Magazines- User Experience vs. More Users

- - Magazines

Magazines will deploy an entire bag of tricks to attract readers who normally wouldn’t be interested in buying their product. Getting people to subscribe usually involves pretty harmless marketing stuff like gift offers (SI’s football phone is the most famous and successful example), direct mail (send in your toaster warranty and suddenly Martha Stewart is sending you subscription offers), those annoying blow in cards (3 is the magic number and yes they always work) and the ridiculously low subscription price (if you see 12 issues for $10 they’re trying to pad the rate base).

Readers can be bought with football phones but they can’t be forced to buy your magazine at the checkout… or can they. The newsstand is actually where the real nefarious stuff happens. That’s because newsstand is the only metric anyone has to judge a magazine’s popularity (advertising sales isn’t a good indicator because you have no idea how much they discount the ad and how many are house ads).

I was reading a post by Craig Stolz (Web 2.Oh…really)–recently in Time Magazine’s top 25 blogs (here)–about newspaper websites using SEO trickery (worthless links to common words) to make their stories rank higher on google at the cost of degrading the user experience (here). Reminds me of the similar magazine practice where the cover will have fake numbers (chosen for how they look on the cover) to trick people into thinking there’s 234 tips or 55 great trips inside and then big cover lines will sell you on stories that turn out to be 1/3 page or worse–a sentence within a story. And then there’s all those lifeless packages (conceived to give you a number on the cover or a coverline), topical yet vapid front of book pieces and shiny products with hollow write-ups, all served up at the cost of user experience in hopes of attracting more newsstand buyers.

Of course the worst example of this bait and switch technique is the cover image. A subject chosen for their ability to hit it big on the newsstand accompanied by a perfunctory story on the inside. This has nothing to do with your mission as a magazine.

That’s why I love Esquire for owning up to it on the cover this month with a picture of Jessica Simpson and the coverline “We shot this image to catch your eye so you will pick up this issue and immerse yourself in the most gripping story you will read this year.” Bravo.

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Kratochvil Interview Over at Photoshelter

- - Photographers

Photoshelter blogger Rachel Hulin has a nice interview (here) with one of my all time favorite photographers, Antonin Kratochvil (he also sent me work from the road for the slide show which you can all see once I repair the problem). I love working with Antonin because although he appears to be tough as a bag full of hammers, in reality, he’s a very down to earth man who endearingly refers to everyone as “bitches.” Oh, and his pictures ROCK. His contact sheets are something to behold because there’s hardly any frames leading up to “the shot.” Talk about a tough edit, try editing 50 of his contact sheets down to 5 pictures in a magazine. Impossible.

Slideshow needs to be fixed

- - Photographers

If you made the final cut and sent me your photos on flickr you now need to email them to me here: promo(at)aphotoeditor.com

If you already emailed them to me to begin with you don’t need to do it again.

The slideshow is not working the way it should and I need to upload them into a set on my account. It has to work right before it goes out to art buyers and photo editors.

Here’s the pool of images that made the cut: http://www.flickr.com/groups/aphotoeditor/pool/

You have to be logged in to flickr to see all 550 images and that’s the problem at the moment.

GQ- April, 2008 Issue

- - Magazines


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I really like this quote from the Alex Pappademas story. Works for photographers too.

“Y’know, I grew up in a different generation. I grew up after World War II, and boys did different things in those days. You went camping. You went hunting. You boxed. And the image of a writer, to someone starting off in those days was not some schmuck who went to graduate school. It was Jack London, Nelson Algren, Ernest Hemingway. Especially coming from Chicago–a writer was a knock-around guy. Someone who got a job as a reporter or drove a cab. I think the reason there are a lot of novels about How Mean My Mother Was to Me and all that shit is because the writers may have learned something called ‘technique,’ but they’ve neglected to have a life. What the fuck are they gonna write about?”

