Photo Business Predictions 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

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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. :-)

One Response to “Photo Business Predictions 2009”

  1. Richard Wong says:

    Happy New Years Mark!

    I actually made more agency stock sales this year but didn’t get the bigger sales unlike last year.

    What I would like to see is better quality lenses all around for less money rather than more camera models. As for the cameras themselves, make them completely dust-proof, better dynamic range, and smaller file sizes.