Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Economics of Self-Publishing and Printing

Now is a good time to reflect on how things have progressed to this point. I just finished updating all of the sales data in my Bento database, and the grand total of books sold as of right now is 200. That is not a huge amount of books, but it sure seemed like a lot while Clenise and I were printing, cutting the pages apart, binding, trimming, and shrink-wrapping, not to mention filling orders and shipping. Many of these copies sold at the full $19.95 list price, but quite a few also sold to Amazon and other places at reduced prices. All of that would be fine if we hadn’t spent so much to produce the books. Paper has been a fairly big expense, as has equipment, but toner is the real killer. I knew toner would be expensive, but I didn’t realize how much of a problem it would be to keep buying it so frequently. Even that might not be so bad if the printers didn’t keep developing print-quality issues. One of the printers is still out of commission right now because it puts a bright blue band along one edge of the pages. The other printer is starting to develop a light blue haze on its pages. Clenise is great at diagnosing and fixing these issues, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep dealing with them, and the expense is mounting.

So, I’m starting to think about other options. One would be to convert the book to all black-and-white. I really like having the color photographs in the book, because of the nice appearance, but I believe we could save a large amount of money with a black-and-white version.

The other option is to contract out the printing and binding to a commercial printer or print-on-demand company. At this point I’m just starting to think about the possibilities; for now, we’re still geared up to produce books, and maybe we’ll be able to build up a reasonable sized inventory with our current supplies, and then see where we stand.

More on Amazon, Laser Printers, and the D-Lux 4

The Amazon mystery cleared up a little bit today. It turns out that their sales figures for the book lag reality by several days. Today I went online and found that they had sold 51 books, not just 25, as earlier reports showed. My first three shipments to them (2, 23, and 27) totalled 52 books, so there still is a slight mystery — what happened to the 52nd book? Maybe they keep one as a reference? Maybe they used it for the “search inside the book” function, which I have signed up for.

By the way, the “search inside the book” function has a glitch I didn’t know about. It became active yesterday, and I checked the D-Lux 4 book’s listing on Amazon to try the search function. I entered terms such as “infrared,” “time-lapse,” and “display,” and the search found zero results each time. I e-mailed Amazon, and they replied quite quickly, saying it takes about a week for their system to index the entire book. That seems odd, but that’s the way it is. I just hope potential buyers of the book aren’t scared off by the fact that, based on the search function’s results, the book appears to have no words in it. . . .

As for the color laser printers, they are becoming the bane of our existence. Clenise, who is good at getting to the bottom of mechanical problems, has been taking the printers apart, cleaning them, adjusting them, and doing everything humanly possible to maintain them, but they have been putting heavy blue streaks, small magenta blotches, and various and sundry other blotches on the pages. Fortunately, we have enough books printed out already to meet current orders, but we aren’t able to print any new ones at the moment. We think the problem may stem from our use of refilled toner cartridges in order to cut costs. We have some more cartridges coming from another vendor soon; hopefully those will produce better results.

I said I would discuss the Leica D-Lux 4 camera, the subject of the book, some more. I think it’s a great camera, obviously, and so do many others, based on the comments I have read on dpreview.com, the Leica Forum, and other places. It is remarkable because of its overall quality of images and its excellent lens, and because of its unusually wide 24mm equivalent wide-angle focal length. It is somewhat limited because it zooms only to a 60mm equivalent focal length, but you just have to decide to forego a strong telephoto if you use this camera.

Also, of course, it has excellent manual control of focus and exposure, and it has just about all of the functions an amateur photographer would want for daily use — self-timer, excellent macro (closeup) shooting (to within 1 centimeter of the subject), a wide range of shutter speeds (1/2000 sec to 60 sec), excellent auto exposure control, and many others. Also, it has a very nice appearance and small, pocketable size, with the Leica logo on the front. It also happens to have a decent capability for taking infrared photos, which many modern digital cameras do not have.

So, as far as I can tell, many photographers are very well pleased with this camera, and will keep using it for some years to come.

Amazon Speaks Yet Again; More About the D-Lux 4

I have to admit I am probably one of Amazon.com’s best customers. I love books, and I order quite a few of them. I take advantage of Amazon’s Prime shipping, which gives free two-day shipping for many items and overnight shipping for $3.99 for many items (including, remarkably, 75-pound laser printers). So I’m not out to knock Amazon, though many small publishers probably are not fond of the company’s practice of paying small amounts for books, and selling them at discount prices. And I still can’t figure out the logic of how Amazon is handling my book, which, admittedly, is not a Going Rogue or The Lost Symbol.

