The end is (probably) nigh: After almost 22 years, Imaging Resource is set to wind down in early 2020
posted Sunday, October 13, 2019 at 12:00 PM EST
[UPDATE 11-1-19: Our Patreon Page is now live!]
First off, apologies to all our readers that you're only hearing from us about this now, when other sites posted the news a couple of days ago. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, and I'm writing this from Japan, where I'm gathering material for no less than four tech stories that'll appear on the IR site over the next few months. I'm excited to be working on them (not least because it means I had an excuse to visit Japan yet again), I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I'm enjoying putting them together :-)
The end of a long, happy road, maybe the start of another
I first had the idea for Imaging Resource almost 24 years ago, and I've been actively working on it for about 22 years now. I officially launched the site with the first handful of reviews in April of 1998, and it's been a spectacular run ever since. I'm proud that some of our first readers are still with us, and we've accumulated many more along the way. Personally, I've been blessed beyond measure by the site, my co-workers and the entire photo industry; it's one of the nicest industries in the world, with remarkable unstinting support, camaraderie and positive feelings all around.
Now though, nearly 22 years later, we're coming to an end of that road, although it's possible that the site and brand might continue, with a greatly trimmed-down staff. I hope that'll be possible, and there may be a few ways to make it happen, but it'll require committed support from both readers and manufacturers to bring it to pass.
The April Fool's that wasn't: IR's early days
I'll get to the details of where we're at, but indulge me in a little reminiscence first; it's been quite a ride...
As mentioned, Imaging Resource made its official debut on April 1st, 1998. Back then, digital cameras were still just starting to become a thing, and film cameras still dominated. Digicams of the time were very expensive by today's standards, yet most offered a resolution of just 640 x 480 pixels, had a single, fixed ISO sensitivity and frequently lacked even a screen on which to frame or review your images.
In that early time, image quality, performance and handling qualities were all over the map, and you just couldn't find anything more online than a few basic facts. Sample images were nowhere to be found, especially ones that could be used to actually compare cameras with each other. You could find the same five or six facts for any of the cameras, but not much beyond it. As I said at the time, the information was a mile wide and an inch deep. (Make that a kilometer and centimeter for our friends in other countries ;-)
I wanted to provide some kind of a resource people could refer to, where they could compare standardized images shot of the same subjects under the same conditions with all the cameras, explain their operation and provide a full set of specs for all of them. Later, we added performance testing, with standardized measurements for shutter lag, cycle time and buffer capacity. (I'm pretty certain that we were the first organization to reliably test shutter lag, and the method we developed became the basis for how commercial test systems from outfits like DxO and Image Engineering measure it today.)
The business was a typical startup, beginning in a spare bedroom, then migrating to the basement, and finally into our long-time home in a separate house tucked away in the woods, where we've operated since about 2001.
We're (probably) closing early next year, and here's why
They say all good things must come to an end, though, and tantalizingly close to a quarter-century from when I first had the idea for it, I'm sorry to say that Imaging Resource, too, will likely be winding down early next year.
The reasons for that decision are many-fold. For one thing, the camera industry itself has been contracting for quite a few years now. That's due in part to the arrival on the scene of high-quality camera phones which, especially for many more casual photographers, negated the need to carry a separate device on which to capture their memories.
But that's not the whole story: Just as significantly, modern digital cameras are reliable enough to last for years, and the image quality and performance they offer mean that photographers don't feel the urge to upgrade to newer models nearly as often. The days of buying a new camera every couple of years or so are by and large behind us, which while great news for photographers is bad news for the industry as a whole.
In a shrinking market, the money's no longer there to finance our considerable efforts
So at the same time as many consumers have left the dedicated camera market altogether, the photographers who remain are buying new cameras less frequently. And while the average purchase price is significantly higher in a market dominated by large-sensor, interchangeable-lens cameras (that offer a compelling reason to put down your smartphone), the net result is that there's far less money to go around, meaning (much) fewer ad dollars.
That's proven to be a significant challenge for review sites like IR, because it takes a lot of manpower and a spectacular amount of time to perform all of the lab work and real-world shooting -- not to mention all of the writing -- for the sort of in-depth reviews that we've published over the past two decades. And even though we've worked to streamline the process, the money just isn't there to support a team of our size any more.
