Photographers and Publishers: End of a Love Affair

You know what’s funny? I’ll tell you what’s funny: by continuing to put so much financial pressure on photographers, the media industry will lose its primary source of imagery.

With declining space rates and assignment rates, increasingly obscene rights grabs that border on copyright infringement, unacceptable usage agreements and overall disrespect of the 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 million of blogs worldwide, while others — like Black Star, for example — have shifted focus to the greener pastures of the corporate world.

Independent photographers no longer bother approaching publications for assignments. They now go directly to NGOs and foundations. Newer players like MediaStorm already generate most of their revenue this way.

Editorial Desertification

We hear a lot about the desertification of various regions of the world. Soon, we will witness the equivalent 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 otherwise.

We may be closer than you realize to the day when a certain publication’s photo editor will begin hearing this on the other end of the phone: “Time who?”

Obviously, none of this reflects a future that photographers want. But the increasingly unbearable business conditions are forcing them to look elsewhere for revenue — and, just as importantly, respect.

Photographers will always be around because they aren’t just doing a job; they’re pursuing a passion. But like any passion, it needs to be fed with a sustainable income. For most of photography’s brief history, editorial publications have served this role.

It’s been a long, productive, and mutually satisfying love affair between photography and publishers. But now the editorial world is treating its favorite mistress like an old whore.

The bond is being broken.

Love Stories to Come

You know what, though? There are other places photographers can go to be treated like a princess today.

The Internet has opened new revenue streams. Sure, it’s still the Wild West — but it offers the promise of love stories to come.

And so soon there will be no one left to shoot editorial. No one to shoot wars, politics, archeology or even movie premieres. All that will be left is an endless pile of crowd-generated images of everything that doesn’t really matter. Pretty, certainly, but of no interest. Cheap — but useless.

For now, the old whore still clings to its lifelong lover in the hopes of a change of heart.

But for how much longer?

And yes, you’re right. It’s not that funny after all.

13 Responses to “Photographers and Publishers: End of a Love Affair”

  1. Too many times it is just about reading a post, but this time this one struck down so hard where it hurts that a comment (and a re-tweet for what it counts) is absolutely needed.
    What I read is absolutely true. I have friends who are in love with photojournalism that are losing their faith, their affair with the camera, that takes photos mechanically, just because they can't live off that market alone any longer.
    As a photographer who is starting in the editorial world this is just another confirmation that the printed world doesn't have a love story with photographers any longer, the long marriage is going to an end and there will be endless fights.
    Modelling Agencies are more than happy to bring on their power to publish contents on paper, but they are still very skeptical of the value of the Internet: they see the risks, but they underestimate the reach. Too many people underestimate the reach, because the Internet is a game changer and photographers should start accepting that the "tear sheets" of tomorrow are PDF and comments, re-tweet and online appreciation, as in the online-mayhem something is going to grow exactly when the divorce between photographers and old-school publisher is being confirmed.

    Thanks for the post!


  2. Thanks for calling me a whore 🙂

    I agree with most you have to say and I understand and agree with the slightly negative outlook you put on current state of photography. Strong winds are blowing and many are being pushed to the ground. But when the winds calm down I think those standing are standing stronger. Even as we speak dramatic shifts take place.

    More and more companies are becoming publishers and new suppliers of content. And thus our clients. I think the biggest hurdle right now is education of the new market place and have them understand copyright and usage and fees that to them seem astronomical. And a second problem is that the marketplace is the whole world. Which is good, but tough in the sense you have to deal with many businesscultures/climates/rates.

    I don't think we should worry. A good whore is never out of work 🙂

  3. you forgot one angle... in most cases "photographers" are to blame. not the well founded ones but the beginners. always willing to shoot for less or just to get published. they have brought the standard down and now publishers think this low standard is the norm. Now with digital anyone can pick up a camera and start shooting and flood the market with mediocrity.

