JPG Magazine Can’t Stay Afloat with Inexpensive User Generated Content

- - Magazines

I’m a little surprised by the number of emails I’ve received and the number of blog posts I’ve seen (here, here, here, here, here and here)  regarding the demise of JPG magazine. Taking something that works well online and printing it seems kinda like taking a magazine and turning it into a website. Does anyone still think this is a good idea? Sure, I think printing it and charging $20 an issue, (not $2) so the published photographers can have something for the coffee table and also using the printed product to prove some form of legitimacy to advertisers is a good idea. But, anyone who feels like user generated content should be printed and distributed the old way is missing the value of magazines in the first place. Original content.

It all comes down to a fairly common discussion at magazine story and photography meetings. Do we inspire our readers with content where they can say “I could do that” or do we give them aspirational content so they say “I wish I could do that.” A mix is probably closer to the truth but I’ve always been in the aspirational camp and that means running photography that not even my editor understands.

There Are 40 Comments On This Article.

  1. JPG Magazine was run into the ground by poor management, not because the business model was fundamentally flawed. Let’s see what happens once they get bailed out by new ownership.

    • @Joseph Holmes .. “most of the photography was chosen by voting online”

      Surely the number of consumers (online voters) would far outweigh the editors, so basing magazine content on what the ultimate consumer likes makes sense? That’s what I always believed as an early contributor, and I have to say I was always very impressed with the content that actually made it to print. Unless of course JPGmag was only ever made for editors..

      • @MHmedia, what ended up happening is it just got more and more uninteresting the more they let the online voters choose. This is the real problem with “crowd sourcing” your content – the larger your audience gets the more watered down and boring the collective voice is. Look at sites like Digg and Reddit, a few years ago they were interesting places to find new things online but now it’s now it’s the web equivalent of the tasteless “FWD: FWD: FWD: Obama is a Muslim!!!” type chain letters I get in my inbox from less tech savvy relatives.

        Web 2.0 has run it’s course in my opinion. If anything it’s now a giant testament to how important editors are.

    • @Joseph Holmes,

      Editors still chose the pictures that went into the magazine. The voting was just to think the herd a bit. Getting a billion votes did not mean getting published, nor was it impossible to get published if you didn’t get a lot of votes.

  2. I agree with Joseph, JPG magazine lost it’s ground when they gave all power to online voters and it’s fine for online magazine, just don’t print it. It’s hard to believe that editors expected succeed with this model. Have no regrets at all. Sorry JPG.

  3. for what is was worth, I thought JPG magazine was a fine print magazine…it was never intended, I believe, to do battle with or compete with long established photo-mags, it was something unto itself and presented yet another outlet for people to discover and feed their interest/addiction to photography through…I ceased my subscription to it though when two of the founders were ousted from the staff in quite a crappy manner, from that time forward, IMHO, the content slid downward into mediocrity and the articles were on the cusp of cheesy and lacking any content worth reading

  4. “JPG Magazine Can’t Stay Afloat with Inexpensive User Generated Content”

    Your title assumes the cost (or lack of cost) of the image content was a major factor, i.e., a significantly positive factor, in running JPG’s business.

    Personally, I don’t believe free image content kept JPG afloat in any significant way nor did it matter much in terms their decision to shut the magazine down.

  5. We’ll see what becomes on JPG in the coming days. I agree with the need for original content (regardless of the source), I also agree that the voted photos were indeed a mix of the “I could do that” variety.

    I’m just saddened that another tangible spinoff of the online community has to share such a demise.

  6. I dont believe that the user generated content from an online source is what caused this publication to fail. Nor do I believe that it had a ultra ” I can do that presence to it ”

    It was in my opinion a magzine with wonderful imagery..

    I think the thing that caused it to fail was the targeted audience.

  7. I had never heard of the magazine before to be honest. So I checked it out today. And what I found was exactly what it advertised: user-generated content. Not to say it’s always bad, but I checked out a lot of the published content (photographers, stories, photographs, etc.), and to be honest I’d tend to agree with the Mr. Haggart in a way—the content was just not up to par. It may have been a great online photo community (I’m sure it was), but in terms of making people stop and pick it up at the newsstands—I can’t imagine buying that as a magazine. Or even checking the site often.

    Now, if you want to talk about Burn being published as a print magazine, I think you might have something. But that seems quite the different beast than JPG, which had more of a flicker feel, whereas Burn has a “some of the best new work I’ve seen in a long time” feel…

  8. I actually think that you hit the nail on the head…

    JPG as a magazine was so much married to Flickr that you might as well have just called it “Flickr: The Magazine”… for real. Everyone associates Flickr with digital crap and very little that aspires. On Flickr, you can view the content online for free enmasse… not just 50 pages of voted images but a daily feed… why would a print magazine work that is based on this site? Seriously.

