Those of you tuning in for cycling coverage... this might be a good time to go clean your bike. Photographers you probably want to keep reading.
The Tour for Kika project is finally complete and the adventure documented in two 90-page volumes of photography, self published with MyPublisher.com. In the past year I've created six books with the service and I continue to be very impressed with the quality of the end product. Last week I received the first sample print of volume one, a step I always take before committing to a larger order, and as usual color and black and white imagery was accurately reproduced by MP's HP Indigo system. In a design career that now spans 25 years, I spent a decade designing for print within the reassuring confines of conventional prepress, I'm still amazed that a process that hides the complexities of calibration, dot gain, UCR/GCR and proofing (not to mention 2 am press approvals) from the creator actually seems to produce great results every time.
The deluxe hardcover (15" x 11.5") format I favor uses heavy (182 lb) premium paper that feels great and avoids any show through issues. And what the new image-wrap cover option loses in absolute reproduction quality to the dust jacket incumbent, it more than makes up for in durability. Dust jackets just don't stand up to repeat handling very well.
The MyPublisher client, which is downloaded to your computer, is simple, intuitive and highly optimized for the basic task of photo book layout. The latest version of the client (V5 on the PC) allows for greater manipulation of the stock page templates. It's a long way from the level of layout and typographic control of a dedicated page layout application like InDesign or Quark Xpress but it's solid.
Having just emerged from the Kika project and with Specialized's Ride to Vegas book up next I'm firmly behind the MyPublisher product but frustrated by missing features and a poor fit for the professional photographer. What follows is a list of enhancements and changes that would improve the situation. I hope the MP development team is listening...
Name any online service (Linkedin, Vimeo, Flickr are popular examples) and it's almost guaranteed there's a tiered service offering that targets serious, professional users. This is the biggest gap in the MyPublisher story. Early in 2010 the company announced a collaboration with Rick Smolan (founding photographer behind the day-in-a-life-of books). I was hopeful we'd see some immediate results from Rick's involvement but there's been nothing to date. I don't doubt that other professionals use the service but it's clear MyPublisher's business focus is serving the needs of end users and hobbyists.
I'd like to see MyPublisher address the professional photographer with a new B2B program, and I'd be willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars per year for the upgraded service. Here are some key elements I'd like to see addressed in MyPublisherPro.
MyPublisher is always running sales. I have never paid full price for a book and always time my orders to coincide with the semi-regular 40-50% off discounts. I'd like to see MyPublisherPro's get this baseline pricing, with additional discounts earned through a frequent-purchaser program. The more we use the system the more we save.
Book Sales for Profit
MP competitor Blurb allows photographers to mark up their books and provides the ecommerce infrastructure to collect and remit profits. If MyPublisher is reluctant to build this functionality then it should consider partnering with a service like Zenfolio (which I use and also rate highly). A MP, Zenfolio collaboration would be terrific.
It's worth pointing out the drawbacks of the current system.
That leaves us with the unsatisfying option of handling payment independently and ordering books individually for shipment to clients. Unfortunately with all the MP branding, coupons etc in the shipment, it's entirely possible for my client to figure out my markup.
Ecommerce and Workflow improvements
I suspect that there's a PDF engine behind the MP "upload book" process, and that means that incremental/partial changes to an existing book are never going to be feasible. That said, it's very frustrating not to be able to upload a revised file to the system without creating a new order. A MyPublisherPro system has to be project centric, not order centric.
This would have the added benefit of better organizing the bookshelf. Multiple orders grouped with one project.
Improvements to the MyPublisher App
I've come this far, here's my list of features and fixes I'd like to see in version six.
A better book preview. I'd like the option to turn off the 3D effect in preview mode. It may help the novice visualize their book, but it compromises the preview quality and wastes valuable screen real estate. The bigger the preview the better, and that goes for the website preview widget... which is too small.
The "MyStyle" feature is a good start but book layout would benefit from any or all of the following. Guides (I currently cheat using the text box frames). The ability to select and align multiple photo boxes, add and duplicate those boxes and save the resulting layouts as a user template.
The option ala Blurb to create a book in InDesign and upload a PDF.
Increase the maximum number of pages to 200.
Make the save confirmation dialog dismissible like the other dialogs. Better yet just provide a dynamic fading confirmation. The app occasionally crashes, so I save my work frequently. It's very annoying to have to close this dialog repeatedly.
The layout viewer should support dragging and dropping spreads.
MyPublisherPro should allow a pre-order hi-fidelity preview of an in-progress project for potential clients and or contributors/editors. This is key to professional workflow which often involves collaboration and sign offs.
Image updates don't work properly. With a simple vector to the source image a revised image file (with the same name) should automatically update in the layouts.
Write an export plugin for Lightroom. Lightroom users are jealous and hungry for the bookmaking features of Aperture. A plugin would give MyPublisher the inside track on Lightroom book publishing.
A minor point... the Open existing project dialog is terribly undersized. Longer names are truncated. A MyPublisherPro dashboard would be an even better solution.
The image well should allow for multi-image deletes. Having to delete images individually is highly inefficient and relates to my next point.
Give us the ability to structure the image well with folders. Large book projects would benefit from subsetting the images for section layouts.
Develop a book sleeve option for the deluxe photo book in a variety of widths to accommodate one, two and three book "sets".
Provide a means to save an interim book image locally. I'm uncomfortable with investing several days of design time with a chance, even if small, that something might corrupt the project and I'd have to start from scratch. Perhaps there could be a local print option.
Provide a two text box spine template. It's frustrating not to be able to set one block top, one block bottom.
Putting aside the serious copyright issues for a moment, sharing really needs to be rethought. The current navigation to find a share is terrible (if you are a logged-in-MyPublisher user you can't even see the input fields to enter the book ID and password on the bookshelf page.) Even under the most benign usage circumstances I'd argue the book creator is entitled to see who's printing their book as it potentially hop-skips-and-jumps from bookshelf to bookshelf.
And finally, one last note for MyPublisher product management and developers. I know exactly what you are up against. Prior to my recent career shift to photography, I spent a decade designing software UI. I headed the design group at Ariba and a team of interaction designers, user researchers, doc writers and curriculum developers. I understand the challenges you face, but there's a tremendous opportunity here to improve your usability and open a new line of business. I hope you're interested and I'm happy to talk anytime about MyPublisherPro. Bring on that NDA.