I can’t figure that out.

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Indeed. I don’t like having shiny things distracting from my photos, and I’m not sure what people get out of spamming Flickr anyway… It can’t be money!

        The traffic thing is bizarre. I don’t see how you could be interested in one but not interested in/aware of the other. I suppose people just don’t like click-throughs–which might not bode well for ads, actually…

      • Todd Lawton says:

        More importantly, as a fellow Lego builder–I think that was one of the things that first grabbed me about you, small matter of photos and writing aside–I hate to think how far down the priorities list Lego has been shunted as a result of all this work…

        • Creative building? I have a half-finished car that’s been half-finished for over a year. But I did make a film scanner out of some spare parts!

      • Todd Lawton says:

        Any kind of [Lego] building is good building :)

  55. I’ve been wondering for the last 6 months how you keep this up given it is almost a ‘hobby’ :) . Unfortunately nowadays it is hard to make money off the internet and the general public expect good content to be free. Now I would say your content is above good but people do not distinguish from that. Reality is if you charge to access your site your traffic would decrease tremendously. And I am not sure how many subscribers would actually be required for it to be worthwhile having them.

    You probably need to curb the site to a max of 2 articles a week and probably refocus back onto getting more commercial work which does pay. On top of this focus on the paid content such as videos – which I assume are currently working out worthwhile the effort as well as the workshops.

    The reviews are good but again people expect this to be free and would still keep the format of only reviewing what you use/get your hands on – this somehow makes it feel that the equipment has a validity to be reviewed in the first place. I do like the idea of contributing to a review and then raffling off the equipment – but is that going to be worth the effort?

    Why not offer more prints for sale, I’ve only seen you do it a few times – and must not require so much work?

    Finally well done so far! I’ve contemplated a ‘proper’ blog for a while, but worked out that for the articles I want to write I would need a day at least for each and on top of a regular 10-12 hr a day job that is not easy….

    • Actually, it IS a hobby, and it’s been a year. The question is…what should it become now?

      If you can find another review of similar quality, experience and has the ability to make comparable images…I think I should give up writing.

      Prints didn’t work at all – I sold a very small handful which leads me to the conclusion the demand simply isn’t there.

      • Personally I don’t think ads will generate enough – you will need more. Subscriptions is a neat idea, but how many will you need, 200, 1000? And on top of that charging a reasonable amount, not too much so say $10 a month? That would be possible and potentially achievable. But how will you determine what is free content and then subscription content – from what I can tell you will personally struggle with that as (admirably) you want to share as much as possible.

        Your reviews are excellent – but is it going to be worth almost raffling off a camera after you review it. Say a camera costs $1k – you need to raise that amount and then almost charge a fee on top of that to cover your own day rate.

        I think you need to revert back to it being a hobby with limited content (twice a week?) and focus back on commercial, that is where you can make a living.

        Shame about the prints – but heck we in Europe just don’t have the wall space :)

        • The lower the price goes, the higher the numbers need to be. And I don’t think subscriptions make sense – unless they’re like an ‘honesty box’ where you sign up to donate $5 a month or something (I’ve set that up already to see how it runs).

          As for ads – going rates for a sidebar slot of 250x250px or so that appears on every page for sites with my traffic and demographic run in the US$1200-1500/month range. Have four or five of those, and that’s a significant chunk of change – so I’m not ruling it out yet.

          I could do small prints, but those just aren’t as nice. :P

      • Crikey, with ads that is a nice amount of change!!! I guess you’ve pretty much convinced yourself that is the ‘easiest’ and potentially least damaging to your site and I would agree. Might as well try it – and it allows you to maintain your site traffic which will help with ads!

        Agree with prints, needs to be A2 ish size – the other problem here is framing is so expensive…..but its so addictive :)

        • You need to have the right amount of traffic to make it work – in the seven or so hours since posting this, I’ve already had 50 people leave their thoughts, another 20 email me, half a dozen make a donation, and 500 people vote in the poll. And the USA isn’t even awake yet :P

          It does seem that most people view ads as the least invasive method. I’m looking for a long term solution – so if we have to try a few things and see what works best, that’s fine too…

  56. I would think avoid linking social Networking sites, in my opinion it really does add much Value and dilutes the readers attention – keep them on your site and NOT on FaceBook – Moreover Now your site has reached Critical Mass of serious ecosystem on your own merits and does really need endorsement of FB likes madness

  57. Hi Ming, let me offer some comments and ideas.

    1. For gear reviews, I think it is better to review new gears instead of ancient gears, It drives more traffic and revenue when you link it to get some commissions from affiliates (amazon.com) like you did already.

    2. About google adsense, I think they pay very little, only a couple cent a click, plus it is hard to get 1% click through rate. It will make your blog ugly and less professional. Furthermore, encouraging visitors to click on ads they don’t interested in is almost like a scam. I like commissions strategy better especially if you have massive number of reader from USA.

    3. You can write and design short e-books or digital magazine and sell it at around $5-$20, You can set up affiliate system for people who promote your books. Example: http://www.craftandvision.com. I think that will be good source of passive income. You might also considering working with other photographer friend/writer to write for this blog and e-books.

    4. Tour and travel is a very good business especially in the year of snake. South East Asia countries have plenty photogenic places (Myanmar, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc). Beside doing your regular small group photo workshop, I think you should also organize photographic tour with bigger group (20-30 pax) with lower price per pax. You don’t have to teach everyone, but just accompany them and give them some tips and guidance when they need it.

    5. Subscription? no. it will kills your traffic and reduce your reach

    6. Patronage: good idea you can combine it with email school

    7. More tutorial DVDs especially on lighting, still life, products

    8. pay per review? no! it’s a bad idea. Why don’t you approach camera company and borrow you one or two.

