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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Comments

"I wonder if Steve Jobs can reverse this trend with his new gadget today?"


Are you ready to start shooting video?

I fail to see how a tablet-pc could possibly 'reverse this trend'. It's not that revolutionary now, is it?

When you think about it who's to blame here for Robert Lam's $31.50 payout; Time, the stock industry or Robert Lam for giving it away? I think Mr. Lam got what he bargained for. We'll all stop bleeding so profusely when we lower the knives from our throats.

The bean-counters had finally beaten the creatives into submission. Sure, free content on the internet and the economy take a lot of the blame, but really you have to think this "victory" by the business side has to take a lot of the blame for the poor state of magazine publishing today.

It's funny that word "blame". That's a loser's word. That's a word that old people levy against the young turks.

Here's another way to think about it. The "free content on the internet" has enabled the Wikipedia project, probably one of mankinds most awe-inspiring collaborations, bringing the evolving state of knowledge to the entire world in every imaginable language. The only cost, the only barrier-to-entry, is access to the internet, and though it is a formidable one, it's one that's constantly lowering.

Yes, it was nice, that time in the past when Time magazine would pay a photographer $4000 for a cover photo, but that time is over. Get over it. There was also a time in the world when I subscribed to magazines. Now I read blogs, like this one. Things change. That's what makes life interesting.

Mike - I should have read this before commenting on the previous post, and it tangentially deals with what I was getting at. At some point, Time decided that the costs weren't worth the returns.

Saying that "...the magazine publicly gave up on creating great, original content for its readers" might be a stretch given that you're only talking about the cover. But you're right if the same thing is going on with the articles and features.

I don't follow Time closely enough (or at all really) to know if that's true, but I do wonder if there's something else going on. Have magazine sales, in addition to being smaller altogether, also shifted to mostly subscriptions? Is how the magazine looks and portrays itself in a store or news stand not as important? I don't know, but all this has made me curious. I'd think those things were the main driver for wanting unique and expensive cover images in the first place (and the embarrassment that went along with accidentally having the same image).

Kenneth: I understand the anger and frustration that positively oozed down my computer screen as I read your piece. You've devoted over two decades toward pursuing a career in a craft in which you've obviously become well-skilled. You now see as becoming devalued in the general marketplace. Your angst is very understandable.

But I believe that your closing remark was a bit unfair:
"The bean-counters had finally beaten the creatives into submission."

While this may seem to be the case from your position the story is much larger. I am not an accountant but I can assure you that accountants had about as much to do with the devaluation of your craft as a surgeon has to do with creating a tumor that he's charged with excising from a patient. You know very well that the entire paper-based news and periodicals world is shriveling toward the brink of extinction, particularly where news is the stock in trade. No subscribers = no advertisers = no revenue. Publishers are desperate. The notion that a gadget (i.e. an iPad) or any new electronic distribution medium will save the valuation of photojournalism is delusional. They may help to prolong the livelihood of some magazines and newspapers but photos are not going to be the general draw (except for celebrity gossip garbage...which will continue to do well in Western societies where cultural and educational standards are shrinking even faster than circulation stats).

I'm sorry but it's over forever.

Go ahead and take a swipe at the "bean-counters". Here's what they will tell you. The marginal cost of producing your "art" has fallen to basically zero. Photons and bits are free once you've bought the bit recorder. People who previously had creative talent, but neither time nor money can now produce "art", as the $150 Time cover indicates. I would have thought that "artists" would celebrate this democratization of "arts" over dirty bean-counting. Reading your post closely it seems It's not the bean counters you resent, it's that you don't get to count the beans as yours. (hey you're not the only one who can engage in snippy class warfare) ;)

Editor's Note: And by the way, if you have never read Dirck Halstead's "The Monica Lesson," you really should—it's one of the quintessential essays of the digital transition, an essay I am certain will become part of the history of photography. —MJ

That essay is what really firmed my belief that keeping copies of your work is valuable even if they aren't immediately useful. I know that many people advocate deleting everything but the best of your work, but you never know what will come up.

That's why this was such a big deal. The bean-counters had finally beaten the creatives into submission. Sure, free content on the internet and the economy take a lot of the blame, but really you have to think this "victory" by the business side has to take a lot of the blame for the poor state of magazine publishing today.

I don't see why this is that big of a deal. If they can get the point of the story across with a $129 stock picture, why not? Do they really need to hire a photographer to take an original picture when the exact same thing already exists? Time isn't a photography showcase magazine, it's weekly digest of top news stories. They have some good coverage, but I never read it for the photography. It's not their responsibility to keep photographers in business.

Mike and Kenneth - My last post (if it doesn't get thwacked) should have been addressed to both of you; Mike for the previous comment reference, and Kenneth for the reference to the post above. I didn't read the byline when I wrote it. My apologies.

