(Originally published under the title ‘the old whore’)
You know what’s funny? I’ll tell you what’s funny. By continuing to put so much financial pressure on photographers and photography, the media will lose its source of imagery.
With declining space rates and assignment rates, increasingly obscene rights grabbing bordering on copyright infringement, unacceptable usage agreements and overall disrespect of the photography trade, publishers are literally pushing the photo industry to look for new revenues, and respect, somewhere else.
Already photo agencies like VII with news and X17 with celebrity have entered the publishing arena in direct competition to those who used to be their best clients. Others are aggressively investigating how to license images to the million of blogs worldwide while others, like Black Star for example, have left the editorial world almost entirely in favour of the greener pastures of the corporate world.
Independent photographers do not bother approaching publications anymore for assignments and have long gone with either NGO’s or Foundations. Even new technology companies like Mediastorm already make most of their revenue from foundations/NGO’s. We talk a lot about the desertification of entire regions of the world, soon we will see the same happening in the editorial landscape: Magazines, whether on iPads or not, filled with nothing more than text and lonely generic images. Textbooks forced to use the same images over and over because there are no more “image suppliers”, preferred or not. Not far is the day when, calling on the phone, a photo editor will hear over and over” Time magazine who?”
It is not the will of anyone in the photo trade to cease doing business with publishers. However, the business conditions are becoming so unbearable that they have no other choice than to look elsewhere for revenue. And overall respect.
There will always be photographers because it’s not a job, it’s a passion. But like any passion, it needs to be fed with substantial income. In its short history, photography has had a strong love affair with the editorial world. Now the editorial world is treating its favourite mistress as an old whore. The bond is being broken.
However, it is not like photography doesn’t have anywhere else to go to be treated as a princess again. The internet has opened new revenue streams and while it is still a wild west, it promises a lot of new beginning. A lot of new love stories.
There are really no logical reasons for this change in attitude. Publishers have seen a lot of pressure on their industry, certainly, but none brought forth by photography. However, if circulation goes down, it’s photography that pays the rough price. Cuts are made, because, unlike electricity, it is deem unessential for the survival of a magazine. Almost as if, completely rid of the cost of photography, a magazine or book would actually do better. Well, soon, that might just become reality.
With licensing fees coming close to insulting, there will be no one to take those images anymore. No one to shoot wars, politics, archaeology or even movie premieres. No one left to service them with their needs. Just an obscenely huge amount of crowd generated images of everything that doesn’t really matter. Pretty, certainly, but of no interest. It will be cheap, but useless.
For now, the old whore still clings to its lifelong lover in the hopes of a change of mind. But for how long?
And yes, you are right, it’s not that funny after all…
About the author
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