Sunday, November 9, 2008

The State of the Industry

So in the last couple of weeks US News and World Report became a monthly magazine, Christian Science Monitor canceled their print edition, and Scripps is cutting 400 jobs. Pretty much opening up MediaWeek's magazine news page is a prescription for depression for anyone working in print journalism. It is in that context Ron Steinman of the Digital Journalist profiled GHG Photos with an article titled Bucking the Trend. In the worst of possible times in our industry (knock on wood) we decided to launch a photo agency, and Ron's article (in which he says incredibly nice things about us that are covered in another blog posting) is a good launching pad for a discussion of our goals in the current business climate.

For the last couple of years things have been getting progressively worse for photographers. Some might argue the trend is decades old (and they would be right) but that is a different discussion. There have been a collection of recent factors: declining budgets, rising costs, too many photographers, less work to go around, the proliferation of low cost stock agencies, more restrictive contracts, we could make a list three pages long. That was the situation when we decided to found the agency a couple of months back. Now with the financial crisis things have gone from bad to worse. Just think of the industries that won't be buying as many ads (cars, banks, insurance, luxury goods, etc...). Plus with all the job cuts there are going to be a lot more freelancers out there (more of a problem for writers...there have always been too many photographers...just ask around at any bar in NYC, if your bartender isn't an actor they are probably a photographer). A second challenge is NGOs, educational institutions and foundations, another source of work for us. If the value of their endowments is down, the 5% of their assets that foundations are required to spend is down. Hence less money for NGOs to sponsor work like ours. We could go on about doom and gloom for a while but we are still optimistic and here is why:

While photographers are going to take some major hits in the next year, the signs were there. No one expected for all the factors to come together at the same time but we built our business model around the decline of traditional sources of income. Our concept is to work as a group to secure long term sources of funding and to create opportunities where they didn't previously exist. We are still chasing after magazine work (and derive a lot of our income from them) but it is increasingly unlikely they will underwrite some of projects we work on. To photograph a scientist taking ice cores on a glacier in Peru is a two week endeavour at best. Start with acclimating to the altitude, then you have to get there and climb to the research site...and then you have to get back. It would have been hard to get a magazine to underwrite that a year it will be near impossible. There will be more local assignments and more purchases of already existing images for things like ice cores. (Note: If you are a magazine editor looking for a photographer to work on the above concept, we have at least two photographers itching to go)

But this was factored in. We needed to start looking for alternative funding sources. The goal of GHG Photos is to find those sources as a group. We are much more attractive to work with as a group than individuals. Already since our launch last week organizations that haven't previously worked with photographers are interested in pursuing new projects. It is a depressing time to be a photographer but we are excited to explore new ways to get our work out there. And if all else fails we are documentary photographers, we are used to being broke.

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