Backcast Revisited

Posted on 9/4/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

We recently covered creating online magazines that have a similar look and function to print magazines, and how easy and inexpensive it has become to create such digital publications with currently available technologies. Stock Index publisher Robert Prior offered a perspective that adds balance to these stories. Prior has some experience in this area, and his very thoughtful comment on "The Backcast Concept" suggests that some of the points made in the article need additional discussion.

First, there is no denying that many consumers still prefer to get their information from paper products. Many would dearly love to see newspapers and magazines grow and prosper, and maybe even return to the golden age of Life, Paris Match, Stern and the Sunday Telegraph. But all the trends seem toward decline, not renewal.

On the whole, U.S. newspapers and magazines are getting thinner and thus covering fewer stories and using fewer pictures. It appears that the same thing is happening in the U.K., where Prior lives.

No matter how much some consumers want to get their information from magazines and newspapers, the existence of such publications depends entirely on advertiser willingness to fund them. Increasingly, advertisers are saying that print advertising is too expensive and they are not getting the results they need from what they spend on print ads. Consequently, advertisers are cutting back on their spending for print ads; as total ad spending declines, publishers must charge more for ad space just to stay alive. This means that the only way publications will be able to grow to their former size, or even survive, is if consumers are willing to pay significantly more in subscription or newsstand prices for these publication. On the whole, consumers have shown no inclination to be willing to accept higher prices.

There is also a new generation of consumers who prefer to get more information online than in printed form. If these 20- and 30-year-olds like the idea of flipping pages and seeing a more attractive magazine-style display of pictures and graphics, this delivery strategy may have some appeal. They really do not like to go to print, and nobody is going to force them. If we cannot figure a way to reach them online, we simply will not reach them.

Nobody is proposing to abandon printed publications in favor of doing everything online. But it is important to also explore alternatives and see if there is any other strategy that will appeal to some of the consumers print are losing-particularly since creating a digital flipping book requires very little effort once the print publication is designed.

Similarly, nobody is advocating the "removal" of the publishing, printing and distribution industries. Unfortunately, this attrition is happening as a result of the Internet, whether we like it or not.

Prior, who publishes a series of stock-photo marketing publications under the Stock Index brand, draws on his experience in some of the objections addressed above. Yet it is important to note that Stock Index differs from newspapers and magazines in that it is designed solely to deliver ads, not editorial information accompanied by ads.

In the Backcast case, the ads are delivered to a very focused group of customers interested in receiving editorial information online. This does not mean that printed publications and brochures aimed at such groups will not also have continued value, but the online versions will be a lot cheaper to produce and distribute and thus may be a better value for the advertiser.

Prior also pointed out that Stock Index has been using this type of technology since 2007. However, quite a few advancements have been made since then. The PCL Food and Drink brochure is one example. One of the downsides of Stock Index is that pictures are not nearly as sharp when the reader zooms in as they are in PCL's brochure. Thus, the online version of Stock Index definitely drives the viewer to want to look at the better quality reproduction in the printed version of the publication, while the image quality of PCL's online presentation is perfectly satisfactory.

Another distraction for me is that the online version of Stock Index does not include all the pages that are in the printed version of the book. If researchers or picture buyers want to consider the broadest group of sources, they must go to the print version of the book.

Prior said: "The Internet and digital delivery of information should be harnessed to work with other media, not be promoted to destroy it." Indeed, but we would do well to keep in mind that certain kinds of print media are on track to be destroyed regardless of whether or not photographers choose to explore the potential of alternative strategies.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Bob Prior Posted Sep 6, 2009
    I think your piece reflects two points that demonstrate what is wrong with today’s fields of communication 1) everything is based on the word ‘cheap‘ rather than excellence or professionalism 2) an obsession with the internet.

    The questions that need to be asked - does it maintain and set standards, is it well produced, professionally crafted, can it do the authentic task it has been set to do – sell the produce.

    In fact you demonstrate my point when you highlight the publications Life, Paris Match, Stern and the Telegraph as being examples of the golden age of magazines.

    Why did you choose them? Wasn’t it due to the unbelievable images that populated their pages? There picture editors knew what the Wow! factor was and were committed to printing it – cost was not the only issue – selling copies was.

    OK magazine doesn’t pay $5 an image. Their photographic content costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and their circulation proves it is worth it.

    You highlight print advertising is too expensive and that advertisers are not getting the results they need. What puzzles me is where is the evidence that it is any different on the internet? We can count click-thrus or measure impressions – it’s all smoke and mirrors – the question to ask is - does it lead to sales?

    Images sell produce – if they didn’t why even bother with images on front covers of books, magazines, on retail goods – just have black squares – now that would really save money … !

    You see, I challenge the internet sells anything – it displays a product you were already aware of and enables you to purchase it easily. And it is why web publishers need all the other media tools to stimulate buyers to buy.

    As I say it’s about harnessing all the media to be interdependent., apart from having a major engine searching simultaneously over 120 stock libraries, does encourage people to order the book.

    However we also publicise the book via print ads, newsletters and expos so people will be encouraged to visit the web. They work in harmony.

    I continually get a sense on reading Pickerell’s piece that he advocates we follow, en masse, the preferences of just one group of internet users – the 20 to 30 year olds - while the buying power is proven to be higher in the over 30’s.

    The world is a big place with a lot of people who have a lot of different needs and those of us in the communications. field are responsible to offer as diverse a choice of media as possible - and not to be sucked into the current trend that the only way to survive is to put all your eggs into the internet cart.

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