While two of the United States magazine distributors are raising their rates in the worst economic period possible, adding a potential $1 billion in cost to an already battered publishing industry, it has become clearer that the photo industry needs to brake out of its traditional chains.
According to the New York Post, two companies who are in charge of distributing magazines in the US are raising their fees next month. As circulation is dropping for everyone, due to the combine forces of the relatively free internet and the cost saving reaction of most consumers, this hike could spell the doom sooner for some of our most famous magazines. Circulation, or getting your magazine to your readership, is extremely expensive in America as it is a tremendously big country. Unlike Europe, it is badly networked by railroads, thus all major transport are done by truck and roads. It is full of little towns all over he place. You get the picture : Magazine publishers are at the mercy of these distribution companies if they want to have any circulation (not unlike other countries ).
With ad buying falling and circulation dropping, some publishers were hoping a price decrease would give them a well needed boost. This circulation cost increase will not permit that. I suspect that the weeklies, who also have the added pressure of not being timely anymore, will be the first to drop. There will be less magazines.
If you add the internal pressure of cutting cost and those diminishing photo budget, all one gets to see these days are pictures of those photo agencies that have succumbed to the subscription model. It used to be that wire services where were photo editors would go if nothing else was available because everyone had access to the same images. But today, it is the opposite. Seems exclusivity, or at least having a different image then your competitor, is much much less important.
So what is a photo agency to do ? Create its own viewership. After all, it is not that their images are bad, but rather unfordable to most photo editor. And not because they are expensive, really. They are just more expensive. This trend of only seeing subscription base imagery is only going to increase, shutting out whoever refuses to accept these rules. And the most frighting part is that websites are probably the biggest consumers of that model.
Papparrazis agency have been the first one to do it. X17, quickly followed by Splashnews and others have already created their own market for their images, racking huge traffic and revenues for their self published photo blog. To the point that some magazine refuse to work with them because they feel they have become competitors to their publication and stealing precious advertising revenue away from them. Even Getty images has been toying around with this for a while now, using Jammd.com and ex – viewimages.com as a testing ground. Smaller agencies will not be left behind. One of the most recent project is one by Aurora photo . On a page solely dedicated to Obama’s inauguration day, they have posted their photographers coverage of the historical event. If they can’t sell these images to the traditional media, they can still get them to the viewers out there.
It’s a fair battle and great photography will prevail against reduced budgets. If photo editors are unwilling to fight for great and original content, it will still find viewership. Because publishers do not control the medium anymore, the users do. Remenber, Google owns our browsing experience, not Time Warner. It is a failed and obsolete approach to believe that there is no viewership outside the traditional editorial brand names. Readership is not disappearing, it is just shifting. Thus the smart agencies, like Aurora, or others, will capture it while media companies will desperately try to retain them.
There is also a shift from “good” to “good enough” and cost savings is the major driver.