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.