Monday, April 4, 2011

Malaysia - Part 1

Alpha 55, HDR level 4, handheld.  I love this camera!

I’m writing this blog entry on the plane back from Malaysia (which in itself is remarkable – I remember a time when there was enough room to use a laptop in coach.)  And the trip was a blast!  There’s so much to share, in fact, that I’m going to split this across two different blog posts.  This week will talk about the event at which I was speaking; next week I’ll talk about some of the stories behind the Malaysia shots that ended up on the website.

What was I doing on this trip?  I was invited by Sony Malaysia to speak at the Sony Alpha Convention 2011, held at the ritzy Kuala Lumpur Convention Center.  The event was pretty lavish – one entire convention center hall housed a lecture stage, several performance areas, and lots of Sony’s products were on hand for people to try – including some of the more exotic equipment like the 70-400 G lens mounted on an A900.  The 3-day event had continuous lectures by 21 guest photographers.  I have to say I’ve attended many such corporate events in my day and I was very impressed by what Sony had done here.  You can get a feel for the event from Sony’s own video from the event here:  and a longer version here: 

I was scheduled to speak on Friday night on one of my favorite topics – wireless flash.  But first there was a press event on Friday morning where I talked about how the NEX platform was ideal for the working travel photographer, given the small physical dimensions and the fact that the sensor size was the same as that of most DSLRs.

George Wong, head of Sony Alpha Malaysia division.

So who was behind all of this?  Please meet George Wong, marketing director for Sony Malaysia and an actual photographer.  (George is the one giving the introduction in the youtube video referenced above.)  During my ‘get over jetlag’ day I spent some quality time with George and learned quite a bit about the Alpha division from Sony’s point of view. Some of the more salient insights I was able to glean were:

•    Sony is still in the “investment” stage to build their user base and brand.  Although there was no expectation for the Alpha division to do so now, they actually did indeed show a slight profit at the end of year 5, due mostly to the unexpectedly large sales of the NEX and SLT cameras. 
•    Leading up to this, the division had experienced 30% sales growth in each of the two prior years.
•    Minolta engineers were either ecstatic at the Sony takeover (“Hooray!  Now we have some real R&D money to do some innovative things!”) or resentful (not unlike Tibet when the Chinese took over), depending upon who you spoke with.
•    Sony Malaysia is very interested in bundling my e-books with cameras that are sold in that region, but insist that I implement some sort of Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme to prevent the kind of illegal file sharing that is rampant in that region.  (Which creates a big problem for me.  More on this topic later in this posting.)
•    Film is still very big in Japan.  60% of all Leicas are sold there, with most customers buying two cameras at once: One to use, the other to shrink-wrap and keep in a vault to will to their children.  

I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a celebrity before, but I sure felt like one here.  All through the convention, I had people stop me asking for autographs and to have their picture taken with me.  They even asked how my Mom was (I had mentioned her poor health several months ago on dpreview, one of the reasons the A33/A55 ebook was late).  (She's fine now, by the way. :-))  People actually flew in just to hear me talk, and then flew back the same day.  I felt like David Hasselhoff in Germany.  This surprised me, since neither Malaysia nor Indonesia are in the top 50 countries where my books are popular according to my shopping cart data.  Hmmm…

Come Friday night and the talk went wonderfully.  I spoke about flash in general -- the right and wrong uses for the camera’s pop-up flash, when flash looks good and when it looks evil – and then I gave an introduction to wireless flash including a live demonstration using two flashes and one diffuser (and a lot of volunteers to act as lightstands).  Later on I gave examples of things you can do with one flash, two flashes, and three flashes.  It was pretty well received.  And the talk was videotaped, so if the camera work is any good I might polish it up and put it up for sale.

The $5 Studio being demonstrated in real time.
This is how the image came out with the setup seen in the picture above.
It’s a funny thing – although I was there for a week I only had one day to actually go out and experience the country I was in.  And fortunately I had the privilege of going with other photographers who had similar goals in mind.  I was pretty pleased with the results, and I’ll share these with you (along with stories behind how we got the shots) in the next blog post, which should be ready by next week. 

Why attend a seminar?

