Opinions

Part 3: The Art of Being Commissioned: Understand The Commissioner’s Position

digital-future

I’ve been talking to a number of editorial magazine art directors recently and the conversations have all been tinged with a sense of doomed acceptance from their perspective. This is why.

The world of traditional magazine publishing has been in turmoil in the UK for some time, dropping sales, diminishing distribution outlets and massively reduced advertising revenue have all led to staff redundancies, salary drops, insufficient staffing, less commissioning and smaller photographic budgets and fees. Titles were/are stuck on a track leading to eventual closure; that is until the ‘Digital Future’ became a new destination for their runaway train, suddenly magazine titles became ‘brands’ in the eyes of the management.

New platforms, new opportunities to engage, new offerings for advertisers led to a deep sigh of relief from those tasked with driving the publishing train and stoking its ever slowing engine. Content, content, content! came the rallying cry from those ‘up above’ to the editorial teams below. We need content and we need to own it, to put on these new platforms, to syndicate, to continually republish under different guises. The Emperor wanted a new suit of clothes!

And who did they turn to for their new look? The remaining overworked staff employed for their ability in traditional publishing skills. The editorial teams are now the messengers of a message they do not understand. The race to reduce costs within magazine publishing houses has seen the implementation of all manner of internal production systems, uploading procedures and unrealistic expectations of the art directors, art editors and designers stuck on the hamster wheel of creating a monthly national magazine in 2014. As a result, they do not have time to engage with or understand the very platforms they are now employed to work on.

The art director’s day has become over long and focused on the wrong things; they are no longer fully engaged with the creative arts and the communities they need to be aware of to remain at the forefront of photographic commissioning. Only one of the five art directors I have spoken with over the last few weeks is even on Twitter! Instead their days are concentrated on fulfilling management requirements to work across under invested digital platforms they do not have time in their day to learn about. The digital future for publishing requires investment and understanding of new structures and skillsets. Not knee jerk reactions based on over stretching existing staff and budgets. Digital editions, websites, bookazines, magalogues, etc, etc are all being created by the same team producing the printed magazine with only a few enlightened exceptions.

So why does any of this matter to a photographer looking to get commissioned? Because it is increasingly essential that we not only understand the situation of those in a position to commission us and how our images are going to be used but also so that we can become visual and publishing problem solvers within the commissioning process.

We need to be able to explain the process of creating moving image (publishers are desperate for this but are not employing anyone with the experience to commission it). We need to be proactive in our communication with those in a position to commission and give both creative and practical reasons as to why they should be working with us.

I place no blame for this situation on the art directors and art editors who are fighting to maintain their jobs and salaries. The blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the ill-informed middle management in my eyes, also fighting for their futures but unwilling to listen to either editorial staff or photographers whose talents they show little if any respect for. To them everything is content, a commodity. How difficult can it be to take a picture or write some words anyway?

Photographers are not the only ones facing a new landscape of creative and commercial endeavour – the world of magazine publishing is too – and by understanding the challenges the people who we contact face can only provide positive input into our own definitions of ourselves as professional photographers in the Twenty First century.

© Grant Scott 2014

You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new bookProfessional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com