A Golden Dolphin Milestone

This issue marks the completion of the third year of publication of Golden Dolphin. GD began in response to a thread on the uw-photo discussion list expressing widespread dissatisfaction with the print dive magazines and the realization computer technology had reached a level of capability and uptake that an alternative to print was at hand. Electronic publication not only offers significant advantages in economics and distribution but it also affords an interactive multimedia experience seamlessly linked to all of the capabilities of the Internet and computers that print on paper can’t even begin to approximate.

In addition to all this is the remarkable phenomenon of uw-photography itself. Surveys made about four years ago indicate that about 40% of divers engaged in underwater photography and the average diver/photographer shot about 100 photos a year (i.e. three 36 ex rolls of 35mm film). With the ongoing growth of diving and the explosive uptake of digital photography since these surveys were conducted current figures would undoubtedly be even higher.

While most outdoor recreational pursuits involve some photography probably none has either the proportion or total number of participants for whom photography plays such a major role. The total figures are staggering. It is estimated there are some 25 million recreational scuba divers in the world. If 40% take an average of 100 photos a year underwater this comes to one billion photographs. If only one of those 100 photos is a really nice one the world archive of good underwater photos is increasing at the rate of 10 million per year.

What happens to all of these pictures? Most are simply stored away. Only a fraction of 1% of even the best of them are ever seen by anyone other than the person who took them, their families and a few close friends. In terms of cost, difficulty and risk they may be considered valuable but the commercial market for them is miniscule compared to the supply and prices paid are poor. In inflation adjusted dollars they are in fact much less than they were 40 years ago.

Why on earth then, do we take them? The simple answer is, it’s fun. Photography provides a purpose and added sense of achievement to diving as well as a whole additional area of involvement between dive trips. Beautiful images can also be a powerful esthetic experience in themselves and they allow us to capture and share the wonders we experience underwater as well. Unfortunately our true motivation in taking underwater pictures too often becomes obscured by concerns over what we imagine to be the monetary value we “should” receive for their use.

Golden Dolphin began with the idea that a new media dive publication could tap the vast archive of uw-images, present them in a high impact manner and offer a profit sharing model that would be far more attractive to content contributors than that afforded by mainstream media. The first two objectives have been met but profit has been non- existent due to extremely slow uptake by subscribers despite highly favorable responses from actual viewers.

This disparity between great response and poor uptake appears to involve several factors. First and foremost is innate human conservatism. Few are open to the new and different, evaluate for themselves and make their own decisions. Most simply take their cues from what others seem to be doing and move whichever way the herd does. A significant minority resists any change until forced.  GD is at the leading edge and thus far has only attracted a few early adopters. Although disk based publication has not yet been accepted, ongoing technological advancement and the manifold advantages of the medium make it seem inevitable and probably sooner rather than later.

It has also been said that this is the age of marketing. We are overwhelmed with competing choices and demands for our very finite time, money, and attention. Few products succeed solely on their merits. Without somehow being imposed on consumer attention new products tend to be ignored. On the other hand Hollywood repeatedly demonstrates that with marketing even truly awful ones can be sold to millions.

It has become clear that to find wider acceptance Golden Dolphin is going to require marketing. As a bi-monthly publication with a staff of one there has been no time to do more than getting out each issue. With three years of content now in hand, including the Biennial DVD Edition that hands down has to be the biggest bargain in dive publishing, it has become time to devote more effort to selling. To provide the time needed I have therefore decided to move from a bimonthly to a quarterly schedule for Golden Dolphin beginning with the next issue.

Whether this succeeds or not GD has resulted in the creation of a unique compendium of global dive content that is surely destined to become a classic in the future even if not at the present. The ongoing support of contributors and subscribers most certainly has not been for naught.

 Walter Starck