Thanks to the chain of links from this post, I wound up reading about the work that Anne Wilkes Tucker is doing to focus the Houston Modern's photo collection on the new ways in which photography impacts all of us. Go to Ken Jarecke's blog and read down a ways. It fills out the "collections" ideas that Mike was ruminating about in some interesting directions.

scott

What? You think if Ford found a way to save $4000 on making a car they shouldn't do it ?

Time magasine is a business not a charity.

I wonder what their current circulation is? How much on average is the total cost for all images printed per issue? Divided by the number of issues sold how much does the total photographic cost amount to per issue? A few dimes no doubt.



"The Revenge of the Bean Counters"

The revenge of progress. It is the democratization of art, of everything. Like this blog.

Once that dSLR and memory card has been bought, electrons are free. It costs zero to push that shutter button.

Film cameras are like a mortgage, with payments for life.

Grab your camera, and photograph a wedding or a commitment ceremony.

"Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Are magazines and newspapers disappearing like snow on a hot griddle because subscribers and advertisers are for mysterious reasons spending their dollars elsewhere? Or have readers and advertisers left in disgust because (after corporate consolidation saddled publications with colossal debt and absurd profit expectations) magazines and newspapers have so fatally degraded the quality of their product by squeezing every last nickel out of it?"

Very interesting question Geoff. I can only speak for myself, but, where Time is concerned, I remember that I was 11 when I first read an issue of Time cover to cover--I was very proud of myself; it seemed very adult and difficult and serious. I even remember where I was (in an upstairs bedroom of my Uncle Cam's cottage high on a bluff above Lake Michigan). I quickly made a habit of it.

I stopped reading Time cover to cover every week in college, when both Time and Newsweek did parallel articles about Dartmouth's Winter Carnival. The Time article was much worse, and included a quote from a friend of mine who thought the Time interviewer who called him was someone playing a practical joke on him. He fed the reporter silly, inaccurate quotes and they showed up in print in the magazine. Shook my faith in the quality of Time's journalism.

Of course I still read it from time to time (no pun intended). In recent years it has gotten so flighty and poppy and trivial that I find it almost unbearable. Even the longest, most serious articles often don't seem to have enough meat, and much of the content is so superficial it just doesn't repay the minimal effort it takes to read it. It's so anxious about being trendy and hip and smart it's excruciating.

I suppose it's possible that the changes have not been to the magazine so much as to me--surely what seemed adult and serious to me at age 11 and what seems like pandering to the LCD now might be attributable to a change in perspective with age. What would be interesting would be to go find an issue from c. 1968 (when I was 11) and read it now, and evaluate it next to a recent issue.

Mike

P.S. Just bought a 1968 issue of Time from Ebay. Stay tuned....

The Internet is acting as a great leveler. The news which used to be delivered through news are now sent directly from our friend on the other side. No more middleman. This is true for a lot of jobs out there. And last years economic bubble burst reveal just that.

Mike-
At least in part I blame the depressing success of "People" magazine for the grotesque vapidity of today's Time or Newsweek. As soon as the big publishing concerns saw how profitable a celebrity freak-show could be, every 'newsmagazine' began trending in that direction. I agree completely that Time Magazine circa 1970s was a lot more serious and had considerably meatier content than today's slender rag—not that it was perfect.

The abysmal quality of the feature writing in Time or Newsweek is a separate issue. Most of the feature articles, including cover stories, are just awful from any perspective— stylistic, grammatic, or (the absense of) logical rigor. You can have excellent writing even if you feel compelled to descend to tabloid level subject material; just check out something like Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair for some flashes of wit and brilliance. Apparently that's no longer possible at our "serious tabloids".

I canceled my long-running subscription to Time about 5 years ago, not because of competition from the web, but because Time was too much like the web. Lots of articles about personalities, TV shows, and pop-culture trends I didn't care about, but many fewer in-depth articles. (Part of a general dumbing-down, I think.) Now I read the Economist in print, and use the web for trash (which I enjoy), tightly focused blogs like TOP, and up-to-the-minute news.

--Marc

"Even the longest, most serious articles often don't seem to have enough meat..."
I think that's something that is driven by the consumers, not really by the magazine. The "attention span" (not sure if that's really the right term) of readers, like movie goers and music listeners, is probably much lower now than it used to be. Song lengths get shorter (I know, this is also heavily driven by radio play needs), movie are cut at a more frenetic pace, and magazine articles aren't as "meaty". Seems inter-related to me. It's what sells.

