Archive for the ‘Photo Business’ Category

Photo Business Predictions 2009

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Mark Zanzig/zettpress

The year 2008 is history by now, and so I went to the basement (again, after last years predictions), undusted my crystal ball and took a glimpse into the future (of photography)… And oh, what I am seeing is not good, at least not for those earning money with their photographs.

1. The photo market continues to change dramatically

In 2008 the change in the photo market accelerated. Due to the financial crisis (which has hit the real economy by now) newspapers are heading into a major crisis in 2009, that can easily become a death spiral very soon:

  1. Advertisers reduce their ad spendings as the return-on-invest (ROI) for their ads shrink.
  2. As a consequence, the number of content pages will be reduced (which will affect writers and photographers).
  3. Readers cancel their subscriptions as the value for money shrinks.
  4. Go to step 1 (repeat ’til fade)

Trying to get out of this, publishers are increasingly utilizing user generated content, often at ridiculously low prices – if they pay at all. They launch user communities, blogs, and photo forums to get access to free content. This is the major threat for press photographers.

News agencies feel the pinch, too. One major agency is looking to reduce the number of jobs for their freelance photographers to single digits per month. Given the low rates they pay (around 200 Euro per job), those colleagues are already worrying how to pay their rent. Other agencies do hire staff photographers and keep them busy for 14 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. At 45,000 Euros a year (before taxes) this comes down to about 11 Euro per hour. And starving photographers line up for those jobs because they appear to be still on the attractive end of the stick.

One can only wonder what publishers have in store for those photographers who work on cheap regional papers? One staff editor told me that they received the order to make use of the countless volunteers who are happy to provide a variety of photos at no cost, just for a by-line. It’s the digital nature of photos that makes that possible. Where in the past a freelance photographer would rush between various events and take just a couple of photos, the folks who organize the events now can shoot all day and night and provide the best photos to the paper by e-mail. They are happy to do this as this just costs their time (no films, no development, no prints, no courier service).

It’s easy to realize that publishers will continue to reduce their cost by acquiring content from cheaper or free sources, but this will not save their business. Expect further newspaper deaths in 2009.

But press photographers are not the only ones being hurt by the changes. Those who earned a good living from stock photography will see serious declines in 2009 as the market continues to be drowned by floods of (free or very cheap) images. We saw major changes in the stock photo market in 2008, and this trend will continue in 2009. Expect further stock agency mergers and closures in 2009.

If you now are thinking of extending your career to other paid jobs (like weddings or portrait jobs), you will see even fiercer competition over fewer clients. With the recession, budgets are more tight than in previous years, and people will ask a friend with an amateur or semi-pro DSLR to do some photos. In general, the willingness to pay will go down.

So, in short – photography as business will continue to decline in 2009.

2. Technology continues to advance, but what for?

As predicted last year, we have seen the first professional DSLRs that can capture high quality video. Canon’s 5D mark II, for example, can create clips in “Full HD” resolution now, blurring the line between photo cameras and video cameras. While Canon markets this camera to pro photographers as opportunity to sell videos as well, I think it will take a younger generation of image artists to actually make use of these new features. Many pro photographers hate the thought of shooting video (and it also requires a completely different skillset), and so they won’t do this. They’ll leave this to younger colleagues.

Apart from the video support, technology leaped ahead big time in 2008 at an unseen speed. We have to blame thank Sony for its alpha900 which has shaken up the market, pushing Canon from their position as the technology leader. Now, Canon’s remaining asset is their huge installed base with professionals, who own a lot of expensive Canon glass. These guys will not change anytime soon, whatever Sony or Nikon will bring along. But I expect Canon to announce a 1Ds mark IV in 2009, and it will go way beyond the 24 megapixel Sony is offering right now. It remains a mystery to me, though, who might actually need these huge sizes? Given today’s image sizes, you can do pretty much everything (except maybe do a wall-sized print at the highest resolution) with the existing cameras.

The market is still missing is a consumer DSLR offering professional image sizes (i.e. 15 megapixels and beyond). I expect Canon to announce an EOS 500D in the first half of 2009.

With the question of image sizes solved, one can only wonder what might be next? Well, attention will finally turn to image quality, both from a composition viewpoint and from a technical angle, i.e. the ability of a photographer using a specific combination of camera body and lens to capture an image. As camera bodies will be pretty much maxed-out, lenses will become more important in this equation. (Hartblei is spearheading innovation in this field, and I expect them to release even better commercial lenses in 2009.)

