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.