R.I.P. Popular Photography, 1937-2017


Before there were geeks, there were camera geeks, although they were called “hobbyists” because “geeks” hadn’t been invented yet. And if you were a camera geek, you subscribed to Popular Photography. For camera reviews, explanations of photography arcana, and instruction in photography, it was simply the best there was. When WC administered the estate of that quintessential geek, Ken Philip, he found a near complete set of issues of Popular Photograph in Ken’s basement.

The March/April issue of Popular Photography will be its last. Another victim of the information age.

Bonnier Corporation, the owner of the magazine, blames the magazine’s recent unprofitability on the triumph of cell phone cameras and the flight of advertisers to the internet. Eric Zinczenco, the CEO of Bonnier, wrote in a memo to company employees:

The rise of smartphone-camera technology and its increasing ability to capture quality photos and video and instantly share them socially has dealt the photo industry formidable challenges. For our brands, these industry challenges have left us with insurmountable losses in advertising and audience support.

There’s no question that the world is awash in cell phone photos, many of which seem to be selfies. And many of which could benefit from the kind of composition instruction Popular Photography used to provide. On WC’s recent trip to Peru, the number of selfie photographers outnumbered folks with more traditional digital cameras 10 to 1.

But WC is uncertain that this reality, this surfeit of bad photos, can explain the death of the magazine. The invention of the Kodak Brownie and the Kodak Instamatic didn’t kill the magazine. The shift from film to digital at the start of the 21st Century didn’t kill the magazine. WC seriously doubts that most cell phone photgraphers would have ever have known of, let alone read, Popular Photography. Arguably, smart phone photography should serve as a pathway to dedicated cameras as the very real limitations of smart phone photography limit those who aspire to something other than selfies and snapshots.

More likely, it was the magazine’s inability to make the transition from print to digital, and the loss of advertisers as on-line shopping hammered retail photography shop sales. Amazon is one of the largest retailers of photography equipment now and Amazon, of course, doesn’t need to advertise in Popular Photography.

But it serves little purpose to lament what Popular Photography might have done to survive. It’s gone. Someone told WC that getting old meant getting to watch more and more of your friends die. So, after 80 years, we see another magazine WC valued disappear.

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