    Excuse my English and my comments are helpful

    WordPress.com / Gravatar.com credentials can be used.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Enche.

      1. I don’t get loaners for most things here. Most of the local camera principals are happy to support 5-10,000 circulation magazines, but not bloggers with easily 50x the traffic. Buying new gear all the time is not financially practical!

      2. The commissions system is already in, but the referral percentages are very low, so you need astronomical volume to make them work. That said, despite the hundreds of thousands of views of the Leica M review, not one single person has ordered one through one of my links. Same for the Monochrom. I’m looking for ad partners in related industries (or complimentary industries) and of the right standard, not just anybody – though I may experiment with Google for a while just to see what happens.

      3. Possible, but that’s more work for unknown return. I’m sure you’ve noticed that there aren’t that many people who can shoot and write – this is why I haven’t got any contributors yet (though that’s another possibility if the right person came along, I suppose). I think I’ll probably look into an ebook later in the year, but self-published.

      4. Logistics and administration are a nightmare, and there are dozens of companies already doing it. It doesn’t make sense to play in a space that’s already crowded and highly competitive. Asians tend to try to murder each other on price, and in the end, nobody wins.

      5. Yes, but it also increases my revenue. There will always be that tradeoff.

      6. I was thinking large format prints at regular intervals – depending on the amount, the print costs are already very high…

      7. Already in the plan.

      8. See #1.

      I’m getting the impression you’d like to keep things free…

      • 1,8 Understandable. Sometimes, I think company afraid if reviewers say bad things about their products. Especially in the web. :(

        2. Because Leica products are very high-end, not many enthuasists photographer can justify the price. If you review Canon 650D or Nikon D5200, I believe there will be more sales hehe :) But yes it is impractical to buy every stuff. I know one lens review site that get the lenses from voluntary readers who trust and ship the lens to the site for review. (http://www.photozone.de/) I don’t know if this will work with your site.

        3. Nice, to free up some time to write quality e-books for sale. Like others, I suggest to spend less time on writing or responding every comments or pictures, 2-3 new articles for the blog per week is already very good.

        4. Yes, it will be nightmare if you try to manage it yourself. if you are going into this path, you really need to work with pro tour operators. I believe people will be willing to pay more, if you are there. You are unique and you have no competition :)

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting to keep everything free, but i think you’ll need more products to sell in a more consistent basis. I think it will generate a lot more money for you compare to setting up ads that promote other people products.

  58. I also voted on #1 and prefer ads on the page. Most of the free internet is sponsored by it, so that’s perfectly fine for me.
    I don’t know if subscriptions work. It will scare off new readers and/or you would need more time for efforts attracting them.
    A patronage system might work as well (not sure if it will generate enough though). I also like the idea of a free picture review for patrons per month/quarter, which was brought up above. Or a one-liner for pool rejections :) .. but on the other hand, that would create more work for you, not less.

    Some more thoughts:
    * reducing output. As above already mentioned I would also be happy with any lower frequency of your high quality texts. I doesn’t need to be on a daily basis
    * reducing responses. your responsiveness is a great distinguishing mark, but as much as I enjoy reading your answer to a flickr comment, I really don’t expect one. Even if you would cut down a bit in this area, you would still be perceived way above average.
    * generating additional income: I think it has been proposed before, creating a book with a collection of your best posts might be an idea. After all the content is already there, and you could reach people, who are not spending hrs in front of computer screens. Same is true for a book with your pictures, I alone would buy 3 immediately – 1 for me, 2 as gifts :)
    * I recently ran across flattr, which allows for micropayment (blog) site support. Don’t know if it’s good or bad, but might be worth checking out
    * As already said, I’d love to use amazon.de referral link for my amazon purchases. (no, importing stuff from the US is usually not an option due to customs, shipping cost, waiting time etc.)

    I know only one comparable blog on the net, http://www.joelonsoftware.com – different topic, but similar dedication and excellent writing. It looks like Joel slowed down a bit recently, but after 12 years and 1100 articles that’s ok I guess. He did publish a book with his posts BTW – which makes an excellent read. Maybe it’s worth checking out (or ask him) for ideas. He has for example a volunteer translation project going on.

    In any case, I wish you success with what you do, and us, that this great site continues to exist and flourish. #5 is not an option!

    • Thanks for your thoughts (and donation!), Angsar.

      The goal isn’t so much more or less work – it’s either same work and a bit more revenue to make up for lost commercial work, or less work and…well, why do it? :) More work and more revenue would be fine too, so long as the revenue scales faster than the work. (I think my inner consultant is showing.). I’ve added donation and subscription buttons – perhaps those will work.

      Reducing output is an option – same frequency, smaller chunks; responsiveness is a trademark, so I’ll leave it as is. Physical book printing doesn’t make sense for reasons mentioned in the previous comment – it’s a lot more work and very little extra revenue. But an ebook is a possibility.

      If I keep going for 12 years at this rate, I’ll have 6,000 articles…and probably have run out of things to say long before that. I did 512 in the first year alone…

  59. Teoh YC says:

    While continue to maintain this Blog as it is, do you think of publishing your works, knowledge, techniques, ideas, etc, in the form of real books ? I personally willing to pay to buy good photography books (DVD may be included as part of the book).

    • The cost of book printing is high for small runs, which means either margins are terrible, prices are unattractive, or I’ve got to pay in advance for large numbers of copies – none of these work. I’m considering an ebook, and the videos are already available via the teaching store…(now with auto Paypal checkout!)