I’m always pleased when people who have read my books tell me how much they got out of attending one of my traveling seminars.  Of course this is by design, for although there is a degree of overlap between the book content and the seminar, I went out of my way to make sure there was about 65% new seminar content and that the parts that overlap were presented in a different way to maximize the chances that a concept would be more intuitive to someone.  (Everyone learns differently, so if you express a concept in a number of different ways, each will generate an ‘aha!’ reaction out of different people.)  Plus, attending a seminars is just a lot more fun, and the key lessons of what’s important in a photograph is taught in such a way that you’ll remember the principles forever.  I continue to get emails from people who attended in the past, saying how much they got out of it and that it influences how they approach photography to this day.  (One person recently mentioned that she started winning photo contests based on the things she learned.  How cool is that??)

All of this, of course, is a preamble to letting you know about the current schedule for the Friedman Archives Seminars.  There are only two more U.S. appearances this year (Boston in May and Albuquerque in October); the rest are in Canada (Ottawa / Ontario, Alberta, and Nova Scotia).  (How did that happen?  :-) )   Sign up now and you'll thank yourself forever.

Boston, MA May 14-15, 2011, plus an optional one-day field workshop on May 21st. Sign up!
Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Seminar: June 11-12, 2011
Travel Lecture (evening): June 17, 2011
Field Workshop: June 18 and 19, 2011

(Sign up for any or all at the link to the right)
Sign up!

Nova Scotia, Canada
Seminar: July 23-24, 2011 in Pubnico

Field workshop: July 30-31st, 2011 in Yarmouth

Sign up!
Ottawa, Canada September 3-5, 2011 (Two days lecture + one day field workshop) Sign up!
Albuquerque, NM October 1-2, 2011 Click here to register interest

2012 is shaping up to be even more interesting, with London, a return to Copenhagen, Nashville, and British Columbia (Canada) in the mix.  A complete  list and links page can be found at .  Come join the fun! 

A DRM Conundrum

I have strong thoughts on DRM (Digital Rights Management) for my ebooks.  I don't think it's an effective solution, and it punishes the customer more than it prevents people from sharing copyrighted materials.   As a person whose livelihood depends upon word-of-mouth recommendations from extremely happy customers, imposing a DRM solution on my products sounds like a sure-fire way to attenuate my business.

But, as you’ve read above, Sony Malaysia expressed an interest in pushing my books but only on the condition that I find a way to apply DRM to my downloadable products.  What to do?

Well, the first thing to do is educate myself.  I spent days researching the DRM solutions out there for .pdf files, and so far I’m not too impressed by what I saw. 

What's my 'success criteria' for an effective solution? 

1) It should not be a burden to the customer.  (Don't forget, only extremely happy customers spread the word.  Encumbering DRM won't make for an extremely happy customer.)  

2) Customers should be able to use the content they paid for on any machine they own, online or offline, be it a laptop, desktop, iPad, smartphone, or all of the above.  Customers should also have the right to print out the copy they paid for (many of my customers print out the entire book).

3) I should be able to issue free updates to existing customers like I do now.

So far the majority of solutions I've found violate at least two of these criteria.  And of course the most difficult part of making a business case is that there's no way to measure the leakage, nor is there a way to know how many people who had obtained an illegal copy of the file would have purchased one if the DRM had been in place. 
Since it’s impossible to know how much money I’m losing due to file sharing, it’s also impossible to calculate a return on investment for DRM. 

The best solution I’ve been able to find so far (“best” meaning the one that doesn’t seem to hamper the user too much) is the Adobe Content Server 4 which costs $10,000 plus annual maintenance fees.  (And this was not the most expensive option!)  Several hosting companies employ ACS4 such as Ingram Digital and Google Editions (so if I use them I won't have to pay $10K), but they insist on handling the transaction, keeping 48% of the revenue, and not sharing the customer data with me.  Sounds like I lose either way.  Another solution that comes close is but that's a Windows-only solution. 

So, here’s where your feedback may be helpful.  Does anyone have any insights into secure digital content distribution that would meet my 'success criteria'?  Is there another solution I haven’t considered that will please all parties involved?   Please feel free to share your thoughts on this very polarizing topic either in the comments below or by private email.  I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to do but it’s always good to consult with your client base first.
Who says you can't have great dramatic light when you travel?  (The wireless flash is in my right hand. :-) )

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

Boston, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ottawa, and Albuquerque seminars open for registration!


  1. Hi Gary,

    Nice to read some thoughtful posts like this and since you don't seem to write just because you're on a schedule, I read all your posts!

