Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why are newspapers so dumb about selling reprints?

I have long urged journalists to start getting into a retail mentality. It's not a wholesale biz anymore.*

And one of the things you know, if you've worked in retail, is the power of the impulse purchase and the value of it because people tend to spend more for something they've decided they just have to have. So why, then, do so many newspapers make it tough to instantly buy reprints on their sites, especially photos?

When it comes to stories, some get it right, like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which have reprint permission links next to most stories. But many others, including such biggies as the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, are AWOL on this.

And when it comes to photos - the ultimate impulse purchase - too many newspapers make it too hard, if they have a "buy this" button at all.

Even when they get it "right," too many media companies still get it wrong. For instance, say you saw a nice story in the Times or Journal about cousin Bobby and wanted a plaque of it. Click on the reprint link next to the story and you get this screen that suggests you need a logon and a lawyer.

OK, take a chance and hit that "make a selection" drop down box. There's an entry for a plaque. (At least I can get that at the Times. The Journal, which uses the same rights service, doesn't even give me that option. Guess a few pennies from the hoi polloi just aren't worth it, huh?)

Bring up the NYT plaque link, and this is what you get - a flaming application! So much for impulse purchase.

All I wanted was to spend maybe $15, $20 on a nice plaque. Instead, I have to fill out an application (don't even know what the price might be) that gets forwarded to someplace else and ... no, I don't think so.

At McClatchy papers I get this screen showing me all these products I can buy with this reprint -- plaques, e-prints, counter cards, posters. And I get to the bottom and there's another flaming "quote" form. OK, I can see this if I wanted to buy several hundred reprints or wanted to license the content for a book or something. That involves lots of complicated rights and legal language. But to buy a simple plaque or get a simple single-copy reprint, you can't quote me a price and let me make an order? I have to, in effect, apply?

Photos are the ultimate impulse purchase. So how easy is it to do? Not very.

For instance, while the Times, the Journal and McClatchy papers have all those nice reprint links for stories, you'd be hard-pressed to find a photo link under the photo. Oh sure, lots of execs will tell you they'd love to sell you a photo - if you click here and here and here and here. When was the last time a store sold you anything you had to walk to the back and root around to get unless you were bound and determined to have it? Simple fact of retail: If you want to sell red dresses, you put the dresses in the window and near the door. You make it easy for people.

There are some weird permutations on this out there, too. For instance, at the Greenville News, a Gannett paper, you won't find a "buy this" link under the photo next to the story.

But if you're smart enough to go to the photo galleries (which aren't really galleries at all) and click on one, you'll find a "reprint" button after every photo. Of course, there were five or six back-to-school "galleries," and each "gallery" was actually a slide show, requiring me to click individually through picture after picture after picture (72 in the first gallery). After about 35 clicks, some of which were barely incremental shots of the same kids getting off a bus, you can imagine I gave up. Never did find the cute kid up there. Had he been mine, I would have been annoyed at best, which of course is what you want to do to your impulse purchasers.

(Note: Photo gallery does not equal photo trash bucket; three shots of the same thing from the same angle, etc., unless you're talking a sports play or an emergency, isn't photography. It's holding down the shutter button and then dumping whatever comes up onto online. And putting them all sequentially, instead of a true gallery where I as a reader can weave my own path, says lots about understanding the customer.)

At the Seattle Times, it's similar - no "buy this" in the caption, but click to enlarge the photo and voila - a reprint link. Only when I went to buy this:
I was redirected to this:

I never could find that photo, though there were several other nice images. But I didn't want them. I had that impulse, you see ...

Kudos to Greenville for one thing, however. When I did click through to buy a photo, it automatically transferred that photo's information over to the form and instantly showed me prices.

Thus, I was excited when I saw Greenville's rival, the Herald Journal of Spartanburg, had a "buy photo" link under its photos.

Alas, when I click through, none of the info follows and I find myself again presented with a set of galleries to root through.

