Magnum’s Turnaround Business Plan

- - The Future has a little more depth on the sale of the Magnum print archive worth an estimated $100 million to Michael Dell’s MSD Capital. A couple bits from Magnum’s managing director Mark Lubell reveal that he “developed a three-year ‘turnaround business plan’ to move the co-op away from the revenue streams it had traditionally relied on. And that, “Magnum’s 51 members and 13 estates voted for the plan unanimously.” (story here)

Although he declined to go in to detail about how the company plans to use the proceeds from the sale of its archive, Lubell says that some money will go toward a Web initiative that will give photographers a platform to distribute content. Funds will also be devoted to helping photographers reach field destinations for stories and see them through long-term — the kind of journalism that was once Magnum’s bread and butter. For instance, photographers will be sent to Haiti over the next 12 to 18 months to document the nation’s effort to rebuild. After the initial tragedy subsides, “everyone leaves,” Lubell says, and because the aftermath isn’t headline news, coverage of continuing crises typically aren’t “funded in traditional media circles.”

I’d heard rumors in the past that the members fully understood that if Magnum were to have a future they would have to forge it without the help of magazines and newspapers. It looks like we’re about to watch that plan unfold.

It’s interesting to contemplate how in-depth coverage came to be packaged with junk and now that people can get their junk without their depth the numbers don’t seem to support that kind of thing anymore. I like the idea that when people say stories need to be shorter Magnum could do the opposite and make them longer than ever before. That’s the kind of thinking that will lead to a solution at some point. Some of my favorite moments working at a magazine have been getting shoots back from photojournalists. No one can tell a story, capture defining moment, thrive under duress and deliver the goods like they do. I can’t imagine a world without them.


There Are 19 Comments On This Article.

  1. I cannot agree more with your last two sentences. More Magnum in Motion – More new media.. bring it

  2. Alec Soth

    Thanks Rob. While this is obviously a terrifying time for photographers (and photo editors), it is also tremendously exciting. Glad you can see a glimmer of hope too…

  3. ¨After the initial tragedy subsides, “everyone leaves,” Lubell says, and because the aftermath isn’t headline news, coverage of continuing crises typically aren’t “funded in traditional media circles.”

    absolutely right…

    more power to them.. looking forward to see where it all goes..

  4. Thanks Rob for posting this, I hope your excitement and support is picked up elsewhere by those of us who really care about this type of long form photojournalism
    I have heard a few details about some of the things they are working on and it sounds like a solid plan as well as a progressive step forward as to how this type of work will funded and disseminated in the future.
    Looking forward to it as well, this is the type of work that made me want to be a photographer in the first place.


  5. $100 million for 200,000 prints, and Magnum still retains the rights? Seems like a good deal for everyone who wanted to cash out. But I’m curious how much of the proceeds went to the estates of the artists, and how much went to Magnum for whatever they have planned. Either way, it makes sense for them to focus on what they do best, instead of print sales. Looking forward to what comes next.

  6. Using the old to fund the new. Sounds like a sound approach to me. I think plowing profits back into R&D, rather than pretending the world shouldn’t change, is how it’s supposed to work. Maybe Magnum’s bold and exciting move will inspire others to get going forward too…

  7. What impresses me most about Magnum’s effort is that it is a photographers’ co-op that is taking the initiative. It is a real example of photographers fending for themselves through good business and management. We need more of that, and co-ops are the way to get to that point. I have been saying that for over a decade. Maybe now, by example, the power of a co-op will be demonstrated conclusively.

    In the early 70s,after working my way up the ladder, I began to get assignments from magazines while they still ran photo stories and paid to get good ones. By ’75 those days were all but gone, and photojournalism started on it slide downward ending up where it is today. However, I have always felt that good photojournalism has made a great contribution to society over many decades, and I feel that a good thing like will always find a way back. Technology tortured the profession for the past decade, and now I think it is finally about to resuscitate it.

    I really hope so.

