Don’t Give Up Hope Against Photography’s Dark Forces

Time Inc., the biggest publisher of magazines in the world, recently made an agreement with the AP, Reuters and Getty Images to license any and all non-exclusive images at a flat rate of $50, regardless of size or placement. This means that magazines like Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated — which used to pay $200 or more for a 1/4 page — will now have the same images for $50.

What does this mean for the media business, and for photographers?

Slash and Burn

Obviously, big publishers are trying to cut costs as drastically as they can. After laying off staffers, they are now squeezing suppliers. This is somewhat predictable, considering the hit they have taken on the advertising side. For magazines like Time, it is now only a matter of time before the print edition vanishes altogether. The same is true for celebrity weeklies, which are suffering heavily at the hands of free celebrity Web sites.

So why would the AP, Reuters and Getty agree to such prices? For the AP and Reuters, born and bred on the subscription model and hardly paying commissions to photographers anyway, it is not much of a stretch. Each one probably thought the other would take the deal and were afraid of being shut out. Dividing to conquer isn’t just the province of Julius Caesar, after all.

And what about Getty?

For them, it’s part of an overall change in strategy. They are moving away from wholly owned content in favor of becoming a mega-distributor.

They no longer care if they pay commissions or not. They no longer care where get their content from, either. They are just looking for a way to become indispensable — so there is no way to avoid them.

They are trying to become a monopoly without appearing to be one. That’s why they are willing to sell images for pennies as long as they are the sole distributor.

In a way, they are applying the iStockphoto model to editorial: “If it costs me nothing to get content, then I can sell it for nothing.”

Devaluing Photography — and Photographers

This approach is extremely damaging to photographers and to the world of photography. It will force thousands more out of this business, including some very talented people. It will further reduce the need for good photo editors, as choices will be dictated by price.

Together with the apostles of the free Internet, the Creative Commons barbarians and others who are accomplice to this devaluing of photography, sellers like Getty are, quite simply, destroying the photographic landscape.

And that means destroying careers in photography.

Sure, you will always be able to find “push buttons,” ready to execute for a few dollars while they search for another job, but soon you may no longer be able to see great passionate photography done by amazing eyes.

If photography’s future is left up to its dark forces, it’s going to become a battle of the crabs, pushing and shoving each other for pieces of crumbs in an ocean of boring banality.

For those photographers contributing with a smile to these “agencies,” thinking you bet on the right horse, you will realize soon that they are no better than slime sticking to a rotten ship. Your photos will all be free — the exact value that these companies have for your miserable little lives.

If you think you are in control of your destiny now, let’s talk in five years and see who’s right.

Reasons for Hope

For the others — those among you who continue to stand against these increasingly polluted waves — there is still hope.

The hope is that mediocracy will destroy itself in a vast, self-sucking black hole. The hope is that those nose-in-the-sky corpocrats who destroy the very land they build upon will finally go the way of the dinosaur.

There is hope in the knowledge that soon readers will be fed up with seeing the same images everywhere, regurgitated through the same dull pipeline.

There is hope in knowing that soon, not every Web site or magazine will accept the exact same images that their competitors have, even if they’re cheap.

There is hope in knowing that the word “exclusive” will someday regain its value, that talent attracts eyeballs and that eyeballs bring revenues.

For those photographers who stand for quality, for passion, and for maintaining a trade made by individuals with a soul, there is always hope.

19 Responses to “Don’t Give Up Hope Against Photography’s Dark Forces”

  1. Paul,
    Once again a brilliant piece if writing. But there are a couple of assertions I don't quite get... Who exactly is it that's not shooting for an hourly wage and contributing to Getty and the like? I don't know the landscape anymore but my feeling is most of those contributors are in survival mode already living hand-to-mouth.. Your other aaertion that exclusivity is dead and will be reborn sometime in the future I don't get either... I see a lot of images in magazines and newspapers and the web that are exclusive and the photographers making these image were certainly compensated for their work over and above. $50... What you're arguing about seems to be the library of pictures that people like Getty and Time already control and anyone with half a brain already knows that to sink more images into that library with the hope of a decent roi is a huge mistake... I feel sorry for those photographers (largely older than me) who having made significant contributions to these companies without the appropriate rights agreements are suffering for it...Today the situation is different... Most of the good ones are already their own distributors...

  2. When the Internet came along, did you move a lot of your promotion there, and reduce the number of ads you purchase in local papers?

    If so, then you contributed to the problem. For many years, the local newspaper, television station, and phonebook were about the only places people could advertise in their community, and those entities, basically operating a triopoly, could charge enormous sums for advertising.

    The Internet changed that. For pennies you could put up a site that anyone in the world could find. Google and Yahoo sold ad space for a fraction of what the triopoly did, and with far greater reach.

