The NY Times recently published an article about how hard it is to make a living as a photographer. It’s essentially a tour guide through the largest blows to the photography industry over the past several years:
1. The surge in quality stock photography and microstock. According to the article: “In 2005, Getty Images licensed 1.4 million preshot commercial photos. Last year, it licensed 22 million.”
2. Cheap and readily available digital photography equipment resulted in a lower barrier to enter the industry. This created more competition and made it easier for clients to pay less for assignment photography.
3. The decline of the print media industry means less money for editorial assignments and less demand for print ads. According to the Times: “In 2000, the magazines measured by Publishers Information Bureau, a trade group, had 286,932 ad pages. In 2009, there were 169,218 — a decline of 41 percent. ”
There is no denying the facts, on paper things have gotten harder for photographers over the last few years. Editorial and commercial photographers are completely dependent on the media and advertising business; businesses that are struggling right now. To use a familiar analogy we’re like a school of fish in a pond and we need the water to survive. The turmoil in our industry has started to dry up the pond while at the same time more fish are added each day. That’s not a good scenario for the fish.
Some of the weaker fish might have to find new ponds to swim in (i.e. find a new career) and some of them may evolve (i.e. move to motion or other visual industries) BUT hope should not be lost, even if the pond doesn’t grow there will always be a large audience for still photography. It’s a unique medium and a fantastic way to tell stories, sell products and change people’s perception about the world. It’s not going to disappear.
PLUS there are some welcome rainclouds on the horizon.
First off, new ways of consuming media like the iPad and future incarnations of similar technologies have a good chance at pumping new life into media and advertising. Second, this is still the Wild West of online media. Newspapers and magazines have time to figure out a way to make up for revenues lost from the decline of print. Lastly, and most importantly, talent and business savvy will always prevail. Whatever pond you’re in, large or small, there will always be a pond and there will always be room for the best. Hopefully that’s you.