Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

First, some housekeeping. We’ve had teething problems with an email server since last Friday. It’s fixed now, but if you’ve recently contacted fotoLibra and haven’t yet had a reply, please send your message again. Thanks, and apologies.

I was prompted to write this after reading a posting about the subject on Mike Shatzkin’s invariably thought-provoking blog. Shatzkin leans more towards pessimism than I do. But he thinks carefully, deeply and analytically before he puts fingers to keyboard and what has has to say is always worth listening to.

He pleaded “Somebody please tell me the path to survival for the illustrated book business.” He meant illustrated ebooks, of course.

OK, this is the view I’m getting from where I’m standing. I admit you can’t see very far when you’re staring at the coal face, but if our sole purpose was to make money out of illustrated ebooks in the next 12 months, a) we’d have chosen a different subject, such as porn, and b) we probably wouldn’t have started to dig the mine.

There’s no denying that the sales of Heritage Ebooks’ first 40 illustrated titles have been less than spectacular. I would go so far as to describe them as disappointing. But all publishers are optimists by nature, and what gives me hope is that having created the books, they now are sitting in virtual warehouses at no cost to us, as ready and available for sale to your device today as they will be in five years time.

It is very true that the market hasn’t yet evolved for the illustrated ebook. We are seeing sales in ones and twos. But when people have grasped the concept, they have committed themselves wholeheartedly. So far seven of our customers have ticked the two most important boxes — they are interested in the subject we’re publishing, and they are comfortable with digital reading, and as a result they have bought thirty or more ebooks from our Follies of England series. Two have purchased all forty titles.

Heritage Ebooks is constrained by geography and field of interest. If you’re not interested in follies and you don’t often get to England, then we are not your kind of epublisher — at the moment. We have more titles on other topics planned; an illustrated tour of every Spanish province, a parenting guide; but for the moment we are cornered in a niche market.

Amazon’s hegemony isn’t particularly helpful. To build market domination, they gathered low-hanging fruit in bushels — bestselling fiction. The Kindle is designed for reading plain text, not illustrated books. 16 shades of grey may have inspired a bestseller, but it’s not a turn-on for illustrated ebook publishers. The colour Kindle Fire hasn’t yet got a release date in the UK.

Nevertheless Amazon sell eleven times as many of our ebooks as all our other sales outlets, including our own website, put together. Our return from them is feeble. Our ebooks are heavily illustrated, so they have large file sizes. Amazon charges us, as publishers, for their bandwidth used when a purchaser downloads a copy of one of our ebooks. If it’s a £4.99 ebook, that can be as much as 80p per title. Remember that comes after VAT and KDP’s 30% fee has been taken off.

Our choice to publish ebooks using Epub was driven by a number of factors. Foremost was Heritage Ebooks’ position as a sister company of the picture library Pricing images for digital use was posing problems for us as the foundations for calculating the great majority of prices — print run and image size — had been removed at a stroke. We wanted to provide a system which would work for us, for our photographers and for digital publishers. We created advanceImages, a microroyalty system with no upfront fees, so epublishers could use as many images as they liked without any cashflow worries before publication. After six months sales, the publisher submits the retailers’ sales reports and is billed a royalty on the images used. Clearly no one was going to play guinea pig, so we set up our own publishing division to demonstrate the service’s functionality. To that extent Heritage Ebooks has been a tremendous success — the system works, and works well. The first advanceImages royalty statements will be posted with the launch of fotoLibra Version 5.0, hopefully next week.

Another incentive was to display our Active Location Finder, a mapping system which displayed both the reader’s location and the precise position of the building described, a tremendous asset to any ebook guide publisher.  This is simply impossible to do in a conventional printed book, and it was another spur to creating our first illustrated architectural guide books.

A third was graphical: graphics, typography, design, subjects that were embedded in me from my earliest days in publishing, suddenly became irrelevant. I find it incomprehensible that Fifty Shades of Grey can be presented in the same Caecilia font as Bring Down The Bodies, Harry Potter or this week’s Jack Reacher story. To me each font has its own unique voice, accent and point of view. Using the same font for everything you read is like listening to Churchill’s speeches being spoken by a computer.

