Posts by: A Photo Editor

Cheap Photography Business Model Fails

- - Blog News

Lucky Oliver shuts down operation:

“We spent the last year looking for the funds to grow LuckyOliver because, without the addition of significant capital, the return on investment for LuckyOliver and its contributors would not be satisfactory. After reviewing the options, the investment team decided that it was in the best interest of all stakeholders to shut the company down.”

John Harrington comments:

“I am not convinced that there will always be a robust microstock industry. How many redundant servers can continue to run with a significant staff to take orders and collect $1 here, and $4 there? I expect that iStockphoto will, in some shadow of it’s former self, remain. Jupiter will likely collapse under it’s own weight – and the fickle demands of shareholders who no longer see this industry as meeting the growth that they want for their own return on investment. Further, the novelty will wear off for many of the amateurs, and the demands for releases and indemnifications of Corporate America by judgement proof individuals, followed by the lawsuits that inevitably will quash this field, will just poison the well.”

Read all about it at the Photo Business Forum (here).

Buying Photos from Strangers

- - Working

When I started working as a photo editor I quickly learned a few lessons up front about buying photographs from amateurs: always ask how they planned to ship the images (we weren’t supposed to give out our UPS account to the non professionals) and determine beforehand what format the photographs might be in when they arrived.

I of course learned these lessons the hard way the first time I was handed the task of locating those awesome photographs the subject of a story always seems to claim his friend/mom/uncle/some dude took that will solve all the usual woes associated with trying to run stories about places no professional photographer has bothered to visit. A couple days would go by and I would call back to find the whereabouts of the images only to discover they’d been dropped in the mail with a stamp (duh, that’s how normal people send shit… not FedEx first overnight) and then a week later when the package finally arrives I discover the cruddy 3×5 prints (or worse disk film) and have to start the whole process over again only this time on a serious deadline.

The value in these otherwise unremarkable photographs was not the elusive subject captured by the writer’s uncle poorly depicted on 1-hour prints but rather the difficulty in obtaining the images and ergo exclusivity our publication would enjoy printing them (surely nobody else would go through all this trouble). In fact that exclusive look at things was so important, magazines with real budgets like People would fly a photo editor to the errant uncles house to gather the 1-hour photos themselves.

This has all changed of course, with the advent of digital cameras and the internet these once obscure, hard to obtain amateur photographs are everywhere and their value has evaporated overnight.

News organizations are picking up on this “citizen journalist” phenomenon as if we haven’t always used citizen journalists to fill in the holes and so I find it strange that they think they’ve discovered the holy grail of cost cutting in photography, because everyone seems to be missing one enormous piece to this puzzle. The value of these images to consumers is also zero.

It’s like walking into the furniture store and finding a junk-ass chair made out of two by fours and ten penny nails. “You’re trying to sell me a chair I could have built… drunk?”

Taking it one step further according to Thoughts of a Bohemian a website called Daylife (here) will scan the text on your web page and deliver relevant news images from a tightly edited pool of wire photography. He goes on to say “As newspapers and magazine are suffering more layouts as ad spending is weakening, most of the photo related professional are turning to the internet. However, because of its built in automation, it just seems that some of the jobs will not be recycle but ultimately replaced by machines. We will still need great pictures, thus talented photographers. Not so sure about needing photo editors.”

I totally agree that using wire photos or even citizen journalist images to “decorate” your story should be accomplished by machines because you’re not really adding anything of value to the overall package.

To all those content re-packagers who think any of this sounds like a good idea: good luck finding readers. Maybe machines will read that crap.

Superfast Free Promo Thumbnail Viewing

- - Photographers

Check out the new and improved thumbnail view for the free promo at ILikeThesePhotos.com. This will give buyers a great opportunity to view 297 photographers in 10 seconds flat. Don’t think you’ll find that anywhere on the web. Special wOOt to my new business partner Erik Dungan for coding that up. It took him all of 10 minutes to do it so look for cool stuff coming down the pike in the near future. I’ll be taking this show on the road (email) in the next day or so.

Writers vs. Editors

- - Blog News

“Writers are sensitive souls–generally intelligent and hardworking but easily bruised. Treat them right, though, and you will be rewarded. Writers shape words into luminous sentences and the sentences into exquisitely crafted paragraphs. They weave the paragraphs together into a near perfect article, essay or review. Then their writing–their baby–is ripped untimely from their computers (well, maybe only a couple of weeks overdue) and turned over to editors. These are idiots, most of them, and brutes, with tin ears, the aesthetic sensitivity of insects, deeply held erroneous beliefs about your topic and a maddening conviction that any article, no matter how eloquent or profound or already cut to the bone, can be improved by losing an additional 100 words.”

