“I don’t think anybody has any idea of what anyone should be paid for a piece anymore,” Sicha says. “It’s more than $25, but less than a thousand . . . I think?”
The Times Magazine had an interesting article on the state of the online media landscape and how difficult it is for publications to make a profit or even become sustainable. This is no secret to anyone I’m guessing but it touched on some issues that relate to photography on the web.
The most widely read pieces on this blog have been the OpEd’s that touch on something topical, and or controversial like Blake Andrews post on Paul Graham article, or the few times when we’ve made lists and provided tips. If traffic mattered that much to me, I’d be cranking out Top Ten lists every week (warning, I’m going to put this to a test this week.) It would be nice if people paid more attention to the work than the opinions, but I certainly understand the appetite for opinion. I probably consume more than what’s good for me.
Thankfully in the art photography space you don’t see too many link bait headlines. But you don’t have to go far to find them, just peruse the gear or how-to related blogs. People are suckers for lists and the secrets to success.
What this all relates to is the value of content. These articles that drive huge amounts of traffic are clearly more valuable for sites that are ad supported. And this is why companies like Demand Media crank them out all day, paying around $10-$20 per post. Conversely, the more in depth, longer articles that don’t carry flashy headlines tend not to be as widely read, but are more expensive to produce. This is the state of web publishing these days. What ends up happening is that smart publishers use the link bait articles to subsidize their more serious journalistic endeavors.
The most salient point in all of this comes from the quote at the beginning of this post from Choire Sicha about compensation for content creation. I’ve often wondered, how valuable is a photograph on the web? Clearly, celebrity images are at top of the list. But I’m not really concerned about that segment. I’m more interested in photojournalism and documentary and art photography.
As more and more photography moves exclusively to the web, this issue is going to become more salient because it raises some rather thorny issues. Photojournalism and documentary photography are expensive to produce. But is there enough demand to financially support it? And with the photography landscape so fragmented can any one destination bring in a large enough audience to build a sustainable model? Again, I don’t think advertising is going to be the answer. The numbers just don’t work.
I’m not sure anyone knows the value of this type of imagery on the web. With art photography it gets even dicier because the audience shrinks even further. Then again, since those photographers are likely banking on making money on prints, perhaps the photographs on the web are really just marketing or PR. Which might make most blogs (including this one) that promote that work quasi PR agencies. There’s nothing wrong with of course, I clearly enjoy numerous art photography blogs, but there’s not much hope that they’ll ever compensate photographers. Online magazines might be a different story as they emerge and grow their audiences.
Last week, David Alan Harvey announced that Burn Magazine was going to start paying contributors. What a breath of fresh air. Right now, the money is coming from the surplus left from the submission fees for the emerging photographer grant, so basically, other photographers are footing the bill. Still it’s the right direction and I know there are plans to bring in sponsors as well.
It’s an interesting time for publishers and photographers. Hopefully there will be more clarity in the next year but I doubt it. Until then we’ll still probably left wondering how if photographs have much value on the web. What do you think?