Our assignment for this
month was to write about trends in the year ahead and one firm comes immediately
to mind for this information: Trend-Watch. This market analysis company
produces reports based on market research with business owners and executives.
They specialize in the graphics, visual effects, and TV and broadcast
fields. Here are some thoughts from Vincent Naselli, TrendWatch Director/
Graphic Arts Division (www.trendwatchgraphicarts.com).
Shutterbug: The clients of many of our readers are in the graphics
field. What have your surveys revealed about the health and welfare of
Vincent Naselli: The advantage that those in design and production
fields have is that with only a modest capital expenditure it's
pretty easy to set up a SOHO ("Small Office/Home Office")
design studio, a business that is small in size physically as well as
In our 2000 Demographic Atlas, we estimated there are just fewer than
5000 establishments in the US design and production markets we cover.
About 1/4 are commercial photographers, about 1/4 are corporate design
departments, about 1/3 are graphic designers, and the rest are ad agencies.
As for publishers, there are in excess of 11,000 establishments in the
US, and about 1/5 of them are book publishers, 2/5 are magazine publishers,
about 15 percent are catalog publishers, and the rest are miscellaneous
SB: What industries have been identified as "growth"
markets for 2003?
VN: Well, it's no secret that graphic arts markets are in
a decided slump. There are very few of the markets we track that have
reported anything like great business conditions in the past two years.
But many have turned a corner--a good corner--in our Summer
We have a calculation based on business conditions data called the Trend-Watch
Graphic Arts Business Conditions Index (BCI). To get a sense of the scale,
at the height of the Internet boom in Spring 1999, ad agencies reported
a BCI of 165.91, the highest they've ever been in the history of
our survey (which goes back to 1996). Ad agencies hit rock bottom in Winter
2001/2002, with a BCI of 1.14. No, that's not a decimal error or
a typo: 1.14. They've turned a corner and the BCI for agencies in
Summer 2002 is back up to 40.91. Actually, of the four markets we survey
as part of our TrendWatch Graphic Arts Design & Production survey--graphic
designers, ad agencies, corporate design firms, and commercial photographers--commercial
photographers are doing the best.
SB: Magazines have traditionally been a market for photographers.
What is their forecast?
VN: As for publishing markets--get out the Prozac. Magazine
publishers took a hit in Winter 2001/2002, but the good news is that they're
the only one of the publishing markets of the three we track (magazine,
book, and catalog) that is on an upturn. In the magazine publishing market,
we've seen a lot of consolidation over the past couple of years.
First, larger publishers were on a buying spree, acquiring smaller independent
publishers and titles, and especially new media publishers. Now, for primarily
economic reasons, we're seeing a lot of shakeout. This is especially
true in a lot of business-to-business and trade publishing markets, but
even in successful consumer magazine categories. The market can't
bear as many titles as it used to. But at the same time a lot of publishers
see one solution as adding new titles to exploit hitherto unexplored markets.
This seems to be especially the case among technology publications. We
don't have data, but, anecdotally speaking, regular trips to the
newsstand always turn up new titles on subjects like wireless devices
and other new gadgets and technologies. So there's a lot of activity
SB: What about graphic design firms and ad agencies as photo clients?
VN: In the graphic arts, no one lives in a vacuum and trouble in
one part of the food chain trickles down to other parts. For example,
when companies cut back on advertising and marketing (which they did),
it means less work for ad agencies and the designers who create ads and
marketing materials. This means less work for photographers, since less
imagery is needed. Down-stream, this means fewer ad pages in magazines,
which ultimately means less work for printers.
We find it amusing when manufacturers and developers that service the
graphic arts markets cut back their marketing and advertising and then
complain that creatives aren't buying more of their products. Gee,
now why would that be?
So in some sense most of the creative markets are growth markets in that
it's hard to get any lower than they've been. And Internet
design and development firms--which we also track--took a hit,
but they didn't fall as far as other markets and they're bouncing
SB: What recommendations can you make to photographers planning
for a brighter future?
VN: Well, print has traditionally been the bread-and-butter work
for creatives and if there's less demand for it, it is not a bright
future for those who design for it. So it will pay to become more conversant
in new technologies. People think we're all doom-and-gloom when
we forecast declines, but we think it pays to be prepared. Savvy, well-run
companies can always thrive and we're more supportive of businesses
that keep their eyes and ears open and can exploit new markets and new
technologies. They always do better than firms that coast along on the
wave of high times.
SB: How has the Internet changed the 2003 forecast for photography?
VN: The web has been a boon to photographers in that it provides
an easy way to show potential clients their portfolio. This also means
that they can attract clients pretty much anywhere in the world, so they're
not tied to just clients in their local community or environs.
For example, "web page design" is one of the top 10 sales
opportunities for commercial photographers. Some of this is offering web
design as a service for clients, but a lot of it is using the web for
their own marketing. We think this is a no-brainer. Some good executions
we've seen involve organizing images by subject matter or type of
image (for example, portraits vs. product photography). Some savvy photographers
we know have even gotten into the "e-blasting" game and will
put together a regular e-mail newsletter and mail it to current and potential
It makes sense for photographers to market their own images and sell them
themselves via their own web sites. This is probably why between Winter
2001/2002 and Summer 2002, the percentage of commercial photographers
who see "e-commerce services" as a sales opportunity rose
from 3 percent to 16 percent.
In fact, one additional advantage of the web is that there are so many
other sites out there, that there is an increasing need for content and
imagery--and there will always be a need for new imagery.
SB: From your TrendWatch perspective, what can you tell photography
business owners to help them make better business and marketing decisions
VN: This could apply to anyone, but we'd say don't
let the economic slump force you into inactivity. There is a sense in
some of the markets we cover that many firms are hunkering down and waiting
for the tide to return--as idle as painted ships upon a painted ocean
(to paraphrase Samuel Taylor Coleridge from "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner")--but it's dangerous to assume that a rising
tide will lift all boats. It pays to be proactive rather than reactive,
because you can bet your competition is going to be.
The other piece of advice I would offer is: don't be scared of technology.
Photographers in general were sensible in that they didn't jump
into digital photography immediately, but kept an eye on it until such
time as the quality and cost made it practical to do so. As a result,
digital photography--which many people believe is now finally "there"--has
quickly become the top sales opportunity for photographers who respond
to our surveys. There are of course some holdouts, and at the moment there
are still applications for which digital photography is inappropriate,
but that is changing fast and we forecast that photography will be increasingly
digital. That's not a stunning prediction of course, but we're
bullish on digital photography.
SB: What new profit-building centers or services do you see for
photographers in digital technology?
VN: There are many aspects of the so-called "digital darkroom."
For example, photographers have proven to be one of the biggest markets
for wide-format printers. And one trend we've been seeing in the
past few years, especially in the context of digital photography, is that
photographers are taking over (either by design, or by expectation, or
just by default) more and more of what used to be the purview of pre-press
firms. Color correction, retouching, color management, proofing--it's
not that they never did these things before, but now there is an increasing
expectation that they will do them. It may be a pain to have to get involved
in all these tasks, but when all's said and done, we think this
will be more a source of empowerment for photographers than an imposition.
All these technologies may seem daunting at first, but when users of it
get up to speed, digital imaging technologies give photographers and content
creators more control over their images than they ever had. And that's
a good thing.