Oh Crap. It's another column wherein I'm thinking about the future.

I've been in the advertising business and the photography business for a long, long time.  I'm also married to a graphic designer who spent most of her career in advertising agencies.  I'm no stranger to what's been happening in that industry.  It no longer resembles the terrain you see in Mad Men.  

Just as the photography industry has weathered the onslaught of mindless, royalty free stock, legions of people with cameras willing to work for free,  and crumbling markets for traditional print content, the ad industry has had their share of bombs dropped.  When I ran an ad agency we'd place media for clients in exchange for a 15% mark up.  Place a million dollar campaign and you're take would be, roughly, $150,000.  Sure, we had to research and negotiate for the best deals but it still covered a lot of creative costs.  Over the years clients have whittled away at the 15%.  Now many agencies just do the research and the buy for hourly fees.  A couple hundred bucks an hour doesn't come close to the 15%.

At the same time ad agencies made a profit on printing and creative suppliers.  The mark up on outside suppliers was between 15 and 20% of production costs.  So, if you hired a photographer and he did a campaign and billed you $60,000 your mark up on his bill was $9,000+  If you really beat the photographer up and convinced him to do the job at $6,000 you pocketed a less healthy $900 but your time commitment remains the same while your risk that the image won't be exactly what you wanted grows.

Instead of pushing back on clients and educating them about what it costs to do things right  ad agencies and the art departments in magazines seem to be rolling into the fetal position on prices and lying on the floor whimpering.  What's a photographer to do?  Well, one thing would be to accept the reality that ad agencies aren't the Mecca of creative suppliers that they used to be.  You might be a lot further ahead if you went directly to the all the clients you're interested in working with and allow the work to trickle backwards.  There's no law that says you can't market to both sides at once.  

And, in the case of big businesses, you might encounter these things:  Less fear.  A well run business doesn't need to cut corners to impress anybody.  When you take fear out of the equation both sides can have a frank discussion about value being added and opportunities to excel.   You'll find.....bigger budgets.  Again, there are fewer people in the middle and, if you are lucky enough to work "direct" you eliminate the decay of communication.  You'll also be a better value proposition for the client.  

You'll also find that direct corporate clients pay their bills quicker than most ad shops.  You just have to understand their accounting systems and leverage it.  Did you know that America's number three computer company is happy to pay their photographers, upon delivery, via PayPal? Squabble all you want about an extra couple of percentage points you'll give up but I'd much rather take the hit and have money in the bank now.  Before inflation kicks in.  Hey, opportunity = cash flow.

So, why was I thinking about all this stuff in the first place?

Well.  My friend, Paul Johnson, came into town from New Orleans.  Paul is always on top of the latest technology and the coolest trends. He's done incredible cookbooks and travel guides and he's been everywhere.  We actually bumped in to each other in Rome a few years back.  Totally unexpected.

Anyways, he comes into town and we meet at Sweetish Hill Bakery to catch up.  He plops an iPad on the table and basically, over the next hour, tells me that everything has changed.  From writing books (which we both do with alarming frequency) to advertising to marketing to technology.  I get it in a big way.  He gets all the smaller ways as well.

We talk about advertising.  He points to multiple niches and click thru accountability---something traditional media only dreamed of.  He talked about interactivity and accessiblity.  And then he talked about something we both have been concerned about, vetting editorial content.  I can pretty much write anything I want here on the blog, and you have the choice of believing me or not.  But if I write for a publisher they have people who fact check and spell check (manually---with human eyes and brains) and they add value with editing and design and typesetting.  Then they add additional value with a distribution chain.  

We talked about an intersection of the two hemispheres.  Paul sees the web rapidly monetizing itself thru what I would call "on demand" programming.  The NYT is about to move to a paid model.  The Wall Street Journal has always been a paid model.  To bring it to a "local" level, both Lloyd Chambers and Sean Reid only make their content available as paid material.  You have to pay to read.  And people do.  Paul postulates that the web will change.  There will be two tiers.  There will be vetted material that is vastly different than the rantings of some guy in his basement in North Dakota and people will be willing to pay for the vetting.  Just like they pay for apps or movie content.  

I think more and more stuff will be programming.  Like short instructional videos and actual entertainment programming.  Time to learn those video chops.

Paul has a way of shaking me up and making me think.  I processed his version of the new web and the new media and I believe two things, really.  One is that the pads will be the medium going forward.  As prices fall for the iPad and it's type they will take over web surfing and communications duties from the laptops and desktops.  Secondly, I believe that the future of what we do lies in becoming the online publisher, not the online writer.  We need to coalesce the same kinds of professionals: editors, designers and production people, to replicate the process of vetted publications if we are to brand and own our part of the content space.  The wild west days of the web will give way to the new, smoother, better, more cogent content on the web.  People are moving from narrative to experiential.  From a recitation of history to a sideline seat at the present.

People don't have time to be their own aggregators and will need trusted vendors to do that.  The only way to do it is to monetize the content, not the adjacent advertising space.  

What does this mean for me?  Time to get off my butt and get a new iPad.  Time to explore publishing options.  Time to partner up with designer and a writer and some photographers and make content that people are willing to pay for.  Own the "tools" of production instead of laboring on the factory floor of the content industry.    Or...take another nap and see if this all blows over.  Any answer is right.

But in the end everything will change again and again until it all settles.  Grab onto one of the straps and hold on, the ride's not over yet......


