Out of ink: Photo journal goes digital only

May 18, 2014

If the sacking of Fairfax photojournalists or the closure of the Queensland Centre of Photography is anything to go by, then photography is in trouble.

But a photography publication based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is rising to the challenge and rebuilding itself as a digital-only platform to remain viable.

Clive Waring-Flood has recreated Silvershotz as a digital-only publication. Image courtesy Silvershotz.

Clive Waring-Flood has recreated Silvershotz as a digital-only publication. Image courtesy Silvershotz.

Sixteen-year old Australian photo journal Silvershotz has just emerged from a restructure that has resulted in a transition from print to online. It’s latest edition, Volume 8 Edition 6, released on March 1 marked the launch of a new, multi-platform, interactive format. This issue also marked the end of it’s print run: Volume 9, released next week, will be digital only.

“What we’re trying to do is stay ahead of the game,” says Silvershotz editor Clive Waring-Flood. “And what we’ve done this year is a multi-platform, multi-browser experience.”

The photo journal will operate as a custom-built, multi-platform website that publishes 200 images within digital editions released every eight weeks, along with interactive elements such as commentary, photographer bios, videos and galleries.

“But some of the principles stay the same in terms of quality: no advertising, no letters-to-the-editors and no gossip columns,” he says. “It’s just got proper, decent images that have been curated by someone who knows how to curate.”

The new Silvershotz site offers an interactive, multimedia photography experience. Image coutesy Silvershotz.

The new Silvershotz site offers an interactive, multimedia photography experience. Image courtesy Silvershotz.

This is not the first time Waring-Flood has pivoted the business. His efforts to adapt to economic and technological changes has meant the publication has weathered financial struggle, the global financial crisis and now the digital evolution.

Launched as Black & White Enthusiast in 1988 by Australian journalist David Bigwood, Silvershotz has already been through a number of formatting changes. Initially a newsletter about black and white darkroom processes, Bigwood’s readership grew to almost 500 fans within four years.

At this time Waring-Flood owned Fotospeed Australia, an importer and distributor of darkroom products such as film, paper, chemistry, toners which he stored in a Brisbane warehouse and distributed to stores, schools, universities throughout Australia.

“In 2002 we were looking for a database of people who bought these products to add to our own,” Waring-Flood says. “And this particular publisher was having financial problems, so I said ‘I’ll buy it off you, we’ll carry on the magazine, and use your database as a vehicle to promote our products too’.”

This vertical integration was just the beginning of the journal’s evolution, as Waring-Flood expanded distribution to European and North American bookstores and revamped the newsletter as, “a full colour journal with extended workshop articles, portfolio presentations and book reviews”.

Waring-Flood sold Fotospeed Australia in 2004 but retained the rights to the journal, renaming it Silvershotz in a reference to the use of silver halide in photographic film. He also reformatted it to include higher quality paper, more images and fewer technical articles.

Pre-existing infrastructure, distribution, and freelance journalists were key factors in Waring-Flood’s decision to continue running the publication.

“But it had to be completely changed, so I changed the name and the entire format of the magazine, and the entire operation was moved to London,” he says. “From 2004 through to 2012 we printed 470,000 journals and distributed them in 17 countries and 1,400 bookstores.”

The publication’s next major change came when Borders Bookstores filed for bankruptcy, and began closing stores throughout 2011. In a press release announcing the intention to sell the company, Borders listed reasons for its bankruptcy as, “the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy”.

Borders’ closure took with it Silvershotz’ main source of revenue and soon ended the publication as a print journal.

“Three things happened in the space of one month: a) they owed us an awful lot of money; b) they had an awful lot of our stock, which just disappeared; and c) we lost nearly 60 per cent of our distribution,” Waring-Flood says. “It was a complete and total collapse.”

By December 2012, the London distributor said that not only had Borders gone bankrupt, but so had another 300 bookstores. This meant they only had about 25 per cent of their distribution network left so the journal was no longer profitable.

The downfall of bookstores, change in publication consumption, and the change in photography distribution that accompanied the rise of smartphones inspired Waring-Flood to go strictly digital.

Pre-planning the multimedia “experience” has taken Waring-Flood over a year, and ongoing work on the website and archiving back editions had taken him and his team roughly three months before the official release in March.

Waring-Flood says while the format may have changed, the journal’s high standards in terms of submissions will remain and that he had, “survived the financial crisis because [his] business model was based on subscriptions on a premium price”.

“We were going to maintain the integrity of Silvershotz by remaining right at the top of the tree, and saying to everyone ‘if you want to see quality images, you have to pay for it. It’s not free’. And no, we’re not doing Google ad-words, or Facebook ad-words or any advertising; this is just pure imagery filling up your screen, giving you an experience and a story behind the images.”

In the first week of its release, Silvershotz acquired 200 subscribers, and work on the website, digital editions, archiving back-issues and marketing has been ongoing. Waring-Flood also lists possible future promotional events as FotoFever in Paris this November, Photo LA in January 2015, and The Photography Show in Birmingham March 2015.

On his passion for photography as a medium, and his 40 years in the constantly evolving business, Waring-Flood remains extremely enthusiastic and grateful.

“You never stop learning. Every day is exciting, because you’re going to learn something new, you’re going to have some new challenges, something new to overcome.

“I am extremely fortunate in terms of the fact that I’ve never gone after work in my life, because I enjoy what I do.”

This article was originally published by The Tech Street Journal.

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