Heritage Ebooks were created with the iPad as its preferred reading device. There was sufficient screen real estate to display images well, better in fact than in most physical books. We wanted reflowable and resizable text which would stay with the images it referred to. And although we couldn’t force readers to use our font choice of Cochin, at least we could recommend it. Then came iPad 2, and Cochin disappeared from the selection of fonts available. It has returned for iPad 3.

The future? More people will read illustrated ebooks on more devices. No, printed books will not disappear. It’s uncertain whether illustrated ebooks will take market share from illustrated books, or create a new segment. When automatic transmission was first introduced for cars in 1940 it was widely seen as the death knell for the stick shift. Yet over 70 years later in Europe, the world’s most sophisticated car market, over 80% of new car buyers choose manual transmissions. Even in America, home of the Wafter, sales of manual shifts are on the increase. Easier isn’t always better or more popular. We will have printed books alongside ebooks, which will have to have additional features (I refuse to use the word enh*nc*d) to recommend them to a separate but similar market.

Yes, the first forty Heritage Ebooks have cost us more than they have made so far. But they are out there in the marketplace, they look great, they work perfectly, and we have learned useful lessons, and we have proved the efficacy and worth of fotoLibra’s advanceImages system to the benefit of photographers and publishers alike. We’ll be publishing more. There are no remainders in this business.


Leave a Reply for Patricia Dickerson Lemon


35 Responses to “Illustrated Ebooks: A View From The Coal Face”

  1. Mike Shatzkin says:

    Gwyn, I think what you’ve done with the micropayments is a big step in the right direction.

    But, actually, I didn’t mean “illustrated ebooks”. I MEANT “illustrated books”. And my point, which I don’t believe your experience undercuts, is that making a good illustrated book will be a very small assist in making a good illustrated ebook; nothing like the 99% of the way there you are when you make a book out of a novel and then want to make an ebook out of it.

    And without that direct lift from the same IP and with the problems illustrated books will have reaching markets without bookstores, I don’t think the illustrated ebooks (or whatever we call them) of the future will have much to do with books at all.

    In fact, I wonder…if you’d been thinking about making a digital product from scratch for Follies of X, would you have done the same thing you did when you just ported over the book?

    By that, I don’t mean, “would you have invented the same mapping, etc. features?” Of course you would! But I suspect a lot of other things would have been different.

    The best illustrated or enhanced ebooks of the future will not lend themselves to a print counterpart. It won’t be a “book” business. And I don’t think book publishers will have much to do with it.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I agree. If anything, the conversion of a good illustrated book into an ebook redoubles the difficulty. Far easier to start with a blank sheet. There are things you can do in print which are simply impossible digitally — and of course vice versa.

      We didn’t just port over the book — the Follies of England series was created from 250,000 words of raw text, much of it new, and all the 1,912 illustrations were new as well. Only the subject matter remained in common with our earlier printed books — which had illustrations, but were not what I would call “illustrated books”. We could never have recreated the typographical niceties and design flourishes of the printed book digitally. Or the leather binding.

      I made the wrong assumption about illustrated ebooks, and thank you for correcting me!

      You may be right about book publishers not having much to do with illustrated ebooks of the future. Although we have a publishing background, we came at this from the point of view of a picture library.

  2. Miranda says:

    Saw this and thought of those ebook Being a Pilgrim discussions, and thought you might find it interesting. Best; Miranda

  3. Miranda says:

    Whoops – I thought I had typed that last comment in an email. Sorry!

  4. Chris Fagg says:

    I’m deeply sympathetic to your broader points,beautifully expressed as always, but I wonder if a photo library shouldn’t be thinking about a substantial range of illustrated travel e-guides, antiques/collectables e-guides, architectural style e-guides etc etc for iPad owners on the go.