  60. Thierry says:

    I think Aizuddin is absolutely right : “The days of giving away QUALITY content on the web is dead”. And sooner or later, subscription will be the main option, with a direct link between utility and revenue. Adds are a surrogate. What about an extra face book page, reserved for your subscribers ? But i think the price should very low : perhaps 2 or 3 $ / month. And part of your articles should remain accessible (if not, the system is closed, and you can’t have new readers).
    If i were you, the question will be : are you ok for 1$, for 2, for 3, …
    But your poll is a very interesting, for you of course, but also for all bloggers and readers.
    Cheers.

    • If we’re talking $1-2 per month, I’d need to have 5-10,000 subscribers – I just don’t see that happening. Keeping track of the admin alone would be a nightmare; I’d rather produce better content for fewer people than spend time managing logins…

      As for the wider implications: I think it’s a question all serious bloggers have to consider at some point. But I doubt many of them crowdsource the answer from their readers. :)

      • Thierry says:

        But how much do you need ? :-) Is it ok with 5000 $ / month ? or 10 000 $ ?
        For the admin, automatic solutions should exist dont you think so ?

        • It would depend on how much time I’m going to spend doing it, and what my costs of content production are – right now the answer to that is a lot, and moderate. Part of the answer is related to the value of unbillable time which could be charged to clients, and part of it is the deeper philosophical question of ‘how much is enough’?

          The automatic admin solutions aren’t great, and they have fixed costs which mean you’ve got to clear a certain hurdle before they make sense. One more reason why I’m personally not keen on the subscription model, even though this would probably be the fastest way to make money.

  61. Faruk Senoglu says:

    Forgot something! Just an idea! What about combining your work with tourism, offering phototours with suiting accomodations through Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia, flight excluded? For, let’s say one or two weeks? You even wouldn’t need to be involved to much yourself in this, just for few days or so….?

    • I did think about that but costs would be similar to the workshops, or possibly higher – physical time is the premium for me. Not sure it’d make sense.

  62. Faruk Senoglu says:

    Well, Ming, you know what I think about your site. Although I appreciate your work much, I think you should at least change the frequency of your publication. I guess most of your readers are in a similar situation like me. Because I’m working 5-6 days a week usually with breaks, sometimes I can’t keep up with the frequency of your publications. I’m still working myself though the articles in your archive. 2-3 articles a week should be enough and you could preproduce them accordingly. In general I think you should find a balanced mixture between free and paid content and maybe diversify in the services you offer. I think many of your readers have realized that one of your strengths is in analyzing/deconstructing image compositions for example. I would happily like to join your e-mail school but am not in the financial situation to do so soon for several reasons. But would appreciate for example a pay per picture analysis offer?! It’s often easier for to pay in small amounts for dedicated services which one needs short term. Something like this. However hope you’ll find a way that benefits you and your readers as well!
    Cheers, Faruk

    • Actually, the site has an editorial plan similar to the magazine I used to preside over – I’m written up two months in advance, and have a schedule for the next six months or so. But sure, I could stretch it out – it certainly makes sense that not all readers have that much time. Would less frequency or smaller bites be better?

      Pay per picture could be an interesting option…

  63. Hi Ming, I believe most of the site’s readers overwhelmingly agree appreciation in some monetary form should be expressed, for the incredible effort and time you’ve put in that has enriched all here. I’ve personally voted for Subscriptions and Ads but I think these, and as some have mentioned, and/or a Donations option would help.
    Especially if you’re concerned the effect subscriptions may have on your relationship with readers, a donation would retain the ‘goodwill’ aspect both ways. I’m sure you are well aware of the figures, but to illustrate – even if just 5% of the site’s 3 million visitors donate US$5/yr, that translates to US$750k per year. And if the variables double (10% or $10/yr), that’ll double the amount and so forth. Even a copy of most digital photography magazines cost about $5 or $10 per month so its not really a stretch to pay that a whole year for all this content (a bargain in fact) :)
    Perhaps the review section could be on a separate pay-per-view basis, a buck or two (logic being the lesser, the more chances of a view) wouldn’t be too much for someone looking to invest in a piece of equipment or reading out of curiosity.
    Whatever the outcome of this, wishing you the best!

    • Always nice to feel valued!

      I just added a donate button on the right hand sidebar. I’m sure people are seeing it, because it’s right under the ‘Gear List’ and that’s getting a lot of clicks :)

      I really don’t want to go subscription based, so let’s see if the donation options work…perhaps I should offer a recurring monthly, too.

  64. As such I would prefer small Subscription and NOT Ads , which are offensive , annoying & outright crude & rude – Imagine Cheap Camera ads popping next to Leica and Zeiss Reviews. … Pl Pl avoid Ads – which will be devastating ..which otherwise is brilliant Quality of content and presentation ..

  65. First and foremost: Thank you very much for offering your fantastic content!

    Personally, I voted for 2 and 4. According to the poll people seem to prefer ads – but honestly, I feel like it would make your blog a bit more like the others. What you’re offering is quality content, so if you consider ads, please select quality ones (there are curated ad services like The Deck). Frankly, I use Adblock on all websites that have cheap ads…

    As others have suggested: Have you considered writing less? It would free up some of your time without impacting quality and we readers can digest your content a bit more thoroughly.

    • I definitely got the impression that one of the reasons people read my site was both quality and quantity; if that’s not the case, perhaps I should be asking a different question: how does one monetize better?

      • Maybe you could take a look at how John Gruber does it (www.daringfireball.net). It is a very different site, but the business model is interesting: He has sponsors for every week of publishing. They pay to get an article at the beginning of the week that announces them as sponsors and has a feature on their product. It is always something relevant to the context of the site and always something the publisher actually deems to be a good product.

        In addition he has one small ad at the side that is pushed via The Deck. Because there are very few ads, the ones that are there actually get noticed by the audience. It is a simple concept if you can find enough adequate sponsors. I don’t know how many of your readers can afford luxury watches and BMWs, so maybe it would be more camera gear related, which might be something you don’t want. Maybe it is a good idea to find out more about your readers as a target audience.