3. Copyright infringements will continue to soar – as will court cases

A lot has been written about copyright infringement in 2008, but surprisingly little has actually happened. Photographers should get used to the thought that once a picture has been published on the Internet, it’s practically worthless. Which points to the key problem: how can you tell the world that you’re a good photographer when you can not show your images (without having them ripped off faster than you can say “hello”).

Anyway, the Viacom vs. Youtube case is still pending, and this may be the single event in 2009 that will determine where the Internet will be heading in the mid-term future. If Youtube wins we will see more and more “services” building upon the business model of running “just a platform” for users who actively seek to infringe copyrights. Which would make the creation of copyrighted works completely useless, at least from a business point-of-view. On the other hand, should Viacom win the case, the whole “Web 2.0 bubble” will burst. Copyright owners will take most of the copyright infringers to court and by doing so they will probably extinct a whole genre of services (e.g. Youtube, Scribd, Flickr). I just hope that Viacom won’t settle out of court (and that they win their case).

Ah, it will be an interesting year 2009, so let me just wish you a


P.S.: My personal development plan for 2009? Extend the wedding photo biz, launch a couple of new sites, lose some weight and become more fit. Oh, and the family planning thing, finally. :-)

Entire LIFE library now freely available

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

It had to happen.

The photo archive of LIFE is now available in medium resolution for free for all. Powered by the friendly folks, who can not do evil – Google, and TimeWarner! According to the press release, the entire archive of 10+ million images will be released to the public in the near future; right now there are 2 million photos available. 97% of the images have not been published before. Of course, everyone at TimeWarner and Google is quite excited about this.

From a photography perspective, I am thrilled, too. I wrote an article this summer that revealed my admiration for LIFE pictures since I was a kid. LIFE photographers probably influenced me more than anyone else. And the LIFE archive is certainly one of the most amazing archives of all time. Just do a simple Google search to see pictures from your favorite photographers. Great!

But wait – something is wrong. At the time of writing, a search for Alfred Eisenstaedt reveals just 200 photos (he must have shot 10,000s of images for LIFE). A search for Kennedy returns 200 photos. Hollywood – 200 photos. What’s going on? Are all searches limited to 200 photos? Why? And then some searches do not have any results at all, e.g. Picasso (this was corrected four hours after this article was posted). Huh?

Also, TimeWarner and Google are not exactly known as the Do-Good’ers they try to suggest they are. Why are they giving away millions of photos to the general public, when they are still licencing the archive through their cooperation with Getty Images? Sure, they sell poster prints from the Google pages, starting at $79.99. This will bring in some money. But still I wonder whether there is more to the story?

The lack of licence terms on all the pages of the LIFE archive makes me feel slightly uneasy. The main archive page does not contain any licence terms, and no terms of use either. The individual photo pages mention just “© Time Inc.” but no other licence terms. This is fully sufficient to clarify the licence situation. But I guess that now zillions of blogs will hotlink and re-publish these images from the LIFE archive.

And no, not even the official help page does mention copyrights and terms of use at all. It says what you may do with the photos, though:

Q.: What can I do with the images I find from the LIFE photo archive?
A.: You can browse and view the images you find, rate them, and see detailed information about the photographs. There is also a link to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.

I interpret this as:

You may not use the photographs for anything else than to browse and view them, to rate them, to see detailed information about them, and to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.

Which is not much.

Soooo, if you are a photographer who is also a Blogger, here is my wake-up call for you: do not use any of the images, unless you want to receive some mail from TimeWarner, and their lawyers. (I think they expect commercial licencing still to be done through GettyImages, so anyone using images from the archive commercially without proper licence is facing serious trouble.)

And what does all this mean for the photo business? Well, the sudden addition of 10+ million excellent photos to the Internet means (to me) that the value of photography has been once more reduced significantly. The availability of all these outstanding photos is the silent admission that high-end photography is now a commodity. Sure, end-users will cheer for all the free images. TimeWarner cheer as well as they can monetize their back catalog better now. But photo archives that focus on historical photos will cry. Their ability to monetize their archives has been reduced significantly.

It had to happen.

+++ Market Panic +++ Ship Sinking Fast +++ Photographers Affected +++ Future Uncertain +++

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

With stock markets around the globe panicing, I thought it would be okay to dig up a photo of the Titanic ship’s bell I recently took (a replica BTW).

I guess we have hit the iceberg already -economy wise-, but what’s coming up next?

