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Thursday, 27 September 2012


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"Open question is whether the little book thumbnails are going to annoy anyone..."

Not me. I'll probably just glance at them as they pass by. In fact, it might become a nice resource--when I'm looking to get another book, I often come here and search through your book posts; now I can do a presort by quickly scrolling through past posts to find some options.

I actually turn off my ad blocker for your site, and only your site.

"28,000 people signed up to get our full feed, and those people don't see any of the regular ads."

Its almost like you figured out why people use the feeds. Almost.

That's pretty nice, Luke, thanks.


The site has to make money, or I'm not going to work on it sixty hours a week.

I could just turn off the full feeds, too, then everyone who wanted to see more than the first few lines would have to come to the site page.

Work with me here.


You spend six hours a day moderating comments? That's huge. Here, let me send you another one. As a reader who subscribes to your RSS feed, I'll have you know I read all your posts. Well, just about all of them. But what you can do if you want RSS readers to click through more to your site is to configure your RSS feed to send only a small portion of the story. That said, one thing I value RSS for, is archiving a blog or website I'm following. If the author takes the site down, it's all still there on my RSS feed. Well, not the comments I guess, but the main story.

In my honest opinion, book thumbnails will be great. They will hopefully help you financially, and help us finding wonderful books

I click through largely when I want to comment or I can see that the comments are going to be good. At the moment (since we're in new camera introduction season) that is less often. Not none, just some weeks it feels like I have 3-5 TOP articles where I'm waiting to see how the discussion shakes out and at the moment that hasn't been happening because new cameras don't trigger the kinds of cool discussion that make TOP so valuable to me. And the moderation you provide really helps keep the discussion valuable.

"You spend six hours a day moderating comments? That's huge."

Maybe it just seems that way. Actually I've never timed anything. I basically enjoy the work, so I don't make much effort to compress it into smaller amounts of time. Plus, everything is so fragmented...I don't work on one thing continually for very long, with the exception of writing.


I subscribe to TOP's feed and would guess that I click on about half the posts. I read all of them, and click through to the stories when I'm interested in reading the comments.

I like the idea of the book recommendations. I've bought a number of the books you've recommended and been happy with all of them (Photo Box, Vivian M, and the Walker Evans right off the top off my head, but there's more). Personally, I would vote for more photo books and less instructional books.

This is my favourite photography site, due mainly to the personable conversational tone set by Mine Host.
If streamlining the "nuts and bolts" means you have more time to devote to the good stuff, then I'm all for it.

I am here to tell you the book link worked. Yes, I clicked on it and bought the book.

Though I have been thinking of buying this book for a while now. I need to scan in the wedding photo and clean them up. I was supposed to of done this years ago, doh! Hopefully the Restoration book will help me out.


Ditto on the feed reading. I read mostly through the feed, available on all my devices with a more readable design (for me - big font on a white background). I often click through if I want to read or post comments.

Ads in the feed are fine. I try to purchase stuff through you links as well when I remember. I should just send you some money directly through paypal.

No problem with your ads. I bought Jeff's book via the ad. One click on the ad and one click to order; it doesn't get much easier.

I'm another one that subscribes to the feed, but reads all the posts.

I prefer the UI of my feed reader to your site (no insult intended, it's fine).

I have no objection to the ads, it's a great idea. The only thing that would annoy me would be if you only had the first 2.5 paragraphs on text in the feed, and a "read more" link.

- Steve

Maybe you could enlist some frequent commenters to become site moderators, free up your time for more content?

I like the book ads, but I would like a rotation of 5-10 books even more.

The book ads/thumbnails should be larger. Book covers are designed to catch attention on a retailer's shelves and are pretty uninformative at thumbnail size.

Idiot tax -- the unpleasant morons that spam the comments with links, off topic comments and unpleasant bloviation take you away from the productive business of writing interesting and informative posts.

Anything that lets you focus on content rather than admin is fine by me!

Do what you gotta do, a guy has to eat.

I use both the rss feed and the website in equal measures.