My book about the Leica D-Lux 4 camera is still listed on Amazon at $13.46, and still shown as out of stock. One person e-mailed me early today and said he tried to order one on Amazon, and the message in his online shopping cart said the book would not arrive until after December 25. As I told him, I have shipped all the books Amazon has ordered from me — successive shipments of 2, 23, 27, and 5 books. I don’t know if these have already sold out through pre-orders, or if they haven’t been received into Amazon’s inventory yet.

Anyway, today I received another order from Amazon, this time for 32 copies. At least this time Clenise and I won’t have to scramble as much as last time to fill the order. We have almost that many books already printed, bound, trimmed, shrink-wrapped, and ready to go. I’ll probably try to send them to Amazon this Friday. I’m still a bit puzzled that they haven’t ordered more books sooner, so they aren’t constantly shown as sold out, but in a way I don’t mind, because I keep getting orders for individual books at a more reasonable price.

I tried to get the book formatted to be sold on the Kindle, but that seems to be fairly complicated. With the help of my son, who studied computer science and math in college, I got the pdf file of the book converted to HTML so it looks fairly good on Amazon’s Kindle preview page, but there seem to be some more requirements to be met before it can actually be uploaded and sold. I’ll keep working on that.

Now to discuss the camera some more. In the last post I put up a few images from the camera — a few showing the book production process, and a few others from the book itself, all taken by the D-Lux 4. I’d like to try to explain why I picked the D-Lux 4 to write about. I’m not sure I have a complete answer, but here are some thoughts.

I must admit that I, like quite a few other amateur photographers, am a little dazzled by the Leica name. It conveys an aura of prestige and quality, along with a hint of German precision and attention to detail. My older brother used a Leica rangefinder camera many years ago, and I read the discussions in the photography forums about the great history and mystique of Leica. So that certainly was a part of the reason to choose this camera.

Also, of course, I didn’t want to choose a camera that had already been written about. My other camera, a Canon EOS-40D, has had several books written about it, and there was no point in adding to that body of work.

People might ask if it was smart to pick as a subject a camera that has been out on the market since fall of 2008, and to publish a book about it in October 2009. Maybe not. But I will say that there seemed to be a fairly good chance this camera will stick around for a while, partly because it’s a Leica, and partly because it has quite a following. It really is a terrific little camera because it is easily portable, takes great pictures for a non-DSLR (digital single-lens-reflex, a larger camera with interchangeable lenses), and has a great array of features for more serious photographers, including manual controls and a wide range of useful menu options.

As it’s turning out, I think I got lucky. There was considerable talk a couple of months ago that Leica would replace the D-Lux 4 with a newer model of camera that, like this one, is based on a Panasonic camera. (The D-Lux 4 is based on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3.) But that hasn’t happened yet, and as of now there doesn’t seem to be any indication it will happen in the near future, and it may never happen. All kinds of rumors circulate on this topic. For one thing, Leica has announced the X1, a new, small digital camera that is more like the traditional Leica, not based on a Panasonic. It doesn’t seem as if that camera is in direct competition with the D-Lux 4, so the D-Lux 4 may survive for quite a while longer. That would be unusual for a compact digital “point-and-shoot” camera; they often are in production for a relatively short time. But I have my fingers crossed that the D-Lux 4 will set a new record for longevity!

Talking About the Leica D-Lux 4 Camera Itself

For a change, after I give brief update I want to talk a little about the camera that is the subject of my book: the Leica D-Lux 4. First, though, the update.

We’ve been working some wrinkles out of the production process; we found some of the bindings needed to be improved, and we think we have that situation under control now. Yesterday I tried raising the daily Google AdWords budget to $30.00, and we did end up with 8 orders for the day, as opposed to only 3 as of late evening today, with a $10.00 budget. So I have just put the budget up to $20.00, where it was when I first started the ad campaign. Hopefully that will increase sales of individual books.

Amazon.com now has the book listed for $13.46, even lower than the $14.96 it was listed at before, but it is still listed as out of stock, even though the UPS shipment of 27 books was scheduled to arrive at Amazon in Indiana today. There’s also a shipment of 5 books that should be getting there. I don’t know quite what the situation is in that area.