  1. How will this global market downturn affect us as photographers and how will it affect our business?
  2. In a tightening economy and ad market, will the migration towards a new photographic business eco system happen even faster?
  3. Will marketing departments try to further save money for professional photo productions by utilizing “user generated content”?
  4. Are there ways for photographers to bypass this crisis?
  5. Is there possibly an opportunity for photographers? Which?

Questions, questions, questions.

I provided some of my thoughts earlier this year in the post Photographers are like typesetters – bound for extinction. Today, I very much stick to the view expressed in that article, but I think the “evolution” will happen faster, mostly due to the economical crisis. The need for enterprises to reduce cost will certainly affect many pro photographers in 2009. High-value photo agencies like Getty Images or Corbis will be affected, too.

In addition, photography as a consumer service (e.g. for weddings and private venues) may become a luxury for many in 2009. Therefor, I expect that part of the business to go down as well. If you have significantly less money than you had a year ago, you won’t be spending it on a wedding photographer. You’ll be asking a friend of the family to do the shooting for free. The amount of photos (prints) will probably remain the same, but the percentage of professional photographers being part of the value chain will decrease.

Interesting times, but not in a positive sense.

Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Titanic survivors on way to rescue-ship Carpathia (1912)
Bain News Service/Library of Congress

Beautiful idea to enhance a multi cultural wedding

Monday, July 21st, 2008

99.9% of the inquiries we receive for photo licencing are pretty boring. Publishers or design agencies contact us, knowing exactly what they want, how they want it, and when they want it (asap). Don’t get me wrong – we are very happy to respond to these inquiries and to satisfy demand with high quality photos from our archives (be it the public archive, the unpublished stuff, or the Zettpress archive). We appreciate our customers for doing business with us, but honestly, the excitement factor is often, er, rather limited. ;-)

And then there is the odd request that comes in every now and then. Here’s the latest example.

Sue wrote an email:

I am interested in any pictures of South Africa that you have taken. Especially Cape Town and Franschoek area. Would you mind emailing any that you have. I would like to purchase anywhere from 1-6. Do you sell them in such a low number. I would purchase the picture and enlarge it to poster size to display at a wedding celebration. I live in the US and would need them as sonn as possible.

The one phrase that made me curious was wedding celebration. Huh? Why would anyone need travel photos from South Africa for a wedding celebration in Wisconsin? And why on posters? I politely wrote back with a price quote, asking for further information in order to find matching images from the archive.

Sue replied with the set of images she had in mind and explained:

I will enlarge [the photos] to an 18″x24″ size on posterboard. They will have a sentence or two to identifying them. I am displaying them on easels at a wedding celebration. My daughter is getting married in South Africa in September. We are having a celebration here before. Her fiance is from South Africa and I would like them to see where he is from and where they are getting married.

What you email I will take to a place here called Kinkos and have them enlarge them for me. It will definitely change the quality, but, am not sure what else can be done. It might give it a feel of romance/excitement.

This is my plan.

I think that’s an awesome plan. I loved the idea the second Sue explained what she had in mind. I could envision their guests having no idea what the Western Cape area and Franschoek might look like, and obviously their family and friends could not join them for the ceremony in South Africa. So based on Sue’s initial selection I dug into the archive to get additional ten images that might be a good match. She finally ordered five images:

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa 
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa
Mark Zanzig/

Hout Bay, Western Cape, South Africa
Hout Bay, Western Cape, South Africa
Mark Zanzig/

Laborie Vineyard, Paarl, South Africa
Laborie Vineyard, Paarl, South Africa
Mark Zanzig/

View from Franschoek Pass, Western Cape, South Africa
View from Franschoek Pass, Western Cape, South Africa
Mark Zanzig/

Vineyards, Franschoek, Western Cape, South Africa
Vineyards, Franschoek, Western Cape, South Africa
Mark Zanzig/

Excellent choice in my view. Needless to say, I was a bit worried about Kinkos actually messing the posters up, but two days ago, Sue wrote in again:

I received [the prints] on Thursday. They are perfect. When I showed them to my son-in-law, he told me that the last two are of Franschoek where they will be getting married. I appreciate all of your help. It was a pleasure working with you. Enjoy your travels. If you ever get to Milwaukee, give us a call.

Thanks, Sue, for the positive feedback. I am happy that I was part of your daughter’s wedding celebration (even if just very indirectly), and yes, should I get to Milwaukee, I’ll definitely call you. I wish your daughter and your son-in-law a wonderful wedding in South Africa and all the best for their future. Having been there myself, I know that this is one beautiful place to be. Even more so, if you are getting married there!

Now, if only I could be their wedding photographer. :-)