        Just some thoughts. It will be interesting to see how it turns out :-)

        • That’s an interesting idea. I have to get over the hurdle of geography: Asians are generally not generous enough to sponsor these things, and westerners feel a bit nervous about working with Asians…seems a bit racist but sadly the truth I encounter the vast majority of the time.

  66. To echo others here, really admire what you do here and your talent, not just in the photos, but to be able to offer such great content regularly. Your detailed, relevant responses to comments and questions indeed differentiate you from others. I would definitely consider subscription! All the best and hope it all works out for you.

  67. I can’t say as I am suprised Ming. I would happily pay a subscription (depending on the amount of course!). I would also have no objection to advertising. Main thing is that you are able to continue doing what you do.

  68. The laborer is worthy of his hire. A small amount of ads and a PayPal donate button works best for me. Love your site and all the work you put into it.

  69. David Babsky says:

    It’s not feasible to keep posting (almost) every day ..and to get (almost) nothing from it.

    Split your time and effort on:
    (1) Mrs Ming.
    (2) Add ads to the blog; ALL respectable publications have ads (Washington Post, The Times, The Observer, The Bangkok Post, South China Morning Post). You know, from editing a printed mag, that “(advertising) pages pay wages”. You’ve an upmarket blog, so chase upmarket ads ..not necessarily from camera companies (which you think may compromise your independence) but from upmarket “luxury” brands: your watch clients, LVMH, clothes brands, car companies ..a few small ads for peanuts (from their perspective, from those advertisers’ budgets – $1000 each) would give THEM a very well-targeted audience for almost nothing, but would give YOU a cash “cushion”.
    (3) Only one and a half articles a week here: don’t spend more time than that. On days when you don’t post new material (most of the week) direct readers to older articles (which they probably missed).
    (4) Everyone in Europe knows the history of Leica, Fox Talbot, Niepce, Daguerre. We don’t know the history of Mr Yoshida (of Kwanon / Canon), Mr Maitani (Olympus’ designer), Mr Tashima (Minolta), etc. Pitch a TV series of the rise of the Japanese optical industry to an ‘eastern’ TV company as a co-production with the BBC and Boston’s WGBH, with you fronting it. Pitch the BOOK of the series to a publisher, to get an ADVANCE, giving you another cash cushion and the time to research it. Shoot lots of pictures in Japan.
    (5) Pitch to more “intricate miniature engineering” clients, not just watch companies: audio mixing desks, headphone manufacturers, precision hi-fi companies, more medical companies, camera manufacturing companies!
    This blog is not your life.

    • 1) Mrs Ming agrees. :)
      2) I think we’re thinking along the same lines.
      3) Is that frequent enough to keep people interested? I’m not sure. I’ve definitely throttled back, and think I could probably throttle back a bit more as the archive grows, but somebody that posts that infrequently doesn’t personally hold my interest.
      4) Interesting idea. I did explore the idea of books before, but those are long term projects and still not that profitable because of the sheer time and expense involved.
      5) Another very good idea.
      6) True!

      Thanks David!

      • Peter Boender says:

        I think David Babsky is making one of the strongest propositions here!

        (3) IMHO people are interested because of the quality of the articles, not by the frequency. I’ve said it before: you have found somewhat of a niche by also writing about the artistic, philosophical and psychological aspects of photography. This may not correlate directly to the number of page hits, but I do believe the readers of those articles are your most faithful followers. They will not shy away if you post less. Heck, with your current frequency I can hardly keep up! (Others have vented the same feeling). The articles are that good that they deserve another read. At least that’s what I find myself doing: going back, trying to digest it all and work things out in my own photography, then come back again to check / verify. So: don’t worry!
        (4) I really (!!!) like this idea. If you look at the likes of Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski, these guys seem to be everywhere! The do a lot of free stuff, quality is good, but the amount is limited. If you want more, go buy their books and videos. You can endeavor on this road as well. BTW stay in your niche. There’s a ton of photography books out there, but not many that address your thoughts (the only thing that spring to my mind now is the triptych by Michael Freeman – The Photographer’s Eye, Mind, Vision on Focal Press and some books by David DuChemin). Profitability comes from volume. Volume will come if the quality is there. Use your blog to gain visibility for these products (books, videos, TV shows). Apparently David DuChemin has made it work (as mentioned earlier by another respondent): I do not only have a number of his “regular” books, but also some of his e-books.

        • Thanks for the thoughts, Peter – volume is definitely the key with the smaller amounts, and keeping the overheads as low as possible. This is one of the challenges with physical book printing. But an ebook is definitely something I should look into…and perhaps bringing up the older posts from the pre-popular days is a good idea, too.

      • Ming,
        I agree with Peter and David on point (3). Of course your audience like having multiple articles a week because they are really good. But I don’t think your loyal audience would be turned down if you posted less of the good stuff. Since I found your blog just recently and have several times looked at your archive to read the previous posts. I think it is a good idea of short posts directing your new readers to older articles.
        Best of luck!

        • I’ve reshuffled the archives to the header so that past posts are easier to find, too; hopefully this should give a good idea of just how extensive the back catalog is.

  70. Ming – A few suggestions: keep the posts shorter. 500 words are also fine. I travel a lot and often find myself not fully reading your posts as I run out of time. Short and sweet works well. Aso, do you need to post that often? We (the audience) would certainly enjoy it, but is there a specific benefit to you? Also, I would look at your objectives. Why do run the blog this way? Are you trying to make a living with this? Are you trying to attract more business? Is it just for fun? I know from experience that pageviews can become addictive but they don’t pay the bills. I found that one of my sites did much better (and helped me achieve my personal objectives) once I stepped back and reduced my posts.

