My previous posting touched upon my foray into the publishing world and the fact that as publisher I had the difficult task of having to promote, and sell my digital books. I mentioned that it was a difficult sell. In time I was able to get my work up on Amazon.ca, but not without some difficulty. You see, although I was a publisher by rights, I was not considered a real publisher, so I needed a "real" publisher as a portal to Amazon.ca . Now, another surprise, as my portal was not the publisher of my work they didn't warehouse copies, they simply received orders and passed them along to me for a fee. As a result there was little profit to be made. One day after receiving, and filling an order, I sat down and wrote about the experience. It went like this..........
EIGHT CENTS PROFIT
December 17, 2003: Another dull day dawns with snow flurries in the forecast. A forecast of outright snow one can deal with, but flurries that means anything from a couple of centimeters to a blizzard. In the time before forecasts one simply dealt with the weather. Come winter you threw a shovel into the trunk of your car, together with a couple of candles and a blanket, and dealt with whatever. Now, in this era of information overload paranoia reigns.
I checked my e-mails. An order has come in from Book Express, a division of Raincoast Books located in Vancouver, BC, for a single copy of my digital book “A Quiet Solitude”. Raincoast Books is my portal to Amazon.ca. When someone orders a book from Amazon.ca in Toronto they send the order on to Book Express in Vancouver. Book Express then contacts me and I send a copy on to the Book Express distribution centre in Toronto for shipping to Amazon.ca in Toronto, and so on. So much for technology, eh?
“A Quiet Solitude” retails for $19.95 CAN. After commissions I receive $8.58 CAN. I reply to the e-mail acknowledging receipt of the order, print out a paper copy of the purchase order and print labels for the shipping package. Then it’s down to the basement for a shipping package and a copy of “A Quiet Solitude”. Before I can package a copy of “A Quiet Solitude” I have to attach ISBN and barcode stickers to enable Amazon.ca to track my product.
Later in the day while driving to Midland to the Post Office I think about the many steps and the time it took to publish “A Quiet Solitude”. It began back in the 1970’s, between Art College and my becoming an artist. My then career as an insurance adjuster was endured by reading about art. One day, I recall, I came upon a small sketchbook, only 50 odd pages, soft cover, containing pen and ink sketches and thought, “what a neat idea, one day I’m going to do something like this”. Well, time passes, as time tends to do, and I became an artist. From time to time I’d remember the sketchbook and think about making something similar, but there was always some other priority.
In 1992 I entered the age of technology; I purchased a Mac IIVi computer. It had a 15” monitor, 80 megabytes of ROM and 4 megabytes of RAM. I also purchased a HP Laser printer. The cost, $6,000.00. The salesman made a point of telling me that I’d never need any more memory and that with a Word and bookkeeping program I was set for the future. The future, of course only lasted a couple of months until my Mac IIVi was rendered obsolete by a newer version. But, it served its purpose, it started me writing and it kept alive my thoughts about making a sketchbook.
More time passed. We discovered Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park. We, of course, is my wife, Sandy, and I. We paddled and hiked its many lakes and trails, and I began to sketch. In 1999 I decided that it was time to (semi) retire the Mac IIVi (I still use it for accounting). I purchased a PC with gigabytes of ROM, 512 megabytes of RAM, a 17” color monitor, a digital camera and a flatbed scanner. The cost, $4,500.00. Armed with years of accumulated sketches and paintings I was ready to take on the task of making a sketchbook. First step was to learn the technology. A year, or so, later I was ready to begin. November 2000 I printed off a 100 page sketchbook on my color printer and delivered it to a copy centre. Reproduction would cost a minimum of $1.00 per page not including the cost of a cover and related graphics. Reality is a difficult teacher.
I mused for awhile. I then had the idea of approaching a publisher. Several were approached and some politely declined citing the fact that, historically speaking, Tom Thomson had said everything that there was to say artistically about Algonquin Provincial Park. The thing about artists is that every time we’re told that something isn’t possible we stupidly accept it as a personal challenge. We just don’t know when to call it a day and go paddling. I had come this far. It wasn’t the money or the years of time invested, it was the principle of the thing. I decided that come hell or high water that my sketchbook would become a reality.
Technology, like time, doesn’t stand still it’s continually evolving. In the midst of my dilemma someone invented the technology that allowed the average individual to economically write information to a CD. Information sharing between computers was now possible. There were flaws. Information saved to a CD formatted on a PC couldn’t be read on a Macintosh computer, but then Macintosh’s share of the world computer market was only 5%, so I purchased a CD burner and went back to work. My 100 page sketchbook grew to 183 pages and contained over 185 illustrations. While I was writing and sketching the computer geeks at Adobe were hard at work developing technology. One day in a work cubicle somewhere in the recesses of Adobe’s factory was heard the word “Eureka!” and birth was given to technology which enabled universal language. Adobe’s researchers had developed a software program called “Reader”, which enabled my book, “ Where Raven Plays, An artist’s Guide to Algonquin Provincial Park” now in digital format to be read on every computer in the world having installed Adobe’s Reader, which they freely provided to all computer owners. Of course, there was a catch. Adobe’s Reader read only documents formatted as PDF files produced by a software program sold by Adobe. Another learning curve, but it was worth it?
In 2002 I undertook a major exhibition of my art at the Huronia Museum at Midland, Ontario. It was sort of like a homecoming for me as I was raised in Midland and the Huronia Museum figured largely in my interest in art as a young boy. As a side bar to my exhibition I produced a second digital book, A Quiet Solitude” an autobiographical account of my becoming an artist. I published both digital books as CD ROMs at a cost of some $4,000.00 and introduced them as part of an installation at my exhibition. The exhibition opened to the sound of a wavering bugle. I was ahead of my time; at least that’s what I continue to tell myself.
It’s snowing lightly as I enter the Post Office and take my place in line. A large woman chats incessantly with the cashier about her Christmas shopping problems oblivious of the long lineup behind her. Finally, it’s my turn. I hand the cashier my parcel and she weighs it. “That will be $1.70”, she tells me. I pay and ask for a receipt then walk back to my car before the 5 cents on my parking meter runs out. All I need now is a parking ticket, I think to myself. It’s beginning to snow a bit harder. On the way home I think to myself, $1.70 for postage, 75 cents for the envelope and label, 5 cents for the parking meter, a minimum of $3.00 for gasoline, and $3.00 to produce a copy of the CD ROM, that leaves me with………8 cents profit. It’s a long, quiet, ride home.
Years ago I threatened to write a book titled, "SO YOU WANT TO BE AN ARTIST, EH!" and illustrate the cover with a beaver holding an artist palette revealing what it was like to be an artist in Canada. My agent was against the idea. I suppose that these past few postings could be considered as a few chapters for a book of this nature.
Despite what I've written, and the difficulties endured, I have to say that I have no regrets. The life that I've experienced these past 35 years, and the people that I've met while working as an artist was worth every second of my time spent.