Why you didn't read this news here first
As mentioned above, many of you will have already seen this news on our (very friendly) rival sites like DPReview and Petapixel, who ran with the news a day or two back. You may be wondering why it wasn't announced here first, and the answer is pretty simple: I've had a lot on my plate, and the news simply got a little ahead of me. Shutting down is a lot more involved than simply flicking a switch; I needed to notify many partners before the news could be made public, but then felt the pressure to let it out into the open so our staffers could finally talk openly about the situation and solicit new employment. The need to allow that to happen took precedence over getting the order of announcement right. I was extremely under the gun to fit in the trip I'm on now, with a ton of prep work to do for the content I'm working on creating. With all of that and the need to let my people start job-hunting more openly, I chose to just send a few emails and put up a post on my personal Facebook account, where I knew many of the people in the industry would see it.
That news spread waaay more quickly than, with the benefit of hindsight, my humility had prevented me from expecting. And it happened in the middle of the night here, after which I had a number of jet-lagged meetings to get through. I could have left it for the IR team to write up, but it didn't feel right for me to not do so in the form of a personal note.
So here I am, finally sharing what's going on and the reasons why.
What next for Imaging Resource and its talented team
"What's next?" is a question I've been asking myself a lot these past few weeks. I'm sure that most of our writers and editors will remain in the photo press somewhere, even if just where may not be clear yet. I'm sure you'll find some formerly-IR bylines on our friendly competitor DPR's site, but I expect they'll crop up other places as well.
The highest-probability path is that we'll get reviews posted for the recently- (and about-to-be ;-) announced cameras between now and the end of the year. After that, new content will stop, although we may keep some news posting going for a little while. The site itself will stay alive and online for at least the first half of next year. It might be possible to keep it around a bit longer than that, if I can trim the server bills some, so the trickle of money from network ads will keep it from being a money pit for me.
There's some chance that the site could continue indefinitely into the future, with a very trimmed-down staff; likely just a couple of guys rather than the staff of 10+ that run it currently. That scenario also requires me to switch to getting most of my personal income from other sources, which I have plans for that I'm eager to explore.
In the "IR v2.0" future, there'd be less review content going up, but perhaps not as much less as you'd expect. We'd cut the lab testing to a bare minimum, and without the overhead of shuffling gear back and forth to remote writers, editing and assembling the content and focusing more on the hands-on experience, the IRHQ guys (Dave Pardue and William Brawley) could be more efficient in just generating the content themselves. Given this, the reduction in content might only be 40-50%, rather than the 80% you'd expect based on sheer headcount reduction.
There are a couple of scenarios by which IR v2.0 could happen, but both would require strong support from both our readers and manufacturers. Ad relationships would need to be streamlined and annual commitments, rather than the feast-or-famine conventional campaigns that have required so much of my own time and generated so much personal stress along the way.
One scenario would be a sale, that would provide a base for the reduced team to operate from. I've had discussions with a couple of outfits, one seems seriously interested, but I'm very open to other offers. It's important to me that the value and integrity of the IR brand be maintained and that the core team of the two HQ guys will be there to carry it forward. I've put too much into IR over the last 21+ years to build the reputation that it has; I'd rather see it fade away than devolve into a clickbait "review" site. For this to work, though, myself and the prospective buyer will need to be able to identify solid sources of revenue to support the team, and reader support would be an important part of that.
Another scenario is that I could continue to run it at arm's length, semi-retiring and making my income from other sources (more on that in a bit). I'd need to get myself off the payroll to make this feasible, and as part of that would need to have annual ad agreements with a few manufacturers that would take me out of the spreadsheet hell that's required to put together proposals and traffic projections for the feast-or-famine seasonal ad campaigns that I've dealt with to date. It'd also take support from readers to do this, even more so than in the first scenario above.