–David Mamet

There’s also and excellent profile of Terry Richardson written by Andrew Corsello that furthers my theory of how a photographers DNA imprint in pictures cannot be replicated or taught. Calling it talent is not very accurate because it’s the sum of everything you know and have experienced and it leaves a mark on the photographs. I’ve always liked Terry’s work and I’m somewhat floored by the story of his hellish/crazy upbringing and how that fed his photographic style and subject selection. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to walk and inch in his shoes if that’s what it takes to become a much sought-after photographer with an original point of view.

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APA Panel Discussion on Websites

- - Websites

Last night I gave a presentation and sat in on a panel discussion on websites for the APA San Francisco chapter (website). It’s always nice to get out from behind the computer and have a discussion about photography with fellow art buyers and photo editors and of course meet photographers. I certainly enjoy talking shop.

On the panel with me was Zana Woods, the photo editor of Wired Magazine who was previously and art buyer at Foote, Cone & Belding and Debbie Mobley the Senior Art Producer at Venables Bell & Partners.

I loved hearing the different approaches we all have to working with photographers and I thought I’d highlight some of the interesting things that came up.

Zana prefers to see a book over a website and in fact bases all hiring decisions off looking at books. That was a refreshing point of view for a panel on websites. The website is not an end destination or even the place where decisions are made about hiring photographers.

Debbie leads the typically busy life of an advertising art producer. Websites are tools for quickly looking at portfolios to see if the photographer has the look or skills you need for a project you’re working on RIGHT NOW. She catalogs photographers by the printed and emailed promos photographers send her and when it’s time to find photographers for a campaign looking at websites is efficient and fast. She almost always uses printed books when discussing photographers with creatives and *never* shows a website to a client (they’re too literal).

When I was presenting all the different parts of photographers websites that I use when making a hiring decision (bio, personal work, tears) Debbie was looking over at me like “are you crazy, how in thee hell do you have time to look at all that stuff” and so we talked about some of the big difference between how commercial and editorial clients view photographers websites. In advertising it really is “all about the photography” and you can be a complete a-hole but if you’re photography matches the creative for the campaign. You’ve got the job. Additionally she never deals with the “I need a photographers in Canton, OH who can shoot a portrait for $4500. Monday.” So, she does way less crystal ball gazing on websites than I do. On editorial shoots the photographer and subject need to match up or you can have serious problems and on most shoots there’s nobody on set so you’ve got to make sure this is the right person for the job. In editorial, shoots fail, in advertising, never.

At one point we were talking about Matt Mahon’s website (here) which I’ve mentioned a few times here as something I find very entertaining and proposed a theory to Debbie that creatives might champion a photographer who they find interesting and entertaining at which point she whipped out an email where she asked her art directors what websites they particularly enjoyed to which they replied how much they dislike photographers who think they’re flash designers. “We just want to see photos, you’re photographers for crissakes, not designers.” Theory debunked.

I really enjoyed Zana’s point of view because she works on a national magazine but doesn’t live in NYC which was my experience for many years. She kept talking about this guy Andrew Hetherington (here) who’s some kinda hot shot photographer who shoots for Wired (had to bust your chops on that Jacko and yes she brought you up several times). Since she’s worked at Wired since 1999 she’s built a group of trusted photographers that she likes to work with, keeps a wish list of photographers she’d like to work with and uses the traditional methods (mailers, other magazines, contests, photographers recommendations) to locate new talent and call in their book. It was interesting to find out that she never reads email promos unless the subject line or email is personal and that they keep a database of all the photographers they’re interested in that’s searchable by location and shooting style.

Much of the conversation with Zana came back to this idea that she enjoys looking at websites but uses them to call in books. It’s never the place where decisions are made about hiring people. This is how many photo editors use websites and it’s important to remember that.

The panel really showed that everyone uses a photographers website differently but first and foremost for everyone was finding your portfolio and viewing the images cleanly and quickly. Some of your clients will continue on to check out other parts of the website some will call in your book and others will catalog you away. I think it may be disappointing for photographers to discover that a slick website and nifty features won’t really increase your chances of getting a job. I’d be willing to bet that changes in the future… just not when.

Where are all the goddam photos?