Mike,
While you're checking out 40+ year-old magazines, maybe you could also check out a Look magazine from the late fifties or early sixties (when I was an 11 year-old). I recall Look magazine as having an especially fine layout that presented photographs beautifully. I'm not a graphics professional, but my sense is that magazine layout in general really started getting cluttered and junky soon after graphic arts software came along. Though there are a few notable exceptions, I think the trend towards crappy layout has been going on for at least 20 years. I'm I deluding myself, or has the visual aspect of magazines really gone downhill?

We've structured business so that almost the only thing that affects people's job performance evaluations is short-term (this quarter) results. Since reactions to changes in content lag about that far, it's a death spiral -- by cutting costs, you can look good for one quarter, then the piper comes by to collect his fee. There needs to be some way for a company (particularly a publicly-held company) to justify thinking further ahead than that.

A new gadget designed for the landfill in 4 years will do little do change this.

Justin's point about the internet is somewhat reasonable except if you look really hard at Wikipedia (and most of the group think places on the web, yelp, etc.) - you would never use it for real research - and barely would I use it for restaurant recommendations. At best it's a good place to stay on top of parts of pop culture.

The internet as a great leveler - I was hoping that it wasn't going to find that level at the bottom - could it be fairer to say that the internet is a great homogenizer? or a great "good-enougher"?

The real loss is that good people who have done good work are losing the ability to work. The internet is nothing without content (or we wouldn't be here) and ironically it is the content that appears to have the least amount of value.

At the end of the day, the artists (writers, photographers, etc) need to be paid. Their hard work and good ideas have become devalued by a good enough mindset.

I don't find any of this terribly revolutionary.

matthew,
Don't make it sound so bad. I was a writer for print for years. Which would you rather get from me--a thousand words every month, with no chance to respond, for the price of a subscription; or a thousand words every couple of days, for free, plus comments and answers to comments? And I earn a lot more money now, too. Doesn't seem like a step backwards from where I sit--for me, or even for you.

Mike

Posted by: Karl Knize: "We'll all stop bleeding so profusely when we lower the knives from our throats."

Thank you for such a wonderfully vivid expression, Karl! My memory permitting (not a given any more) I'm placing that phrase in my toolbox of short, useful language instruments.

I must say, Mike, I'm curious what your findings will be.

Greed: more for me, if it means less for you, too bad. And since I am at the top of the 'food chain' I don't care whether or not your life as a creative sucks. You are so in need to continue being creative that you will continue to do it at whatever price I dictate. If you don't like it, go somewhere else. The audience for my product is so stupid they can't tell the difference anyway. So why should I care, as long as my life is better. Nah, nah .....

Quote

"Once that dSLR and memory card has been bought, electrons are free. It costs zero to push that shutter button."


When digital first took hold many clients expected to pay the same day rate for commissions and yet zero costs to prepare the images for repro. Photographer's are partly to blame for this through a lack of educating the client about the processes involved and time required to prepare the images akin to the traditional services they already paying for.

Film was already 'Photoshopped'. The client paid for the film, processing costs, delivery, and had the burden of organising and paying 'other's' for the scanning, retouching and pre-press skills - I have never heard a client expecting these professional services for zero cost!

RAW digital processing and pre-press services require a brutal amount of time to complete, even for the most skilled and slickest of operators.

I would hope those photographer's who are expected to perform these chores, as a matter of course, are passing on costs for their time, and equipment running costs?

For those photographers who are commissioned on the basis of only having to hand over virgin RAW files, lucky you.


When creative/intellectual property is devalued it encourages parttime, noncommittal creativity. If photography is devalued to the extent that an image for a magazine cover is only worth 30 bucks to the photographer, then it is obvious that the photographer cannot make a living from those figures. So he/she has another job, and just does the photography on the side, for grocery money or like Harlan Ellison quoted in another video clip, "the income of admiration".

Problem with that scenario is that a creative person cannot 'commit' his life to working creatively, and thus the potential for doing 'great' work in the future is rather dim.

So we have a jillion parttimers and amateurs making small change, creating minimal work because they have a day job and can't focus or grow. And the media along with society, just settles for 'good-enough' and second-rate.

Everyone salutes when they hear about spending more money on education for kids, but when that talent can't grow to great things because creative pursuits have been devalued...then we are not encouraging the highest achievements.

That Was a quality standard, pride in doing the very best...in a magazine's ethics, and everything/everyone that fed it. No longer is that a hallowed ideal. We should not settle for low quality, and thus encourage high value pursuits. I don't see that happening.

In some of the posts I have read here, many who flaunt having given into that lower standard, make me feel as though there is a social low self-esteem...like people have been convinced they just are not worthy of doing great well-rewarded work. So the lowest denominator prospers, and mediocrity flourishes.

Great work will still be around, but the dedicated maker will have a tough time surviving to the point where he/she can make it, and it may not be rewarded as it should.

