Stop Advertising in Photo Magazines – Head West to the Web

HDR Photo

Let's all look at a pretty picture and zen out before we go down this path of no return...

A Great and Embarrassing Experiment

I did a scientific, controlled experiment in 2011 and here are the results.

This is a sad story and embarrassing in many ways, but it turns out there is both a happy ending (thanks to Scott Kelby) and an overall moral to the story. It’s also quite exciting for all the bloggers out there.

Video of the situation

Here’s a video where I talk about my findings and add many additional thoughts.

Any Bias?

First, you might be interested in any kind of bias in this report, so let me alleviate any suspicions. I am completely independent of the mainstream photography world. This blog is not owned by any bigger media company, and I have no kind of incestuous relationship with any advertiser whatsoever. I am completely independent.

For example, when I mention Nikon, it’s because I like and use Nikon equipment. Nikon doesn’t pay me or advertise on the site. I am always suspicious when anyone mentions any brand, unless they are clear about the relationship. You should be too.

I know full well that most traditional photography magazines will hate me after this, but that’s okay. I expect that my findings in this will help to take millions in advertising dollars that are wasted on traditional magazines and funnel some of that to the online world in the future.

What is this little blog anyway

High Dynamic Range Photo

Daily photos fluctuate but the numbers increase year after year as friends and families tell one person at a time. Thanks everyone!

And let me deflect a few spears right away from the naysayers. They’ll probably begin character attacks or say this blog is insignificant. It’s not. As you can see from the chart on the left, it shows that, on average, we get over 150,000 photo views per day. Per Day. I might have a slight touch of sensitivity here, since magazines often make such a big deal out of how important they are, claiming over 100,000 subscriptions per month. As you’ll see from the results below, I don’t know how many of their readers actively open the magazines every month. And, of those that are opened, I doubt many ads are given substantive consideration by the reader. In other words, the vast majority of people just flip through the ads to get to the meat.

So, perhaps you can keep this sensitivity in mind too as you read the results below. Of course, we all know that the web and Internet content is the future and that traditional magazines are dying. But, strangely, the magazines are still able to attract the biggest advertisers with very high rates. Now, even though I am sensitive to this issue, I’d like to think I am still objective about the whole situation. I hope you’ll agree.

The Experiment

This year, in 2011, I decided to try an experiment. We have a great product we sell here called the HDR Video Tutorial and I decided to experiment on “traditional” media. We know it is a great product because it already sells like hotcakes, HDR is popular and we have less than a 0.5% return rate.

I allocated about $30,000 to buy ads in magazines.

As for the advertising specs, I did the following to keep things consistent:

  • Full Page Ad
  • First third of the magazine
  • 3 months (1 full page for each month, for 3 months in a row)

I chose these three magazines with the following total advertising spend over the three months:

  • Popular Photography - $12,000 – April, May, June
  • Shutterbug – $6,000 – April, May, June
  • Photoshop User (NAPP – Kelby Media) – $8,000 - May, June, July

How I Tested

This is the add that went into Kelby's magazine with the special code "THANKSNAPP" to track sales.

We built a custom full-page advertisement for every magazine. Each one had a special discount code on the bottom for 10% off so we could measure response. For example, the Scott Kelby’s magazine got “THANKSNAPP”, and Popular Photography magazine got “POPPHOTO”. Note that it is possible that some people bought the product without using the code. However, we did not see an increase above our normal baseline sales for those months, with the exception of people using the code. By looking at the stats, it appears that 95% of people that could have used the code did use the code. Therefore, I believe this is a fair way to measure the results.

The Results

Here are the results. Note the asterisk on the last result because it is important.

  • Popular Photography: 10 Units sold = $870
  • Shutterbug: 11 Units sold = $957
  • Kelby Media*: 206 Units sold = $17,125.75

As you can see, Popular Photography and Shutterbug were a disaster. This was actually embarrassing to me. I have a business here, and it is embarrassing for those two magazine deals to lose a combined $16,000+ on a failed advertising campaign.

Now, I know I should not take things personally in a scientific test, but I did. You know, as a small business guy, I have to choose whether or not to save money for my kids’ education or to risk it with a giant magazine with an ad campaign. Just like Walter Donovan, I chose poorly.

But, thanks to Kelby Media, I ended up almost back in the black overall.

*Why did Kelby Media do so well?