The book thumbnails look fine on my phones rss reader and I don't see how they could possibly annoy anyone in the slightest.

Maybe I'm missing the point, but I don't see the ad in my RSS reader, so what difference does it make for feed users?

I subscribe to TOP the old fashioned way, I pay for it with a quarterly contribution. I always use your affiliate links to buy stuff even if I see it on another site. I check several times most days for new posts, read them and generally all the comments. Nothing personal Mike, but sometimes the comments and discussions your posts engender are even more interesting.

Without a doubt my favorite site. Please do what ever you must.

As an RSS feed reader, two thoughts. First, I love the idea of the little images. You could even do full ad posts once a week and I wouldn't mind if it means supporting the site. Second, anyway to make the text "Featured Comments" a link to the post, just like the title is? It's a little thing, but on a long post, you'd have to scroll back up to the title to get to the page. Not a huge deal, but you may get more click throughs if it was a link.

I'm subscribed to your feed and read all of your posts but I agree with the suggestion of showing a few lines only. I don't mind the new book ads at all, even I think they're a bit too small.

Every thing that is good for you should be good for your readers.

I appreciate your obvious concern about the ads. I'm sure my monthly $6.00 contribution does not contribute to your bottom line in any meaningful way. You are running a business and we should all remember that unless it remains viable we will all be missing TOP.

With book ads, they're less ads, and more recommendations - while i may not love everything you've recommended over the years, I've never come across anything that felt forced or simple product placement. The book ad/recommendation is a feature, not an intrusion. Good ads offer value to the reader in introducing a product they might really want, something your site a darn good at doing without being annoying in the slightest.

I think the ads clutter the look of the feed, but as others have said before me, if it helps to make some decent money, it’s absolutely okay this way.

That said, with 28.000 people subscribed, you might consider looking for a weekly feed sponsor, just like some tech blogs do: One feed per week is exclusively for the sponsor, announcing new products, books, and so on. You might have to invest a few hours to acquire your first clients, but I guess this could eventually pay more than the ads.

Here’s an example: http://www.marco.org/2012/09/25/sponsor-harvest2

I use the feed as my main input into site. I read nearly all the feed articles. I read the feed mainly on my phone, but will read the site on my computer when I want a larger size (mainly for images, to read the comments or to make a comment).

I'm perfectly happy with the 'soak' although more regular changes might be better. Featured comments are good - will bring me to the full site more often.

Have you thought about having a specific sponsor for the feed? They would then get an advertorial in the feed stream - with full text and images - I could see this working really well for books.

Asymco.com does this well.

These ads about books keep reminding me that amazon.it and amazon.fr, from which I have also free delivery, are outside your portfolio of useful link. Just annoying to know I cannot contribute, but I plan to buy some of them anyway (Ctein's come first).

Actually this came through at the right time. Am jsut about to purchase a Retina MBPro from Amazon - will make sure I click through from here.

By the way Mike do you take part in any Podcasts? I could imagine that the site would work well as a Podcast - would allow some decent rambling :)

"...Open question is whether the little book thumbnails are going to annoy anyone..."

It would be really obnoxious to express annoyance at the addition of thumbnails when this site is available for free. If anyone is annoyed, I suggest ignoring them. :-)

That said, please don't ever include ads which move, flicker, scintillate, etc. *Those* would drive me to stop visiting TOP.

I read mostly by RSS. Many of the other blogs put ads in their RSS feeds, which is fine with me.

You can add advertisements to your RSS feeds by altering your RSS templates in typepad to include the code for the advertisement. Here is an example:


Just to add to the chorus:

1. Keep the full RSS feeds. I often read TOP on my iPad through Flipboard. Better formatting, and I can read it "on the go", even when I don't have Internet access. (At the office, I visit the main website.) The "click for more" thing is intensely annoying.

2. I don't mind the ads, and I think they are a good idea in terms of generating income for you. But two suggestions: (a) make sure that the downsized versions for the thumbnails look OK. The thumbnails for both Ctein's book and The Digital Negative look fuzzy to me, which I find more annoying than the existence of the ads, and (b) I like the ads centered below the post (like you originally had them), rather than left-justified (the way they appear in the Olympus guilty plea post).