- - The Future

It costs millions of dollars to distribute photography in the form of a magazine page. Now, it can all be done for free, so will somebody please tell me where all the goddam photos are? Honestly you’ve got the internet at your disposal and every last one of you is lined up trying to get in the door at 1271 6th Avenue to see the Photography Director and show them your book so they can send you out on assignment and 3 months later it will arrive in my mailbox.

You can send it to me today, for FREE.

One issue of a magazine with 200 pages in it that prints 1,000,000 copies (40% draw on newsstand so some go in the trash) and reaches around 2,500,000 people costs $1,000,000 to print and distribute with $800,000 in circulation expenses (subscription and newsstand) and $350,000 in contributer fees and expenses (photos and words) and a staff salary and general business expenses (rent and utilities) of $1,250,000. This will bring in $4,000,000 in advertiser revenue (minus advertising marketing) and $1,000,000 in sales through newsstand and subscription.

(The numbers are a fairly accurate estimate of a magazine I enjoy and are NOT based on a magazine I’ve worked at.)

The cost to deliver a magazine to one viewer is $1.36 and the revenue generated is $2.00. If a 200 page magazine is 110 pages of edit (half of which are photos) then the expense to deliver a single page picture to one viewer is $0.012 and the revenue generated is $0.018. So imagine for a second that photographers generate and distribute their own content (or in a partnership with an aggregator) so now the revenue generated is $0.015 (newsstand sales are gone) and 4 pages of photographs reaching the same audience that you always reached (if you shoot for top national magazines) with the same advertisers willing to tag along should give you $150,000. You’ll have to subtract your expenses for producing those photos but you can clearly see there’s going to be some serious money to be made once this thing starts working properly.

I blame the photographers and publishers equally for clinging to the old way of doing business and not innovating something new, but it’s the photographers that stand to gain the most from creating a new way of reaching consumers and bringing advertisers along for the ride. If we all just sit around with our thumbs up our ass because we can’t do anything with photography without getting paid I’ll guarantee you one thing. The publishers will figure it out for everyone and they’ll happily keep the 1.6 million dollar (from the example above) cut they already get every single month for every single magazine they produce.

Oh, you may have noticed the smallest part of creating a magazine every month is the fees and expenses paid to all the contributors. Are you ready to do something about it yet?

One thing that will never change in this equation is the amount of time in a day. The more time people spend consuming different types of media the less time the spend with other types. The amount of money spent to reach these people doesn’t change either so if it disappears from magazines and newspapers it will reappear online but the key to the whole equation here is that more efficient means of delivering content equals more money to be spent creating it and less to spend on effing red tape (shuffling photos around the layout, contracts, estimates and on and on).

I think we can look at all these other professions changing their game (journalists, musicians, software companies, filmmakers… ) and glean some ideas how photography will evolve but the reality is, some people really need to get off their asses and make a move to figure it out. I like looking to musicians when thinking about photography because like the public’s taste in music, taste in photography is subjective and attracting people to it is way more complicated than just creating the best image. Perception, marketing, recommendations and other environmental factors play a huge part and I’ll also agree with several of my contributors that there’s a long history of business practices that will effect what can happen next so modeling this business off any others has its limitations. It just seems like everyone is doing something with this new distribution system except for photographers.

Distribution of photography is now free. It’s time to decide if that means you get paid more or less.

The Drop Dead Date

- - Working

There are a couple methods to getting a magazine out the door on time every month. There’s what I call the “ABC” (Always Be Closing) method where the various sections are staggered, heading to production over the course of an entire month, which in theory sounds like a sane way to do it but in practice feels like you never let off the gas and makes it nearly impossible to take vacations or do anything besides ship pages. And, no matter how hard you try there always manages to be a couple all day marathons to ship pages at the end. The other method I’m calling “look everyone this thing ships in two weeks we really need to buckle down if we’re gonna make it,” where you smash the thing out in a week or two right up to the deadline putting in long hours and generally working as hard as you can in a sprint to the finish. Sounds bad in theory but is not too bad in practice because there’s a couple weeks of slacking in between the all-out efforts. But, you know who really gets hammered in this arrangement? The production department. So, the solution has always been to give everyone fake deadlines (I’m not really blaming them as they always seem to stay till 5am on closing week shipping pages).