There are many reasons, but the overall reason is they seem to really care about getting results for their advertisers. Their head of advertising was in constant contact with me, making sure things were going well. They also have ad rotation on their website, which is part of the package. I’m convinced that this is the reason that they did so well. Scott Kelby and his team are smart – they know that online is the future and they’ve always been fully diversified.

Other possible problems with the ad

Now, maybe people just don’t WANT to buy the video tutorial and that is why sales were so low. Well, of course this is a possibility, but very unlikely for these two reasons:

1) Objectively, HDR is a popular technique, and there are many people that want to learn it.

2) If you compare Popular Photography and Shutterbug to Kelby Media, you’ll see that the product was indeed in-demand. If no one wanted the product, then the campaign with Kelby Media would have also failed.

Ron Martinsen’s Blog – Who???

Okay, how many of you big advertisers have ever heard of Ron Martinsen’s blog?

Ron is an example of the thousands of bloggers out there generating real traffic and real sales, but advertisers largely ignore this and instead continue to put much of their money into paper magazines.

I bet not many of you. However, would you be surprised to know he has sent us $8,920.51 in sales this year through our Affiliate Program? He doesn’t have a big blog, but look how many sales he generates!  He’s just an example, and there are hundreds of blogs out there with amazing content.

Now, I’ve never talked to Ron about this, but I bet he has trouble selling advertising on his blog. Or, if and when he does sell, I bet he gets very low rates compared to these big magazines.

So, Ron is one of our thousands of affiliates. I don’t pay him to advertise there, but he gets a percentage of every sale. It doesn’t cost the buyer any more money, and, to me, it is the most fair way to do it. In a true meritocracy, people get paid on performance, not on guestimates that appear scientific.

So, Nikon, Canon, Epson, Sony, and the rest of you – what are you doing?

Why are you big advertisers wasting money on these big magazines? Is it just “branding,” or are you actually trying to drive sales? Or, perhaps it is more a function of, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done things.”

I know that there are smart advertising people out there in these companies that are trying to put together campaigns. There is something to be said for “Brand Awareness,” but I think this is losing the value it once had when Ogilvy wrote his masterpiece. Brand awareness was more important in the days when there was a big gap of time between when the viewer sees an advertisement and then makes the purchase. For example, in the 50’s a family might see ads in their newspaper talking about Whirlpool washing machines with no call to action. That brand would get into their heads, and the next time they went to Sears, they will remember that brand and logo. It was the same way with Coke and Chrysler and Braniff. But nowadays, the time between seeing an ad and making a purchase is very very quick. In many cases on the Internet, it’s instantaneous.

Look at what Ford has done in the online marketing world. They now advertise on Leo Laporte’s forward-thinking network; they advertise on many blogs and with social media stars; they sponsor fun reality-shows on the Internet. While other big companies might have a small “play fund” for Internet experiments, Ford has jumped in head first. They get it.

Another vector is that big product/service companies have bloated advertising departments with established relationships with magazines. Magazine editors give them all kinds of statistics so they can prepare nice monthly reports for their superiors that makes it look like their true reach is significant. But it’s all built on old, predictive guesses on the nature of the behavior of the audience.

Believing the readership numbers of these magazines makes about as much sense as believing Nielsen ratings. You don’t have to live in that old world of biased “guesses” any more. Now we live in a world where we can see website stats, YouTube views, and Google+ ripples. Also, the vast majority of people with disposable income spend more time on the Internet. They are more likely to make that purchase off the Internet after seeing an ad or reading a review from some place like CameraLabs.com.

Summary

If I was consulting for one of these product companies that puts significant funds into magazine advertising, I would challenge them to try something new for six months: Try taking 50% of that money and put it into several hundred blogs, podcasts and review sites and measure the results. Cut the worst performers and find new ones.

Remember, I’m not doing this for the benefit of THIS particular blog; I’m doing this for the thousands of other bloggers out there that produce amazing content and have built up niche audiences that would be interested in your products. Advertise everywhere from Victor Cajiao’s blog to Scott Kelby’s blog to Ron Martinsen’s blog to Frederick Van’s blog to Catherine Hall’s blog to Thomas Hawk’s blog to Jim Goldstein’s blog to Olaf Bathke’s blog to Alex Koloskov’s blog to Kyle Marquardt’s blog to Scott Jarvie’s blog to Scott Bourne’s blog to Darren Rowse’s DPS blog and so on and so on… The future of marketing is not with paper magazines with biased outdated measurement techniques; the future of marketing is tied to trusted individual voices with measurable web properties that are experts and care deeply about their audiences.