    Best wishes


  5. shaunagh says:

    Very clever to have a locator. A good reason to move from Kindle to Ipad. Was wondering. the font and user experience on ebook versus real books will take some new designers some time to really crack I suspect. You are so right about the font, and the line breaks etc are howlers. x

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      But if you have no interest in design and presentation, then it really doesn’t matter. If you have perfect pitch and someone is playing or singing flat, then it is an agony unappreciated by others.

      It will get better. It always does.

      So you survived the Turkish coast? Back in Catalunya?

  6. Chris Fagg says:

    Have you seen this, by the way? There’s a free trailer embedded somewhere.

    Best wishes


  7. Mike Reed says:

    I personally do not like ebooks, and prefer the written word on paper. I wonder about the quality of eimages?. I realise that technical advances need to be investigated, and I hope that I am proved wrong about ebooks. The best of luck. Mike Reed.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Mike, the images look better than in most books, and you can zoom in as well. And early adopter though I am, I have to confess I agree with you — I prefer reading paper books. But Heritage Ebooks offer much more than the paper equivalent. You’d need to carry 40 books around with you in a van if they were printed, and 1,912 colour photographs and 250,000 words would argue a price tag of over £100.

      And then there’s the Active Location Finder, impossible to replicate in a printed book.

      There are arguments for both approaches. This is where we discuss them. Thanks for your kind wishes!

  8. Mike Mumford says:

    Two years ago I published my first Ebook: Wainwright’s Snowdonia in Photos: 101 Viewpoints and Walks:
    With the help of Blurb Publishers we are able the sell both hardback books with our own PDF interactive CD Ebook. Each of Wainwright’s original sketchs’ is accurately reproduced in full colour. Each walk is linked to free route planner at: where you can construct an easy-draw walking route. Our YouTube video will guide you through the simple steps. We have found each GPS viewing points, this enables you to plan each walk in complete safely for you to enjoy. This proves you smart phones can truly be your NEW guides Ebooks for your future tomorrow’s.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Damn! Now I have to spend more money as a result of my blog. I’ll buy your Wainwright’s Snowdonia, Mike. I just didn’t know it was available. So a lot of this is down to publicity.

  9. Lyndon Davies says:

    I’m not sure your comparison of illustrated ebooks with automatic transmission is comparing like with like. I don’t know about the rest of Europe; but in England, if you take your driving test on an automatic car, your licence only allows you to drive automatics in future. Consequently most people take their test on manual transmission, and don’t realise how much easier automatics are to drive.

    In America, the rule doesn’t apply; if you take your test on an automatic, you’re still allowed to drive manual cars. That could be a factor in more Americans driving automatics. The latest Tiptronic-style gearboxes permit fully automatic operation, or manual override – in effect a clutchless manual box.

    People suspect that automatic gearboxes go wrong more often than manual ones, but that isn’t true. London taxis, and most provincial bus fleets, did away with the clutch pedal years ago. A lot of popular assumptions are based on misinformation!

    Nevertheless, thanks for a fascinating article, which really made me think.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Lyndon, you’ve taught me something. I never knew there were two classes of licence in the UK. As the automatic car hadn’t been invented when I passed my test, there’s no mention of it on my licence.

      To labour my point, it was that ease and convenience are not necessarily the dominating factors when it comes to choice. If an ebook offers genuine advantages over print — as I hope Heritage Ebooks do — then that’s a good argument for publishing them.

      Otherwise it’s merely novelty.

  10. Rod Johnson says:

    Gwyn, my acceptance of the ebook concept has been very slow, but now I am firmly committed to the idea. I love the illustrated ebooks and I believe that they will eventually be a huge success. The turn around for me, was when I loaded the illustrated ebooks onto my smart phone. Is this, the way forward?

    A year or so ago, I read in the computer magazines, about the first ebook readers becoming available in the US and later, when they also became available in the UK. For a long time, I was not convinced that I would ever have a need for one; mainly because I could not find a suitable reader and also, I was opposed to the usage restrictions of the now most popular reader.

