Imaging Resource Founder Shares the Tale of His Site’s Untimely Demise

Imaging resource

After wondering why the Imaging Resource (IR) was seeing so few updates recently, a number of people noticed that it seemed to have vanished from the internet as of sometime last Friday, May 5. Had another “OG” photo review website bitten the dust?

Unfortunately, I have the sad task of telling everyone that the site I first founded back in April of 1998 is indeed no more.

It’s a long tale of woe, but the most tragic part is that IR was this close to finding new life under a subscription model.

Imaging Resource’s Early History and the Madavor Acquisition

Many of you reading this will be well-familiar with IR as one of the first photo gear review websites, and the one that remained fully independent for the longest. It first went live on the somehow-significant date of April 1, 1998 (no joke), and flourished for many years. I’m is hazy on the specific dates, but I think both Steve Sander’s’ and Jeff Keller’s were launched in 1997, so IR was the third of the OG sites; Phil Askey launched DPReview a few months later, in December of 1998.

IR enjoyed a lot of success for many years, and provided a good living for myself, my family and the many people who worked for me for more than two decades.

Over time though, smartphones wiped out the once-booming “digicam” market, and profits were pinched even for makers of advanced cameras. There was and still is a core of true photo enthusiasts, but advertising spending crashed and other media, like video, rose to fight for a slice of the remaining pie.

September 2000

Things came to a head for IR in the second half of 2019: The cost of doing camera reviews the way we did them, with hundreds of lab shots, extensive performance tests, rigorous field shooting, and pages-long write-ups simply became too much for the dwindling stream of ad revenue to support. A perfect storm of delayed and outright canceled ad contracts heading into the fall of 2019 very suddenly left me with no option but to close IR’s doors.

It was a sad and wrenching time for myself and everyone who worked for me, but when the time came, it wasn’t even a matter of having to make a decision. In less than a week, it simply became a question of how rapidly I could wind things down while at the same time try to provide as soft a landing as possible for the people working for me.

When I announced IR’s closure though, no less than five different groups popped up, interested in taking over the brand and carrying it into the future. Of those, Madavor Media was by far the strongest player. Its stock-in-trade with publications with niche, deeply engaged audiences, including strong photography titles like Outdoor Photographer, Digital Camera, and Digital Camera Pro, as well as other “enthusiast” publications like Plane and Pilot magazine, JazzTimes, and many others.

June 2005

Madavor had good, hardworking and straightforward management and staff. Its owner and CEO Jeff Wolk was a hard-bargaining but ultimately fair and highly principled businessman. Madavor looked like a good home for IR that would carry it comfortably into the future, run by people with work, personal and professional ethics very much in line with the sort of company IR had always been. I was confident that the unbiased reporting we were known for would continue, well-supported and without pressure.

Unfortunately, as we all know, there was the small matter of a global pandemic that turned the world upside down, starting literally as I handed the keys over to Madavor’s management. Despite advertising almost entirely vanishing overnight, Madavor’s support for IR was stalwart, not only keeping editor William Brawley and freelancer Jeremy Gray (now with PetaPixel) solidly employed, but pouring money into a complete site redesign and code update — more on this later.

BeBop and the Death of IR

Sometime early this year, Madavor’s owner was approached by a company called The BeBop Channel. I don’t know the details of the deal or the negotiations that led up to it, but BeBop eventually acquired the entirety of Madavor Media.

It did seem that many of Madavor’s publications were an awkward fit for BeBop. Its main business was producing videos about the jazz music world and broadcasting them on the Internet. Despite this, BeBop claimed to be interested in carrying Madavor’s business forward, IR included.

The BeBop Channel

Once it took over though, it soon became clear that JazzTimes was the company’s only real interest. Anything that was solidly profitable could stay (but maybe not?), but anything that wasn’t would be mercilessly cut. Unfortunately, IR was squarely in that latter category.

I suppose if IR and the other publications were churning out buckets of positive cash flow they would have been happy to keep them on; but if that had been the case, Madavor probably wouldn’t have been interested in selling in the first place. The condition of IR and some of the other publications couldn’t have been a surprise, though, so it seems we were likely doomed from the start.

I don’t know anything about the fate of other former Madavor publications. The Digital Photo and Digital Photo Pro were down over the weekend but appears to be back up again at the time of publication. Outdoor Photographer has been online throughout. I can’t speculate on the fate of any of them, but do note that BeBop sold off Plane & Pilot magazines, which I had understood to be profitable.

In any event, I don’t know and can’t speculate on BeBop’s other plans or intentions, but the bottom line is that IR’s one full-time employee (editor William Brawley) was laid off with minimal notice at the end of March and at roughly the same time the main freelancer (Jeremy Gray) was given notice that his monthly contract wouldn’t be renewed. The last posts to the site were made by Jeremy on April 18.