Whatever method you’re using the fake deadlines are usually a conspiracy between production and the managing editor–who also tries very hard to hide those 5 week issues from everyone–so we don’t completely check out for awhile. One place I worked they had a fake thing they called “the early form” where they duped everyone into thinking they were printing parts of the magazine early. Problem was those parts were totally random which makes no sense whatsoever if you know anything at all about printing magazine forms.

The game for me was to figure out the real deadline and on occasion when a photographer I really wanted to work with needed more time, give it to them. I think some of the more stressful points of my career where those days after the fake deadline had passed and the managing editor, editor, creative director and production department were asking me for the film and I had to come up with an excuse everyday and thinking to myself “If this shoot fails, I’m definitely fired.” I certainly don’t think it was good for my health but I couldn’t resist when a photographer I wanted to work with said they couldn’t do it without a few more days to deliver final art.

So, what’s the drop dead date? Well, that depends on who’s asking. Photographers always get a couple extra days.

Annie Leibovitz Inks Massive Deal with Flickr

- - Photographers

April Fools Joke. Since it’s over I thought I’d let you know first.

The NY Times has the details on the reported 25 Million dollar deal that would move her entire collection to Flickr with a Creative Commons License (!).

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I grabbed a couple screen shots but the place is absolutely mobbed with people. I was able to drop a “nice one” on the picture of the queen tho.

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Link to her Flickr page (here).

Newspapers and Bloggers

- - The Future

Newspaper ad revenues take their worst drop in almost 60 years (data here), which leads to a nice off the cliff graphic by Gawker (here) and a “Newspapers are f’ed” post by Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine (here) but hold on there, the Long Tailed, Wired Editor, Christopher Anderson responds with “Surprisingly, the industry is just ten percent off its historic highs (much like the stock market) and is still twice as big as it was twenty years ago,” dramatically pointing out how much money is still left in the system (here).

Meanwhile a story on PBS.org by Mark Glass looks at how Journalists have become bloggers and bloggers are becoming jounalists (here) the story includes former journalist turned full time blogger Erick Schonfeld who writes a post this weekend reflecting on his half year anniversary as a TechCrunch blogger (here) and Brian Stelter a blogger hired fresh out of college by the NY Times who wrote a great piece on (here) poltical news and the youth that included a very futuristic statement by a college student “If the news is that important, it will find me” which was highlighted by The Globe and Mail technology writer *slash* blogger Mathew Ingram (here) which prompts a Mark Cubin blog post (here) that claims we have finally reached the digital equivalent of Timothy OLeary’s “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.”

Flickr Stigma

- - Getting Noticed

I’m not gonna lie. If you sent me an email and said check out my portfolio and the link went to Flickr I wouldn’t even look. It’s the same as the portfolio test. If you don’t have your shit together enough to have a nice printed portfolio you’re not getting the job. It’s not just about making great pictures it’s also about acting like a professional and demonstrating your commitment to taking pictures for a living. That way I know you won’t call me up the day before the shoot and bail because “something” came up or call me from the airport because the rental car company doesn’t take a debit card and you don’t own a credit card–yup, both have happened. I need a sign that you’ve done this before and that you’ve invested money in making it work.

I probably just scared everyone who was on the fence, off sending me photos for the free promo so here’s why in this case Flickr works. Obviously, It’s not your portfolio. We need to get rid of the stigma because Flickr is a great tool for photo editors and photographers to use in a pinch. No joke. Editing photography and transferring to a client remotely is not easy and this is an amazing online solution that works well. I’m billing this as a grass roots movement in finding fresh work so it’s low cost for everyone involved and buyers can appreciate that we found the best solution for the price. Lastly, on Monday, March 31st at 11:59 pm EST the entry deadline is over and I’m going to make the group private which means any photos that make the final cut can only be viewed by members of the group and not the public. The public and the photo editors/art buyers will only see the slide show I put on the blog (and that others put on theirs) and there’s no Flickr logo on that.