    • There’s a definite drop in traffic with reduction in frequency, and a correlation between readers and paying students, workshop attendees, referral fees etc – those also help pay the bills to some extent, so there’s also that tradeoff to consider. The site is for photographers; I sell work to photo buyers: usually these are completely different sets of people. If I could somehow make more of a living from writing, I’d be open to doing that; the audience is always there and it’s much easier to get a lot of people to pay a small amount than a few clients to pay a large one.

      As for length: well, I can’t really get the point across in fewer words, so yes.

  71. Thiefsie says:

    Not sure if you’re against it for any particular reason, but a donation button of some sort would be an option for at least some money – you may be surprised at people’s generosity. Of course you’re avoiding Paypal like the plague I imagine.

    I myself last year subscribed to my first website. (www.giantbomb.com) with is about $40-50p/a. This was a significant milestone for me as I reached the point where the entertainment and quality of stuff those guys puts out is right up my alley and I think that is a steal for what it is – this from a person who will astutely refuse to subscribe to an MMORPG for example for the principle of it. Giantbomb serve tonnes and tonnes of different format stuff as well, rather than just blog posts, reviews,etc. (podcasts/videos/reviews/editorials/journalism/etc)

    Your market is presumably a lot more narrow and thus would have to be higher cost for a similar subscription. Which would be difficult for me. I kind of equate the time I spend reading/being entertained on a place to how much it costs (along with quality of course) and also predict whether I will want to be seeing more of the same for a year (etc.) I’m at the stage where I want to give you some sort of money as you have provided countless hours of good product to consume (for free!) and presumably will in the future, but I do not have an iPad and I am not a workshop kind of person. (Also I think you have much greater integrity than other bloggers such as Steve Huff who has obvious _stated_ bias towards the products he uses and also his advertising links etc).
    I’m also not sure I would benefit overly from buying your DVD’s but frankly maybe I should get one… [I'm still super curious how your workflow makes all of your images look somewhat similar no matter the subject/camera/format - however I'm not sure your dvd's would really answer that satisfactorily for me].
    Lastly I’m a Canon user, will probably never afford a Leica or the like (though I have shot with one for a few rolls which was cathartic) and thus I appreciate your photo essays and general composition/technique articles more than your clear cut reviews. In a way I almost sense that you will exhaust your ‘philosophical’ and technique driven article subjects and thus move onto reviews that will hardly be useful for someone such as myself.

    Just trying to be honest, which is the least I could do for the time I have been genuinely appreciating your blog.

    • Actually, there used to be a donation link in the bottom of the posts – didn’t make much difference, and it felt a bit too much like begging…

      Do you think $50/year is a reasonable amount to spend on a subscription? I’m not ruling it out – along with making the existing resource archives members-only.

      As for the reviews – I review everything and anything that might be of interest to a photographer; most of the time I shoot Nikon, or M4/3 for my workshops/ travel stuff, or vintage film gear and compacts for my own work – so there’s something for everybody.

      Thanks for the feedback – and yes, the videos do show exactly what I do with my files…though there’s probably something in the composition which you can’t really fix in photoshop though ;)

      • There’s been talk on some forums recently of a reviewer who provides access to his site on a subscription basis and also had an advance copy of the M.
        The issue is people who have got a subscription tend to let it lapse as, once they’ve consumed the contents of the site new articles come at a relatively slow pace and are not necessarily in line with their interests, instead they opt to spring for a new subscription when a particular piece of gear they’re waiting for launches to maximise their ‘bang for the buck’.

        The main reason for the lack of loyalty being that existing users get no discount when their renewal date comes up, so no incentive to stay versus signing up again if and when there is something they’re interested in launched and reviewed, at that point they can also catch up on articles missed between paid membership periods.

        Something you might want to consider should you go down that path?

  72. NeutraL-GreY says:

    Life can be hard to juggle at times. I really appreciate your work, it is definitely my main source of inspiration. At the end of the day I would recommend to never compromise on your suburb quality. Good Luck!

  73. Ming, I don’t know how you do it. 5 hours sleep? If you keep this up you’re going to start looking like an almost 60 year old. Oh yea, that’s me. You’re a prolific writer and your attention to detail is reflected in all you do. I’m glad you’re considering some major changes as I’m sure its not just the financial end that’s affecting your life. I have just a simple blog yet I can let myself feel guilty if I neglect putting “something” up on a regular basis. But then its a hobby for me.

    Don’t worry about us. Its your life, your pages of your work. Do what feels right to you and it will work out. One has to be able to sleep at night with what they’ve done that day. A realignment of your priorities seem fitting!

    • 5 hours on a good day! I already get mistaken for being in my late 30s, which is easily ten years off the mark. Give it til the end of next year at least!

      I’m starting to think the latter might be the first step. Trouble is, I have to admit I feel some sort of obligation to the huge number of readers I’ve got – I’ve got higher monthly readership than all of the photography magazines in Malaysia combined. (Yet curiously the advertisers seem to ignore me, and few camera companies are willing to loan review gear. Odd.)

      Some time to figure out a long term plan definitely needs to be on the cards this month. I have to make time for it.

  74. well, as libby mentionned there is a lot on the blog and I also don’t have hte time to read it all. the gear review I usually skip, as the gear is often where we spend a non marginal amount of money but it’s only marginal improvement in teh quality of the image. The article about the image are far more interesting to me, and also need some time to think overit and how to apply them.
    stevehuff and co website, seems only intrested by the gears and a general passion in photography; but there is no clue on how to progress or to make the passion more fulfilling apart from acquiring more gear and getting through random images. to me is like if the camera providers where outsourcing the marketing to them and they do a good job at it. and therfore quite different from this blog.
    All the best.