There were no comment about how the photog received $31.50 while the "agency" got the rest? just saying!!

This is funny in a sad-but-true way - rather rude, too - NSFW/if easily offended:

client relationships in the print media
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu1C6PowUjY

Mike: there are a number of good things about the new medium - I probably came on a bit too hard but, the point is that creatives deserve to be respected and paid reasonably for the work they do.

For what it's worth, I'd pay for this blog. Happily.

At the same time I don't want to continually lower my expectations little by little because it good enough...

I'm surprised by the somewhat gloating tone of some of the responses that seem to be applauding the devaluation of photography or the so-called internet's leveling of the "playing field". From what I can see, most microstock is overpriced and the internet's current level rests firmly on the bottom of the talent pool (as some one else mentioned).

It's funny really, I don't know if it's a lack of self-confidence or what, but photographers always undercharged for their work, but to think that being cheap is good or even wise, that has to be a new thing. Right?

For everyone out there priced at $125, there are a thousand others at $105, and on and on it goes. You're in a race where everyone loses. The photographer, the publisher, the advertiser and eventually the consumer.

Another funny thing, on the microstock site that made the sale to TIME, (this might have been for the baby photo, not the jar of coins photo) the photographers on the forum were at first very happy, offering congratulations and whatnot, then someone mention the fact that the picture wasn't credited to the guy who made the image. Someone suggested the photographer contact the magazine and ask why he wasn't credited... immediately the other photographers on the forum chastised the poster who suggested contacting the magazine, saying things like, don't rock the boat, this is a big opportunity for the microstock community, don't piss them off, they'll never use us again, ect. ect.

Funny, right?

Strange, not so long ago this forum was overflowing with gushing compliments (rightly deserved) about the wonderful work of photographer Peter Turnley.

What would you guess the expenses were for NEWSWEEK to allow Peter to make those images? Fifteen or so years... major hotspots, everywhere on the globe... I'd guess at least five million dollars (more or less).

The cost of "pushing the shutter" might indeed be zero, but you still need a shutter to push and a place to stand. That, and the ability to know WHERE to stand (and when to push the shutter) is the value that great photojournalists bring to the magazines.

I'm sure Ford Motors would like to save $4000 on each car they produce, unless of course that resulted in turning the car into a Yugo. Hmmm, now what were their profits last quarter?

Yes, it's very expensive, but great photojournalism has always been a luxury item. The oldest example I can think of would be the thousands of people who paid a nickel a piece to view Mathew Brady's images at his NYC studio of the Civil War.

Rest assured, I have a very good understanding of the law of supply and demand, perhaps a better understanding than the publishing executives that decided they could stay in business without paying for editorial content of the highest quality.

Perhaps something else to consider is how consumers place value on products. Free isn't always a good thing.

Far from being bitter or in some type of mourning for a bygone era, I've never been more excited about the possibilities and new markets that are now opening for photographers, albeit photographers working at the highest possible level.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the practice of photojournalism today. There is a problem with the delivery system, but that's getting fixed.

The real question, and I think some others here eluded to this, is whether or not viewers today have the attention span, or even the desire needed to really appreciate great photography. I don't know. I don't now about the future of the mass market for photojournalism either. Perhaps for most, good enough is indeed good enough (although not good enough to pay for).

Thankfully, the best photographers, the ones like Hank Carter, will survive (along with their work) quite nicely by serving the market that would rather not drive a Yugo.

@Kenneth: You asked -- Ford's profits were pretty good, $868M in Q4 '09 versus a loss of $5.9B in Q4 '08. Profit for 2009 was $2.7B versus a loss of $14.8B in 2008.

Martin,

Thanks for that. I do know what Ford's profits were. It was a big story a few days ago. I apologize because I type as if I was having a conversation, and sometimes it just doesn't make sense.

I was attempting to use Ford and Yugo as an analogy for the publishing industry.

In theory, Ford could cut the expense of making each of their vehicles by $4000, which would basically give the consumer a Yugo.

Yogo is out of business, whereas Ford is turning a profit.

As a consumer, you can buy a car (and cover all the costs that go with it) , or you can ride a bus.

Either way you'll get where you're going (more or less).

Magazine publishers have decided to cut their costs and (for the most part) only offer consumers the Yugo or bus option.

The problem is consumers can ride the internet bus for free. So there's not much motivation for them to spend the extra money on a Yugo.

Consumers want what they want. If they have both the desire and means for an F150 or a Prius, they're going to get it.

Now, do consumers have the desire for great photojournalism?

If so, is there enough consumers with that desire to spread the high cost of producing great photojournalism out among them?

That's what I was getting at in a round-about way.

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