You might be only dimly aware of this, or you could easily know far more about it than I know (I haven't followed it closely), but Apple Computer is slated to make a major new product category introduction tomorrow morning in San Francisco. Expected is the "iPad," although that might not be its actual name, a "tablet" computer that would double as a multipurpose electronic reading device.
But there's likely to be more to it than that—possibly a lot more. Essentially, the rumors are that Steve Jobs hopes to do for print distribution what iTunes did for music distribution. Many traditional print media—newspaper and magazines—have been buffeted by "competition" from the web (which in some ways isn't really competition, functionally, since the web is mostly not professional and doesn't amount to a serviceable replacement*—but it is competition in a business sense, as trad media has seen its revenues and circulations shrink). They're likely to be so grateful to anyone attempting to propose and provide a viable business model going forward that they could be choosing to overlook, for now at least, the far-reaching ramifications of sharing or even ceding partial control of their content to a central distributor. There's already been a fair amount of unease over Amazon's attempts to wrest content from book publishers for the Kindle; it's possible that those are just the foothills of the mountainous battles to come over revenue sharing and control of content between Apple and traditional content gateways. (The music industry isn't in a state of unalloyed joy over the rise of the iTunes model.)
In any event, even though it doesn't have to do directly with photography (except that it has implications for newspaper and magazine photojournalism), the announcement tomorrow will probably be interesting, to say the least.
Mike*And I say that as a web content provider.
Featured Comment by Stephen Gillette: "Mike, please allow me to disagree with your opinion that the iSlate (I'll use that rumored name for today) has little to do directly with photography.
"The device will surely be much more elegant than any netbook, much more portable than any notebook, with an intuitive touch interface similar to the iPhone. And it should be perfect for viewing photographic content.
"The Amazon Kindle (which has been successful, maybe even wildly so) may be great for reading Harry Potter, but it can't handle Ansel Adams' 400 Photographs or William Eggleston's Guide. The iSlate may do just that.
"Personally, viewing photographic 'content' on an iPhone has never seemed practical, given the 3" screen. That has not stopped developers from offering endless iPhone/iPod Touch apps for photography. It looks very likely that all of these apps will port to the new Apple device.
"The iSlate may offer opportunities for photographers (and videographers) who can offer quality content and exploit the potential for mass distribution. This will require an enthusiastic, forward-looking understanding of where our culture is heading in regards to image making and sharing. I appreciate that some will find this evolution of the medium bewildering or even irritating. However, consider the artist/photographer. Or the photojournalist. Or the commercial photographer. All trends point to continued downward pressure on earnings. Time magazine has famously used iStockphoto to source a cover photo—for $30. The old models of doing business can no longer guarantee an ability to earn a living for hard-working photographers.
"I doubt that the iSlate will do for image-content creators what iTunes has done for musical artists. (And just what iTunes has done for music is still a developing story, with plenty of pros and cons.) But I will be very surprised, if the iSlate catches on like I think it will, if it doesn't open up opportunities for photographers that we can scarcely imagine now.
"One example: an inexpensive (think iTunes' or Kindle pricing) portfolio of images (think: photo book), which can be purchased and downloaded with minimal effort, might entice some to purchase a hard copy (ever easier to produce through a growing list of providers, such as Apple itself or Blurb), signed and with extra images. One tier up, the collector of photographs could order an original print from the photographer, and potentially in a size much larger than the printed book or iSlate iterations of the image. As awareness of the photographer and his/her work increases, the synergy of these multiple avenues of distribution will undoubtedly foster other opportunities, from commissions to exhibitions and collaborations.
"Tomorrow's Apple unveiling may well be the start of the next big thing for photography."