    • I think you and Libby are in the minority: gear reviews spike traffic like nobody’s business, which results in returning readers thereafter. Sadly, few people care about the philosophy, and fewer would be willing to pay for it. I wish I could just write about photography, but I think my audience might shrink to about ten people. :)

      • Tony Holt says:

        Make that 11 people. Though I think that sadly gear reviews might be the only way to make a web site about photography pay.

      • Make that 12 :) I actually come here 90% for the non-technical articles (funny how I actually found your site while searching for some lens reviews :P). I didn’t find anywhere this kind of articles, especially written so well. On the other hand.. plenty of gear reviews, everywhere. Although, your gear reviews also focus on the “photography” side, not only on the “numbers” side..

        Anyway – my choice, in order of preference? 1, 2. If you go for 2 – make it PDF, not iPad exclusive :)
        1 – easiest to do, less headache; probably not very “lucrative”
        2 – easier to do, but some headache with the management of subscriptions

        Least preferred options, in order: 3, 4.
        3 – because I am less interested in technical kind of articles (on the other hand, with this approach, I don’t have to pay for a review, if I’m not interested in it)
        4 – prints are nice – but in my small apartment I would really waste some beautiful prints (plus.. more headaches with payment, shipping, etc). Yet, a print sale from time to time will prove if people are interested or not in this..

        Good luck, whatever choice you make :)

        • Thanks Alex. Yes, reviews draw people in, the other stuff makes them stay. I think the main difference is that I care about the images first and foremost – that’s a consequence of my commercial photography background – and the other site are about pushing gear to up their referral fees. This is very apparent in both the nature of the content and the revenue we make (or don’t make…)

      • Steve Waldren says:

        I think you might be surprised. I went to the web initially to look at reviews – I still do – but never read comments on them except when I want a laugh about how folks get stupidly irate about nonesense like Canon vs Nikon etc. But your site has a tremendous blend of images, reviews, the more philosophical essays and some technical notes: AND you have built a community which has sensible, informative comments where rudeness is a rarity. Not many sites can have all these. So yes, its clearly grown enormously, frankly I’ve not idea how the hell you manage it, but glad you do. But here’s my point – I’d never consider buying a photography magazine any more, your site is far better. So it would be worth a subscription, no question. But also I suspect that some of the things you might have tried early on rejected might well work for you now; you have a far larger and probably more appreciative base to work with. The sheer number of posts following your article speaks volumes.

        • Coffee IV drip! ;)

          A photo magazine publishes perhaps 3-4 meaningful articles a month, the rest are filler (I know, I edited one for five years). I publish 15. My monthly readership is larger than all of the photo magazines in Malaysia put together, by quite a large margin. And none of the magazines reply when you write…wait, to do this for free is stupid, isn’t it? Yet the psychology of the online economy means that everything IS expected for free. I’ll find a way around this; it’s the reader community that motivates me at the moment.

  75. I like the idea of the pdf magazine. Something I could stick on my iPhone and browse at leisure sounds good to me. There’s a dearth of good photography magazines in my view. They either focus on the mechanics of photgraphy (equipment, and pretty basic/bog standard technique), or have great photographic content, but a slight tendency to pretention (yes, I am looking at you LFI!).

    How would pricing/amount of content work though? Dropping it onto the right point on the supply and demand curve, and having enough content to move the supply curve upwards would be the tricky bit.

    Maybe a stepped subscription combined conceptually with option 5 – say (using illustrative numbers only) 10 dollars a months for 4 issues, 20 dollars for 4 issues a month and an annual image critique, 30 dollars a month for 4 issues, a critique and a fine art print?

    • There’s very little information on what the cost/demand curve for these things looks like. I suppose the only way to find out would be a poll…I do know that print patronage will have to be more expensive than that though. High quality fine art printing isn’t cheap, plus you have to add in postage – I’m thinking of making it a very large format print to make things very worthwhile.

  76. Honestly, i think you give too much here. Think Malaysiakini. Their model has worked very well, and i don’t see why it won’t work for you.

    Give people 1 para or an executive summary of the post you’ve written. If they like it, then they pay $3 to read it, or they can subscribe to your site to read all the articles at $30 a month.

    The days of giving away QUALITY content on the web is dead. Every once in a while do a completely free post, but most should be paid. And seriously, $3 to read one of your posts? That’s a steal. I won’t buy all, but for the philosophical stuff, and for some product reviews like the Leica M, yes, i’d pay. Make it easy to buy via the iPad app as well.

    Pay a programmer to figure out an easy payment process for the website. Settled.

    This also gives you an option for advertisers to PAY for a post. Yes, i know objectivity is important to you. But if the reader knows that this post is paid for (and the post doesn’t have to do anything about the advertiser e.g. Leica sponsors a post you write about street photography principles), then it’s fair. As long as you’re transparent about things, your readers will still trust you.

    • I thought about this but am not hot on it because of the administration required: most of these things require volume for the back end costs to make sense, or a huge amount of personal time to do things manually. And with the joyous 30% apple tax, or paypal inconveniences, it’s probably not worth doing – either all subscription, or none. But yes, I agree the days of free quality content are gone – simply because nobody has found a sustainable way to make it work. Almost all of the other high traffic sites out there are supported by ads, sponsorship, or are simply full of the equivalent of intellectual diarrhoea.

  77. Your site is a treasure trove, and it’s totally reasonable to make it financially worth continuing. Just an idea that popped into my head while reading: a kind of “patronage” system but instead of (or as an alternative to) offering prints, offer critiques of the patron’s work. For instance, for their contribution, once a month they send you a file with a photo, and you give it an in-depth critique. You get funds to continue the site,the patron gets valuable knowledge. I would imagine that the significant majority of readers here are a) photographers and b) not professionals. I imagine that detailed critiques from a good working photographer is something that a lot of people would be interested in. Also good for people who cannot for whatever reason attend a workshop with you.