Now, back to talk a bit about the Leica D-Lux 4 itself. I’m including some pictures taken by the camera, which I haven’t done in a while. Here is a picture I took a couple of nights ago with the D-Lux 4, with no flash, showing a stack of books to the right of the binding machine, along with a group of covers that are going to be bound to these stacks of pages. The stacks are resting on top of the guillotine paper cutter that has already cut the pages to this size, and later will trim the books to their final size.

This next picture, below, taken shortly afterwards, shows the books after they have been bound, trimmed, and wrapped in shrink-wrap bags, waiting to have the bags shrunk to make tight-fitting shrinkwrapping.

Next, here are some images from the book:

This image is an illustration of the “pin hole” setting in the camera’s Scene Mode. This setting simulates the use of a primitive “pin hole” camera, which tends to darken the corners of the image and adds some graininess to the image.


This image was taken using the Scene Mode setting of Aerial Photo, which is specifically designed for taking pictures through airplane windows. This was taken on a trip from Virginia to Seattle, approaching the Seattle area.


This picture was taken with the camera set to the Film Grain setting of Scene Mode, simulating the graininess of a high-speed black-and-white film.

Those are just a few samples of photos from the D-Lux 4. In a future post, I’ll talk a little bit about some other aspects of the camera, and why I thought it was worthwhile to write a book about its use

Building Up Inventory

As of now we have finally built up an inventory of books, so we won’t have to scramble to fill whatever orders come in. I still can’t quite figure out how the Amazon system works; the book is still listed as out of stock on their site, though I have shipped them successive orders of 2, 23, 27, and 5 books. I wonder why they haven’t ordered more. But it’s better for me to sell books to individuals, so I’m not complaining.

Today the book was listed on the site of camerabooks.com, the web store that I contacted last week. I’ll be interested to see how many books they sell. I’m still getting orders from individuals through eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and the whiteknightpress.com web site. Quite a few of them come from the UK.

Today I was contacted by a second buyer who needed the book quickly so he can read it on the airplane on a trip he’s taking this Friday. I sent it first thing this morning, and it should get there in plenty of time.

I also had my first customer with a problem; his book was damaged, apparently in shipping. I ship them in sturdy cardboard folding mailers; he said it looked as if the Postal Service had gotten it caught in a machine or something. His replacement book will be in the mail first thing tomorrow morning.

I contacted the photography blog at www.photographyblog.com to ask if they would review the book; I got an e-mail back from Mark Goldstein with a link to a news article about the book that he posted upon receiving my message. That was a great response. I need to find more good photography-oriented sites that might be willing to mention the book.

Also, the administrator of Leicarumors.com has started up a contest for a giveaway of a copy of the book; he has been terrifically supportive of the book. The contest has already generated a good string of comments.

I got a message from Google AdWords today suggesting I would get better results from my ads if increased my budget to $30.00 per day. Well, I guess that is something they would suggest! I decided to give it a try, though, probably just for today. So far today I have had seven individual book orders, which is pretty good. I’ll go back to $10.00 a day for Google AdWords tomorrow, and see how much difference it makes.

Amazon Orders Again — But Why This Amount?

This morning while shaving I checked the e-mail on my iPhone and there was another announcement of a new order for books from Amazon Advantage. This started me wondering and worrying. The e-mail didn’t say how many books are ordered, so I speculated on the possibilities. Their previous orders had been for 2 books, then 23, then 27. So could they be ordering some huge amount now? (Huge by my standards, that is.) The book had been showing up as out of stock on Amazon for days now; maybe they wanted to stock up to meet the demand as the holidays approach. I thought to myself, if they want 50 books, I can’t do that. Clenise’s arm is sore from operating the binding machine and cutter. We can’t run ourselves into the ground just to sell books on Amazon at a marginal amount.

I needn’t have worried. The Amazon order turned out to be for: 5 books. I can’t figure that out. If the first three orders sold out so fast, why do they want only 5 books this time? Anyway, I’m sure they have sophisticated software that decides how many to order. I’m actually glad it was a small order, because now we can try to build up our inventory; right now we actually have more than 20 books printed and bound, and both printers are clicking away happily as I type this. I won’t mind concentrating on individual orders rather than scrambling to ship a large amount to Amazon. Just this morning, a gentleman ordered a book through whiteknightpress.com, and included a message saying he needs the book by Wednesday, and could I send it by FedEx. I replied that the normal Priority Mail should make it on time; I’ll be sure to mail it early Monday morning. I enjoy that kind of interaction; I’m glad to know someone “needs” the book!

