The Long love affair between photography and Media is over.
Because the editorial world is replacing experience photo editors with journalistic background for inexperience pixel pushers that are ordered to select the cheapest images, regardless of quality, they are opening the visual airways for steep competition.
A bit like traditional Royalty free opened the door to microstock by increasing prices and leaving a huge marketplace vacuum, magazines (web or print) are leaving a wide open space for quality photography. Because they still think in terms of gatekeepers, they believe the audience will follow them into whatever they publish. The problem is that this is the internet: the many to many market. They are no gatekeepers anymore, just influencers.
More and more, out of frustration to see great images go unpublished; photo agencies or photographers are doing their own editing/publishing. Zuma Press, with their Double Truck magazine was one of the first ones. Probably fed up of not seeing great images published in their rightful format, aka double page, they proceeded in doing their own magazine; featuring the images they liked the most. Is it a runaway success? No. But it was a first.
Since then, a lot of photo agencies have launched their own blogs, featuring their own images, since their traditional clients would not use them. Not because they were bad, but because they were unwilling to pay a decent price for them. Some of these blogs, like X17online.com have become leaders in their markets. Photo agencies like VII have also launched their own magazine, also in frustration of never seeing some of their great coverage go unpublished.
The result? The public now has access to other sources of photography, previously hidden from them. They can see and compare. Gatekeepers are being challenged by influencers.
The smart publishers are the ones that will quickly realize this and capitalize on it. Drop the most traveled image rat race for the lesser traveled side road of quality.
Here’s the deal: A well designed magazine with high quality- exclusive content will have no problem raising a successful pay wall. In the same way that people have no problem paying for very expensive Jewelry at Tiffany’s, or Cartier, they have no problem paying for something they feel has value. They will not pay for the same middle of the road content. It’s not Pay walls that do not work; it’s about what’s behind them.
So here is the evolution of photography: More and more, creators of photography, disappointed by not seeing their best work being published, mostly because of unbreakable subscription deals made with mass providers, will start self publishing. More and more, those precious eyeballs that everyone wants to retain so desperately will start navigating elsewhere and spread their attention span to other, non mainstream, sites.
The tide will be even greater when a critical mass will start understanding that they are not seeing the best, but the cheapest. Photographers will start combining their content with others and create their own outlets. Photo Agencies will gain momentum in their self publishing efforts. The media outlets that have spend millions to raise and maintain their brands will start being eclipsed by a guy and a computer.
Don’t think it can work? Wire image has been very successful for many years in charging consumers to have access to their medium sized images. No downloads, no editorial, just access to bigger thumbnails. Strangely, that model has never been replicated while there is no reason why it wouldn’t work elsewhere.
Editorial publishers are dropping the ball on their suppliers and forcing them to become their own competition. Or go out of business. Does that make any sense? All that while lying to their clients. How long will that last? Even with the advent of iPads and E readers, this will not continue for long.
Maybe the fall of Newsweek, and right behind it, Time magazine, has a lot to do with that. If you have paid attention, you would have seen that in the last 4-5 years, they have reduced their image content to everything Getty/AP/Reuters in order to save money. Result? The same images you all have seen on the web, but a week later…And then they wonder why people don’t purchase them anymore. They have laid off so many great photo editors that there is no way they can even find a great image anymore. In other words, they have both killed what had made them successful.
In other words, if photography is in crisis right now, it’s because Media is dying a long slow agonizing death and is trying the bring it along. The trouble is that photography can live without Media, not the opposite. These times are about to show it.
This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians” Roger Therond , legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.
Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog