So I believe Time magazine bought an image for 30$ for their cover. Interestingly, it was to illustrate the fact that everyone is cutting budgets and saving where they can...I think the cover looks tacky and the photographer has not been paid according to the usage, but is the illustration not apt? If Time is saying this is all we can be bothered to pay for photographs, this is the product we produce...then that is the message we receive. I still believe that you get what you pay for.
Microstock has been eroding the value of professional imagery for years now, not that it is the singular culprit. The fact that anyone with enough money to buy a decent digital camera can call themselves a photographer and can submit (often quite decent) images to stock libraries, and online databases of images grow by millions within a year, this will clearly lead to price cuts.
I owned and ran a small online photo library from 2003-2005, and now, in 2009, I am not able to charge the same clients (mainly SA magazines) a higher price than I charged in those days. This because in order to make the sale, I have been forced to drop prices for rights managed imagery.
There is a lot more product around than in 2003. There are many places where magazines can source images for free (with Digital photography, PR agencies, tourism agencies, and most companies all have a library of images they do not mind supplying to magazines in order to get publicity, so why would a magazine pay an agency for an image of a lodge in a travel story, when the lodge will supply beautiful images, plus a few wildlife shots, for nothing) These are real factors, as well as the dominance of one or two major online stock libraries, including iStockphotos.
Editorial budget cuts have editors looking around for further cheaper options, and there is always a "photographer" who can do the job, and is quite willing to do it at a lesser rate than what the actual going rate is. One of the problems here is that no one REALLY knows what the going rate is.
Photography seems to be a profession that many people think they want to get into, and with there being so many semi-professionals out there (some of whom are people with full time jobs who then undercut the industry to get their work published) the photographers who are doing this full-time are finding what is left is slim pickings.
The Time magazine Cover issue is interesting in that it is a high profile user of imagery that people feel has stooped to using microstock, where one expects to see quality photojournalism on their cover. Also, why should Time "get away" with only paying 30 dollars?
Unfortunately, due to the market forces, this is what we are working with, and we just have to continue valuing our own work enough and hope there are enough clients in our environment who are prepared to pay us a professional wage for a professional service. I still believe that you get what you pay for... I have had clients say a rights managed image is too much, they can get the same for $7, and then they come back and need the image because their $7 image just did not cut it.