    I was especially interested when the Heritage Ebooks range was announced, even more so when later, I discovered that two of my photos had been used in them. Although I still did not have an ebook reader, I purchased and downloaded two ebooks to my laptop, as a temporary measure.

    About six weeks ago, I finally got around to buying my first smart phone. After a lot of research, I decided on the latest update of a ‘large screen’ model, which has been very successful over the last year. I installed a few apps including a second reader app and then I transferred the two illustrated ebooks to my phone.

    Once I viewed them, I was hooked. The layout, readability, image quality, Active Location Finder and portability were just what I wanted. Where ever I go now, the phone and ebooks are with me. A truly portable reference library. If I want check out a particular folly, provided I have the relevant title loaded, the information will be instantly available. I shall certainly be buying more titles.

    Although an iPad may be the preferred reading device, many people do not have one and the iPad is a little on the large side to be carried always. Could the increasingly popular ‘large screen’ smart phone become the reading device of choice, for the Heritage Ebooks? And more importantly, could this idea be used to help promote them?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      That’s it! Once they provide something print books cannot, they become irresistible. Our Heritage Ebooks were developed on the iPhone simply because there wasn’t an iPad at the time, but when that came along it provided all the ereader functions we wanted plus made the photographs look great (never mind that we had to resize all 1,912 of them).

      To show how idealogical Mike Shatzkin is, he reads all his books on an iPhone and claims not to have read a tree-based book this century.

  11. Mike Mumford says:

    Gwyn Headley says:
    2012/08/07 at 22:17
    Damn! Now I have to spend more money as a result of my blog. I’ll buy your Wainwright’s Snowdonia, Mike. I just didn’t know it was available. So a lot of this is down to publicity.
    YES THAT’S RIGHT Gwyn your next topic must be “How you activate the right publicity”. All your readers need to know a cost effective way to do their own thing.

  12. Suz says:

    The apple Ibook format/Ipad app area for illustrated ebooks seems a good area to get into. The ipad dominance could prove very useful.

    The kindle is restricted by being mono but there are kindle readers for desktops and ipads which show full colour so I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss that market either. I’m sure a colour kindle will appear in due course too.

    An illustrated ebook needs to be more than a book. It needs to be a full experience that can’t easily be replicated with paper.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      KIndle on the iPad looks very good in full colour. I don’t know when the colour Kindle Fire will be released in the UK. I haven’t seen when and there is no flurry of excitement from my US friends. Maybe it hasn’t been too successful?

      Suz, what you are describing is an “enh•nc•d” ebook, but I can’t bring myself to use the horrible word. Can you come up with a better name for it?

      • Suz says:

        Interactive book. Immersive book? Possibly not…

        I know girls are often turned off by technology and gaming. Perhaps the ‘enhanced’ book experience is something that could be targetted at them?

  13. Derek Metson says:

    Picking up on the points about publicity….

    You had some excellent coverage in the Daily Mail when the books first appeared.

    I am sure there is information available giving contacts for local and regional newspapers and magazines all round the country.

    With the writing and technical expertise available to Heritage why not contact all of them (by whatever means) with a single picture relevant to each one’s area and a covering write up that ‘this is one of many in a quirky and fun ebook titled “Follies of …..” and available at …..

    I’ve often heard it said that local advertising can be more successful than national….

    Incidentally, know anyone who wants to buy 8000 books … we want to retire (sort of) having attained the same age group as Gwyn.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Oh, Derek! We think alike! When we launched the series I wrote to the tourist information office in every English county or area — 40 of them — showing them a photo from their local book, the ebook’s cover and offering them a free sample copy.

      Can you guess how many responded?

      Correct. None.

      • Gwyn Headley says:

        Just remembered — if you tune in to Channel 4’s Restoration Man at 8pm on Thursday 16th August you will see Fat Man Walking Up Hill and hopefully a screen credit for Heritage Ebooks.

        • Derek Metson says:

          I was thinking more of local newspapers. If they’re all like the ones round this area, they don’t want to pay for anything, but anything that’s free……

          Same applies to TV as is very clear these days ‘Send us your lovely FREE photos of ……. and have the honour of seeing them on TV!

