The world economy, as we can all see, is not doing well. Between massive layoffs and the beginning of a deflationary trend in the United States, all signs point toward catastrophic changes ahead. What does it mean for the photo industry? Let’s take a look and make some predictions.
The first places that photo agencies and image buyers will cut are so-called non-essential costs. Trade shows, reunions, festivals, awards — all will see a dramatic drop in attendance. Already, National Geographic in the United States and PICTA in Germany have been canceled. Two reasons for this: they will not find sponsors and they will not be able to book enough presence.
More shows will follow. The ones probably hurt most will be photojournalism shows, as on both sides of the market, creators and users, there is no more money. Visa Pour L’image in Perpignan will certainly will see a huge decline in its attendance, especially from U.S. participants, as the cost of attending is rising every year, with no tangible return. Others, like PACA, or even CEPIC, will be greatly impacted for the same reasons.
The only shows that might survive are the ones that get image buyers and sellers together, like Picturehouse. But the attendance might be only local, as everyone else will continue to save on travel costs.
Bean Counters Rule
When times get tough, companies tend to rely on their finance departments for help. Thus, creative management is replaced by bean-counting management. For some unknown reason (also known as the turtle reaction), companies no longer look at what will make them more money, but rather what will save them money.
This will accelerate the adoption of subscription-based licensing, as it makes it easier for everyone to manage and budget. Agencies working only with freelance photographers on a commission basis will try to follow — until they realize it is cost-prohibitive. Which will be too late.
Smart businesses will see this as an opportunity, as failing agencies will hit the market for a bargain price. Some will be great opportunities; other will be rotten fruit. Either way, there will be more consolidation.
All image buyers will rush to budget photography. If you thought microstock did well in 2008, just wait until 2009. No one will care so much about great photography, or at least not enough to matter. Any image with a good price will do the job. Since more freelance photographers will hit the market after being laid off their staff jobs, the supply will not be lacking.
Even the Paparazzi Will Suffer
Even assignment and wedding photography will be hurt. First, because companies will reduce their marketing dollars and not spend them on a professional CEO headshot (especially since the husband of the marketing VP is unemployed and has this cool Canon 5D Mark II he bought before being laid off). Others will be happy to do assignment work for free if they can keep the licensing rights. Ex-newspaper staffers will join the growing ranks of wedding photographers and will depress prices.
There is also the looming SAG strike. The SAG is the Screen Actors Guild, and every single movie star is a member. About 75 percent of SAG’s membership is already out of work, so they couldn’t care less if they went on strike. That would create havoc on the editorial celebrity world, one of the last healthy places for photography.
No more premieres, no more red carpet, no more award shows. Some photo agencies only cover those. It would be a catastrophic blow to them. Others might push their photographers into the street to chase the celebrities, doubling the already overwhelming number of paparazzi in the streets. Besides the fights among them, accidents with celebrities will happen and laws will pass. It is already an oversaturated market, so prices there, as elsewhere, will plummet.
In other words, there are no safe havens. I’m afraid 2009 is not a pretty picture for the photo industry.