    I think that it was doomed the day that it started… even in the branding itself, the logo and certainly in the marriage with Flickr… everything screamed amateur/digital/lame – JPG sounds like a low quality file… you can’t associate yourself with a brand like Flickr and expect a printed magazine to work.

    Why not, “Myspace: The Magazine”, or “Facebook: The Magazine”… the audience that participate on the sites are huge, why not magazines? BECAUSE, the content would be garbage.

    As you said, the printed page must be VALUABLE content… maybe even beyond valuable and into exclusive… the caliber of content must be very high and also perceived as high… both. It must be a caliber of content that is elevated above the masses….not created with content from the masses.

    Regards,

    dR

    • @dR, “It must be a caliber of content that is elevated above the masses….not created with content from the masses.”

      That’s a great observation!

      Why do people still go to movie theaters, watch broadcast television (and endure the commericials), rent or buy DVDs or pay for cable subscriptions when, instead, they could spend all their viewing time watching the thousands of clips playing on YouTube? Because the stuff in the theaters, available on DVD and on broadcast and cable TV is professionally written, produced, and made with talented and experienced casts and crews. Consequently, the resulting products are elevated above the masses, leastwise, above what the masses are, for the most part, capable of producing.

      Even the lowest-end reality crap is better produced than most of what you see on YouTube. Try projecting two-hours of the BEST of YouTube on screens at your local cineplex– See how many seats you fill.

    • @dR, interesting that you say everyone associates Flickr with digital crap considering their recent partnership with Getty. I was actually asked to be a beta tester for their program (I had a portfolio and application pending with them already, I suspect they just looked to see if I had a Flickr account). I agree that most of Flickr is garbage but clearly there are some needles in that haystack – the Getty editors picked the same photos from my Flickr account I had intended for stock and had sent over to them in the first place.

  9. I liked the picture side of JPG. It was like getting a mini photo book regularly. However, while I though user submitted pictures work (when edited), the user submitted articles and reviews were amateurish and pedestrian. And the layout and design felt like it was still being put out on Lulu. It never grew to look like a real magazine, which it could have even with user generated content.

  10. I bought one but I have to admit that once I realized that JPG came out of an online community I never looked at it again. Even with editing I just assumed I could look online and save the money.

    But as to why a print mag in these days? Simple, print still has more cache than an online magazine. Quite often when I’m talking to photographers for 180 magazine (180mag.ca) they will ask if there’s a print edition but never do I get asked what the readership is.

    The value of any magazine, print or online, is the editing. There’s no question about that in my mind, I can stumble and digg and flickr or go to any of the online photo-sharing sites and look at the “top photos” to see what the masses there vote to the top. I don’t want to be paying money to do that, I want someone else to do that and present me with what they’ve found.

    Kim Taylor

  11. Likely that a magazine fails because it can’t generate enough advertising revenue. Subscription and newstand/bookstore sales don’t add up to much. Ad revenue is directly related to how many copies get printed and verifiably distributed. That, and the advertiser’s perception of the potential value of the readers, or the people its readers influence.

    I think its unlikely the content (and/or the lack of its associated costs) was the issue directly speaking. But in the sense that the content didn’t generate a readership that extended too far beyond its contributors; it was a culprit. Its one thing for youtube or flickr to operate on one level by popular consensus, but its a whole other thing to ask people to pay for something curated that way. (and then convince advertisers each month that more people will pay for it than the month before).

    Curating, editing, art direction, etc, the vision and skill therein comes before the work itself in magazine publishing. And that’s a huge part of what people pay for. Do you read the NYT or the WSJ? Or do you just have igoogle set to aggregate the most popular news items for you? Same issue.

  12. Seems like they lacked direction of clearing defining a target audience. Whether the concept could succeed with another management team assumes the concept was viable, but poorly executed. I am definitely not convinced. I bought the first printed issue out of curiosity, and it lacked design and integration. Perhaps David Carson or Paula Scher could whip it into shape, but the reality is that most of the images were mundane, and the writing failed to capture my attention. I continued to look at future issues as the appeared, yet it never seemed that everything meshed together. Even if you took all the issues that were printed, and edited to only the best content, I doubt a Best Of JPG final issue would get more buyers than those who made it in and their immediate friends and family. That is certainly not a model for distribution.

    How good could the on-line voting have been when anyone could just blast e-mail their friends and have them vote for them. It simply makes no sense. At least Communication Arts uses a judging system of notable people for their Photo Annual. Could you imagine if the few remaining prestigious Photo Annuals used an on-line voter system?

    JPG lacked direction, and it came back to bite them. Expecting drastically lower content cost to be a path for profits smacks of greed. Even though many established publications don’t pay some contributers, at least they are worth the notoriety of appearing. Other than bragging to your friends at the local café, what exactly was the benefit of appearing in JPG?

    • @Gordon Moat,

      “Other than bragging to your friends at the local café, what exactly was the benefit of appearing in JPG?”