So some suggestions:

7 things every news site should do to sell reprints
  1. Make sure there is a clear "buy photo" link under every caption for a staff photo and a "buy reprint" (not just "reprint"-make clear money changes hands) with every local story.
  2. Figure out how to work into your workflow a process where a watermark goes on every one of those photos, so the right-clickers are further encouraged to hit the "buy" link. (You can scoff and say 72 dpi, or even less in some cases, is fuzzy and can't be enlarged, etc. But in these days of ever-smaller screens, it might be "good enough" without some further marking. Besides, you keep saying you want some idea where your content is going, right?)
  3. When your customer - yes, customer - clicks on the buy button, make sure he or she is not assaulted by legal-looking forms and language. You are simply not that important, whether you are the New York Times or the Daily Tattler.
  4. Instead, figure out what your most popular product is and provide that and a price right up front.
  5. Of course, provide other options and try to upsell. But the best way to do that is pile impulse on impluse, and that means getting details out there so I can buy it now.
  6. Make it easy to buy and easy to pay.
  7. Look for other things you can handle the same way.
One final thought: Why not hook up with a trophy shop or two in town to do those plaques. And if you're using a vendor, why not encourage such an arrangement in larger areas outside yours? Think of the flowers by wire model. If I can go pick up the plaque within a day or two at my local shop, instead of having to wait for it by package, I think better of you. In the process, maybe you solidify a business relationship with that shop.

Just a thought, and I can see lots of complications with that idea, but that one thing is a small thing. More important, I'll believe news managers are actually getting it when I see them make it much easier to buy stuff off their sites.

*Well, some may scoff. This isn't a store and journalism isn't retail and this just hits the slippery slope and ....
Oh come on. Get off it. None of this impinges the journalism, but it does maybe let you make an extra few bucks off it. That won't save the republic, but these days, every bit helps. It also might just get us thinking more about that person we purport to care about and serve - the reader, user, viewser -- in short, the customer. Why, let this get out of hand and we might even start writing stories more with those folks in mind. But let's not get wild and crazy.

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At 8/21/09, 1:09 PM, Blogger Tom Priddy said...

Hi, Doug,

Good entry on photo reprints. We're actually doing quite well with photo reprints at the SHJ. That link off the DeMint photo does indeed take you to a gallery where you can order a reprint at a reasonable cost.

However, if you can find someone who can write the code that takes you directly to the correct image, excludes any photos we don't have permission to sell (weddings, obits), and completes all that in one click, please contact us.

The Times' regional staff has been hard at work trying to figure out that code -- and of course prioritizing it within the scope of everything they do.

We agree that we love offering reprints -- but the task is not a simple one . . . We think we have the best possible solution available.


At 8/21/09, 2:40 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Tom, the problem is I still go to a gallery and if I'm an impulse purchaser and I don't see what I want, I might move on. Last night, when I checked it, clicking on the DeMint photo link took me to a form that fronted a Harry Potter picture

When I go to Greenville, I get the image and its information to come right up. Now, I don't know whether Gannett has solved the exclusion problem - that occurred to me also, and I wonder if the metadata is key to helping with that -- but it has solved half the problem - the important half, to my thinking.

Perhaps an inelegant solution, but just don't generate the "buy me" link for photos not for sale. My former days in programming tell me that should not be that hard if the photo has the right metadata.

Another stop-gap -- allow the order but moderate it. I can't imagine there are that many.

Sure, I can find objections to all of them. But retailers figure out how to do it because their livelihood depends on it. That, ultimately, is my point.

Of course, even better would be a recommendation engine like Amazon's - you liked this pic, what about these - based on metadata.

Problem is, the news industry's response tends to be "we're working on it." The rest of the world's seems to be "we've figured it out" or at least have figured out a "good enough" solution for now.

At 8/21/09, 2:58 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

And I should be clear - the news industry's response, with exceptions.

(What comes to mind, for instance, is much of the good work being done at the NYT mothership, or Morris' recent massive conversion to Drupal as its engine.)

But too much is still too tied to vendors who continue to lack the alacrity, etc., and require large codebase and hacks to make some of these newfangled intertubes work.

At 8/24/09, 3:59 AM, Anonymous Betty said...

I really agree with you Doug.

At 2/15/11, 11:04 AM, Blogger Scott Bryant said...

I know this post is over 1 1/2 years old, but it came up on the first page of a Google search, and it ignores so many serious issues I can hardly begin to respond.

First, journalism is neither a wholesale nor a retail business. It is first and foremost an information service. Newspapers and their various on-line incarnations are simply a medium to deliver this service. And yes, I am painfully aware that the current difficulties confronting the delivery medium. And yes, additional and new streams of revenue must be developed if these avenues of delivery are to survive.

