14.03.2012

The decline of the printing industry

Autumn for books? - Copyright Kristian Peetz

Today news arrived that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is ending its print version. That´s it... after 244 years (the first publication was in 1768, Edinburgh, Scotland) this well known and traditional 32-volume printed edition will not be printed anymore. The whole database will go digital and there will be no more printed books no more.
This is another sign of the decline of the traditonal print & publish industry which has been loosing more and more ground to the digital forces in the last years. Allthough I am sure that the printed books will not disappear completly from the market the ongoing trend shows that the industry will have to innovate their products in order to at least keep a solid share of the market. The inclusion of DVD/CD in some printed products have been the first steps towards a connection of print with the growing digital world. And even the QR-Codes are beeing used more and more in order to build a bridge between the print world and the digital counter part.

What does this development mean for the (stock)photographer? The ongoing (and almost unstopable) decline of the market share of printed products will have (and already has had!) a big negative impact on earnings from licenses for print media. This is logical as the price for pictures are calculated on behalf of the number of items printed. At least in the RM (Righst Managed) world. So, if the numbers go down... the earnings go down.

But is this the end of the world and is the sky falling down? I don´t think so. When the first digital cameras and workflows came out in the early 90s the whole bunch of photographers cried a river about how the market was beeing destroyed by it. Yes, many did not adapt to the new rules of the game and disappeared from the market. But no, it was not the end. Those who adapted did survive. As in many cases the uprising of new (disruptive) technologies comes along with a clearance of the market members. This "cleaning" does not happen without hurting some, but if you´re open enough to new venues then the chance is big that you will be standing there after the flush goes away.

Today the market for stock photography is not only loosing ground in the traditional print section (allthough demand for exeptional photography will always be there), but the relative share is getting smaller, too. So does the royalties for the images there. On the other side the demand for images in the digital section of the market is growing extremly fast! The task for the photographer is now to adapt to this new rules and be creative in finding new markets for his products and even creating new products. Yes, it means more working in areas not directly linked to the photography as you used to know it, but only if you adapt to this you will survive the flush.

So, what are the new rules? The competition on the photography stock market has grown inmensely since the uprise of the microstocks in the early 2000s. Their catalogs have grown in to the millions of images and the whole process of buying an image has been streamlined very efficiently. You log in, you search the keywords, find the image, pay and download it. That´s it. Every day there are thousands of images beeing uploaded to their sites, so the chance that you will succeed by supplying standard and easy-to-produce images to your agent is diminishing. It´s just a numbers game: if you can achieve to take an image of an apple on white ground... you can be sure that somebody else has already done it. And this somebody is not alone... thousands of others have done it, too. So, why should a customer choose to buy your apple? Within all the similars this is just a lottery. You have to find yourselve a niche. A special field where you can rise above the masses. This does not mean that you have to invest lots of money into the production (allthough you could... but with the falling prices there is a big chance that it would be smarter to invest the money in the other stock market), but what you have to do is to find a topic or style that makes your image unique. This "specialization" is in my eyes the only efficient way to not to drown in the stock photography market. And you have to make "noise"! That means, you have to market yourselve. It´s not enough to find this special field, it is imperative that you use the modern ways of marketing in order to inform the customers that you have it! Present your images in the usual "social" places (Flickr, 500px, Facebook, G+ and so on), send your images to the potential customers (by sneak mail or email), transform yourself into a brand. The days where photographers used to be contacted by the customers are fading... today you have to contact the customer.

In my eyes, only by using the same weapons the digital world has brought to/against us photographers, we will be able to not only to survive, but to succeed in this digital era. So, don´t go complaining about the diminishing market shares... stand up and jump into the rising market!


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