OK, hope that helps.

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.

Free Promotion

- - Getting Noticed

I’ve wanted to do this for awhile and my thinking on the future of photography and photo contests and other things I’m cooking up has gotten me inspired to offer everyone the chance to promote your best work for free by submitting a couple images for a slide show. There’s plenty of photo editors and art buyers who are readers and I know they will find it extremely beneficial to view a quick slide show with hundreds of different photographers featuring their best work and I can’t think of any other examples where this exists, so here we go.

There will be a bar for entry and I will edit out any photographs that are a waste of time for potential buyers to look at. I know there are a lot of top shooters who may be wary of submitting their photographs so I’m going to make sure all the work displayed is top notch. You can also remove your images at any time if you don’t think I’ve done a good enough job.

The purpose of this is to connect photographers with buyers for FREE. That’s it. No bullshit. If that doesn’t happen to anyone then the project has failed.

I have a flickr group setup here where you can enter your submission:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/aphotoeditor/

You can only submit 2 photos for consideration, Size: 1024 x768 pixels (1024 can be the horizontal or vertical length), Use your website url as the name of the photograph with a 1 and a 2 after it and then put your url again in the notes so people who want to hire you can find you (it will appear when people click on the photo).

The slide show will be embeddable so anyone can post it on their blog to further the distribution.

Please only submit fresh work. I’ve looked at all of your websites (yes, all of them) and really only want to see new work.

If you really, really, really don’t want to join flickr to submit to the group email them to me.

Deadline for submissions is Monday, March 31st.

National Magazine Awards, Finalists

- - Magazines

The Ellies are one of the top awards to win as a Photo Editor because editors love to have one of those elephant trophies perched on a table around the office (the last place I worked the owner had a rather large herd of elephants that you could see from 6th avenue).

One small problem associated with the awards that magazine owners will cite is that the magazines that do well aren’t necessarily the most profitable–as if that matters (kidding)–or even profitable at all (Atlantic Monthly and New Yorker). Also, if you win one as photo editor the Editor-in-Chief will accept the award for you, which seems odd because their greatest contribution was probably getting out of the way.

Here are the nominees this year:

PHOTOGRAPHY
Gourmet: Amy Koblenzer, photo editor
GQ: Dora Somosi, director of photography
Martha Stewart Living: Heloise Goodman, director of photography and illustration
National Geographic: David Griffin, director of photography; Susan A. Smith, deputy director, photography
New York: Jody Quon, photography director
W: Nadia Vellam, photo editor

PHOTOJOURNALISM
Aperture: (no photo editor listed,) photographs by Mikhael Subotzky.
Mother Jones: Sarah Kehoe, photo director, photographs by Lana Slezic
National Geographic: David Griffin, director of photography; Susan A. Smith, photography deputy director, photographs by John Stanmeyer.
The New Yorker: Elisabeth Biondi, photo director, photographs by Martin Schoeller.
The Virginia Quarterly Review: (no photo editor listed), photographs by Chris Hondros.

PHOTO PORTFOLIO
New York: Jody Quon, photography director; photographs by Rodney Smith.
Newsweek: Simon Barnett, director of photography, photographs by Nigel Parry.
T, The New York Times Style Magazine: Kathy Ryan, photography director, photographs by Fabrizio Coppi and Lucilla Barbieri.
T, The New York Times Style Magazine: Kathy Ryan, photography director, photographs by Raymond Meier.
Vanity Fair: Susan White, photography director, photographs by Annie Leibovitz.

Unconventional Rules for Success

- - Working

Most conventional ideas about success go wrong because they focus on outcomes and results instead of on the processes of living. Outcomes come around from time to time, but life itself — the process of living, acting, thinking, and being — happens all the time.

No outcome is going to make a lousy, miserable process feel worthwhile — especially chasing money, power, or status. If they come to you, that’s fine. But if you hate what you do, no amount of power or money is going to make up for that.