      A hundred bucks a photo and a free subscription. Not a boatload, but then very few editorial mags these days pay a boatload. To be honest, unless something like e-paper comes into existence (and fast), most magazines are on borrowed time.

      The one story I published in JPG was less for the $$ and more for finding another distribution source where I can be randomly “discovered” by people who need specific types of imagery (storm imagery). You may laugh about people “finding” me from a mag like JPG, but if you’d asked me two years ago I’d have said the same thing about Flickr. And I cleared over 10K last year from agencies finding me on Flickr. It took pointing the Digg and the Reddit and the Fark firehoses at my work a few times, but it does seem to work.

  13. APE says:

    “A mix is probably closer to the truth but I’ve always been in the aspirational camp and that means running photography that not even my editor understands.”

    If your editor doesn’t understand it, chances are the viewing public doesn’t either.

    And for the record, I thought JPG was a fine publication. I regularly buy photo books and magazines and think there was, and is a place for the type of work they published there. I don’t think it was “flickr – the magazine” at all. The magazine was inexpensive to purchase and was filled with images. Nothing wrong with that.

    And they paid their contributors, too. Not much, but better than some publications. I am proud to have had my images in JPG.

  14. Who’d have thought that trying to monetize Flickr Explore as a magazine wasn’t an awesome idea? The problem with ‘crowdsourcing’ is much like the problem with focus groups in advertising: they give you a great picture of what people have already liked, and that’s it. I buy magazines to see something new and different, when ‘the masses’ have already caught on to a trend, it’s over already.

  15. I just picked up this mag. I thought it was great and was sorry I missed the issues that came out all year or two years I missed. You people at JPG should be proud of what a fine job and mag. you put out. All I can say is I wish I had found it sooner, today I was going to subscribe to this super new publication no one ever told or showed me before. What a shame, I was thinking of starting a new magazine when I saw JPG and I told my friends WOW if I could have somthing this good… or was it FU#%*$#%$% I can’t believe somone is doing a mag just like I wanted to do…well at least I can submit photos and be in this great magazine!!! Now by accident I stumble upon A PHOTO EDITOR BLA BLA BLA I’m crushed really I’m bummed out that somthing this good is NOT. For all you people who had nothing good to say about JPG you should be ashamed of yourselves… YOUR WORLD IN PICTURES IS NO WORLD AT ALL THE PHOTO WORLD HAS LOST A GREAT MAGAZINE AND EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER IN THE WORLD HAS LOST A LITTLE THING CALLED HOPE.. BECAUSE ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS HOPE THAT THEIR NEXT IMAGE IS THEIR GREATEST PHOTO AND IF IT IS THEY WANT THE WORLD TO SEE IT NOW WHERE IN THE WORLD WILL THEY GO ? NOWORLDATALL NO PHOTOS TO CONNECT THE DOTS AND MANY MANY PEOPLE ARE AT A LOSS RIP JPG 2U&ME PHLASHOUT

  16. Never liked JPG at all. I think it was quite a naive community with often naive and boring themes. I’m not displeased about their closing since I think it was quite a cauldron overwhelmed by pictures and not deserving enough space to photographers. Said that it was not bad for being an online based community mag but simply because it was badly directed. For sure submission/selection based magazines are the first chance to be published for many photographers and there should be more on the market. It’s a direct and democratic way (for photographers) to relate with the editorial world

  17. I never purchased the magazine, nor did I go to the website more than once. There’s so much imagery available these days, and most of my time is spent in front of a computer. Why by the magazine, when you can see it online for free?

    Most likely people bought it who were in it, and possibly people who hoped to be in it, otherwise it didn’t really present a compelling reason to purchase it.

  18. I met with sales people from JPEG. They never followed through with me. They had lots of turnover. And from my vantage point, they were always more concerned with being COOOOOOL than they were being good. Those factors, combined with the print side of the business model (as they implemented it) probably caused the collapse, combined with general poor market conditions.

  19. I for one loved the printed version. Yes, some issues were better then others but in general I liked being able to thumb through the mag without looking a 4,000 online. It will be missed by me.

    Merrill

  20. I agree that the online voting killed it for me also. Popularity contests don’t always produce the best of the best. Just look at shows like AMERICAN IDOL and DANCING WITH THE STARS.

  21. There is a difference between something born out of a concept and executed to accompany well-written editorial than piecing stuff together from a group of existing photos from various people. That is why “real” magazines will always survive over vultures like JPG. I think they actually tried to start a travel magazine as well! haha. “You guys spend your own money on these exotic vacations and we will publish the photos!!” WOW. How long could that have lasted? I suppose as long as there are suckers out there who just need validation through a photo being published…

    Also there is the factor of the original owners/founders being forced out by a greedy friend that they trusted early on so the “soul” of the magazine was robbed years ago…