3. I think you should mix up the books ads more frequently. Looking at the same book ad for 4-5 days will get boring and annoying. Better to have a set of 5-10 books and cycle through them each post. The cycle can repeat, but at least we won't be looking at the same book each time. Shouldn't be that much more work for you, and could even increase your revenues.

Perhaps I'm unusual, but whilst I subscribe to the feed I actually read everything on the site. Wouldn't be the same experience without the Joyful Nudes ad in the sidebar…

No objection to this very-slightly-increased level of advertising. In fact, having it change weekly is a benefit compared to the relatively static ads on the main article page.

I'm both an RSS reader and a direct reader; mostly direct, but the RSS sometimes informs me you've added a post when I wasn't checking, and I leave it on my list as it may be useful if I suddenly need to pull back from most of my direct reading.

Mike, for what it's worth:

- I run an ad blocker on my browser. I see your margin ads just fine, but haven't seen an in-post ad yet. Just FYI.

- I consider myself more a TOP addict than reader.

- I keep tabs on TOP via Google Reader along with (according to google) 20K+ others. Reader lets me check for new posts on a number of sites at a glance, and makes it quicker and easier to read TOP on a phone.

- Most of the time, I'll read the entire post in Reader, and then click through anyway to read, or occasionally join, the conversation. Fairly often, I'll click through again later to catch up. (So I guess I use your feed as bookmarks.)

- You're dealing with a demographic for whom "new full frame camera" is as sexy as "______ topless"; maybe sexier. So your headlines are just fine. (Though "topless Amanda Byrne visits TOP with new full frame camera" may be worth trying).

- I find the ads on your site more unobtrusive and more relevant than those on other sites. Thanks!

Generally, I think you've been doing lots of things right.

I support Ross' volunteer moderator idea and I didn't even know there was an RSS feed.

I trust you have some degree of automation, e.g. flagging comments containing links, other forms of spam or profanity.

Glad you posted Jeff Schewe's book thumbnail. I wasn't aware it had been released. Bought the book via the link.

"I don't see the ad in my RSS reader, so what difference does it make for feed users?"

There are lots of different feed readers. Your probably has an ad blocker of some kind enabled. Just a guess; I'm not an expert.


Just another point of reference. I use RSS feeds on the iGoogle home page, but only to see if that there's a new post. I click through because I like to read things in the way they were intended to be presented. Then again, iGoogle is on its way out.

A minor wording suggestion: Change “To see all the comments, click on the post title and scroll down” to something like “… click on the ‘Comments’ link below, at the end of this post”.

(You naturally end up at the bottom, so it's easier than scrolling back up to the post title in order to click it, plus if you click the comments link, you'll end up positioned at the comments, eliminating the need for instructions to scroll down afterwards.)

So far, the ads have been useful and informative, especially since I enjoy learning of books that I might otherwise not be aware of. The fact that they bring in revenue so TOP stays economically viable is great. I do have one suggestion. Archive the ads so if I meant to buy book X this week, but didn't quite get around to it, I can easily look it up again.


"Work with me here.


I understand. Its just that I still remember back in 2000 or 2001 when I was using some top tier search engine that suddenly went to TALKING ADS. It was disruptive at work! the site was cluttered, animated, just awful. Then I found GOOGLE with its bare white screen, waiting and willing to work for me. Not rob me.

I've never been the same since.

I don't know what the RSS feeds look like, because I read websites the old-fashioned way -- online, like my ancestors did. But I don't think you'd alienate many loyal readers if after every post, next to "Send this post to a friend," you added " | Donate a couple of bucks" (fellow readers: I [MM] inserted that link from the button in the right column before posting this comment; Mike did not put the link there).

It's subtle, it's immune to ad-blockers, and it's only fair to remind readers that this stuff doesn't write itself.