Just to fill out the toner story a bit more, there’s one thing the Cartridge World people didn’t tell us when we first contacted them about getting refilled color toner cartridges. When we went there yesterday to have them reset the magenta cartridge that the printer thought was empty, the fellow told us that the refilled cartridges don’t contain toner that is equivalent to the genuine Brother toner, because of patent issues. He acknowledged that the color printing will be lighter with the refilled toner, and that we have to set the printing to “vivid” to get the same level of color we have been getting. So, we may end up using more toner, and cancelling out any savings. We’ll see how that works out.

We did find slightly cheaper color laser paper in the 28-pound weight we’re using, at OfficeMax, and it seems to be working quite well.

Right now, things are going well enough that I’m starting to think about writing another camera guidebook, though it’s too early to take any definite steps in that direction. For now, the Leica D-Lux 4 camera seems to be still very popular, and new camera sales mean the possibility of more book sales.

I finally found time to enter most of my book order data into my Bento database on the Mac last night. Now I have to enter the expenses and start generating reports. It will be interesting to find out if we’re making any money.

Two Printers Printing

No, that’s not a line from “A Partridge in a Pear Tree”; it’s the current state of affairs. Not arrived at without some grief and anxiety, though. Yesterday we started using Cartridge World to get refilled toner cartridges for the two Brother HL-4070CDW color laser printers. That seemed like a good move to save money on toner. This morning, though, when one of the printers ran out of two colors and asked for more Cyan and Magenta, we hit a snag. We replaced the Cyan okay, but after replacing Magenta the printer still said it was out of that color. Had Cartridge World sold us a refilled cartridge that was empty? After some phone calls and a trip to the store we think that the store people just neglected to reset the “flag” on the toner cartridge that tells the printer the cartridge is full. The technician reset the flag, and said there is plenty of toner in the cartridge. He also showed us how to reset the flag ourselves in order to squeeze some extra life out of a cartridge.

Then we went to OfficeMax and bought 8 reams of their generic color laser paper, 28-pound weight. So we now have both printers printing, though one of them just quit in the middle of printing out a book, and left strange symbols on the edges of several pages. Another mystery to solve, or better yet, to ignore, reset the printer, and keep going.

I should say, though, that right now we have the largest single pile of printed books stacked up that we’ve had yet — 19 copies waiting to be cut, bound, and trimmed. So we should be able to finally build up a small inventory ahead of the next wave of demand, if any.

Evaluating the Situation and Looking Forward

In my last post I happily stated that both Brother printers were humming along, churning out crisp, clean copies of the book about the D-Lux 4. Well, very soon after I wrote that, the original printer, the one Clenise had successfully cleaned up, ran out of toner. These Brother printers, model HL-4070CDW, manage to run out of all three colors (cyan, magenta, and yellow) simultaneously. I think this is a programmed feature. Anyway, that printer stopped printing, and we didn’t have any spare toner. But we did manage to finish up the order of 27 books for Amazon Advantage using the other printer, and Clenise delivered those to the UPS Store today.

I have been coming to the realization that toner can be the major stumbling block for this venture. We have been burning through it at much too fast a rate, at more expense than we can handle. So today I searched for a cheaper toner source. We settled on Cartridge World, a franchise store that refills cartridges. I had hesitated to use refilled cartridges, fearing that they might be sub-standard or somehow mess up the printers. But we have to save money, so Clenise went out there today, traded in our ample supply of empty cartridges, and came home with a stack of refilled ones. We’ll see how that works; if the printing stays stable, we may be able to operate at a small profit, or at least avoid a loss. Next I’ll try to find cheaper paper. Right now we’re using premium color laser paper from Office Depot, 28 pounds, at $14.00 per ream. We need to reduce that cost considerably.

On the sales front, things have been very quiet. I have only three orders to fill, for individual buyers. I think that slowdown is due in part to the fact that Amazon now lists the book at $14.96, though out of stock, and says you can order now and they’ll deliver it when it’s available. I imagine some buyers have ordered it at the lower price and are waiting for it come back into stock, which will be when my box of 27 books arrives in Indiana, probably next Monday. So, in a way I’m undercutting myself by supplying these books to Amazon, but I still think it’s a good idea for now, so the book will be an actual stocked item on Amazon, which I think lends it some credibility and might lead to some more reviews on Amazon.