    Suddenly the triopoly adspace wasn't as valuable. Readership moved online as well. And people working in the triopoly have been laid off or found their salaries reduced.

    So is it okay for you to take advantage of the new technology but suffer none of the consequences? Is it okay if people in other professions lose their jobs and see technology pass them by, but you should continue to paid the same?

    What if website hosting and Internet ad costs were based on the same rate of exposure as triopoly advertising? If a 2"x2" ad that reached 100,000 people cost $1200 for a week, what should a website that reaches billions cost you?

    I'm always sad to see hardworking professionals lose their means of making a living, but this is a complex situation, and every positive benefit new technology bestows upon one group, it may well negatively impact another. I'm equally sympathetic to the families of the jobless, no matter their profession. But I don't think you can put the genie back in the bottle--and if you could, would you give up the benefits along with the costs?

  3. @John Pryor
    While I liked the article I think your comment is SPOT on the problem! I feel the same as you, even if my job is based on technology I really miss magazines and going out to buy one and find the NEWS there, now I buy magazines just to find out recycle news from the internet, such a shame 🙁 but its not their fault, its the way the world moves, times change for good or bad, I don't feel bad for the big greedy companies, but do so very much for the tons of jobless people this causes.

  4. @John Pryor. Is technology the only thing that drives your prices ? Is how much does it cost to distribute your image the only factor in your pricing?

  5. Quote John Pryor: "What if website hosting and Internet ad costs were based on the same rate of exposure as triopoly advertising? If a 2"x2" ad that reached 100,000 people cost $1200 for a week, what should a website that reaches billions cost you?'

    Reply: I read this and I think that the model is upside down. We need a global / international syndicated tip jar system. Something that was really easy - where everyone could put $3.50 to $17.76 into their tip fund, and then pay a penny here a nickel there as they liked articles or reviews or photographs so that if you reached a billion and 500 million tipped you, everybody would be alright, and the best writing and photographs would earn the royalties they deserve.

  6. This would all be very interesting if it were true. But from my sources in Reuters, pretty high-up, no such deal was made with TIME.Inc. The financial model described here is not sustainable for any wire service - I am told. Getty on the other hand has made this deal. AP will not comment on this statement.

    It's nice to claim something but where is it coming from?

    We are not yet in such a perilous state but it surely doesn't mean there isn't some truth to it.

  7. @Anthony : Funny how you seem to chase this story all over the internet claiming it is not true based on some alleged conversation you supposedly had with some high level and mysterious executive. If you have so much free time on your hands, why don't you read my blog from it's beginning ( 3 years now) and find any story that I have published that was not true. When I made errors in the past, I have made public corrections. You have no such legacy.
    Furthermore, your statement makes no sense: On one side you say this business model is not sustainable for a wire service yet you say Getty signed the deal.
    You are welcome to disagree, Anthony, and post that disagreement anywhere you want. But please be respectful.

  8. Sadly, Elvis has left the building.

  9. When information costs nothing it is worth nothing.
    When everyone is a publisher no one is.
    When everyone is a photographer nothing is worth seeing.

  10. Paul, why not tell it like it really is? Here are 21 words you can use: suffering, afraid, damaging, slash, burn, destroying, dark forces, boring banality, slime, rotten, miserable, polluted, mediocracy, self-sucking, black hole., destroy, fed up, regurgitated, dull…

    Or better still, why not come up with an idea(s) to fix the situation? -Rohn

  11. Wow. What a bunch of childish vitriol. You wonder if the wagon wheel maker told Henry Ford to enjoy his miserable little life back in 1890.

    If this approach is so damaging to photographers, how come there are so many people making livings at it? Methinks it's actually just damaging you, but helping lots of other photographers, and you don't like it.

    Face it: the market used to demand X, and you supplied X and made money. Now the market is demanding Y, and instead of changing your ways and supplying Y you choose to spew venom at those that do while continuing to offer X. Enjoy your obsolescence.

  12. Dman,

    You must be a Getty photographer. Thanks for the valuable input. We will talk in 5 years from now.

  13. News flash: Istockphoto is 10 years old. 5 years ago people were telling me it wouldn't last 5 years. Not only did it last, it's better than ever. Keep whining.

  14. Time magazine recently ran an image on their cover that they pulled from istockgetty and the guy got $30! Awesome, heavy sarcasm here...

    I can only speak to the travesty that has become "sports photography" and travesty is a very conservative term in this instance. Take a look at the shooters you see on a sideline, college or pro, and a lot of those folks are shooting for "spec" agencies like ICON, Cal Sport or US Presswire. Which means, they only get paid if an image moves and then they get half of whatever it sold for, agency takes other half, web usage is usually around $20 or $30. Awesome...sarcasm again!