Read the rest at Slow Leadership (here).

I’m off the rest of the week. See you Monday.

A Thought on the Future of Photography

- - The Future

Photographers need more fans.

Photographers spend waaay too much time and money trying to develop a very small and elite group of fans at the top. What needs to change is instead of thinking about having a couple of fans with deep pockets you need to start adding a large number with shallow pockets. These fans are actually just the same consumers you would potentially reach through traditional media except now they can find you without the help of magazines and newspapers. As these people abandon traditional media they’re looking for places to spend the time and money they used to spend at the top. Why not be there waiting?

If you somehow find marketing and selling yourself to average citizens somehow revolting, not to worry, there will always be a group of 500 successful elite photographers who dominate the top of this industry with a handful of deep pocketed fans (top Photo Directors, Art Buyers and Creatives) and if that’s your goal you can continue the long slow climb to the top, but for many people it’s just not possible to make that climb anymore or maybe the mystique of it all has suddenly evaporated.

If that’s the case you need to prepare to go get your fans back.

Christopher Anderson, Editor of Wired gives the following relevant example in his article, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business (here)

Traditionalists wring their hands about the “vaporization of value” and “demonetization” of entire industries. The success of craigslist’s free listings, for instance, has hurt the newspaper classified ad business. But that lost newspaper revenue is certainly not ending up in the craigslist coffers. In 2006, the site earned an estimated $40 million from the few things it charges for. That’s about 12 percent of the $326 million by which classified ad revenue declined that year.

But free is not quite as simple — or as stupid — as it sounds. Just because products are free doesn’t mean that someone, somewhere, isn’t making huge gobs of money. Google is the prime example of this. The monetary benefits of craigslist are enormous as well, but they’re distributed among its tens of thousands of users rather than funneled straight to Craig Newmark Inc.

He’s talking about consumers having more time and money to spend elsewhere because services that used to be complicated and costly became efficient. And, I’m saying consumers will spend some of that extra time and money with their favorite photographers if you give them the opportunity.

It’s not so crazy to think that consumers who used to pay for the New York Times and now read it online for *free* will take some of that saved money and even time and spend it on books by their favorite NYT writers and photographers.

It’s not much of a stretch to think that photo essays and stories that magazines used to commission and then distribute to consumers sandwiched between $140,000 worth of ads will be commissioned by advertisers and distributed through new media channels to reach even more consumers.

Are you making yourself available to these people? I assume all of you have websites loaded with pictures and some of you have blogs where your fans can talk to you so that’s a good start. The other avenues for reaching consumers are prints, books, lectures, clinics, original stock, personal commissions and more local clients. National Geographic seems to have a pretty good handle on the idea that their photographers have fans or maybe the demand was there and they just responded to it by offering many of these products. Either way that’s a good example of how it works.

There’s one last difficult piece to this puzzle. You’ve got to make your photos available online for free. Anything that can be distributed digitally must now be distributed for free to remain competitive. Not for commercial use and not without attribution but fans should be able to distribute your photography for free and view it big on your website without watermarks and other barriers. It’s not like you don’t already do this it’s just that there’s a lot of hand wringing going on about the ability of consumers to scrape your photos off your website. It’s not necessary because they’re the fans you want to sell prints, books, lectures, clinics and personal commissions to. You should encourage them to look at and help you distribute your photography so you can bring in more fans. Don’t forget that some of those people will be Art Buyers and Photo Directors.

Several music industry artists are leading the way with this idea and Nine Inch Nails latest release proves that it works. They released 9 songs from a 36-track album for free, the rest of the tracks cost $5. A double CD version will be available in April along with a $79 deluxe edition and then in May a $300 autographed version. So far they’ve made 1.6 million and the most expensive offering is sold out with a limited run of 2,500 copies.

The audience is now in charge. Turn them into fans.

Kevin Kelly wrote a post about this phenomenon entitled: You only need 1000 true fans (here) which basically says if you’ve got 1000 people willing to give you $100 for some type of original performance then minus the expenses you’ve got a solid way to make a living.