I'm anything but wealthy, but I consider myself a [small-time] "job creator" because I frequently look for ways to pay for online content that I value (yes, I'm a paid subscriber to TOP), so it doesn't bother me to be asked. Frankly, I think far fewer blog readers are bothered by subtle reminders than is often assumed by nervous content-providers. TOP readers who take offense at such hints are free to look for a better photography blog elsewhere. Good luck, as they say, with that....

Just to add my voice:

I subscribe to the full feed and read almost all of it. Finding intelligent and approachable commentary on the world of modern photography isn't actually all that easy. So I very much appreciate your efforts.

I could hardly begrudge you and definitely encourage you to place the ads you have in the RSS posts. It allows me to buy books that are mostly on my list to buy anyway AND support you at the same time.



I saw that someone commented favourably on the "joyful nudes" ad. For me it is the other way around. Thet ad is just unpleasant and have sometimes made me ashamed to visit TOP. I would not recommend the site to some of my friends because of it.


As others have stated whatever is necessary to keep the site up! The new changes are fine by me.

I have a question which you may have addressed before; and since you have updated the site may be useful to address again: If I click on the ad link which takes me to the Amazon US site, and I purchase other things, but not the book, you will still get the affiliate credit?

Love your site.

Don't mind the ads.

Use a reader but always click through because of a post you wrote a while back about that very thing.

Thanks for all you do.

Thanks for offering a full feed. I prefer reading blogs all in one place instead of going out and searching. Featured comments sounds cool. And I can ignore ads in the feed as much as I do on every site I visit... ;-)

One of the main benefits of the feed is that one sees inline images full-sized and not broken by the site design. You might think about fixing that on the site side.

It doesn't surprise me you work so much on comments. The way they are moderated really makes TOP what it is--the highlighting of some of the more interesting ones, the occasional back-and-forth with authors, yet with none of the empty vitriol in some threads in open forums. TOP is a great model for a successful blog, yet perhaps difficult to duplicate due to the work involved.

"back in 2000 or 2001 when I was using some top tier search engine that suddenly went to TALKING ADS. It was disruptive at work!"

Yeah, well, back when this site was much closer to the bone than it is now, when the Nikon D3 first came out, Nikon's ad agency approached me wanting to place a large, expensive ad on TOP as part of their rollout campaign. I really needed the money at the time and it was a lot of money. But they wanted the ad to be a flashing GIF, and I had already set a policy against those because I find them annoying on other sites, so I turned them down. I've never heard from them again.



I find that the thumbnails are big enough to interrupt my reading flow yet so small that I can't always figure out what they are. So, you can count me as annoyed by them. But, it won't take me very long to learn to ignore them and just scroll on by.

I, of course, understand that you need to eat so keep on experimenting and I'll keep on reading TOP daily.


First, you should ignore most of the suggestions thrown at you here. In fact, you logically must, since most of them conflict with each other. Enquire of your gut what to do.

Second, I read your site the old-fashioned way by clicking a bookmark on my desk-bound Macintosh apparatus when the impulse strikes me. I’m moved to do this several times a day, such is my appetite for a new entry. I can’t be the only one who prefers to see a website as its creator intended it—or as it ended up, perhaps—even if that doesn’t happen to be fashionably large Palatino on an austere white background.

Third, although you’ve proven yourself capable of many surprising things over the years I’ve followed you, I believe the quality of your writing remains your unique strength and explains my enduring appreciation of TOP. I’d love to see you write longer pieces more frequently. Why can’t you work eighty hours a week to please me?

Finally, make those book covers bigger pronto allegro. Big is beautiful. Your gut, for I’ve seen photos of it, will surely tell you that!


No complaint with the thumbnail, although the title of the book would also be nice. It can be a bit hard to tell from the thumbnail if I'm looking on my phone, and your book recommendations do carry a lot of weight for me (and, I suspect, others).

I read exclusively from the feed unless I want to comment, and I'm cool with the ads. They are unobtrusive, and on-topic.

One thing that you might try if you want to see how many of us are reading is to embed a small gif along with the ad. When the feed reader loads the graphic, it should give you stats on how many hits the feed readers are active.