    You have to put your main job first though…Ayn Rand would say the same!

    • Oh, I kinda like this idea. While it’s difficult for me to pay a lump sum of money for a critique of my portfolio. But I’d be more than happy to pay for a critique on 1 photo a month (that’s the number of good photos that I think I can produce)….

    • You’d be referring to the email school? :)

      But it could be an interesting addition to the patronage model…thanks for the idea!

  78. Increasing revenue online is pretty tough these days. People are always expecting free stuff from the internet. And a lot of people get turn off by paying for contents at all. That said, I like how David DuChemin is running his organisation. His giving away good advices and thoughts (but nothing too long) and a more in-depth discussion is compiled into a book. I remember he did tried to have a subscription base website, but I think it was not working that well enough, he was force to make the content free again. Anyway, I have bought almost 80% of all his writing and subscribed to a quarterly magazine. And I planned to buy his soon to publish fine art photobook, SEVEN.

    Well, there’s not much advice I can give you, but I can say that if you were to come out with some sort of publication, I will definitely buy them.

    • I’m thinking about it, but you need such incredibly high volumes to make it worth doing – people aren’t willing to pay much for ebooks either, it seems. If you take week to compile, curate and edit it – assuming not much new writing is required – and sell 200 copies at $5, that’s not worth it. It wouldn’t be worthwhile if it took a day.

  79. Ming, it is a conundrum isn’t it? I really do appreciate all that you put into the site and understand what you go through (at least somewhat). This post is enlightening because I was wondering how much time and effort you put into the site. I must admit that I feel guilty for being relieved that it takes that much time. I know if I were creating this site, it would take me much longer.

    I have a photography blog myself (blog.atmtxphoto.com) with a much smaller readership, but with a wonderful dedicated audience. I too spend an inordinate amount of time on my site. Wondering at times if it’s worth it.

    I do talk about equipment at times (mostly Olympus Pens and other mirrorless) but want my site to primarily focus on photography. Though my experience is that a lot more people come for the reviews and the equipment talk and less about the how and why’s of photography.

    I guess I don’t have a magic answer for you but I am very much interested in your poll results. I wish you the best regardless of what happens.

    • There are times when you feel it’s worth it, there are other times when you get sick of replying to the ‘what should I buy’ emails – some people write out entire essays of their problems and irrelevant other facts. Twenty Questions and the FAQ on the ‘ask a question’ page didn’t help, obviously – to the point I’m thinking of removing the facility altogether.

      Looking like ads are a shoe-in, we’ll see about the rest. I’m not ruling out some combination of everything – well, at least whatever is the most efficient.

      • Ron Carroll says:

        Ming, I encourage you to let go of feeling the need to reply to every e-mail you receive. While it’s admirable that you do it, there will always be readers who have no qualms about making unreasonable demands on your time. So you need to be the arbiter and just let the unreasonable requests go unanswered. I think the ‘what should I buy’ emails would be an obvious place to start. IMO, the people who ask that question are simply lazy; they don’t want to do the research (the info they need is out there — much of it from you) and/or they’re afraid of making their own purchasing decisions. Plus, they’re being unfair to the rest of your readers by monopolizing your time. Let it go. You’ll be happier for it. And we will too. :)

        • I’m going to simplify it: the unreasonable ones simply won’t get a reply. If the question makes me angry – the ‘what should I buy’ type of thing, or ‘what do you think of x’ (especially when I reviewed it) – I’m going to hit delete. But so long as there’s a legitimate need to know and it isn’t laziness, I’ll still do my best to respond.

  80. The blog is wonderful. I do not mind ads at all. I thing you have articles in the archives that have never hit the blog. You could also have varying levels of subscription with varying levels of offers. Blog is open and free but for so much a year you get a print or video or something like that…

    A forum is very easy to do and that could reduce the time spent on responding to folks as everyone could respond and I am sure you could find folks to be moderators.

    • Ryan Hastings says:

      I actually like the forum idea, there arent many non gear oriented photography forums around on the internet. Perhaps a subscription to access things like the forum? Something like a member’s only lounge

      • Forums aren’t workable for me because the our internet laws making all webmasters liable for their content – either I have to moderate everything, which is impractical, or take a risk. Good idea though :)

  81. Ming, I voted for 1,2 and 3. Thinking more on #3, is there a play tied up with GroupOn?? say a Canon Lens :-) you set the price to reach, times an amount, then you do the review, after the review the ones who contributed can win it as a prize etc…using GroupOn might lessen your admin work perhaps??

    • Nope. I avoid Groupon like the plague…let’s just sat I had dealings with them before.

      But it looks like 1 is a given – question is which other options go in too?

  82. Ryan Hastings says:

    Perhaps you could also put a paypal donate button to help support the site. Perhaps place the button at the bottom of articles so that they are not too conspicuous and I think many of us would be more than willing to help out and donate a buck or two to help support the site.

    • Ryan Hastings says:

      That said, I am more than supportive of ads and I was wondering why the site didnt have them. Many other photographer’s blogs like Steve Huff or Erik Kim have tons of ads and they do fine.

      • I think they go too far to the their extreme – too much pushing of referral links and light on the meat. I don’t have sponsors because I’d like to retain editorial integrity. As for ads…I didn’t give it serious thought until financial reality hit.

    • I did have one but got rid of it after a lot of people felt I was being cheap. Plus it didn’t make that much of a difference – we’re not talking hundreds of dollars of lost income here, it’s easily five figures. Figure out what a decent commercial photographer makes in half a month, then use that as a benchmark.