    Just a thought on the 'how much money I’m losing due to file sharing, it’s also impossible to calculate a return on investment for DRM.' statement you made:

    I worked in the software industry for a long time and the bosses kept coming up with astronomical numbers saying we lost XX billion dollars due to piracy by simply counting how many pirated copies were found. Reality is that it does not work like that, many people copy for curiosity and would not buy whatever it is they are copying. Some may not even have enough money to do so.

    So even if your DRM solution could tell you how many copies were out there, it would have to popup a 'customer survey' to ask why they copied and what would they have done if they could not copy your books ;)

    - Itai

  2. Hi, Itai. Yes, that's why I said "nor is there a way to know how many people who had obtained an illegal copy of the file would have purchased one if the DRM had been in place."

    DRM only seems to makes sense from the point of view of a manager or a lawyer. :-) -GF

  3. Hi Gary! As soon as you DRM on your content, someone will try to break it. Look at the stuff on iTunes and Amazon. There are workarounds all over the web. DRM works for those who are trying to monetize each copy. But if you're trying to have happy customers, and achieve a strong revenue stream through your seminars, DRM may not make sense.

  4. Gary. I'm fully supportive of your desire not to alienate your customers with a DRM solution. I've avoided iTunes and Apple products for these restrictive reasons.
    While DRM should have real value for highly popular items like music, I think that your ebooks are specialised to the extent that they are of real value only to owners of the relevant camera. This gives a widely spaced distribution of customers, sufficiently isolated from each other to greatly reduce the leakage between them.
    I don't see dpreview readers offering to share their copy but rather recommend that new owners buy their own copy.
    Keep up the good work, and many thanks for your work in the Sony Alpha world so far.
    Robert M.

  5. Mr Friedman,
    I bought your a55 manual a few days ago. I was holding out for the a77 but looking at the horror in Japan and it's effect on 10 of Sonys' plants I bought the 55.
    Your manual is the only worthwhile manual I have ever purchased. I am currently on ssi but was a stringers stringer for pro sports as I went into retail management. I started dhooting at 10. I left Nikon after owning my d1 and when upgrading they put vr reduction in the lens rather than the body.I shot pro sports when you developed film in a cooler and faxed the images to the newspaper so I am rather knowledgeable.
    I am only about half way through your book and have three good tips already which is 3 more than Mr Busch's books. You write the best manual I have ever read. I hope to get off ssi and shoot professionally for the balance of my life. I still have a few surgeries to go.
    Thank you for the earnestness you write a manual with. It is nice to read a manual that a beginner will learn what photography is about and a pro still can get tips from.
    As you have sonys' ear I hope that you can get them to write firmware updates to correct the flash issues with the a55. I would have waited for the 77 so that I would have another mirror to amplify the digital evf but I will use both eyes for portraiture and tape over the camera flash . It would be nice if they would fix this. I realize they can not correct the evf image in low light situations with a firmware fix. I mostly wanted to thank you for a manual that is worth paying money for. It is ashame you can not get a publisher to publish it for a reasonable rate. Over 100 dollars for a printed copy is not worthwhile. The download price is a great bargain. When I get health enough to re enter this business I hope to know you and hope for your help. My real intent though is to let everyone know what an excellent writer you are and that this is an essential book for the use of the a55. If you are new to digital or serious photography it is a goldmine. If you are a pro their is also enough to warrant the price. Thank you for your ethics and a fine guide,sincrely Ted

  6. Just one data point on DRM: Since I was happy with your 7D book, I recently picked up the one for my new A580.

    So far, the 496 page book exists on my work laptop, my wife's laptop, the kid's netbook, and one of my desktops. That's because I want to be able to read it when I've got a few minutes - regardless of where I might be. (So far, the kid's netbook is proving to be the best for bedtime reading.)

    Oh, and there's an archival copy sitting on my Linux fileserver in the basement - right next to the 7D ebook.

    Bottom line: I'd be pretty ticked off if I'd been stymied by DRM somewhere along the line.

    Personally, I think you're on the right track. The price of your ebook is not going to deter very many people that have shelled out for an $800 camera.

    Best regards,
    Ottawa (still making up my mind on the seminar but welcome - you're coming a month too early to enjoy the fall colours but the labour day weekend is sure to be beautiful.)

