Publisher Q&A2: Conor Risch, Senior Editor of PDN

Last year we posted a "Publisher Q&A" series, featuring 12 short interviews with a range of publishers on their presses and sites and the state of the publishing market (see the site links page for links). It was a popular series, and we've decided to add another 12 entries to the series with more extended questions.

The first four posts of this second series were with Éanna de Fréine of The Velvet CellDavid Schoerner of Hassla BooksLuca Desienna of Gomma Magazine Ltd., Hannah Watson of Trolley BooksCurt Holtz, Photography Editor of Prestel PublishingAline Smithson of LenscratchHarsha Vadlamani of Galli Magazine and Heidi Romano of Unless you will.

Today we continue with Conor Risch, Senior Editor of Photo District News.

PublicationPhoto District News
Location: New York City
Format: online and print

fototazo: What is the back-story on how PDN formed?

Conor Risch: PDN is an acronym for Photo District News. The publication was founded 33 years ago as a local photo industry broadsheet covering the latest news in New York's "Photography District," which was located in Manhattan's Flatiron District. The publication’s founder, Carl Pugh, sold PDN to AdWeek in 1984, and it eventually grew into what it is today: an award-winning monthly trade magazine and website with both national and international subscribers.

f: What are the particular strengths of what PDN publishes and how the magazine approaches publishing? What separates it from other publishers?

CR: Our focus is one of our strengths, and one of the things that separates us from other publishers. PDN has a very specific mission—giving professional photographers, working in all photographic genres, information that will help them grow their businesses and flourish in a highly competitive photo market. This specificity means we can approach our work with a clear sense of what our readers want and value. The technology, methods, tools and creative languages that define photography can and do evolve, but our goal of being an indispensable resource for professional photographers hasn't changed.

Another thing that I'd like to think separates PDN from other magazine publishers is that our readers seem to really value having the magazine in print. Print magazines have been such an integral part of the history of photography, and I think, personally, that photographers will continue to value print for the foreseeable future.

f: What is your process for deciding what to publish at PDN?

CR: Through research and conversations with photographers, clients, editors, agents, gallerists, curators and other members of the photography community, the editorial staff looks to identify the current opportunities, challenges, ideas and innovations that are shaping the way photographers create their work and run their businesses. It's a collaborative process, and the final decision on whether or not we go ahead with a story rests with our editor, Holly Stuart Hughes. Then we go out and speak with photographers and other sources whose experiences can help us shape narratives that our readers will find useful and applicable to their own businesses. Beyond that we look for creative, innovative and inspiring work being done by photographers all over the world, and we try to highlight that work.

Each of the editors has departments or columns they edit or write regularly. I work on "Exposures," the section in the back of the book in which we cover photographers' long-term projects. I also often edit or write for the "Create" section, in which we focus on the advertising business. For "Create" we profile clients and write about trends within the advertising market that are influencing, or being influenced by, photographers.

f: How would you describe the contemporary edition of PDN - both in print and online - compared with its own past as well as with the general current context?

CR: As I mentioned above, the core mission of PDN and PDNOnline remains consistent with its past. Early on, PDN was focused primarily on commercial photography, but as photographers diversified their businesses, PDN diversified its content to meet their needs, and now regularly covers fine-art print sales, the gallery world, and photo book publishing. In recent years we've evolved our coverage as the industry has changed, addressing topics like video, multi-platform advertising campaigns, social media marketing and other trends as they apply to photographers.

f: How do you view the contemporary landscape of photography magazine - on and offline - as a product and as a market in relation to its history? How have they responded to evolutions in the market to reach their current forms?

CR: The ranks of people who have a serious interest in making photographs and communicating visually are obviously growing exponentially and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The potential audience for photography publications and photography related content is expanding in turn, which is positive. We see this reflected in the proliferation of photography websites, blogs, forums and the like, which make the market for photography content both stronger and more competitive. People like to look at work and read about photography in different ways. Some prefer print, some prefer the web; others prefer tablets or rely on social networks. Publications are responding by communicating and promoting their work via all of these channels.

And while the increase in the number of people making photographs and interested in photography is great in many ways, it has put a lot of pressure on professional photographers, who have to deal with this ludicrous "everyone is a photographer" notion, which has led a lot of people to think of photographs as highly expendable, free, etcetera. I think our challenge and opportunity is to recognize and promote the idea that in a market inundated with imagery, the work of professionals has more value, not less, because theirs are the images that stand out and engage this growing audience for photography.

f: What has been your highlight in working with PDN?

CR: It's always a great pleasure to work on the PDN’s 30 issue each year. In that issue, which comes out every May, we profile 30 emerging photographers, whom we select from 300-plus applicants nominated by PDN editors and people throughout the photography industry. It's great to connect with people in the industry and find out who they’re working with and watching; to see the work of so many photographers during our weeks-long evaluation process; and to have a chance to interview and write about a few photographers for the issue. I have been at PDN for five years and worked on five of these issues, and hearing about the influences, hard work and aspirations of emerging photographers remains inspiring.

f: What are the next steps for the magazine?

CR: To press on. We’ll continue to evolve our coverage in step with the professional photography market. We'll advocate for and celebrate the work of professional photographers. And we'll continue to improve how we distribute our work in print and digitally.