That said, the issue of newspapers selling photographs is not cut and dry. It's very murky territory, in fact. There are both ethical and legal issues. Simply adding a "Buy This" button to every photograph changes the very nature of each photograph. And a news photograph's primary purpose should be to communicate something relevant.

There are all kinds of issued related to selling unpublished photographs in galleries. One of the most serious is that by posting unpublished photographs, publications in some states may lose protection of various shield laws. Many of these laws make no distinction between photographs and reporters' notes. If a publication releases unpublished photos for sale, courts could view this as a waiving of the shield law. Then any information collected by anyone on the news staff may end up being subject to subpoena.

Additionally, while many parents may appreciate the opportunity to purchase photographs of their children which didn't make it into the paper, others may object to the commercial sale of their children's photographs, open to anyone, including sexual predators.

The most serious downside to adding "buy" links to captions is that published news photos become in danger of losing their First Amendment protections. The buy link elevates the commercial status of the photograph to an equal level as the informational value. That can cause confusion with readers and expose publications to potential law suits over the right to publicity or misappropriation.

The reason for all those legal disclaimers on some newspaper websites is because intellectual property rights are so poorly understood by the public, in general. They are poorly misunderstood even by many whose jobs are to procure and utilize creative works. At the very least, there should be some agreement by the purchasers of photographs that the photograph is for personal use and display ONLY. Newspapers should protect their intellectual property from unauthorized use, not only for revenue reasons, but for legal reasons, as well. Newspaper photographers do not collect model releases because their newsgathering practices are protected by the First Amendment. If someone purchased a photograph and used it in an advertisement or for promotional purposes, the newspaper is not only losing revenue (because photographs used for these purposes demand higher compensation), but if it is used without the subject's permission, the publication can, again, be open to litigation.

Here are a couple of links to brief discussions about some of these issues:

Frankly, reprints are typically a poor source of revenue. While some papers seem to be experiencing a modest amount of success, the prices commonly charged for reprints and the revenue produced hardly pay for the time and effort photographers expend editing and preparing images for uploading. That time would probably be better spent by having photographers exploring their communities more and producing relevant images and projects that drive traffic to their web sites.

There are lots of ways to produce revenue without compromising the integrity of journalistic practice. It just takes some imagination.

At 2/15/11, 12:18 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

You muddy some issues here.

- Yes, journalism is a retail business - a retail information service business. It is selling to retail customers, not B2B. My point is that the mentality needs to change - you are now just one storefront along the information highway, not one of only a handful of warehouses of community information. Therefore, if you have things to sell - and lord knows most newsrooms for years have gladly sold reprints if you forked over enough - you have to make it easier for your customers.

- No one is saying a thing about selling unpublished photos. That should not be done. Nor did I say sell photos to which you don't have the rights. I specifically said "staff" photos for that reason.

- I can see the point of your "changes the nature" argument - of course most photos when originally used are used in a larger context. But news orgs are perfectly willing to sell you a copy out of context and have been for decades. My point is simply that if you are willing, make it easy on the buyer and you are likely to sell more (I'd love to see some revenue-splitting agreement with the staff photographer for "long-tail" purchases, but the reality is that those photos are work for hire and the organization can do what it wants with them.

- Again, the predators issue is a straw man. No one was saying anything about selling anything that didn't make it into the paper or online.

- The First Amendment issue is thin gruel. Again, many newsrooms for years have been willing to sell you pieces and parts of the paper. Such disaggregation has not raised such issues as long as you stick with what was published.

- Of course the purchase would come with the licensing restrictions - as most do now - that it's for personal or restricted use. Again, the point is that newsrooms already are doing this. They're just doing the sales part of it badly.

- The "model release" is also thin gruel. I'd put more stock in it if newsrooms weren't already selling reprints. And there is a long line of law that allows you to do as you wish with images taken in and from public places as well as the implied-consent portion of common law (keeping aware, of course, of the facets of privacy law that might apply - but you'e going to have to face those if you're publishing the stuff anyhow).

- As for reprints being a poor source of revenue, much of the preparation of digital images can be handled by computer and delivered digitally (a hard copy, of course, would cost much more). And you don't do it if you're doing it at a loss.

I'd ask you to go review the idea of "long-tail" revenue. In the era of digital dimes, the revenue has to be aggregated in much smaller increments. So "poor source" becomes much more relational in a world where "as many sources as possible" is becoming the norm.


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