Monday, May 16, 2016

Photography Publishing Now

As always, I have my teeth in to something and am trying to make sense or it, turn it in to something I can use.

Some history, as filtered through my rather distinctive and error-prone vision.

Prior to, say, 2000, we have essentially the Old Media. Books, magazines, print publications which, due to relatively high startup costs, are intended to reach as wide an audience as possible. There are rumblings between 1995 and 2000 that the old media is dead, that the web is the way forward, and so on, but the wide-audience print still rules the world.

Somewhere in the general area of 2000 we see the rise of what we now see are Transitional Media. LuLa and other web sites rise, essentially bringing the old print model to the new medium of the web and the internet. They are wildly successful, because they still have broad reach, they aim at that same wide audience, but the startup costs are tiny. The margins are incredible. Nobody knows what ads are worth, so there's tons of money to be made there, and you can now reach the world with your workshops, educational videos, books, and so on. This probably happens across all markets (fishermen, sailors, machinists, toy train enthusiasts, and so on), but certainly occurs in the world of photography.

But it cannot last. The old model is dead, even in new clothes. The extremely small (and dropping) startup costs means that new players arise constantly. Everyone wants to launch a web site, get 100,000 subscribers, and get rich quick.

A few people even manage it, we've seen a few newer sites hit the zeigeist. PetaPixel is, as far as I know, the most recent example of what is essentially an old school Photography Magazine re-tasked to the web. They launched in 2009, 6 or 7 years ago. Their model is to have people give them free content, which they turn in to advertising clicks. This is essentially what popular Photography Magazines did up until 1995 or so, except they paid a tiny pittance for content.

Online ads continue to astonish everyone with their ever increasing ineffectiveness, causing prices and therefore revenue to spiral ever downward.

The new model, the model we have now, is essentially social. You make some art, you get on social media, and you socialize the hell out of it. You follow people, you like their stuff, you make comments. You reach out to people in hopes that they'll reach out to you. A community organizes itself organically around your work as you find people, one by one, who like your art. They tell their friends and, if you're a little bit lucky and a lot hard working, you get a few thousand people following your social media. Then you print a book, or a 'zine, or something. Maybe you even make a little money.

Social networking is work. You find two new people to follow every day. Make a comment, Like something, +1 Something, do it a bunch of times a day. Don't waste your comments on corporate shit. The point of commenting is to get your name in front of people, the blogger, the tweeter, but more importantly their followers. Say something cogent, interesting. Make people want to click the icon and look at your twitter, your tumblr, your blog, your site. Do this a dozen times a day. It's your job. Do it enough, and a community coalesces naturally around your content, made up of people who think you are interesting. This isn't a popular blog, but there is a little community of people here. How you think that happened, eh? Magic?

This has nothing to do with the old media, in either the 1995 print form, or the 2005 web form. This is all about you, your art, and your niche. You're not trying to reach 100,000 people any more. You're trying to reach 1000. Or 50.

Chris Gampat tried to bridge that gap.

I don't know how he did it, but he got three plugs on three more or less "major" players in the transitional media. LuLa, Steve Huff Photo, and Imaging Resource. These are all Big Web Sites in some sense. Did he pay these guys? Did he just ask the top 100 "majors" for a plug and get 3 bites? Most likely, as a couple of the plugs suggest, he went out for beers at some get-together of these fat old dudes and bought a round or two. And then they lazily gave him a plug, without really looking over his work. "Sure, Chris, you're a good guy, whattya want me to say?"

It has fizzled. His Kickstarter isn't going to get funded, unless he finds a major pop from somewhere new, which means he gets $0. There are multiple problems with his attempt, here, and I don't know which ones are the important ones.

1. His content simply isn't that good. The prototype magazine looks lousy and is error-riddled and unprofessional looking. The pictures are uninteresting derivative work. I have seen several people state that "it looks great" which is bizarre, and I assume that they've simply glanced at a couple of pages and want to look supportive. He is neither curating well, nor presenting the work well.

2. He aimed too high, going for a big dollar amount. DIY is the order of the day, it's the brave new world. For $6000 you can pull together a bimonthly 'zine, print, for a year (6 issues) for 125-150 subscribers. Kickstarter levels of $10 for a PDF subscription, $50 for a year's print subscription, and on on up with prints, T-shirts, your name in lights. There are people doing this right now and succeeding. Picking a high-buck "platform" like Mag+ was just stupid, you're just pouring money down the drain. Mag+ is for corporate entities pushing high-cost high-value content into a large established subscriber base, although they're not averse to suckering a few dopes with a dream. $499/month is $499/month after all.

3. He didn't social network, like, at all. His "La Noir Image" tumblr has been up for 6 months and he's liked a total of 29 things on tumblr, mainly from major collective/corporate entities, adding his Likes to piles of thousands of Likes already there, on a tumblr the owner isn't even monitoring. His Likes were wasted. He has an instagram with 6 posts, and he's followed 45 people, some of which are Himself, and Tokina. He has a twitter feed, where he's followed a couple hundred entities, again leaning heavily on the corporate. Don't bother following National Geo, or Paul Buff, for chrissakes. This isn't doing you any good and it's cluttering up your twitter feed with junk you don't care about. And so it goes.

4. He has no plan. The "magazine" is going to be an all-singing all-dancing wonder. It will have photo essays, interviews, tips and tutorials, videos, hell it'll have singing cows if you want it. He doesn't even know what it is, let alone who might want to buy it for how much money. He just knows he'd like to be a publisher and he's hoping that the fat old men will get him there if he buys a few more rounds.

In short, he's trying to leverage the new digital world to produce yet another old media.. thing. A digital magazine, it'll be an app! Yay! But he wants to do it the old way. He wants to raise a bunch of money and then, somehow, turn that in to a major magazine with 10,000 or 50,000 or whatever subscribers, that advertisers will want to place ads in.

The old model is dead or dying. The fat old men are tapped out. Kevin Raber, Steve Huff, and Dave Etchells can't actually get dollars out of people's pockets. They're scrambling to keep their web sites on the air at this point, because the Transitional Media is dying. There will be survivors, of course. People like a single site they can go to for Major News Events and whatnot. The sites that survive will be the ones that figure out how to operate with a staff of one, that being the smallest possible staff size, and with minimized additional costs. If you can't run your site without two staff, you're dead, eventually, because someone's gonna figure out how to run with half that staff, and they'll eventually eat you up.

Trying to launch a Major New Magazine in this era, or even a Successful New Magazine, is a bit like launching a new enterprise to build buggy whips for the new millenium. I know, we'll put a chip in it, then people will flock to buy our buggy whips! Quick, is available?

1 comment:

  1. While I admire Chris Gampat's pluck, Mr. Photos and Stuff is correct that his La Noir Image online magazine will be stillborn and D.o.A.

    I'm no expert in these matters, to be sure, but having myself launched a magazine in my late 20s -- a real magazine, printed on paper and with paid staff and contributors and everything! -- and kept it alive for nearly four years before it folded, I know enough to realize Gampat's venture has zero chance of succeeding in its present form.

    Which is a shame, because I would like to read something along the lines of what he's proposed. Unfortunately, based upon his maquette, that's not what he is hoping to deliver...