  7. Good point - if you've got $800 for the camera plus some to update lenses, $20+ for the ebook is no biggee! I have actually purchased the Kindle and PDF versions of the a580 ebook (the Kindle version works better on the Kindle) and keep them on several computers. However, I will NOT share them with anybody else under any circumstances. I suspect that most people who get a pirated copy don't own a Sony Alpha camera and wouldn't buy the ebook anyway. It's a tough decision - I don't envy you. Kinda of economics vs. happy customers. But you have to eat and pay bills. I have a feeling that you don't have to buy the cameras... ;-)

  8. I like the NEX-5 volume very much and find myself re-reading it.

    One solution to Sony's request that may actually help Sony and yourself is to get your books on iTunes so they can be downloaded onto the iPad, iPhone or computer. I have the Sony NEX-5 book on my iPad and it is really convenient!

    I have downloaded other books from iTunes and found that the supplier has the information to contact me with upgrades. So the transaction travels from iTunes direct to the customer-supplier in what appears to be a seemless relationship.

    Just something to consider.

  9. Hey, Adrian!

    Thanks for your recommendations. It turns out that the iTunes store doesn't share customer information with me (I can just send out an update announcement to their list); furthermore they won't sell .pdf files, only epub files which are a pain to create when you're starting with a complex horizontal layout (and the text just doesn't reflow well).

    (Yes, you can read your .pdf file on your iPad, but you can't download one from iTunes!)

  10. Dear Gary; I guess they can't limit this deal to Malaysia, which means the DRM solution would be for all over the world. Option 1: don't do it. The previous commenters are on the right track. Option 2: Don't restrict distribution of the manuals, but have every owner place a picture of himself/herself, naked, on a title page the pops up every time the program starts. And make that picture unchangeable. I think your exhibitionist demographic is small enough (heh) that most people would be reluctant to give away their copies.

    If you have any more questions, just let me know.

    Chuck B, happy owner of the a700 and a55 ebooks

  11. Hi Gary, I have purchased two Sony Alpha cameras (A100 and A700) - both times I have purchased your eBooks (plus the composition techniques booklet).

    I run a variety of operating systems (mac, pc, linux) - from my experience as an end user PDF DRM is almost guaranteed not to work on all of these platforms.

    Also, the number of recent Adobe pdf vulnerabilities has prompted me to switch to using Foxit pdf reader.

    Perhaps print is the best form of DRM :-)?

    Ironically I believe the lack of DRM in your eBooks a feature worth paying for!

    BTW - thanks for your excellent books, I also enjoy reading your newsletter.

  12. @Bill - Actually, yes, I *DO* have to buy the cameras!!! I have no special status with Sony (this recent trip notwithstanding).

  13. I don't think the DRM really affects the copying people out there any way as they always find a way of getting past any software or hardware anti-piracy thing put in place. Remember when Microsoft said their XBox hardware would never be cracked and it WAS 6 days later. DRM really makes no difference to people who want something for nothing. I have pirated software before but only to test it out. I might have used it once or twice, about as many times as I would use a time trial piece of software, and then never used it again. I have hundreds if not thousands of $ worth of software that was just plain crap or didn't do what it was supposed to do and I was burned by buying them so I like to try stuff out before I buy now.
    Rhino3D probably has the best trial on the market as it gives you 25 saves before not working. This gives me time to test it out, not being limited to a month, and where my 12 hour shifts limit how much time I can spend on stuff before it gets in the way of family business.
    ITAI is right in that most people do this for curiosity.
    I bought your E Book because it was well worth it and had good information in it. I also have thousands of dollars worth of magazines with almost the same info in them but not all in the same place. This is where your E-Books shine in that everything is all in one place and is easy to find what you need.
    I don't think DRM is the answer at all and I think it is a pain for the legitimate people.

  14. Gary, a happy customer here, who always buys software—sometimes after I have tried a copy using Serial Box or similar, because demo versions often have restrictions or watermarks. I always donate to freeware and shareware: I believe deeply in this way of doing things.

    I own a #$%^load of expensive software that I use in my business. The expensive stuff is always deep and complex and you need familiarity over time to make informed decisions about what to buy. Most pro app users I know work this way.

    Sony was one of the pioneers of software protection (CDs and DVDs) as you know. They will always be inclined in this direction, because the momentum is there. For me personally, my greatest frustrations on the software front are Adobe's CS products, because of the necessity of unistalling, then installing (plus deregistration, and registration) on any machines if you are moving from one to another. This takes time, and does not stop anyone using illegal copies. As you observe, totally accurately I believe, DRM hurts decent buying customers far more than the fraction of the population this is intended to stop—the many are hurt in a vain attempt to stop the few.