A Rude Surprise

Thanks in part to the sale and ensuing chaos, I had a number of articles yet to post from my most recent trip to Japan, and the first I knew of the sites being shut down was when I tried to log onto IR’s content management system Friday afternoon and discovered that the server was no longer connected. It was a shock to find out that way, but not entirely a surprise, given events up to that point.

IR Almost Made It

The saddest part of all this is that IR almost made it. Madavor had been working for months on a complete redesign and re-launch of the site that I’d been told was “99% complete.” The hangup was that IR went through at least three entirely different ways of publishing reviews and other content, and trying to fold all that random code into a single modern system was a huge task. At the end, I think the decision was made to simply not worry about material that was more than 10 years old, and proceed with the rest. I wish they’d asked me; knowing what I do of how the site was built, I would have told them to skip all the really old stuff from the get-go.

Imaging Resource

The new site would have operated under a subscription model, with some number of daily, weekly or monthly pages free, after which you’d be asked to subscribe for ad-free access. In the current climate, I think this could have worked. Subscription models have always been a tough sell on the internet, but when DPReview announced it was closing down, a lot of people commented on the realization that the community had to support resources like it and IR if they wanted them to stick around.

May 2012

I think enough people would have signed up for an inexpensive subscription to IR for it to have made a go of it. Even a tiny percentage of a million readers paying $5 per month would cover expenses: 5,000 subscriptions would have kept the site healthy and solidly in the black, 10,000 would have let it flourish and grow, adding editors and writers.

May 2023

For what it’s worth, I suspect that the site and all its code still exists somewhere, although not in my own hands, so I can’t be certain. As of my last contact with them, BeBop’s management had what I viewed as a completely unrealistic idea of the IR brand and URL’s value. There’s a chance they could be convinced to sell for something reasonable, but my limited experience with them suggests it isn’t likely. Even beyond the purchase price, it would be a very expensive exercise to complete the relaunch and fund operations until subscriptions could fill the void. It could happen, but I’m personally moving on.

Short Term: A Batch of Articles Coming Here on PetaPixel

As noted above, all the IR-related chaos brought a complete halt to my writing for a good six weeks or so, with the result that I still have a total of six articles from my last trip that still haven’t been published. There are also three articles that were initially published on IR that have now vanished from the web, which is unfair to the companies covered in them.

So in the immediate term, I’ll be working with PetaPixel to bring all of my CP+ stories here as quickly as possible — which will still take some weeks, partly due to some commitments in my personal life.

Thanks for Everyone’s Support

I’ve loved being a part of the photo business for a total of more than 25 years now, and look forward to continuing in at least some role into the future. The photo industry feels more like a “family” to me though; it’s much closer to even a group of good friends in some cases. There’s a range of people in any business, but I’ve never encountered such a vast quantity of kind, intelligent, creative, and just generally good-people-to-know as I have through photography.

Years ago, when I was just thinking of launching IR and had only a mockup of it on a laptop, then-VP of Marketing for Minolta Jon Sienkiewicz told me something I never forgot:

“The photo business is a good business. No one ever went into selling appliances because they had a passion for refrigerators, but people come to the photo business because they have a passion for photos – and photos are basically happy things, saving and sharing happy memories.”

I think that might explain it: All of us are involved with photography the gear that enables it because we love photography. That common love, and the ability of photos to capture, share and evoke emotions transcends so many of the divisions we face in daily life. Regardless of our politics, gender or ideology, we love photography and appreciate and value each others’ creativity. Photographs obviously aren’t just about happy times; they can take us to the depths of human grief and despair as well. But even in that, they bring a connectedness and sharing of what it means to be human unlike any other medium.

The photography business is a wonderful business, and I’m profoundly grateful to everyone who has made it so for me and supported my work over the decades. I honestly can’t say how blessed and appreciative I am to have been part of it through such a transformational time, and look forward to many more years of friendship and shared passion.

Many thanks to Michael Zhang and Jaron Schneider for hosting this message and offering a home for my work in the future. I’ve known both for years (Jaron was a valued editor and invaluable sounding board for me at IR for a time). I’m so happy to see Michael and PetaPixel standing strong all these years later, especially after the tsunami of destruction we’ve just witnessed in the online photo space. I’ve admired Michael’s effort and ability from the beginning: For years, he somehow single-handedly cranked out eight to 10 interesting, concise, and entertaining stories about photography every day, day in and day out, and then gradually grew the business to the point that he could bring others on to help shoulder the load. From here I see only increasing success. Sometimes hard work and talent are rewarded, I’m glad that Michael got to be one of the lucky ones who experienced it. Here’s to his next decade (or three)!