If you’ve been paying attention to the photography publishing world lately, you may have thought the sky was caving in since Sports Illustrated magazine, published by Time Inc., has laid off three top photo-related executives. Director of Photography Brad Smith, Photo Editor Claire Bourgeois, and Photo Director John Blackmar have all been fired, let-go, made redundant, or what ever way most properly fits, and many photographers would have you absolutely crying foul.
But is anyone really surprised? If you’ve been working in the photography or publishing industry in any capacity over the past ten years, you’d surely have noticed a crescendo of lay-offs of staff photographers country and world-wide. Sports Illustrated was one of a few magazines with staff photographers left, and the final six of those were binned last year, again causing much hoopla in the form of fiery-spit and venom from the mouths of working professional photographers.
So, that it should be greeted with incredulity that the rest of the photo execs would be downsized should, in itself, really be what’s greeted with stupefaction. The writing wasn’t just on the wall, as much as it’s been embossed in bold on the insides of eyelids.
This pertains, if anything, especially to Time Inc. publications like SI, which have been at the center of a very controversial photography contract that has only seen 50% of the photographers actually sign it. The contractual agreement would see the majority of control of images be severely limited by the photographer, with no limits of use by the publications – including selling, branding, and so forth. Even amidst outcry, Time Inc. has thus far stood by their contract calling it ‘fair and equitable,” and continued to mention that half of approached photographers sign it. That said, there’s been some suggestion of change afoot as rumors that the success rate of the contract was low enough for Time Inc to warrant a re-draft, but who knows.
From my experience, many photographers haven’t a clue about the changing landscape of media, marketing, and publishing. As creatives, we tend to find ourselves engrossed in the craft, and that’s not really a bad thing, but sometimes it pays to look up, because our track record shows that we’re not typically early adopters of change. We can also be elitists of sorts, and any comment thread of articles like this highlights that, as evidenced by the almost soul-crushing predictability of comments that yammer on about amateurs using Rebels and iPhones and how they’ll never match the pros.
But here’s the thing, many ‘amateurs’ who are undercutting so-called pros, are doing damn good work whether we like that they are or not, and for traditional publications who are seeing circulation and readership fall dramatically (Sports Illustrated is one of those, spare one issue – guess which…), that they should seek more economical routes makes sense for them, just not us. How can we expect publications run by a bottom line not to? So the landscape of our craft and medium is changing and rapidly, so must we change with it. And cream, will always rise to the top, period.
Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.
– Vincent (Tom Cruise) in Collateral.
What do you think? Are you an adapter? Do you truly believe that photographers can fight to keep things more as they were and that the landscape can avoid the massive audience and marketing shift? Do you believe the hallmarks of a professional are the same now as they were 15 years ago? And here’s the jackpot question, do you think this kind of photography work is going to be a viable career choice in the near future?