(If you're seriously interested in buying IR or know someone who would be, reach out to me via an InMail on LinkedIn. I'm Dave Etchells there, associated with Imaging Resource. - I don't want to put my personal email in this post; I get waaaay too much spam already, even after the spam filters :-0)
What you can do to help keep IR alive
First, given that we're still running through year's end and have ad contracts to fulfill a fair way into next year, the easiest way to help us would be to keep visiting regularly, for as long as the site's up. Beyond that, I'd very much appreciate your positive thoughts and prayers for the team. (And we've all been deeply touched by the outpouring of emotion we've already received to our inbox, as well as that we've seen on other sites around the web.) The photo press is a tight-knit community, and it means a lot to hear from both readers and our colleagues at other publications how much they appreciate what we've contributed to the industry, in our own unique (and admittedly, rather verbose and nerdy!) way.
You can also continue to help by clicking through our affiliate links as you're making gear purchases in the coming months. People tend to hit us early when they're researching their next gear purchase, so our pages are often long in the rearview mirror by the time they make their buy. This means that affiliate dollars have always been low relative to our page volume. Here again, if just 2% of our monthly visitors made their purchases through our affiliate links, we wouldn't need to rely on advertising at all.
The best part of affiliate money is that it cost you absolutely nothing; you pay exactly the same as if you visited the retailer's site, but we get a small percentage of the sale for the sake of our referring the customer.
We have affiliate links on every product page on the site, but here are some general links you can click on right now. Anything you buy after clicking on one of these links helps the site:
You can also support us via PayPal; here are some donation buttons for that:
You can also subscribe for a periodic amount on PayPal; it'll credit our account with the amount you select until you tell it to stop doing so:
Finally, I've just created a Patreon page for people to support us there! Doing so will surely help us remain in business.
Remember: every dollar you contribute will translate directly into more content on the site.
Enough long-term commitments will keep the site alive well into the future
What's next for Dave?
This is probably the least important part of all this, but I know people will ask, so here's what I'm looking forward to doing next personally:
1) Still produce at least some of my hallmark executive interviews and factory tours :-)
Whether it's on a continuing version of IR or some other site, I want to keep my hand in the industry – and am always looking for
excuses reasons to visit Japan. So I hope and plan to continue doing some of that going forward. (It's the part of all this that I most enjoy.)
2) IP consulting
I've done a little Intellectual Property (patent) consulting over the years, and absolutely love it. Reading patents, searching for prior art or doing claims construction, I feel like I'm using every . single . neuron I have, and it's fun! (I even have a sufficiently perverse nature that depositions count as fun too ;-) My specialties are image processing algorithms and architecture, system architecture for imaging devices, and some of the particulars of sensor design. Also, thanks to my 21+ years of seeing virtually every camera made and how consumers respond to them, I feel qualified to conduct damages evaluation. (This is the part of a patent case where, after determining that infringement has occurred, the court needs to decide how much the infringement was worth.)
3) Weather-resistance testing
Regular readers will be aware of the work I've been doing to develop a test of camera and lens water-resistance that's rigorous, fair, and representative of actual photographic use cases. (The conventional Ingress Protection or "IP" ratings are designed for commercial equipment, and involve waaaay more water and much shorter periods of time than would be relevant for photographers.) It takes a good bit of my personal time to conduct these tests, and much more of it to write up the analysis, so I've been frustrated at only managing to post a few test results to date. If I can get off the hamster-wheel of endless ad proposals, travel and general running-the-business stuff, I'll have time to devote to this testing. Both users and manufacturers have been very interested in and supportive of the work I've done so far; the industry badly needs some objective way of measuring weather-resistance, and I think I've developed the methodology and equipment to do just that. Plus, my past 21+ years of running an objective, facts-based review website means both users and industry players can trust my integrity and objectivity to maintain such a standard. So this is something I'd very much like to continue and expand upon.
Finally, thank all of YOU, for all of your visits, comments and feedback
And with all of that said, it just remains to thank all of you, our readers -- and that means you! -- as well as all my friends in the industry and at other publications. None of this would have been possible without our faithful readers; you're the reason why we've done what we do It's been a heck of a ride these past two decades, with some really, really great cameras along the way. Here's hoping that whatever the future holds for IR, the next two decades will prove just as fulfilling for the IR team -- whether that's at some form of IR v2.0, or somewhere else entirely. On behalf of both myself and all of them, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!