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New Book Documents iPhoto Features and Quirks

Sometimes, when you least expect it, you find yourself confronted with a metaphorical onrushing bull, horns lowered, hooves clattering on the pavement. Most of us, myself included, generally address this situation by stepping nimbly out of the way and letting the bull rush on. At January’s Macworld Expo, though, I grabbed a bull by the horns, and if I haven’t exactly wrestled it to the ground, I’m at least enjoying the ride.

As you know, Steve Jobs introduced iPhoto during his Macworld Expo keynote. I arrived in San Francisco later that day, and while sitting in a Starbucks, Jeff Carlson and I agreed that he’d cover the keynote and I’d write up iPhoto, since I could download and test it then and there. Although it was clear that iPhoto had some rough spots, it seemed equally clear that Apple had a winner on its hands. The next day, when the show opened, I made a beeline for the Peachpit booth and asked Nancy Ruenzel, Peachpit’s publisher, if she’d like me to write an iPhoto Visual QuickStart Guide. She was appropriately noncommittal, since she figured other authors were talking to other editors simultaneously, but by the last day of show, I had email asking if I would write the book. It wasn’t hard to say yes; aside from the fact that I had been thinking about writing another book, iPhoto seemed like a perfect target since it was a finite topic (unlike the Internet or Mac OS X, for example) and was almost guaranteed to be popular.


Peachpit and I agreed that we’d need to do the book quickly, so I started writing on the plane home from San Francisco. Over the course of the next six weeks, I brushed up on my minimal QuarkXPress skills, learned everything I could about iPhoto, snapped and imported a lot of digital photos, and cranked out a 124-page book. During that time, though, it became clear that we had a problem.

Publishing Details — Explaining the problem requires a brief look into the workings of the publishing world. It takes somewhere between four and six weeks after the author turns in a book for the publisher to print and distribute it, potentially more if layout and proofing still need to be done. With this book, as with my Eudora Visual QuickStart Guides, I wrote what’s called a "packaged book," which means I do all the layout and pay for professional copy editing and indexing. When I’m done with the book, it’s ready to go to the printer.

Despite that, the printing and distribution time meant that if I finished the book in early March, it wouldn’t appear in bookstores or on the Web until the middle of April. Normally that delay is merely a little frustrating. However, a book needs a shelf life of about six months to recoup the costs of printing and distribution, not to mention the author’s royalties and the publisher’s overhead. While writing about iPhoto and seeing the discussions taking place about it online, it became blindingly obvious that Apple was likely to update iPhoto soon, with a July release at Macworld Expo in New York being the latest we could imagine, leaving only a few months of shelf life. Apple wasn’t talking, but the financial risk of printing thousands of copies of the book was just too great for Peachpit to justify going ahead with the printing when I finished writing in early March. From my point of view, even though the risk was primarily Peachpit’s, I couldn’t stomach the thought of recycling thousands of copies of the book because of poor timing. But at the same time, I had a completed book on my hands, and since iPhoto had been downloaded over one million times in two months, I figured there were plenty of people who could use the book right away.

I started thinking of ways we could distribute the book in PDF format on the Internet without completely destroying its commercial viability. I came up with a few ideas, but Tonya finally had the ultimate one. "What if," she said, "people could order the book, get the electronic version now and be sent the paper version of the next edition when that’s done?" It was a perfect solution, since it didn’t require people to figure out the value of an electronic book, it wouldn’t automatically cannibalize sales of the next edition, and it would ensure that people could benefit from the book for months before the next edition would be available (some as yet unknown date).

So that’s what we’ve done, although it’s taken longer than anticipated due to problems with building the PDF properly. Only Amazon was capable of the necessary flexibility, although we’re more than happy to make the book available through other booksellers if they can let people download this edition and automatically send them the next edition when it’s available.

The book retails for $20; Amazon is currently listing it for $14, and if you order via the link below, TidBITS makes an additional 15 percent on each copy. Here’s how I think it will work. Amazon should be bringing the book online on Tuesday, 16-Apr-02, and the first link below should be updated to reflect the electronic edition by then. That hasn’t happened yet, so I’m unsure as to what you’ll see. If the page doesn’t seem to have changed from the pre-order status, wait a day and check back. The second link explains how to download the book from your Digital Library on the Amazon site – the PDF should appear there after you’ve successfully ordered the book. As you can tell, since this is happening as I write, I can’t provide a concrete description; if necessary, I’ll post an update on the TidBITS Web site with clarification. Also, the Amazon site currently says that the download isn’t available to people who have already pre-ordered or international customers; I’m working with Peachpit to see if we can reverse those policies.

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PDF Warts & Niceties — Keeping in mind that this book was in no way intended to be published electronically, there are some good and bad aspects to the way the PDF worked out. On the bad side, it’s simply not designed for the screen – the Visual QuickStart Guides make use of a very specific QuarkXPress template, and revising it for screen presentation was impossible. Also annoying is the fact that Amazon would distribute the file only if we reduced its size to 10 MB, which forced us to compress the screenshots heavily. Don’t bother zooming in to see them better, and don’t think you’ll get better results from printing. For people who want to print the book, there’s a page at the front with an email address where you can request a 25 MB version that prints well (try scaling it up to 125 percent in the Page Setup dialog to print at full paper size).