"Big is beautiful. Your gut, for I’ve seen photos of it, will surely tell you that!"

Hey, I resemble that remark.


I visit the site every day as I know I will find something "different" to read. Plus, you have the least number of editorial typos of any site I have visited, and that is very relaxing. It jolts me when I see them on other sites.
Digital Restoration is the 3rd book I have clicked thru and purchased - Amazon has only 8 left so hurry folks! I was not thinking about scanning when I saw the ad icon so it must work!


I *love* to have full text in your RSS feeds. As others have said, this makes it easy to use Flipboard, Google Currents/Reader, etc. to read your site.

I do click through frequently in order to read the full comments -- you could say they are already a good enough lure to do so. On the other hand, I usually do not click through on other feeds offering only an excerpt, as I find it too cumbersome.

So I rather appreciate you including the small ads, so I can keep reading your site on my tablet without guilt feelings. :)

BTW, Google Reader on Android shows the ads, but Google Currents does not. Others have suggested including the book title along with the image; I'd say make the title itself a link, so if the image is somehow blocked, the link still survives.


Thanks so much for the feedback on my comments. I understand completely about the worry of invading people's privacy (however "anonymously" the monthly reporting might be done). The integrity of this site is beyond reproach and I wouldn't want you to compromise that.

Regarding the book list, I don't care about completeness or even whether a book is still in print. I would just love to have even a partial list containing links to books you've mentioned on your site over the years. When I look up one of your previously recommended books and find that it is out of print, it just serves to remind me that I'd better act quickly when new recommendations come up! I wouldn't want such a list to make any extra demands on your time (the last thing I would want is for you to have to fuss over it in any way). I’d even be happy with just a text list—no links; I would dutifully buy the books through your Amazon link whenever possible. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy digging back through the archives every so often to scrounge for links to books I might have missed. Your book-related categories in the sidebar are very helpful in that regard, if just a bit more time-consuming than visiting a single, condensed list. :-)

Hi Mike,

On a scale of 1-10, I value your editorial work (and that of your contributors) as a 10 and the featured comments as perhaps a 6. I was astonished at the time you spend moderating comments and selecting the best. I wouldn't be at all disappointed if you spend 3 hours a day on comments and devoted the time saved to more research or writing.


"BTW, Google Reader on Android shows the ads, but Google Currents does not. Others have suggested including the book title along with the image; I'd say make the title itself a link, so if the image is somehow blocked, the link still survives."

That would be nice, but it sort of defeats the purpose, because it would involve laboriously building links for every footer. It just takes five minutes, but there are 3490 posts on this site, so five minutes for each would amount to seven and a quarter weeks of solid full-time work. You see how this stuff adds up.


TOP has a website?. Will wonders never cease? One happy feed-reader here, glad to look at an ad. Or anything that'll pay the bills thereby helping you to keep up the good work.

I think there may be confusion about subscriptions (paid) and subscriptions (free) to RSS. maybe your subscribe box should have the PayPal logo on it it or the $6.

"Open question is whether the little book thumbnails are going to annoy anyone..." ....... Not me! Within a minute of seeing the ad for Jeff Shewe's book I had ordered it! Somehow it had escaped my attention until then.
Go for it!

Feed reader here, too - and I read almost every post. I'm happy to get some advertizing in the feed; much happier than I would be to get a partial feed and have to click through.

Is it possible to monetize the full feed? I don't think I'd pay much, but I could see a handful of dollars/year to get the full feed instead of a partial; might only amount to a few thousand bucks but my guess is you'd be hard pressed to garner that from in-feed advertizing.

Anyway, thanks for what you do, and I hope we all together can find a way to make it continue to be worthwhile and practical for you.

I have you in my google reader, but mostly read the web page. I would consider small ads, especially for books, as a feature rather than a bug. Especially if they continue to be chosen with the same care as your previous recommendations. I also just ordered the Schewe book.

