Are You Ready for the Decline of Print Publications?


If you want to continue to take pictures for a living, it’s time to start learning to shoot video. Why? Because newspapers and magazines, the lifeblood of professional still photographers, are beginning to move away from print and toward online. Once online offerings have been established, video and sound become more appealing and a better way to tell stories than with still images. There is already movement in that direction and it’s a trend that can only increase.

It’s not only editorial photographers that need to be concerned, but advertising photographers as well, if they shoot images that are used in print publications. There will be fewer ad pages in the publications that survive.

Many in the stock photo business want to believe that newspapers and magazines are such an important part of our culture and the way we receive information that they will always be with us. Thus, there is no reason for concern. I agree that print publications will not disappear completely, or overnight, but consider a few facts.

  • There is a steady stream of stories about newspapers and magazines losing readership and advertising. Some publications are folding, but almost every one is much less profitable than it was a few years ago.
  • According to Dave Morgan of Online Spin, ad revenue in most large newspaper markets is expected to drop 3 percent to 5 percent per year for the next five years. If we take away papers that are dumped on schools, hotels and in free trials, paid newspaper circulation in the U.S. is expected to drop 3 percent to 7 percent per year over the next five years.
  • In 2006 The Washington Post lost 3 percent of its readers, 4 percent of its ad revenue and 14 percent of its classified recruitment ad revenues – and these revenues fell almost twice as steeply in the fourth quarter as in previous quarters, indicating steeper declines ahead. While ad revenues on www.washingtonpost.com are growing at a substantial rate, the Web operation generated only 14.5 percent of total Washington Post ad revenue in 2006.
  • In 1950, on average, every household in America bought 1.23 newspapers per day. By 1990 only 67 percent of households bought a newspaper and by 2000 it was down to 53 percent.
  • And if that’s not enough, consider what Warren Buffett, the world’s second richest man, has to say. For more than 15 years he has argued that the newspaper business has a declining growth potential. In his recent annual letter to shareholders, he pointed out that the young are getting their information from the Internet and the old — the ones who read newspapers — are going to their graves.

Print journalism cannot exist without advertising. There are very few publications, other than some very expensive scholarly ones, that are supported entirely by subscription fees. Most print publications are useful only as long as they are an effective tool for advertisers.

Advertisers are looking for ways to get better value for their advertising dollars. In general, they are decreasing print ad budgets and pumping more money into online because new search-engine marketing tools allow them to drill down more precisely to potential customers who are really interested in buying their goods and services. The Internet also allows them to tell their story with motion and sound.

Most print publications will eventually die due to the huge costs of printing and distribution. And with the Internet these costs are eliminated. The product is available instantly as soon as the story is produced.

Buffett says, “The economic potential of a newspaper Internet site – given the many alternative sources of information and entertainment that are free and only a click away – is at best a small fraction of that existing in the past for a print newspaper facing no competition.”

Dirck Halstead of The Digital Journalist says that by 2016 most of the “major camera manufacturers that are now associated with still photography will probably be out of business.”

He continued, “Video … will undoubtedly become the main means of acquisition in photography. Today, almost all the manufacturers of prosumer video cameras have moved to High Definition. These cameras, off the shelf, are capable of delivering a 2-megapixel still image. The Dallas Morning News is now equipping their still photographers with Sony Z1U video cameras, and they have created an algorithm that allows those frame grabs to be boosted to 16 megapixels, which only two years ago was the maximum you could get out of a professional 35mm camera. The Dallas Morning News is regularly running 4- and 5-column front-page pictures from these video grabs. Then, they put the streaming video on their Web site.

“The financial imperative to newspapers is clear. Their salvation, in a time of plummeting ad revenues on their broadsheets, lies with their online versions. Online demands video. For this reason, we can comfortably say that in 10 years photojournalists will only be carrying video cameras,” Halstead said.

The advertising community is scared and doing everything it can to delay the inevitable. The goal of agencies is to convince the companies that pay them big bucks to produce major national campaigns that such campaigns are the best way to sell products and services. Unfortunately, the results for dollars spent are in steady decline and companies will only buy this argument so long.

Consider this little story told by Jan Leth, executive creative director of OgilvyInteractive North America. The agency was assigned by Six Flags to do a promotion for the amusement park’s 45th anniversary. “They wanted to give away 45,000 tickets for opening day to drive traffic. So we got a brief to do whatever: ads, microsite, whatever.” While the creative people were trying to plan the project, the creative director went off and posted the ticket giveaway on Craigslist.

“Five hours later, 45,000 tickets were spoken for,” Leth said. “No photo shoot. No after-shoot drinks at Shutters,” and with some irony he continued, “Now, the trick is, how do we get paid?”

So, are you ready? Are you preparing for your next career?

[tags]Jim Pickerell, video, photography careers[/tags]


One Response to “Are You Ready for the Decline of Print Publications?”

  1. [...] find new clients and income streams, both globally and locally. As some industry experts maintain, photographers should even consider shooting video, as well. I have added writing to my own business model, and over the past year, it has definitely helped me [...]

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