Bill Beebe said...

I understand exactly what you mean. But I'm going to voice a fear I have (and you've seen this before on another forum) electronic gateway devices in general, such as Apple's iOS devices.

In all cases that I've seen to date the vendors of these devices have set up a fully curated and inordinately controlled "experiences" in which you have to go through their company and corporate processes to place anything of significance on that device for your customers.

Take Amazon and the Kindle. Amazon got into some serious PR trouble over their deletion of an electronic copy 1984 (how ironic), not just from the store, but off of every device that a purchased copy. More recently, Amazon has again been caught censoring the store and devices by removing incest-related erotica from its store and, again, from Kindles on which the owner had purchased said content. (And no, I'm no fan nor practitioner of incest, but consider Edgar Allen Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher").

Then there's been the incoherent, chaotic policies surrounding what get's published on the Apple App Store. Consider how Apple censored Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Fiore's editorial cartoon app (April 2010) because it violated their policy about "ridiculing public figures" (alternately known as satire). Or the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet having their app pulled because they had a nude section in their published content.

I fully understand where you're trying to go. But don't be deliberately blind to the tremendous power gatekeepers such as Amazon and Apple have over what you get to publish. Until there is more freedom in this area you and many others will run into a brick wall of frustration. And many like me will not participate until it does get all sorted.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Bill. Well reasoned and well laid out. There are indeed pitfalls and there are constant efforts to close down the freedom of the web. We should always be alert and mindful of the tradeoffs presented by "new" technology.

It is always sobering to remember that the web as we know it can change overnight. I fear big corporations more than I fear governments.....

Hugh said...

I must be one of the few that don't see the iPad lasting....

For the cost of an iPad and an ordinary Macbook or laptop, you could have a MacBook Air, a Toshiba Portege R700 or a Dell Adamo - all three vastly cooler ultra lightweight laptops with much more power and a real keyboard.

Same way, the iPod may be on the way out when you look at the music capability of the iPhone or the Nokia N8.

martin said...

I think you have made some salient points, I do believe that there will be opportunities for e publishing, ranging from basic fees to view through to one off payment for ebook instruction/advice type material.

I have just bought an ipad, principally to enable clients to view work and then choose what they want to purchase. I really do think its a superb tool for doing this with.

Many years ago I used to transproof weddings and portraits I was alone in my area for doing so, I did not like the idea of printing proofs I thought them a waste of money and a hindrance to large orders.This was at a time when very few folk did this, it was almost viewed as heresy.The clients loved it and viewings took on an almost cinematic feel.

I see the ipad as a modern day version of this but infinitely more suitable. The images look as good on it as they do my i mac. I am confident it will lead to large sales as was the case in transproofing.

As for your undoubted talents Kirk I am sure you would have folk willing and able to follow you. You have a wonderful style which is eminently readable and always entertaining. You also translate this to your commercial tomes.

If you were nearer I would love to shoot the breeze with you over one of your many visits to cake/coffee shops.

Thanks for your efforts throughout the year and merry Christmas to you and yours.

kirk tuck said...

Hugh, it's not a computer replacement. It's a new tool. It's different than the mentality of carrying around the Swiss Army knife. The magic lies in the way the apps are constructed and how well it emulates that way we want to look and read. We'll see about its future but be forewarned that the trendsetting Japanese starting eschewing actual computers for home and fun use a couple of years ago in favor of smaller, and cloud driven devices and that trend is accelerating rather than slowing down. Who needs all that other stuff? Unless you are deep into photoshop. Then it's a whole different story.

Remember too, I might have a car but I also have a bicycle. And a scooter. They are not mutually exclusive.

Hugh said...

"It's not a computer replacement..."

That may be the reason I'm not getting it. I've almost never travelled without a laptop in the last 20 years because of the day job - even in wilderness around the world - so I've always gone for the lightest. It couldn't replace a laptop for me, so it would be one more thing to carry.

I'm probably unusual.

kirk tuck said...

Hugh, I generally agree. If you must travel with a lap top than carrying additional stuff is a burden. I have too many laptops but it would be rare for me to read whole book on one. When I want to read novels I grab a Kindle. When I want to read illustrated, color books, I'd grab an iPad. It's a different way to hold and use. But, again, if you must travel with a lap top the pad might not be for you.

What do you do that you must carry one all the time? Just curious.....

Anonymous said...

I think one of the great things about the Internet has been the unpaid/non-paid/free real expert commentary -- delivered outside of the standard vetting portals, e.g. Times/Journal/Fox/CNN. I'm not saying how long it can last, at least for the person who is trying to make a dime from it; but for that gadfly who really needs/wants to get out accurate information that the "gatekeepers" don't want to touch, the web still works. Don't get me wrong: the web could use some vetting (Wikipedia is exhibit number 1) ... and for persons such as yourself you have to find a way to make it pay ... but one more point about payment as it relates to commentary: in my totally unscientific survey, I've seen photography websites that I enjoy take on or increase their advertising relationships, and no matter how well-intentioned I've watched those relationships influence the commentary (e.g., in the wording of issues, the obvious promotion) such that it killed my feeling of "objectivity". This has likely always been the case, but where a person's business is more visible (as represented by his/her blog or the like) I just feel it more. I know, I know - that's how it is and probably has always been (freedom of press exists for he who owns the press) ... but still ... okay, I'm rambling now. My apologies.