  4. Agree wholeheartedly, as a former news and documentary shooter, with the premise, and also Bryan Grant's comment, although I would add this: rather than relying on media, there's a lot to be said to creating one's own photobooks, and knocking them out at a modest, accessible price that no-one would even blink at. One way or another, the message gets out, and the photographer benefits -- clearly not using multi-national mammoth publishing companies, though...

  5. @Bryan,
    I'm seeing the same stuff as you are with photographers taking close to nothing for assignments. We work more in the portrait and wedding world, but it's the same thing here. Some professional photographers are turning their attention to education. If everyone is a photographer, there's good money to be made from the new market of beginners. Maybe for some photographers, that may be a way that they can earn extra income to keep their studio afloat.

  6. I agree with Bryan. We see to often photographers giving away there images to publishers just to see their image in a magazine. Investing in digital camera is no longer expensive so anyone can buy one. Unfortunately the quality on published images will go down.

  7. Yes I agree there's a downward push when it comes to remuneration for photographers, but I think publishers will continue doing what they're doing because all it takes is one up-and-coming photographer, one newbie,I'll-go-to-Afghanistan-for-peanuts-and-shoot-for-you-at-great-risk-of-losing-my-life shooter, for them to fill their quota. I feel your pain, but the article is a bit alarmist. The editorial apocalypse (or to use your word,desertification) you mention will only arrive if all the cameras in the world were to disappear, and no one produced them anymore.

  8. im talking about making a living with a camera...
    shooting editorial is very difficult unless you have a trust fund, independently wealthy or have slaved yourself out for years as interns and poorly payed employees to one day get your great break.... not worth it

  9. Agree wholeheartedly, as a former news and documentary shooter, with the premise, and also Bryan Grant's comment, although I would add this: rather than relying on media, there's a lot to be said to creating one's own photobooks, and knocking them out at a modest, accessible price that no-one would even blink at. One way or another, the message gets out, and the photographer benefits -- clearly not using multi-national mammoth publishing companies, though...

  10. Believe me, there will be plenty of GWC (guy with camera) to fill the gap we photographers leave behind...

  11. I find this post extremely insulting. There are plenty of GWC out here (in my case, GIRL with camera) who make beautiful, thought-provoking, memorable photographs, images that are not, as you say sir, "Pretty, certainly, but of no interest. Cheap — but useless" -- why be so insulting?

    If anything, the photography that media outlets are using now is a beautiful and real reflection of what the rest of us GWC (aka mere mortals) see and find fascinating.

    You know, the same mere mortals that purchase these publications that have paid you handsomely all these years.

    The presumptiousness and condescension in this post is truly appalling, and quite frankly you owe the rest of us an apology.

    As one of the most influential photographers of our generation, you ought to be setting an example. This isn't it, sir.

  12. There is more at hand here! I my country, these GWC's really undermine everything. Due to the fact that, from a legal point of view, they don't pay any taxes, they don't pay for social security, they don't have to bother about TVA...and they have a daytime job makes it for us professionals who have to deal with al the above,and make a living for our families, it is just not fair! And that publishers don't mind to work with these GWC's beats everything !!

  13. To a girl with a camera, your lack of knowledge about the business is showing like a hole in your sock. Check back...if you can, to a PDN story where a HMH executive blew the whistle on their lying about print runs. 40,000 textbooks for colleges in a country of 320 Million- I don't think so!!!!!!!!

    Ironically the next day I received a phone call from Harcourt wanting to reuse an image they had leased 5 years ago.I asked for the print run, and accidently received from the AD that the run was 1.2 MILLION not 40,000.
    In conclusion, they freaked when I said reuse was $2,000. They called back in a panic and offered $1500. I accepted on condition that the cheque be mailed that day.
    Do not trust any text book publisher! Even Pearson and its numerous acquisitions is partly owned-by Gadafi. Need I say more than you're being screwed daily and the HMH fiasco is going to court with the photographers finally getting what is due to them.
    Ottmar Bierwagen

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