The User-Generated Future of Information

Posted on 9/9/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The majority of stock images licensed by traditional sources are being used in some type of printed product. If that is a focus of your business, expect continuing declines.

Print publications have become too costly to produce and distribute; they require large professional staffs and other expenses. Still, since their primary purpose is not to provide information, but to allow advertisers to distribute their messages, some argue that print publications will always exist. Let’s examine that theory.

For some time, advertisers’ costs have grown faster than the sales generated by print advertising. As a result, advertisers have been looking for alternative, more efficient solutions.

In print’s heyday, many publications allocated 60% of their space to editorial content and only 40% to advertising. When advertisers resisted paying much higher fees, the split went to 50/50. Now, the percentage most commonly used to keep ad costs reasonable is 40% editorial pages to 60% ads. There is some talk of going to 30/70. Not only is the percentage changing, so is the page count: The number of pages in newspapers and magazines is dropping. Thinner publications provide less information, giving consumers all the more reason for to go elsewhere—online—to get what they need.

Advertisers are cutting back on print spending and are actively exploring the Internet. By 2012, digital advertising is expected to eclipse traditional.

Before the Internet, print and television were the primary ways of reaching consumers. Back then, there was no way to figure how many readers were impacted by a given print ad. The Internet made it possible to determine how few of the millions with access are actually interested in a given ad.

Advertisers want to pay based on results. Scott Karp has compared The New York Times’ online ad revenue with print. The newspaper has approximately 10 times the number of online visitors as printed copies. One would expect online ads to cost more, but the company’s 2007 Web-ad revenue was only $51 million, compared to $483 million brought in by printed newspapers and a few other small publications in The Times News Media Group. Advertisers will only pay a small fraction of the print ad’s cost for an online ad, because they are finally recognizing how few customers ads actually reach.

The Cincinnati Enquirer offers another indication of where things are headed. Instead of plowing more money into upgrading the quality of its newspaper, the company has developed a series of Web sites tailored to various special-interest needs of the community. Since this process began in 2006, the company has launched over 250 online products. Rather than hiring reporters and photographers to provide content, the paper solicits information from its readers. In two years, user-submitted items totaled over a million and included 82,837 photos, 63,622 stories and reviews, 795,057 forum posts and 75,496 blog posts, messages and other interactions. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “Get Published” tool allows readers to upload their own stories or photos and choose on which community pages to publish this content.

In this model, the community gets a much broader spectrum of information and greater depth than a general print publication could ever provide. Advertisers get the opportunity to target small groups with more focused interests.

The company continues to print two dailies, Cincinnati Enquirer and Kentucky Enquirer, along with 28 free weeklies, six twice-weekly editions of Your Hometown Enquirer and two monthly magazines. These are now produced with less staff and more reader-supplied information. Readers are not concerned with being paid and are glad to have their voices heard. The paper continues to cut staff.

Bill Keller, The New York Times’ executive editor, has said: “If the trend continues, there’s little doubt that—eventually— online will become the main business.” He was referring to his newspaper, but he might as well have been speaking of all print publications. The only unknown is when “eventually” will arrive.

It seems clear that a steadily rising number of consumers will continue to turn to the Internet for information. Much of that information will be user-generated content from social-networking Web sites.
While there will be certain kinds of imagery that can only be supplied by professionals, an increasingly large portion of the total images needed will be produced by amateurs, who have no expectation of  covering their costs, let alone making a profit. Earning enough to support oneself from images produced on speculation will become increasingly difficult, given the oversupply and the trend for buyers to get most of the images they need at low prices or free.

Copyright © 2008 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 301-251-0720, 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:  


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