One stock-photography mystery is why advertisers have calculated that an eyeball looking at a Web site is only worth about one-tenth to one-fifteenth of an eyeball looking at a printed publication. This is important because fees paid to content creators are based to a large extent on what advertisers are willing to pay for ads.
As Web uses grow and print publications get smaller, the Web becomes a primary-use medium, rather than a print add-on. Customers may soon insist on paying the Web price plus maybe a little extra for print, not the other way around. Stock shooters may need to learn to live on one-tenth of current earnings, or pray for dramatic growth in the number of eyeballs looking at Web sites.
According to the Newspaper Association of America, total 2007 print-ad revenue was $42.209 billion, while online ad revenue was $3.166 billion. Thus, only about 7% of total ad revenue comes from online use.
But that’s newspapers. Stock photography’s bread and butter are magazines. The Audit Bureau of Circulations says 349.9 million copies of magazines were delivered in the first half of 2008. No one knows how many were actually opened or read.
Newsweek is talking about paring down its weekly circulation from 2.6 million to 1 million. U.S. News & World Report adjusted its rate base from 2 million to 1.5 million, with a frequency reduction from 46 to 36 issues per year. Time published 4 million copies per issue in 2006 but now distributes 3.2 million copies.
According to the Magazine Publishers Association’s review of 345 unique magazine brands, time spent on magazine Web sites rose 13.9% in the third quarter of 2008, compared to the same quarter of 2007. Visitors to magazine Web sites logged an average of 2.01 billion minutes per month during the quarter, up from 1.76 the previous year. On average, Web readers are spending 29 minutes per month reading online content (how much time readers spend on print publications remains unknown). Combined, magazine Web sites averaged 67.9 million unique visitors monthly—or 407.4 million unique visitors for a half-year.
Such numbers suggest that magazine Web sites already have more unique visitors than their print versions. Consequently, advertisers already have a better chance of getting their messages read on the Web than in print—maybe not by the same people, but by more eyeballs. But despite the growth of the Internet and decline of print, advertisers are still coughing up much more to have their messages appear in print than online.
This may be driven by inertia and the inability to measure results. The Web allows advertisers to track precisely how frequently potential customers view marketing messages. Measuring the effectiveness of a print ad is much more difficult. Previously, advertisers had been willing to pay high fees for print because there was no alternative. Now, they want the Web to demonstrate that it can bring in as many readers as the fictitious “readership” number they thought they were getting from print. That is not likely to happen. Circulation is not readership.
Even when we eliminate the cost of paper, printing and distribution necessary with print, there is no way the volume and quality of the print product can be created and delivered online for 10% of what advertisers used to pay for print. Currently, the fees paid for the print product are subsidizing the Web product. As print sales decline, it will become harder and harder for those trying to earn a living from photography to justify making images available for the low Web-use fees.
It is hard to imagine online advertisers agreeing to pay double what they pay now for Web uses of photos, but even 20% is well below the cost of production. Getty Images’ average price is $500 for a commercial use ($250 for royalty free), while its Web use price is $49. And then there are the customers who can find what they need in microstock at a fraction of that. What happens when $49 becomes the average and you are making the same or fewer total sales?
If unique customers, page views and customers actually clicking on a company’s ads increase dramatically, advertisers might pay more—but don’t hold your breath. To add to the problem, the number of providers of great images is growing dramatically.
Is there a solution? Events have dug stock photographers a hole from which they may find it impossible to extract themselves. Those who want to earn a living from creating images may discover that the only way to cover costs is to shoot only when someone agrees to pay a fee for their time and talent plus expenses. Stock shooting as a profession may be in an irreversible decline.