    So now Getty has set the price for print images at $50. The quality will suffer as the only people who will shoot these events are folks that don't mind working for free, just happy to have credentials, or the glory hunters, i.e. bragging to their buds about their Time mag cover even though it only paid $30!

    Newsflash for you my friend...just because something has been around for a few years doesn't necessarily mean it's a good thing. Phillip Morris has been around for a long time and made tons of money, but at what costs?

  15. What a stupid analogy. I don't think istockphoto is causing cancer.

    You guys love to say "The quality will suffer" because of the new photography model, and you really have to get over yourselves. You weren't some magicians that can do things with cameras that nobody else could. Operating a camera is pretty darn easy, and in the realm of sports shooting, takes very little creativity. When 50 guys are all standing in the designated photographers' area on the sideline with their 600mm f4 lenses, shooting the same guy running down the field at the same time, are they all being wildly creative? Heck no. A trained monkey could do sports photography.

  16. A trained monkey??? 50 guys all standing together spraying the field with a 600mm f4 lens??? You see my friend, THIS is the by product of your "new" model and you're absolutely correct that a trained monkey could do what these guys are doing...thank you for proving my point! This is what we've come to expect and accept as sports photography.

    Moreover, judging by your response it is apparent to me and probably other experienced readers that you have no clue as to what makes a good frame and arguably, you have no clue as to how and get a good frame.

    Congratulations, your arrogance has proven my point, as well as many others, that the new model produces lesser quality. Something for you to consider, "sometimes it is better for people to think you're ignorant rather than open your mouth and prove them correct."

  17. This is the product of the "new model. So prior to the internet, there weren't groups of photographers on the sidelines of sporting events with long lenses. Riiiight.

    --"Moreover, judging by your response it is apparent to me and probably other experienced readers that you have no clue as to what makes a good frame"--

    Sure, which is why I make 5 figures in my spare time through microstock. Because I have no idea how to shoot. Again, you need to get over yourself. This may come as a surprise to you, but thousands of people throughout the world can take great photos. It isn't something that requires a doctorate degree and years of study under a master. That's why your losing out to photography's "dark forces", because so many people can do it. You were being artificially insulated from them prior to the internet, though, because they had a much harder time selling their stuff. Now it's easy, and you don't like it because it exposes how average you really were. If your work was truly so much higher quality than us 'amateurs', we wouldn't be killing you.

  18. Here they are, a bunch of top pro sports shooters, creatively making frames that us hobbyists could only dream of:


  19. @TheDman I like how you post a photograph from a website but NOT the link to the article that I think discredits your point. The photograph you posted is something I have seen on other websites from photography conventions where everyone gets in a group behind their cameras and someone takes a photograph. For those of you interested, here is the link that talks about the skill and the demand sports photography takes. You will notice it is from the same place @thedman got his photograph.
    @Sportsguy: am I wrong are most of these people shooting the back of each others head, thus proving my point where this photo was taken.

    As for the fact that "anyone" can take a great photograph, you are partially correct. With todays advancement in digital photography anyone can take a good/great shot, every once in a while. But not everyone can reproduce the shot because they let the camera do the thinking for them. They don't understand light and how to use it. How to make it do what they want. They don't userstand how frame their shot and what makes a great composition. Why? Because they have their camera in "P" mode and we all know that means "PROFESSIONAL". Right???? (insert sarcastic laugh) Let see them put there camera in "M" mode and see how they do. Because "M" is for "MASTER PHOTOGRAPHER".

    The problem is now that digital photography is here to stay, everyone "thinks" they can take a great photograph but they can't. They may get lucky everyone once in a while but they don't understand composition or lighting so they can't recreate that shot over and over again. Yes, there are shots that can never be recreated because it was a once in a life time shot. But since everyone thinks they can be a "professional" photographer because the spent $1500 on a "digital" camera and lenses, it completely devalues real photographers. Lets see how good they would be if they had to photograph something and get it in 36 shots, 24 shots, or 12 shots.

    I started photography 25 years ago but only as a hobby. After almost 20 years in computers and at the age of 43 I am ready for a change so I have gone back to school for photography. In the last two years I have learned more than I have in the last 25. I have also learned a respect for photography like I have never had before. I have also come to respect "most" of the people who do it and understand it. @thedman From what I can tell you do not respect photography. Because of your comments, I do not respect you. You are rights, times are changing in the world of photography. It doesn't mean they are all good. You have to change with them, figure out if you can live with it, or get out. But just because times are changing doesn't mean how people are changing with those times make them right. Doesn't mean they are wrong either.

    Last, if you are as good as you say and are making 5 figures by selling your work cheap, then you have no respect for photography or the value of your work. You are just in it for the money.

    These are my thoughts and you are free to disagree with any or all of it.

    - john
    (a student in photography and life)

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