What do you think?

Share your thoughts and opinions below… I look forward to it.

New Google Talk!

New Video – New Google Talk! Artists and the Internet

Okay, it seems the WRONG video was uploaded by my clever friends at Google! Those guys… hehe… the previous one had all the photos totally blown out and they looked horrible dot com. Anyway, here is the PROPER video… Enjoy :)

Daily Photo – Great Wall in Evening Light

When I was at the Great Wall that evening, I kept hiking along the old wall as the sun set. I also had a zoom lens (28-300mm) with me, so I was able to get in tight on far away structures and shapes. Not too long after I took this shot, I walked along several lengths of the wall to get to these ruins. I stood there for a long time listening to music and taking photos.

Great Wall in Evening LightWhen I was at the Great Wall that evening, I kept hiking along the old wall as the sun set. I also had a zoom lens (28-300mm) with me, so I was able to get in tight on far away structures and shapes. Not too long after I took this shot, I walked along several lengths of the wall to get to these ruins. I stood there for a long time listening to music and taking photos.- Trey RatcliffRead more (and see a new video) here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Alps in the Afternoon and Why I Don’t Use Watermarks

Why I Don’t Use Watermarks 2.0

BTW, this spawned a hot discussion in this Google+ Thread!

I’ve recently updated this list… so I thought you might like the new version and explanation since i get this question a lot.

I know my opinion is different than many other photographers, and that is okay.

As you may know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to http://www.StuckInCustoms.com, can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially. Every day, I upload a HUGE 6000+ pixel max-resolution image to the Internet. I do not have any fear at all… Believe me, it’s quite liberating living in a world without internet-stealth-fear.

People that want to license our images regularly contact our licensing team – we get many of these every day of the week.

So why don’t I use watermarks? It’s a multi-part philosophy –

1) Watermarks look ugly. Whenever I look at a photo with a watermark, often times, ALL I can think about is that watermark! It’s so distracting. Maybe this is just me.

2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there.

3) There are other services, like Tineye (and Google) that can help my team easily find bottom-feeders.

4) We do register our images with the copyright office, so if someone uses an image commercially without a proper license, it is an easy lawsuit.

5) I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without.

6) NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun, which increases traffic and builds something I call “internet-trust.”

7) As image search and image recognition get better and better, there will be no need to watermark things. In 1 year+, we’ll be able to r-click an image and choose “Google-find the original creator” — there is a bit trail to first-on-the-internet.

8) Yes, last, there will be bottom-feeders that steal your stuff. I call this the cost of doing business on the internet. These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11. It is impossible to maintain 100% of your digital inventory, so wanting “perfection” in your online strategy is an illusion.

Daily Photo – The Alps in the Afternoon

The more rugged the mountains, the better they look with a low angle of incidence of the light. Of course, they also look great in the middle of the day, but since the rugged peaks are in three dimensions, you get many extra angles of contrast when the sun is low.

These kind of shots help me remember the fake symbology built up in my head of the shape-of-mountains. I got a bit of this when I was learning to draw… when drawing a human face, it takes a long time to get rid of that thing that is drilled into you as a kid — that the eye is sort of the shape of a football. If you try to do that with a good drawing, it never works. And, it’s sort of the same way with mountains. In my head, I still have to stop thinking of them as a rugged 2D line. It’s thousands of 2D lines, crawling this way and that, but I can usually only see one of them. But, on late afternoons like this, you can start to see hundreds of more lines.

The Alps in the AfternoonThe more rugged the mountains, the better they look with a low angle of incidence of the light.  Of course, they also look great in the middle of the day, but since the rugged peaks are in three dimensions, you get many extra angles of contrast when the sun is low.These kind of shots help me remember the fake symbology built up in my head of the shape-of-mountains.  I got a bit of this when I was learning to draw...  when drawing a human face, it takes a long time to get rid of that thing that is drilled into you as a kid -- that the eye is sort of the shape of a football.  If you try to do that with a good drawing, it never works.  And, it's sort of the same way with mountains.  In my head, I still have to stop thinking of them as a rugged 2D line.  It's thousands of 2D lines, crawling this way and that, but I can usually only see one of them.  But, on late afternoons like this, you can start to see hundreds of more lines.- Trey RatcliffRead more, including a post about why I don't watermark, here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Chernobyl

The Updated Chernobyl Story

I recently started cleaning up all the various bits and pieces of the Chernobyl Story. It took forever, but now it is much more concise and proper in formatting. Go have a look!