“Writers, they say, are whiny, self-indulgent creatures who spend too much time alone. They are egotistical, paranoid and almost always seriously dehydrated. Above all, they are spectacular ingrates. Editors save their asses, and writers do nothing but bitch about it. ‘If anyone saw the original manuscript from …’ (and you can insert the name of your favorite Pulitzer Prize-winning writer here) ‘… that guy wouldn’t get hired to clean the toilets at the Stockholm Public Library. Say, the Pulitzer is the one they give away in Scandinavia, isn’t it? I better remember to change that in a piece we’re running. The stupid writer says it’s the Nobel. What would they do without us?'”

“On the Internet, they don’t have editors. Or they don’t have many. Writers rule, and a thought can go straight from your head onto the Net. That used to sound hellish. Now it sounds like heaven.”

Michael Kinsley at Time Magazine (here).

Check Out These 297 Talented Photographers

- - Photographers

Click here to see a full screen version: ILikeThesePhotos

UPDATE: Follow this link to see the entire group as medium thumbnails APE Flickr

Click on the photograph to see the name and website of the photographer. Adjust the speed of the slideshow (I like 1.2 seconds) or use the manual controls at the top.

Attention art buyers and photo editors
, this is a free promo that’s meant to supplement all the other ways you find photographers to hire. I created it see if there might be an easier more efficient way to quickly look at 200-300 photographers. Compared to the weekly promo pile this works pretty good. Plus, if you’re like me, you remember a picture and not necessarily who took it so you can come back to this slideshow and find the name and website of the photographer whenever you like. This project only works if you find work you like and hire the photographer. I can create more of these but it’s a complete waste of time if it doesn’t connect buyers with photographers. That’s the only reason I did this. If you have suggestions on how to make the next one more useful for you please let me know.

Photographers, I want to thank everyone who participated, it was a privilege to look at all your work. If you disagree with the selection I’ve made not to worry, we’re going to do this again with different editors in a couple months. The flickr group was such a pain in the ass because it didn’t behave anything like the personal area but now that everything is hosted on my account it seems to work fine. Let me know if you need me to do something with your photo. I ended up editing it down to 1 photo per photographer to make the viewing faster.

Anyone who has a blog and feels like spreading the word you can use this embed code or link to the full page version at http://www.ilikethesephotos.com You can change the size of the embeded version by changing the width and height (keep it square).

Amy Arbus’ new book- The Fourth Wall

- - Blog News

“Of course people would say ‘you’re not as good as your mother’ and I just thought that was pretty unfair,” Arbus recalls.

“The bottom line is that nobody is as good as my mother,” she says with a laugh that seems half levity and half melancholy.

At the age of 53, she feels she has at last found her place. “This work to me is really mine, finally. I feel like it took me a long time to find my voice and I finally did.”

Amy Arbus, via AFP (here).

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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CBS Looks To Outsource News

- - Blog News

“CBS, the home of the most celebrated news division in broadcasting, has been in discussions with Time Warner about a deal to outsource some of its news-gathering operations to CNN, two executives briefed on the matter said Monday.”

Read about it (here), NYTimes.com.

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.

Photography Winners of the 92nd annual Pulitzer Prizes

- - Blog News

BREAKING NEWS PHOTOGRAPHY — Reuters’ Adrees Latif for his photograph of a Japanese videographer, sprawled on the pavement, fatally wounded during a demonstration in Myanmar. See it (here), Reuters.

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY — The Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor’s Preston Gannaway for her chronicle of a family coping with a parent’s terminal illness. See it (here), via PDN.

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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Sports Illustrated for Free

- - Blog News

Sports Illustrated releases 54 years of writing, photography and video in a searchable online database for free (here). I’m actually surprised by this move. Most magazines possessing that kind of archive and audience usually sell a set of DVD’s with the complete digital archive for a huge profit (i.e. National Geographic, New Yorker, Rolling Stone).

I have my suspicions that there were major copyright issues (in offering a complete archive) so instead of trying to clear that hurdle they went online, with everything they have rights to, in an attempt to catch up with ESPN’s online presence.

Either way it’s great for consumers.

Adobe Revises TOS for Photoshop Express

- - Blog News

In response to consumer complaints (I sent an email to the publicist) Adobe has revised their Terms of Service for their free online photo editing program (here).

“Adobe’s Rights – Adobe has retained only those limited rights that allow us to operate the service and to enable you to do all the things the service offers. If you decide to terminate your Photoshop Express account, Adobe’s rights also will be terminated. We don’t claim ownership of your content and won’t sell your images.
Shared Content – We clearly state the rights you’re granting other users when you choose to publicly share Your Content.”

Via, John Nack (here).

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.