I’m not even taking into account the difficulty advertisers are going to have reaching consumers in the future and how reliant they will become on these professional networks with fans to market their products to. All the camera, software and printing companies will pay to use these fan networks for marketing new products.

There’s about $1.3 trillion in our $13 trillion U.S. economy chasing demand [for content]… From John Sviokla at Harvard Business (here).

Will you be ready to capture some of it?

Fire All The Photographers

- - Working

Usually when a magazine hires a new Photography Director the first thing that happens is all the photographers are fired. There’s no actual firing because the photographers are all freelancers so there’s usually a transition where the previous Photo Editors shoots are cycled through the system and then new shoots are commissioned with entirely different photographers.

It’s not unusual for a few trusted photographers that align with the Photo Editor’s aesthetic to travel from job to job with them. Also, the Creative Director and Editor will have some favorites and depending on the dynamic at the publication those will find their way into the mix. Nothing really unusual here just the life cycle of the photo industry where everyone thinks they have the photographic solutions to whatever maybe ailing a publication at that particular moment in time (newsstand is down, advertising is down, we need a more upscale audience, we need more upscale advertisers, readers don’t send us letters).

A very different more difficult scenario occurs when a magazine gets a new Creative Director or Editor or both and you have to fire all the photographers you’ve established good working relationships with including all your goto’s. The Editor and/or Creative Director will have had to deliver a critique of the magazine to whomever is doing the hiring and I’ll guarantee that somewhere in that critique will be a discussion of the photography and how it can be changed to fix whatever ails the magazine. My advice to Photo Editors in this situation is to fire everyone and start over. You can bring in some of your favorites but only after you fire them first to show your willingness to recast the photographic DNA of your publication.

Of course, these scenarios present excellent opportunities for photographers with a good sense of timing to get themselves inserted into the regular rotation.

Magazines Behaving Badly

- - Working

Awhile back I worked at a magazine that paid people really, really late. It wasn’t always that way but after the dot com crash cash flow became a problem (along with the bigger problem of advertising declines) and the genius CFO decided that rather than take out the usual line of credit to cover the times when the printing bill and payroll drained the account to the point where there was nothing left to pay contributors he decided to wait until late paying advertising accounts finally delivered a check. This of course saves the company whatever percentage of interest the line of credit would have charged for a cash withdraw and turned contributors into an interest free bank.

The reason this all happened in the first place is because advertising clients decided to stop paying their bills on time. Now that advertisers were in charge, they could set the terms of the deal and magazines had to just let it slide rather than penalize them like they had done in the past. So, really it’s the advertisers who are screwing everyone in this deal not just magazines screwing contributors.

So, every couple of months Getty and Corbis would turn off our account which we’d usually discover as we were trying to put the issue to bed causing much pandemonium in the production department and begging by photo editors to which they’d say “nope, you can’t have any images until we receive a check” and we’d have to FedEx a check to their accounting department. And, sometimes photographers would hold final prints hostage because we hadn’t paid them for the last job we did together, so we’d have to FedEx a check out before we could get the prints. I ended up spending more time then I should have listing to photographers yell and scream about payment and carrying our expenses on credit card and I tried to not take it personally.

One day I got a call from Mary Ellen Mark who’d recently shot a feature story for us. I was so proud that I’d landed her to shoot for the magazine and was so intimidated when I had spoken with her about the assignment and then when she’d called me from location to discuss the images she was getting and in general giving me an update on what was happening. Well, M.E.M. was not calling to tell me what a fabulous Photo Editor I was. No, she was calling to rip me a new one from head to toe because it had been over 90 days since she’d turned in a bill and had yet to receive payment and Christmas had passed and all those expenses we’d owed her would have come in handy. So, I sat there on the other end of the phone for a good 15 minutes possibly half an hour as Mary Ellen Mark shredded me into tiny little pieces and then stomped up and down on the pile of pieces and then loaded them into a cannon with a couple pounds of gunpowder and shot them out so they fell from the sky like confetti.