As far as I can tell, the D-Lux 4 camera itself has been selling well; I see ads for it from various outlets, and I see messages on Leica forums from new buyers, so that situation could be good for sales of the book. But it’s still early to tell. It will be interesting to see how things develop from here.

Persistence Pays Off — Two Printers, No Waiting

The headline is talking about the persistence of my wife, Clenise, who has really dug into this project and used her very considerable abilities to solve several problems. Today she again tackled the problem of the first color laser printer we started with — the Brother HL-4070CDW, which printed well for a while, then started putting ugly black smudges on many pages of the books. Its output was unusable, so we switched to using only the second (identical) printer, which is working fine. Clenise had tried cleaning the first printer several times, but the problem remained. Yesterday I ordered a new drum unit, thinking that would solve the problem. It didn’t. I was ready to give up and get a third printer, but Clenise persisted and made one more attempt. This time she cleaned the belt unit, and that worked! Right now both printers are contentedly purring and clicking, pouring out pristine piles of white-margined book pages. That was a great breakthrough, because it takes about 25 minutes for a printer to print one full book, and we’re still trying to pile up enough completed books to fulfill Amazon’s latest order for 27 books. There were only four individual orders today, which is too bad in a way because those make us more money than the Amazon ones, but at least we should be able to catch up with the orders tonight and breathe a little easier.

Next I need to figure out how to get the book formatted for the Kindle and maybe see if I can get a pdf version made, because some readers have asked for that. I added two new countries to the list of buyer locations yesterday — Greece and Australia.

Also, I cut my Google AdWords daily budget today from $20.00 to $10.00. If the orders slow down too much, I may put the budget back up, but $20.00 a day is $600.00 a month, which sounds like a lot of money for a book like this one.

The Pause is Done

No more pause, now. Today I was ready to start building back up an inventory to fill individual orders as they come in, and to contemplate other possible avenues for promoting the D-Lux 4 book. Actually, last night I took one step in that direction; I browsed the internet looking for a site that deals with photography books, and happened to find camerabooks.com. I had not heard of that site previously, but it looked very interesting and had a great selection of Leica books and reference materials. So I sent off an e-mail message on the theory that the more contacts I make, the better.

This morning I checked my e-mail and had a return message saying they are interested in carrying my book — good news! I e-mailed back, and then I spoke on the phone with a very pleasant gentleman from the combination store and web site. The upshot was that they are going to try carrying my book on a trial basis to see how it sells. I have already shipped some books off to them, because I think it will be great to have the book handled by what is obviously a very reputable and established business that specializes in photography books.

I had another e-mail this morning that could be considered in the category of news that’s good — up to a point. (If you ever get a chance to read Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Scoop, there’s a great passage about the meaning of the phrase “up to a point.”) If you read earlier posts, you know that Amazon at first ordered 2 copies of the D-Lux 4 book, then very recently ordered 23 more, which sent our production line into overdrive. Then, this morning, they ordered 27 more! Well, that’s great, but we don’t have 27 books. In fact, at this very moment, after shipping 10 books to the camerabooks.com people, we have a grand total of — let’s see . . . zero! Actually, there are 8 copies that have come out of the printer and need to be cut, bound, and trimmed, and there are more printing out, but it’s going to be a long way from here to 27 copies ready to ship. Also, there are two individual orders that need to be filled.

I’m not suprised that the individual orders are dwindling now that Amazon has the books in its own inventory, as opposed to being sold by me as an Amazon Marketplace seller. One unfortunate fact is that Amazon is selling them at a discount from the list price. I have no control over what price Amazon sells them at. So, there is a tradeoff. I won’t make as much money selling them through Amazon as selling them direct, but I believe I will get more exposure for the book if it stays in stock as an item that Amazon carries as shipping directly from Amazon, so buyers can get it sent overnight, etc. (I buy a good deal of books and other items, including the 2 laser printers that I’m using for this project, from Amazon, and I do appreciate their fast and efficient shipping.)

So, that’s the status for now. We will really have to scramble to fill the latest Amazon order, but I think we can do it. We’ll soon find out.