New What’s-in-my-bag Video

I started making this video to show some behind-the-scenes from The Opposite House hotel, and then I turned it into a tour of my bag. This is everything that I took to China for a month. Enjoy!

New Video from Crater Lake

Behind-the-scenes

Here is another new video for you… I took this very recently up at Crater Lake… Enjoy!

Downtown Seattle

Failed Shoot in Seattle

As opposed to the situation below where things did work out, I had NO luck the rest of the time. I put up this little video showing some of the failure…

Daily Photo – Downtown Seattle

After arriving in Seattle, I immediately went to this spot to grab a photo. I barely made it in time. I had about 30 minutes of full light left before this scene began. It gave me just enough time to set up and frame everything with the right settings. I guess “last minute” sound a little dramatic, but, really, for me, I like to have some extra time to make sure all my settings are right before that magic moment hits.

Downtown SeattleAfter arriving in Seattle, I immediately went to this spot to grab a photo.  I barely made it in time.  I had about 30 minutes of full light left before this scene began.  It gave me just enough time to set up and frame everything with the right settings.  I guess "last minute" sound a little dramatic, but, really, for me, I like to have some extra time to make sure all my settings are right before that magic moment hits.- Trey RatcliffThe rest of this entry and a new short video are here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Oregon Coast

New Video – Behind the Scenes and Composition

Here is behind-the-scenes video I made here for this shot…

Daily Photo – The Oregon Coast

And the final shot…

The Oregon Coast Today's photo comes from Cannon Beach, Oregon.  If you click through to the blog post here at the Stuck in Customs blog, you can see a brand-new video I made while taking this shot, explaining my thoughts on composition while I take the shot.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

New Video! The Viking Waterfront

全新视频!

我用iPad拍了一个冰岛的小视频,讲述照片背后的故事。希望大家喜欢!

维京海滨

New SmugMug Vid! Want to see even more Behind-the-Scenes videos?

SmugMug Review

You guys know that I’ve been using SmugMug for years. If you want to try it out, they gave me a discount code of STUCKINCUSTOMS to save you money. To really get the full scoop and compare to Flickr etc etc, see the full SmugMug Review here on the site.

Want to see more behind-the-scenes videos???

So, even though this video below is obviously a promo for SmugMug (they didn’t pay me btw), I thought it was SO COOL that I wanted to share it. The guy that filmed it, Anton Lorimer, is absolutely fantastic.

So, I liked it so much, that I was thinking about bringing him with me on a photo adventure and have him grab a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff. I’d like them to be both scenic and technical. What do you think of this?

I’m sure I could get SmugMug to spring for the cost of sending Anton along with me (I’ll pay for myself as usual.. I never accept paid trips or free hotels, even though I get offers all the time).

Photo Reveal – 1 week from Today

In the video below, you’ll see me in the Big Sur area of California. You’ll see me taking a photo of the surf and rocks at sunset… want to see how it turned out? I’ll publish it here a week from today!

New Video – SmugMug Pro Promo

Well, this is obviously an ad for SmugMug pro (didn’t pay for my appearance in the ad OR me putting it on the website, since you may be wondering)… but, besides the commercial side, it’s also amazingly cool footage. Anton followed me around a double-wicked evening of wind and skin-ripping sand on the beach here in Big Sur. I assumed he knew what he was doing, but when I ended up seeing the footage, I was really blown away!

If you like this “look”, we’ll assemble a lot more behind-the-scenes stuff. In future ones, I’ll focus on the technical details of the shoot, how I compose, how my camera is set up, and these sorts of matters… again, let me know if you want to see this, and I’ll put together a formal plan.

New HDR Tutorial

Free HDR Tutorial Video

Okay now that I let it out there with a smaller beta crowd, we can make it official! The HDR Tutorial has been totally re-made and we’ve worked out all the bugs. Also, I made a new video to accompany it that shows how I at least start the process. Enjoy!

Daily Photo – Snow in Nikko

It was a freezing cold morning when I woke up to explore this temple area of Nikko. Luckily, I was the first person to arrive, and I was pretty much alone for this early morning because of the snow. It gave me a peaceful period to explore with my music on… taking my time and moving around the temple to take in the big picture and all the nice little details.

Snow in Nikko Japan Temple

Snow in Nikko

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperturef/8
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length18mm (18mm in 35mm)
  • Flashflash did not fire
  • Exposure Programaperture priority
  • Exposure Bias

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