Some things are just out of your control but if you’re a part of a system that behaves badly you’ve got to take your lumps and go back to work and try to make it better. Just because you can get away with behaving badly doesn’t mean you should. Karma can be a bitch. Ask the record industry execs.

Pay to Play

- - Getting Noticed

A reader asked me about those cutting edge fashion magazines that require photographers to cover their own expenses and if I really think the magazine is too poor to pay for it themselves. I’m going to need a little help from my readers who’ve worked at one of these magazines (on the inside) to get the straight dope, but I’d say like many things in this industry, it’s the way it’s always been done so people just keep doing it that way. These magazines serve as sourcebooks for the fashion industry so I can see why the competition is so cutthroat and why photographers would shoot something for a loss, the potential upside of landing a major fashion advertising campaign can make you loco. It’s not unlike taking out an ad or spending money on marketing, so as long as it’s an effective way to reach potential clients then it’s worth it.

I also wanted to address the question of photography contests which, I’ll just say right now to make it perfectly clear, all photo editors and art buyers use contests to find photographers and in many ways they’re better then the paid advertising in sourcebooks because you can’t just buy an ad to get in, you have to be selected, so that means the junk is usually weeded out. Plus, I always made the magazine pay for the books so it’s no skin off my back to have one hanging around to flip through once and awhile.

What really pisses people off is they’re not fair. Well, they’re not supposed to be fair. They’re supposed to reflect the taste of whomever is on the judging panel and the point of view of the publication that created it. Also, I think the entry fees bother people (PDN 30 doesn’t have an entry fee FYI) because sometimes it seems like a dummy tax where first time entrants with no hope of getting selected make these things profitable or maybe photographers who don’t fit with the judges aesthetic submit every year but never get selected. You simply can’t do this without an entry fee otherwise everyone and their uncle would submit and it also keeps the dart throwing to a minimum forcing photographers to make a decision and choose their best work and not make the judges do the edit for them.

I use American Photography (here) and SPD (here) to get inspired and see who’s hot and when we’re stuck we usually thumb through them to discover a new approach or a new way of thinking about the assignment we have to make “hey, we don’t have to send Chris Buck to Kansas for several weeks to dig up all the characters in this story, instead let’s get this guy here in American Photography to build a miniature set and make all these funny scenes the writer describes.”

Lastly, I use PDN to find people I’ve never heard of, because well, they always seem to publish people I’ve never heard of. Sure, I think they’re biased in some areas but it’s a magazine and like any good magazine it’s a reflection of the people working there not a reflection of what they think other people will think about them. They also have real pressures from Publishers, Circulation Directors and CFO’s to keep everything running smoothly. I think you will find that publishing 30 new photographers every year that appeal to both mainstream buyers and all your photographer readers is more difficult than it sounds.


Update from inside a small cutting edge fashion magazine:

“While we do generally try to offer some money to our photographers to cover expenses, we have an incredibly minuscule operating budget; I’ve turned in issues where our total photography budget turns out to be less than the usual photo budget per page of larger magazines. This is, in fact, a matter of necessity; we just don’t have that much money to work with so there’s not much room to accommodate huge production costs. Usually our photographers do end up shooting at some cost to themselves, even though we cover film, assistants, food, and the rest as best as we can.

I’d say that the reasons for doing so are two-fold: First, as you said, it’s like taking an ad out for yourself. We’ve taken a chance on young photographers who have then gone on to win top awards for us. They’ve ended up shooting at much larger magazines and for huge advertising
clients. But that doesn’t explain the fact the we continue to draw on those same photographers who are making it and don’t “need” us anymore.

There’s a second aspect, at least to our magazine, that usually accounts for the willingness of photographers to shoot for free. What I generally offer to photographers that I trust is an opportunity to work out somewhat off the wall, non-traditional ideas that might not fit into a more mainstream editorial project. We can serve as a playground for great concepts, adventurous fashion and still-life, and cutting-edge photography. While the downside is that some of the chances I’ve taken end up tanking, the potential rewards–non-monetary as they might be–are pretty great. In other words: no gray background fashion stories.”