A Thought on the Future of Photo Editing

- - The Future

Original, exclusive or previously unpublished photography printed as big as possible is the only thing that makes a magazine relevant in the dot com age. Hoo-ah.

Unless we’re talking about a massive media buy advertisers generally hate replication and will look to reach their potential audience through all the available avenues without having to repeat themselves. It’s complicated figuring out how to spend your advertising dollars wisely to have maximum impact for minimum CPM (cost per thousand). For most magazines that means proving to advertisers (with MRI data and your own in-house surveys) that your audience doesn’t replicate your competition or offering them a better deal in terms of price, added value or anything really that shows you smoke the competition.

Well, guess what happened? There’s a new media company to compete with called the internet and you will never *ever* beat them on price.

The solution here is *not* I repeat *not* to make your publication resemble a website. When presented with one of those 1/8 page layout holes for an image I would remark (not too loud) that they could print a picture of a rhinos ass in there for all I cared. Designing a magazine to look like a web page with virtually unreadable images does nothing for me, the photographer or the reader. Why bother? I can get that online faster than you can say pica pole 3 times fast and when I click on the stupid unreadable image online it blows up to fill my screen. Can’t beat that.

Any print publication that simply reproduces imagery that’s been previously published and is easily available on the internet or even resembles stuff that’s already out there–most stock photography–will slowly bleed readers and lose relevance with advertisers. Additionally, publications that continue to use valuable print real estate to run content that’s better served online (news, lists, packages, pr photos) will simply get beat by media companies that are doing it cheaper and easier online.

There’s a vicious cycle of destruction on the horizon for magazines where editors who are forced to cut cost will in turn force photo editors to use more stock photography which will in turn drive the readers and advertisers away forcing the editor to demand more cost cutting measures further driving away readers and advertisers.

Not to worry, there’s a great solution available that everyone except the 85 year old media barons will like. Only publish well written, well reported, fact checked, in depth stories with stunning, original, surprising can’t-be-found-anywhere photography (full bleed, natch). Sure you’ll lose some of your audience and some of the advertisers will disappear and you’ll have to produce it will a smaller staff, but think of all the man-hours you’ll save not producing the same package you produced last year only this time it has to be different (ya know, because you did it last year) so you throw some twist in there that makes it less relevant for the readers and harder to actually produce because the twist doesn’t actually exist in reality, but hey it’s different.

Magazines do some things better than websites. They always will. Serve the audience that wants to read stories and look at pictures in a magazine and advertisers will want to reach them too. If you want a website build one *online*. Just don’t make it act like a magazine.

There Are 23 Comments On This Article.

  1. Cheers!
    Well spoken, the last comment got me, “Just don’t make it act like a magazine” after voraciously ripping through the PDF Magazine universe last month, until after seeing so much sub-quality media I wanted to vomit, but hey, thats the internet, right?
    Perhaps there are many magazines that are shining examples of the qualities you promote, but the one that comes to my mind is Alpinist Magazine (alpinist.com), which rocks the party that rocks the party for full-bleed elitist snobbery, in the rock climbing world anyway. It is a quarterly, so does not even pretend to beat the internet on speed, but, oh, is it a beautiful document to behold.

  2. You are spot on about the magazine issue. I publish a small regional magazine that we started about a year ago and I keep pushing my staff and tell them that we have to be different than a web site. To survive and thrive we have to publish in-depth, behind the scene stories with great photogrpahy that helps tell the story. I don’t think magazines are going away any time soon, they are just changing. The weak ones will go away while the ones that adapt to the times will survive and eventually thrive.

  3. Additionally, not mentioned in the post, there are people who don’t like read stories or look at photos on the web. Only problem is they mostly don’t fall in the 18-32 year old category that most advertisers want to reach so catering to them is a downhill slide.

  4. This makes me laugh. I can’t even count how many magazines I stopped subscribing to even though they offered me renewals at prices as low as $5/year. After one year with most magazines, I’ve read everything relevant they are ever going to publish. A bicycling magazine I won’t name, publishes the same (virtually) articles about riding a century, getting great calves (cyclists are obsessed with them), etc., all supplemented with boring as hell stock photography. I can’t even believe most women’s magazines have any readership at all. If every woman doesn’t already know the “secret sex wish list of men,” how to have “sexy glowing hair”, or, “how to get that beach body”, it’s never going to happen.

    Radio stations have been dealing with this for a while now, and finally most major markets have several stations that have stopped playing the corporate play list filled with the same 5 crappy songs played over and over and over… When listeners had choices they started leaving in droves. Why would anyone put up with obnoxious advertising played between every lame song when they could listen to whatever they wanted without ads?

    Why should I buy the lame bicycling magazine, when I can get all the same info I want, and more, for free online?

  5. I wish it were so, but I don’t think it is, at least not across most of the magazine market. At one time I worked for an award-winning (for design) magazine, and was pretty busy as they had a distinct house style for photography and absolutely everything was shot by 3-4 of us. Until that is, the publisher announced that he questioned whether spending all this money on expensive bespoke photography was cost effective. Overnight he reduced the budget by 80% to see what happened.

    I’d like to tell you that the readers noticed and left in droves, ad revenue collapsed, and the mag is now a skidmark on the underpants of eternity. But the reality is that it made no difference at all.

    Henceforth almost every shot was a PR freebie that they’d previously have thrown in the bin because competitors had the same and besides it wasn’t their style. Now it was free so good enough. The readers appeared not to notice at all. Circulation didn’t drop, and advertisers kept on spending.The publisher saved nearly 2 thousand quid a month (and no doubt enhanced his year-end bonuses).