  8. Maybe I missed something, but where is the new business plan/model/revenue streams idea here? Sounds like they plan to spend a lot of money to finance trips, but……

    • @grant, I think the original article hints at the approach, which is clearly a web-based licensing scenario and it states there is a 3 year business plan, which they are obviously not going to release the details of. As for the revenue stream, based upon the article, I think it intended to flow from sales of more in depth content because the Web is the perfect medium to publish stories and essays from a cost and worldwide circulation perspective. My guess is that the plan has an ad revenue aspect in addition to a licensing aspect. I think that the advent of powerful tablet computing is going to create opportunities for publishing exactly what Magnum photographers do best.

      • @Richard Weisgrau,

        So it’s pick-up stories? I just hope they can recoup the expenses on that scenario.

        • @grant, what i mean is it will be interesting to see what the market will bear for buying these stories. And doesn’t that scenario exist today w/stock?

          • @grant,

            Sorry to drag on. So from what I can gather, the content is just being created by the photographer and/ or agency instead of the magazine or company, but the problem is still who will to pay for it.

            It’s great that we do not need the mother ship to get work out there, but still the problem is who will is willing to pay ?

            I mean 20,000 facebook fans that have no plans to ever buy my work doesn’t help things much.

            • @grant, Your thoughts and concerns are well placed. I think the success of the Magnum venture rests on the premise that publishing is about to become democratized as photography has been over the past decade. Once the channels of distribution are available to more than traditional publishers the market grows. I know that because I am part of a worldwide audience of millions (not billions) of those who would pay to see good photo essays and stories online just as I subscribed to many magazines a few decades past.

              Content was once king. Now distribution is. Magnum, I suspect has come to know that the key to future financial success is not just to have the content but to have means to independently distribute it at the same time.

              The big publishers felt a lock on content (hence horrible contacts with providers) was enough. What they failed to realize was that their distribution system was antiquated. Now they have loads of content that they don;t even know how to give away,

              I love good beer, and micro breweries are an example of the democratization of brewing. So might Magnum be that to photojournalism.

              • @Richard Weisgrau,
                I am glad you fleshed this out for me, and I hope, for others. Thank you.

  9. Hi everyone,

    Interesting thread. One site in the USA now has a sort of bidding process for story ideas, this may be a good way in the future for people with good story ideas to raise the cash to do so. Those who put the cash in can get a bit of the profits from the venture.

    Still, high paying magazine commissions have been disappearing for years and it is clear that knocking on those doors is perhaps a bit fruitless for most photojournalists.

    I think many of the problems in financing journalism are to do with our out-dated economic system and some form of new one may well create an environment where money is used better and profit is not the only factor.

    Though I am no Adam Smith myself, and I have not heard of anything which improves upon capitalism as yet. Perhaps some sort of competitive communalism will replace it and then things may look very different.

    Micro-payments on a “per article read” basis may also work well, though figuring out the system of how this would work is tricky. Clearly Google Ads are pretty useless for earning anything like a basic income, though the model may well work out with a different company and better security.

    Still, only a few percent of visitors click on ads – from wherever they come – and this does not make for much profit.

    I am thinking about putting my own photo essays and in-depth projects into my own books – which Magnum has done a lot in the past – and perhaps as a magazine. Maybe some will work together and publish their work in one publication on a quarterly basis.

    iPhones and iPads make it easier for people to comfortably read electronic publications and this may end up being the market. Selling affordable publications to these devices may well be the future.

    Still, it looks like a hard and very difficult road to navigate and like always, some may fall by the wayside.

    Apple could do more on this by making easier publishing tools to sell publications on iTunes and advanced printing presses could deliver print copies to those who desire them for a higher fee than the digital book or magazine.

    Advertising may still be important in this arena and circulation and reader demographics may help to get someone like Canon or whatever to place adverts in these publications.

    Personally, I have some schooling in graphic design and layout and I write too. So I can make my own books from start to finish. Others may decide to combine their talents – writing and pictures – and work with other photographers and writers.

    So perhaps the days of the established newspaper brand are numbered for many. Some strong brands, like the New York Times and The Telegraph in London may survive, though others may have to close.

    Smaller publications with a network of international correspondents may do better without the large cost of a magazine office. Popular publications may well do a lot better financially than the large behemoth brand dailies and weeklies with their high overheads.

    In other words it is very much like the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…”!