Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Death of a Photography Magazine

Word on the grapevine is that the US magazine Popular Photography is about to close down. This is entirely unsurprising though the reason given by the source is an entirely wrong summation of the issues. The site http://www.thephoblographer.com/ claims that the popularity of cell phone photography has killed the magazine. This such is a complete and utter misunderstanding of the business of magazines that I have to question the mental competency of the author.

Magazines depend upon advertising. Advertisers are paying ever less as they are spreading their advertising ever further. That's only part of the story however. Magazines commonly have a cover price. None of that cover price makes it back to the publisher. 

The cover price persuades retailers to stock the magazine because $10 for a product that has zero cost represents a good profit. Many years ago I worked for a nationwide book retailer. Magazines were delivered and put out. Some were sold, which represented profit. Some were stolen which really didn't amount to any loss other than a theoretical loss of imaginary profit. Some were damaged in the store and disposed of in the trash. When the next issue came in, the old ones were thrown out and the new ones were out on the shelf. 

So, magazines are essentially Scotch mist, financially. Where the publisher makes their money is from selling advertising. That's basically a loser's game. I've lost count of the number of magazines, websites etc that have gone under due to lack of income. This blog is a hobby blog but carries some advertising. The promise is that I can make money from allowing Google to plaster it with adverts. The truth is I get 1 or 2 cents income a month but I'll only get a payout when the total gets to $100.

Magazines are dependent upon retailers giving an accurate estimate of sales that they can then repeat 
to their advertisers in order to convince them to spend money. Retailers can't be bothered to report back on magazines sold. Their business is in making money, not helping others make money and magazines are two a penny to them.

The problem with magazines from a consumer's point of view is that they're terribly expensive for what they provide. Allied to that, the photography in magazines is usually quite terrible and the journalism is even worse being riddled with technical errors. The killer for the average consumer is the cost.

I'm an average consumer and I've not bought any magazines for decades. I'd rather buy a book on the subject if I feel I need to learn faster than by trial and error. As an example, one magazine I wanted to read was $10. A more comprehensive book was $40. No prizes for guessing that I went for the book instead.

In terms of the argument that cell phones have destroyed magazines, its two separate issues. Cell phones and tablets with cameras have certainly decimated the camera market. The cell phone produces images that quite frankly are very close to SLR quality. The proliferation of images has done more to destroy the fascination with the creation of images than anything else.

When cameras can produce sharp, well focused images with great detail and color, there's little need for a "professional" behind the lens. Don't like the photo, retake it. My theory is the proliferation of good quality images has really destroyed a lot of the art behind photography.

So, we do have a general decline in interest in photography as a hobby. At the same time, people take 
images at the drop of a hat on their cellphone and upload to Facebook. When people have seen a million photos of Machu Pichu or a million photographs of Brooklyn Bridge, there's little incentive to pick up a camera to take a better image that like as not will just be the same as one that one has not yet seen.

I take photographs for myself. It's true that for the last two years I've done very little photography. That's because my photography has been documenting the conversion of my bus into a motorhome rather than actively taking photos for the sake of the art.
As can be seen, my latest "photograph" is hardly exciting nor artistic. This is the way my photography has headed. I rather suspect that since good quality photos are so easy to obtain, they have become increasingly utilitarian and hence have lost their sex appeal. That, however, is not why the magazine went under. The dimwit that wrote the original article really does need a class in basic economics!

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