  83. Robert Asami says:

    I actually considered this other day after ‘the process of making an image’ article how you were shouldering the weight of keeping yourself afloat and investing the financially deadweight time to make these articles.

    While your site is one of the few I’d actually pay for a subscription, on a somewhat tight college student budget, would personally rather click on some ads. Regardless of what course this site does take though, as long as you’re generating content, I will be sure to scrounge up whatever is necessary to keep subscribing.

  84. For myself, I’d be happy with two well thought post a week. While I try and read all of the posts you write, I’m busy here too, and it doesn’t always happen. Personally I usually skip the gear stuff unless it is directly applicable to my plans. Two articles of substance per week much more relevant in helping shape my creative world than the constant stream of redundant content from the other blogs. Just a thought, and whatever you do, good luck to you.

    • Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Ming, you are a gifted photographer. Why don’t you sell signed prints of your best photos? Something like this…

        Monthly or bimonthly, you pick 2 or 3 of your best photos, and offer them for sale as limited-run prints. It is an exclusive and (likely) one-time offer. If they love a photo, and don’t buy it during the offering period, it likely won’t be available again. This creates a sense of urgency, a call to action to stimulate sales.

        Write a post describing each of the prints, the day or context in which they were taken, etc. Tell the story behind the photo. Make it interesting and instructional. Emphasize that they are supporting the blog, as well as getting great art that they can display in their home.

        Offer prints in 2 sizes (keep your life simple): $50 for an 8×10, $100 for a 13×19 or A3 (+ shipping). You can print them yourself on archive quality inkjet paper.

        For every 100 prints sold, that’s $5,000 to $10,000 in your pocket. The blog can continue as is, with most of the revenue derived from print sales to the readers it attracts.

        You may be surprised at how much you can earn. As a data point, Mike Johnston is doing this with his popular Online Photographer blog and has published his numbers…

        http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/print-offers

        If you got numbers similar to his, and did it monthly, I expect you could bring in $40,000 to $80,000 per year from this.

        • Actually, I tried that – very few people took up the initial print offers, so I never did it again. It might be worth revisiting. Here’s the thing, though: a photo might be a strong one, but it might not be something you want to put on your wall. And I think figuring out what that might be will unlock the mystery to why TOP can sell hundreds of prints…

      • Ming, further to my suggestion above…

        Throughout the year, you could solicit votes/suggestions for the “People’s Choice” round of photos for December. If people especially like a photo they see on your blog, they can submit its assigned number identifier to a form that keeps a running tally .

        At the end of they year, you offer the top voted photos as prints, and perhaps even offer framed prints that could be given as gifts during the holiday season. November / December will likely be your top selling months as a result of this.

        I’d definitely buy some of your prints if they were available.

        • They’re always available – shoot me an email if something catches your eye (and if you don’t see what you want, but have an idea, let me know because I have an enormous library) – and we can figure something out. :)

      • “Actually, I tried that – very few people took up the initial print offers, so I never did it again. It might be worth revisiting. Here’s the thing, though: a photo might be a strong one, but it might not be something you want to put on your wall. And I think figuring out what that might be will unlock the mystery to why TOP can sell hundreds of prints…”

        How long did you try it for?

        Sometimes these things take time to catch on, but once they do, they can take on a life of their own.

        • I tried twice – perhaps traffic hadn’t reached critical mass at that point. In any case, I’m off to Japan to do some contemplative photography tomorrow, so if something interesting comes out of that it might make an ideal trial…

  85. Hi Ming, I ‘d keep part of this site free but not everything (like the archive), I’m fine with a subscription. People have to realize the amount of work to maintain good quality for a web site. Adverts are fine too, and as mentioned it could be from brands like Nikon, but also watches; should not be a problem for AP, PP or JLC their margin is extremely good…. Sponsored links like B&H or Amazon works mainly for people in the US, for me in France ??
    I do not have always time to read the post entirely, so from my view less words, more images would work; I’d like to see more images from you, from different locations (nothing against your city, even If believe that Paris is better :-) ) or subjects .
    I’d like also to see from time to time, images (good ones or not) from your readers, may be from the flickr group, with your review/comments.
    Gear review I think this is important and provides good visibility to the site. There are plenty available on the web, but as a customer before spending 1000€ for a lens, the opinion from someone I trust is very valuable.
    BR
    Michel

  86. Actually, the bigger the brand, the stingier they are with A&P expenditure – logic being, ‘we don’t need it because people already know who we are’. B&H ships to France, and Amazon, well, out of luck. To have referrers in every country isn’t practical though – and would make a big mess of the site, I think. I’m of course willing to make some tradeoffs – otherwise I wouldn’t have put this up for discussion in the first place :)

  87. Thiefsie says:

    Out of interest Ming, where is most of your reader base located? US or other? (Australia here… and I believe I found you through Steve Huff’s site for some reason).

  88. A third in the US, a third in Europe, and the balance everywhere else – mostly Asia.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] passion means a 60 to 70 hours workload per week just for a website. He does it for free while Ming Thein might be charging $2k for a workshop and asks for financial support by loyal readers. And even that [...]

  2. [...] of all, I want to say an enormous thank you to everybody who wrote in or left a comment after the last article on commercial realities – I’ve been overwhelmed by the time people have taken to chip in their thoughts, often [...]

  3. [...] It would be an understatement to say that the site has taken on a life of its own far beyond what I would have envisioned a year ago. (At that point, I’d have been happy not to see a zero traffic count when I checked at the end of the day.) We have pretty much a complete ecosystem – Facebook page with 4600+ fans, a very active Flickr pool with 4,700 accepted images, 800-odd contributors, and on average, two hundred images for me to moderate daily; there’s of course the iPad app, and various local communities of readers and fans brought together by various events and workshops.  [...]

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