    A year or so later, much of the writing had gone the same way, re-hashed press releases instead of journalism. Instead of paying pro feature writers, they started letting industry axe-grinders write for their interest in promoting themselves. The whole style changed from acerbic, sharp, witty to flannel the ad buyers were comfortable with. Again, readers appeared not to notice.

    Their next cost saving move was to take the designers of all their mags out of the creative hothouse that was the studio and isolate them with the editorial teams where they gradually got degraded into production monkeys and subs. There was no design by that point, it was just a template into which mediocrity was flowed. It has bumped along like that for a decade, making plenty of money, and that’s all that matters to the publisher. It still has only one competitor and that’s exactly the same.

    And I think that probably is the point: competition over editorial quality is an obsolete game. The accountants are right: really the readers are not the key element most often, it’s advertisers you have to compete for and their perception is malleable. Most UK magaziines are like CocaCola, selling their brand, unrelated to the real value of the ingredients. Give the ad buyers a platform they’re comfortable with, don’t ever attack their clients promote them, work the ratecard deals aggressively and you’re making a living out of hot air. It’s not journalism, it’s not for the readers anymore, but what the hell it works. If you can’t get readers to pay, go freesheet, just so long as the ABC and demographics are plausible.

    For more proof, look to English tabloid newspapers. Absolute excrement, worse and more content-free by the year, yet that’s where the money is, relatively, in newspapers.

  6. scott Rex Ely

    Make sure to include a free monitor calibration module. Yeah that’s the ticket, make a custom color space just for your on line pub so all those viewers don’t confuse Pete Turner with *Friederike von Rauch.
    *http://www.jmcolberg.com/weblog/2008/03/friederike_von_rauch.html
    Really, what’s the good of optimizing your files if optimum means optimized for the crappiest viewing set up?

  7. @ 9. Tony: Yes, well I’m saying we’ve reached the pinnacle and if you want to advertise to eyeballs the internet is the new low cost, high impact, maximum return frontier. These magazines and newspapers full of garbage can be produced at a tiny fraction of the cost online and will maximize profits for the media company and advertiser while serving the reader 10 times better and faster.

    What’s left is more of a brand positioning environment where advertisers can surround themselves with beautiful design, photography and writing. The readers who are left are really the influential people within the marketplace and now with social networking everywhere their impact on other people can be incredibly effective.

  8. My wife won’t let me take the computer to bed with me for late night reading, but I’m aloud a book or magazine. which I prefer

  9. “…publish well written, well reported, fact checked, in depth stories with stunning, original, surprising can’t-be-found-anywhere photography (full bleed, natch)…Serve the audience that wants to read stories and look at pictures in a magazine and advertisers will want to reach them too. ”

    I think Monocle Magazine does a magnificient job of this. Check it… http://www.monoclemagazine.com/

  10. Hey maybe we’ll get more original writers and photographers hired directly by the glossy instead of same old ap bullshit and stock photos.

    I, for one, think this is a good thing.

  11. Maybe Life magazine is due for another comeback…the old Life that is.

    Wait…just searched and it says “stayed tuned for the new life.com”…we’ll see.

  12. What do you guys think of JPG Magazine? It’s printed well, the work is usually all stuff I’ve never seen before, and people have told me out of nowhere that it’s the best magazine in the world (non-industry people, just kids who like photos).

    I know they pay 100 dollars per story or photograph, which compared to local mags (The South magazine down in Savannah pays something like 25-50 a photo) isn’t that bad, and Heisler said at a lecture a couple years ago that he only got 500 for the cover of time.

    It’s an interesting concept, and seems sort of like an edited down and printed flickr. Is it a positive thing or negative thing for photographers (and now photo-essayists, writers on photographer, etc)? They just started another one called Everywhere, about travel.

  13. A local business magazine I was “grooming” so I could be their go-to photo guy, told me they wanted to be more edgy in the sea of mediocrity and conservatism of the local establishment. More like Wired or FastCompany, they pointed out, showing me examples. Sure, I said, I can do that, when do we get started? Send us a budget, what do you want to get paid, they said. So I did.

    Well, I don’t know what happened. They changed the format of the magazine. They moved into a brandy new office in an upscale business park. They didn’t get back to me. I called, made an appointment, went to chat. They asked me what I thought of the new format. I said, it looks like crap. It looks like an informercial. Where’s the edge? It looks like a website. Lots of iStockphoto being used. Nothing local. We still want to do edgy, they said.

    By the way, they say. We don’t have a budget to pay a photographer. Gee, I said, looks like you’re hard up. New office, and every page of your new format has advertising on it, some pages that’s all there is. Guess you need that to pay for your new digs. Good luck, call me when you have some extra cash.

  14. Yes. Well said.
    It seams so easy to understand, but the guys up there were still discussing about how TV killed Newspapers when Internet came… so is there any hope they’ll understand?

  15. I agree to the ‘in depth stories with stunning, original, surprising can’t-be-found-anywhere photography’ approach. However, publishers need to be clear about the fact that this does not address ‘the masses’.

    It seems to be the credo today to appeal more and more with lesser and lesser cost and effort. Surely this is the most economic approach in publishing. The problem is that the *content* vanishes on the way.

    I am an amateur photographer and would like to improve and develop my photography as well as I would like to publish my works. The problem with that is that I do not find a magazine that likes to publish my photography. Sure, my photography might be the reason, but I think, part of the story is also that there are almost no magazines left that do *not* pull their images from flickr for free.

    I started to create photo books so that everyone really interested in the *content* can get it right from the source. And this is not because I think this is going to sell big time. It is only a way to publish the way I like and what I like.

    (..I am not on flickr..)