          When we got our first Kodak Portrait Award in 1980, the local paper captioned the pic ‘Kojak Award’, it was a little girl with ringlets. BBC TV East used the story AND sent a cheque for £19 something for using the pic. How times have changed!

          Even so, why not the papers?

  14. Len Sparrow says:

    Gwyn, I too are not keen on Kindle in monochrome and I still take your printed book from 1986 with me when I go folly hunting. I bought several of the English Follies counties and they look great in colour on my laptop but I am underwhelmed with the Kindle version. The possibilty of a colour Kindle in due course does certainly interest me and I wait with bated breath! Ipads, smartphones etc leave me cold but then I am even older than you Gwyn!

  15. Andy Coleman says:

    A bit sad to hear that your fantastic folly’s series of e books has had rather disappointing sales so far, especially given the fact that I have three photos in them.

    I wonder if there is a subtle case of subject matter versus technology.

    Such as, if I visit a local National Trust property I would be inclined to say that most visitors are over sixty years if age (hope this isn’t sounding to ageist). Newish technology like the ipad, smart phone or tablet computer will tend to appeal to young or thirty something people, thus subjects like the history of dub-step or how to rear your child the green way would probably have better sales (unfortunately). Most of the slightly older population that would tend to be more interested in historical Architectural subjects have not yet discovered the amazing world of reading on an electronic device.

    So give it ten or fifteen years and sales should significantly increase. Or maybe try to find some fiendishly clever way to market the concept of the e-reader to a more senior section of the community.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      I’m sure the subject matter has a bearing; as I wrote “if our sole purpose was to make money out of illustrated ebooks in the next 12 months, a) we’d have chosen a different subject, such as porn …”

      The trouble is, my interests and knowledge base don’t necessarily coincide with the average iPad / iPhone user. That’s no bad thing. There are more things in this world, Horatio.

  16. Andy says:

    You mention the Kindle Fire, not yet available in the UK, but it is not the only colour eReader device – there is the very underrated Kobo Vox. The Vox is now both a colour eReader *and* and full blown Android tablet, comparable to the Google Nexus and 7inch Samsung tablets…
    Which brings me onto the fact that you seem to be avoiding a very large potential market – Android.
    There are a large number of tablets and phones out there, all full colour and all capable of running the Amazon Kindle app, the Kobo app, various free eReader apps, you name it – you can read it – in full colour, on an Android device.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Yes, all the Heritage Ebooks are produced in EPUB format which works brilliantly on Android devices. So we are not avoiding them at all. The Kobo is good, and Kobo has done close-out deals with booksellers in France and Japan, much to Amazon’s displeasure. But Waterstones in the UK have rather tamely followed Amazon’s diktat and chosen the Kindle. WHSmith had done a deal with Kobo, so that only left Barnes & Noble’s Nook, also an excellent device.

      Heritage Ebooks are platform agnostic. They can be read on all these devices.

  17. I own the copyright to my late mother’s book, “Aunt Carrie’s War,” that contains a number of photographs and that I would like to make available as an inexpensive e-book.

    i could certainly publish it without illustrations on Amazon since, as you so justly observe, ” The Kindle is designed for reading plain text, not illustrated books.” and I would prefer to publish it illustrated.
    If I do the scanning, OCR correcting, and proofreading, would you be a suitable publisher for it?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Could be, Patricia. Here’s what we need (from

      “We welcome proposals for future publications, ideally series titles. We have to be convinced there is a strong market for the subject. We do not publish fiction or poetry. We pay generous royalties to photographers as well as writers. We do not pay advances.

      “To propose an ebook, please submit a synopsis of no more than 500 words including a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. We also require no more than 500 words describing the potential market for the book, concentrating on online communities and existing ebook buyers.

      “We will respond promptly to every valid proposal. Unfortunately submissions which do not meet our precise synopsis and marketing specifications as given in the previous paragraph will be rejected without notification.”