    Phase's Capture One Pro seems like an elegant solution, tho' not directly relevant to your needs, as far as I can see: you can download the full version of the software, but you need to activate it on line. To move it from one machine to another, go to your account and deactivate; download a new version (or copy the original disk image from one machine to another; much faster) then activate. Simple and clean—thought proprietary, knowing Phase.

    Now to your DRM problem: one or more of your criteria will not be met using existing methods except, perhaps, the issuing of a password via return email, your present system. This is a partial solution. To avoid the less scrupulous customers passing passwords to others, can the PW be keyed to the email account that the download is registered to? If this can be done inexpensively, you could use a hybrid of the Phase approach which would let customers download, then move, to any of their devices, but would need net access to activate, via the email address.

    So, re. the criteria, if this approach can be made to work:

    1) No unreasonable burden

    2) Satisfied, with only the need to verify their pre-existing email address

    3) Satisfied, same email address opens the updates.

    Can this be made to work?

    Cheers, Kit

  15. Password-protected files are not a solution, since a file sharer can share the password at the same time they share the file. Associating the file with the machine it's running on is one of the things the Adobe solution does and why I was attracted to it initially.

    Many have pointed me to a solution where each .pdf file is custom-generated and includes a fingerprint that can trace it back to the original purchaser. That's great in theory but in reality it means I'll be spending my time litigating against people who have no money rather than writing or taking pictures. Again, I lose.

  16. Understand that totally, Gary, so I am going to echo the other posters above who said that the specificity of the product means that, inherently, way less pirating will go on (compared to Photoshop, for example).

    Keeping the price low, as you do, and writing good manuals is the best way to keep your customers going back to you; all criteria are satisfied; but Sony may still exert force... Good luck, KL

  17. Why not create a watermark, or margin with the purchaser's details on it. The PDF annotation can be generated on the fly when the purchaser buys from you (or licences from you) with their particular details. Include something of the nature of "This file belongs to Joe Bloggs, and was purchased from Gary Friedman on 6 April 2011" - This will mean that anyone who uses the file will have that splashed all over it - no problem for Joe Bloggs, but definitely a problem for Steve Copier!

    This is the approach that the SABS uses in the publication of their national standards. In addition, their documents allow access for only a short period of time (I think about 1 month) when they then go entirely blank....(or black - I forget now!). This might not be the relevant approach, but by personalising each PDF file you will have control over the sales as you currently do, and will have the details of each person who has access to your books.

    I currently offer a document compiler solution that you might be interested in, too. Drop me a line....

  18. Gary, I am a Malaysian and I just bought your A55 ebook not long ago.

    Hope you enjoyed your stay in Malaysia.

    When I wanted to buy the A55 camera, most of my friends discouraged me from doing so. 9 out of 10 are Canon users. They have never even heard of the A55 camera before.

    I respect digital copyright and I would never share your ebook with anyone. My point is, there's no one to share it with even if I wanted to. So why go to all the trouble implementing DRM?

    Keep up the good work.

  19. Although I find any DRM to be abhorrent, I have found the Adobe solution acceptable. I probably got started with it because I had a Sony Reader thrown in free with the purchase of a Dell netbook. In fact I usually use the Adobe Digital Editions reader to view my ebooks even if they are plain PDF or epub. That's mainly because ADE makes it convenient to keep track of my place in the book.

    Unfortunately, much as I enjoy your A55/A33 book, I am forced to use Adobe Reader X to read it. That is because it is the only ebook in my library with which ADE makes font changes, and some of the fonts which it chooses are unreadable. The standard font shown is the same that shows in ARX, but at random it switches to a very light sans serif font. This switch is totally at random. sometimes even in the middle of a word. (You can see an example of this in the first non-bullet paragraph on page 257.) I suspect this is another big strike against the Adobe Content Server, because I bet you would have to entirely redo your books.

    Just out of curiosity, does that $10 grand buy an annual license to run on your own hardware, or to put your books on their server? Not a bad price if you are a publisher with a multitude of titles, but certainly not affordable with only a few.

    Love the book. Although the Sony manual isn't as bad as some, it's really great to have someone with English as a first language describe the use of the cameras in a book format that is larger than the palm of your hand. When I feel the need to move to the SLT a99, I will surely buy your book on it. ;-)



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