I read the feeds and rarely comment. I generally read the feeds on my phone, and then I mark specific posts to view full screen on my computer. The more interesting photographs, the more I view it on both my phone and computer. I don't want to miss out by just viewing those on my phone alone. :)

You don't need researchers, Mike, your readers will do it for you. And the cognoscenti among them who volunteer to supply a fact or a correction, you can't afford to hire. Not that you've made any egregious bloopers. (Except for that one about Tom Cruise's religion.) {g}

Writing under pressure of daily deadlines is what gives your posts their inimitable grace. I bet that when you set out to write a longish piece, you don't really know how long it's gonna be, and what twists and turns it will take till you reach the conclusion. Ever had to change a post title after it's been written?

If you get your wish, TOP might sound like a journal. And there will be less elbowroom for interesting comments if your researchers will have covered everything.

As for moderation, labor-intensive though it may be (astounding really), I doubt that it's something you can, or want to delegate. Comments are content. Time spent moderating them is well spent. The quality of TOP's comments thread is what makes TOP unique, thanks to your moderation.

Trouble is you have more commenters in a day than most lesser bloggers have readers in a week.

My two cents - do what you can to make money here. I am all for that. Don't add any flashing or moving ads. If you do, I will be forced to get distracted and frustrated while continuing to read your blog everyday. I just don't like flashing moving ads. All up, I heartily approve of whatever keeps this going.

While I am an RSS subscriber, I prefer not to read posts in my RSS reader, but always click through to the website to read the posts.

I'm another reader of your RSS feed who reads every article, clicking through for the comments. As such, I'm glad that you include the full text in the feed and I really appreciate the Featured Comments being added to the feed.

I do not mind the ad at all — as others have said too, I'm more than happy to help keep the lights on and the writing coming. Thanks!

i do read the feed, eventually looking at almost every article, but reading more interesting topics first; i find the way you title articles very reliable for my own prioritization; the way the feed works if an article is interesting i generally load the page for that article in order to follow the comments or possibly add a comment; so i often see the whole site, and i have visited several of your advertisers and probably made you a few pennies from Amazon

on the other hand, for a quick look at an article, i like how my feed reader presents the content because i find TOP easier to read in plain sans-serif text on a white background (sorry); the book thumbnails you have added are a minimal intrusion, but frankly they are barely large enough to read the titles, and i am very good at ignoring things that appear to be advertising; as someone who watched RSS develop from the start, and who scans many feeds daily, it seems like slightly poor form to monetize a feed, but i can't articulate why; just keep producing good articles and attracting good comments and i'll continue to load the full pages for selected articles

I use the Google Reader and I cannot see the ads. There's a statement that says TOP's Book o' the Week this week is: but no image below it. Thought you should know. I haven't done anything that I know of to stop ads. I get ads in other feeds.

Possibly too late for you to see a comment. I am fine with ads: I understand the deal that I get something for free in exchange for seeing some advertising.

In my feed reader (Pulp) the thumbnails are kind of annoyingly small though: I would rather have more text, or a larger picture, I think.

Hello Mike,

just to tell you that in my case i only have as RSS feeds the sites that "I MUST READ EVERY DAY!"!

In this way i can read them, besides in my computer, also in my mobile in a RSS feeds reader and in any other PC since i also use the GoogleReader to read the RSS feeds.

the other sites i check now and them I have them in the favorite list of my brownser in my Pc.

Love your blog and I have it in RSS Feeds and read every post since 2006, while still you had the "old site".

PS: will not buy the Ctein book because... I ALREADY HAVE IT! but cannot help to recommend it to everyone!

I'm an old reader of this site (5-6 years or so) and it's one of my favorite ones. Even if I don't read the articles daily, I do read all of them. I am using an RSS reader for over a year (Google Reader via Reeder on iOS devices - highly recommended) and sometimes I click on to the site to see more comments or other links.
I'm ok with the book thumbnails; they tend to be very small in my reader, making it difficult to see what is it about. I second the suggestion of putting some text around them so I can understand the title and what are they about easier.
Keep up the good work!

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