What is going ? I ‘ll tell you what is going on : Recently, Time, inc, the biggest publisher of magazines in the world has made an agreement with AP, Reuters and Getty Images to license any and all non-exclusive images for a flat rate of $50.00, regardless of size or placement . Magazines like Time, or Fortune, or Sports Illustrated, that used to easily pay $200.00 for a 1/4 page will now have the same images for $50.
It is not the first deal of the sort. Recently Getty Images had a similar arrangement with Bauer publishing for a 3 months try out. Probably because of photo editors resistant clamor and the very negative reaction of other photography suppliers, it did not last.
What does all this mean ? Well, for one, big publishers are trying to cut costs as drastically as they can. After laying of hundreds of staffers, they are now squeezing suppliers as much as they can. It is somewhat predictable considering the hit they have taken on the advertising side. Some magazines , like Time, know it is just a question of time ( no pun..) before their paper edition vanishes. It is the same for most weekly celebrity magazines who already suffer heavily from the onslaught of free celebrity website that are much faster at breaking news.
But why would AP, Reuters and Getty would agree to such prices ? Well, for AP and Reuters, born and bred on the subscription model, who hardly pay any commissions to photographers, it is not too much of a stretch. Furthermore, each one must have thought that the other would have taken the deal and thus be shut out. Dividing to better conquer is something that just doesn’t belong to Julius Ceasar.
Getty images in all this? Well, they have recently change their strategy completely. They are moving away from the fully wholly own content to the mega distributor. They no longer care if they pay any commissions or not and where they get their content from. They want to become indispensable so there is no way to avoid them. Be a monopoly without appearing to be. Thus, they will be willing to sell images for pennies (which they already do) as long as they are the sole distributor. In a way, they are applying the istockphoto model to editorial : “if it cost me nothing to get content, then I can sell it for nothing”
Obviously this is extremely damaging to the world of photography . It will continue to force thousands out of this business, including some very talented elements. It will further eliminate the need for good photo editor as their choice will only be a factor of price. It will devalue the role of photography altogether.
Together with the apostles of the free internet, the Creative Commons barbarians of the Free Frontier foundation, those who are accomplice to these ravaging pricing policies , sellers as well as buyers are contributing to the complete destruction of the photographic landscape. Sure, you will always find “push buttons” ready to execute for a few dollars while they search for another job, but you will no longer be able to see great passionate photography done by amazing eyes. It’s going to be the battle of the crabs, pushing and shoving each other for pieces of crumbs in an ocean of boring banality. There will no longer be careers in photography.
For those photographers contributing with a smile to these “agencies” thinking they bet on the right horse, they will realize soon that they are no better than slime sticking to a rotten ship . Your photos will soon be free, the exact value that these companies have for your miserable little lives. If you think you are in control now, we shall talk in 5 years from now.
For the others, those who continue to stand against these increasing polluted waves, there is still hope. The hope that mediocracy will destroy itself in a vast self sucking black hole, that those nose-in-the-sky corpocrates who destroy the very own land they try to build upon for pure self interest will finally go the way of the dinosaurs, like so many before them. For those who stand for well rewarded quality work, for making and maintaining a trade made by individuals with a soul, with a passion, with a dedication for truth and respect, there is hope.
There is hope in the knowledge that soon readers will be fed up of seeing the same images everywhere, regurgitated by the same gross pipeline of photography. There is hope in knowing that soon, not every website, every magazine will want to have the same exact images that their competitors have, even though it’s cheap. There is hope in knowing that exclusive will soon regain their value and their grace, that talent attracts eyeballs and that pleased eyeballs bring money, lots of money. Finally, there is hope that by committing to these prices, these companies will fail to find anyone able to live to sustain their production.
What we are witnessing are the first final steps of those who wanted to be giants who will collapse on their own weight. Because, once you have reached critical mass, once you have cornered every major aspect of this market, there is only one way to go.