On the good side, the book is fully searchable in Acrobat Reader, which enhances the professionally done index (remember, computers can’t create indexes, they can only create concordances – it takes a professional to create a concept-based index). Speaking of the index, both it and the table of contents are hot-linked. Click any entry in either to jump to that page instantly. Plus, the hierarchical chapter-based bookmarks on the left side of the screen show the entire contents of the book at a glance, and as you’d expect, a click takes you to any page.

So although you lose tactile feel and the ability to flip around in a physical book, the heavily linked nature of this particular PDF, combined with the one task per page style of the Visual QuickStart Guides, makes for an attractive combination. I don’t think it would be as useful with other books, but I might just prefer this particular book in electronic form.

What’s in the Book — For those of you who have seen other Visual QuickStart Guides from Peachpit Press, this book follows the approach carefully. Each page covers a single task in iPhoto and offers discrete steps for completing the task, supporting the steps with copious screenshots. Plus, there are hundreds of tips scattered throughout the book that tell you about hidden features, problems you might encounter, and ways to work efficiently. Here are a few useful tips pulled from the chapters on importing, organizing, and editing photos – the remaining chapters cover creating books, sharing photos, and troubleshooting.

  • When importing from a card reader, if you delete pictures from the memory card in the Finder before importing into iPhoto, make sure to eject and reinsert the card before importing to avoid confusing iPhoto about the number of images to import.

  • If you drag photos from iPhoto to the Finder, you get a copy of the original files. Hold down Command and Option when you drag to make aliases of the selected photos instead. These tricks can be handy for making collections of images to send via email or for use with the Mac OS X screensaver.

  • You can add a photo to an album only once; if you try to drag the a photo to an album that already contains that photo, the photo snaps back to its original location when you drop it. To put a photo in an album twice, you must duplicate it.

  • Removing a photo from an album does not delete it from your Photo Library or from your hard disk. However, removing a photo from the Photo Library does delete the original from your hard disk.

  • Photos inherit keyword changes, so if a photo has the Family keyword and you change the Family keyword button to Landscape, the photo updates to match.

  • Use keywords for categories of pictures that recur throughout your photo collection. In contrast, use albums for unique categories that appear only once in your collection. Keywords work well for identifying pictures of your family, landscapes, or recurring events; an album would be better for a specific trip’s photos.

  • To add keywords to a batch of photos found in a keyword search (seemingly impossible, since the found set disappears as soon as you switch the keyword toggle back to Assign), drag them to the album pane to make a temporary album, assign keywords in that album, and then delete the album when done.

  • When editing a photo in a separate window, iPhoto can zoom in to 400 percent, and out to 5 percent. Each click of iPhoto’s zoom buttons makes the image roughly a third larger or smaller than the previous size.

  • It’s usually easiest to rotate photos in batches in organize mode. Shrink the thumbnail size so you can see a number of photos at once, Command-click the ones that need rotating counter-clockwise, and click the Rotate button. Repeat with any images that need clockwise rotation, holding down Option when you click the Rotate button.

  • If you’re not sure if you like the black-and-white version of a photo, choose Undo from the Edit menu to switch to color (Command-Z), then choose Redo from the Edit menu to switch back to black-and-white quickly (Command-Shift-Z). Using the keyboard shortcuts, it’s easy to flip back and forth quickly. Another way to compare color and black-and-white versions of the same photo is to duplicate the photo, convert one copy to black-and-white, and then look at them side-by-side in organize mode.

Thoughts on Copying — When Peachpit first talked to Amazon about selling an electronic version of the book, the Amazon folks said they wouldn’t have the capability to sell encrypted PDFs for a little while yet. "Encrypted PDFs!" I said when I heard this. "I don’t want it to be encrypted!" Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, since getting into encryption complicates life unnecessarily in a situation like this.

So here’s my take on copying this book. The only people who will have it initially are people who have paid for it, and my foreword to the electronic edition asks them to share the book as though it were a physical book, at least in the sense of asking the recipients to buy their own copy if they’re using it a lot. After a while, I’m sure there will be copies floating around from a variety of pass-along situations, but you know what? I think that’s a good thing. This electronic book will be obsolete within a few months, and it will be replaced with a paper edition that can’t easily be copied. Sure, some people will get a copy, read it, and determine it’s not worth buying. That’s fine with me – they would have been unlikely to buy it anyway, so no harm done. Others will get a copy, find that it’s useful, and purchase a copy so they can have the print version when that comes out. That’s great – the copies served as free advertising. And undoubtedly there will be some who will get a copy, find it useful, and never pay, which sounds much like what happens with books stored in those subversive organizations called libraries. Frankly, I don’t mind – I’m happy that someone will have benefited from my efforts in such a way that doesn’t add to my email workload.

In short, I have high hopes for this approach, since it doesn’t restrict people from sharing a copy with a friend, but uses three methods to encourage people to buy their own copy:

  • Linking bits with atoms – in this case the promise of the next edition of the book is what essentially works out to be a free upgrade. When was the last time you got an upgrade for a book?

  • Planned obsolescence, thanks to the inevitable iPhoto upgrade and the need to cover that in the next edition.

  • Good will, for providing documentation for a program that has no manual and only minimal online help.

And of course, I also get the enjoyment of doing something interesting, seeing if it works, and putting my money where my mouth is on the fact that it’s possible to build business models around unprotected digital content. So hey, if you’re using iPhoto and would like documentation and numerous tips on how to make the most of the program, check out the electronic version of iPhoto for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide.

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