A Couple Blogs I’m Reading

Thoughts of a Bohemian, first pointed out to me by Kim Taylor of 180mag.ca in the comments of a post, is written by Paul Melcher a stock industry veteran who happens to also be a bohemian, which I dig. He speaks my language as well. Here’s a good example on a post entitled “A Whale of a Story.

It is everyone’s understanding that the price of photography will continue to dip down. How soon and how fast, it is anyone’s guess. It would absolutely not surprise me if someone like Getty would take a deep plunge into bottom cheap imagery in order to get rid of any competition and clean the landscape, a bit like a whale plunges deep below to get rid of parasite fish, only to return to a new, stronger marketplace. Everyone knows that there is too much photography available, both in stock and editorial. It is time to force the medium and lesser photographers and agencies into a rapid bankruptcy in order to sanitize the offering.

Let me step back and explain: The market, currently, offers the false impression that anyone can make money in the photography field. Since it has become easy and cheap to enter, everyone and his brother is now either a photographer or a stock agent. Since there is no tangible market research on the size of our industry, $2 billion, $5 billion, $3000 billion, it is anyone guess on what the payout will be. If someone paid attention, I am sure that we would see that there has been more stock agencies of all type launched in the last five years then at anytime in its brief history. And it is only growing exponentially. More agencies, more photographers, more photographers, less relevant images. It seems that there is money to be made because of Microstocks and Flickr’s successes. And as much is there might be an increase in the number of images used in one year, there has not been an increase of revenue generated by this spike. It has been almost cancelled by the fall in pricing and Getty has been a witness to that.

The only way to really profit from that growth would be to get rid of the overflow of images. And the best way is to force as many people out of the market as possible, as quickly as possible.

A quick hit off the bottom could be exactly whats needed in this industry but I guess that depends on if you’re a whale or a parasite.

The other blog I’m checking out is called “The Business of Photography” and I discovered it over on Photo Rank (here) submitted by the author Ed McCulloch hisself. It’s sort of a “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” for the photo school kids and seems to be born out of the frustration of an education that doesn’t teach business to photographers (ridiculous).

Anyway, there’s plenty of advice for photographers floating around but I always like it when I see someone with talent giving it out. Ed is a name I’ve been familiar with for sometime because he knows how to market himself and he’s a good photographer, definitely someone worth listening to.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. Getting rid of a large amount of the photography available and the photographers that produce is an interesting idea. But it’s not going to happen. Why? Because there is a huge industry based on selling services (schools, seminars, photography contests, etc.) and equipment to people who want to become professional photographers.

    There are also way to many part time photographers who can produce tons of work in their spare time. Even if they make no money, they’ll keep doing it. And there’s lots more potential part time photographers waiting to take their place when they quit.

    I think we’ll have to wait until the newness of the digital revolution finally matures. Maybe at some point, when (hopefully) digital cameras aren’t complying with Moore’s Law, the excitement for the general public to become photographers will finally die down. Though, maybe not…

  2. I scanned the Melcher piece you reference. I think his premise, i.e., that everyone thinks there is money to be made in photography, is wrong. In my experience and that of those I respect in the photo business, there isn’t anyone who is serious about photography (and money) who is under any illusions about the state of the photo business. And not just the stock or editorial market.

    That there are a lot of images out there cannot be denied. But you could say these conditions are approaching those of Adam Smith’s perfect market in which the supply side of the competition function is at its theoretical maximum. The whale analogy describes anti-competitive tactics invoked by monopolists, tactics that are intended to reduce competition, artificially limit supply and thus increase the price to consumers. The implication — in Melcher’s piece and in many of your posts — that large supply means diluted quality is disingenuous.

    As much as I personally loath the Flickr interface and environment, it is emblematic of what the Internet and the Web are about with respect to opportunities that change the dynamics of commerce.

    I can’t see that Melcher could really disagree with this given his business as advertised via your link seems to be consulting to photographers and others about how better to build their own web-based marketing and sales channels. Is his target market the whales or the parasites? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.)

  3. Good analogy but I think it’s the parasites that are steering the whale. There are so many that sheer volume is driving them to bottom and before they hit, the parasites will rip off as much as they can and return to the top claiming victory.
    Will the mighty whale survive? only time will tell. When it’s all over Pixar™ will do a cute movie about the whale and Tom Hanks will do the voice.

  4. It’s a broken analogy based on orthodox beliefs. Quality and market success are not synonyms. They occasionally coincide in the same place, but should not be mistaken for each other.

    Until pro photographers start working for the kudos of a byline instead of money, there is no bottom. But on the way down, photography is being transformed from a mechanism of independent free expression and critique to eye-candy propaganda for the status quo. Nothing else is economically viable in this noxious atmosphere.

    You want an analogy, try TV, 57 channels and (almost) nothing on. So long as people look at the ads, it’s still good business.

  5. What I find interesting is that there seems to be an inverse thing happening, from commercial photographers to fine art photographers. It seems like interest (and prices) for fine art work are going up, whereas commercial photography is more and more turning into simply a commodity, with prices spiraling downward.

    You see people like Schoeller having success at Bill Hunt’s gallery, and other commercial photographers showing work in galleries, and maybe the gallery association is what allows you to hold on to some degree of “specialness”, whereas every supposed commercial guy is running around with a 1ds-something with a digital tech in tow, looking like the next guy in line, with a Digi-Canon.

    I do agree, it seems to be a race to the bottom, and no way to stop the madness. Reminds me of that Iranian ship issue recently, with the US military, where those (multiple) tiny little Iranian gunboats had the power to overtake the giant US ship. In this analogy, the giant US ship is the Old School commercial photographer who actually owned his own studio and gear, and really knew his craft, and the Iranian gunboats were the seemingly endless supply of newfound kids with digi-Canons, swarming and darting. You wipe out fifty little Iranian boats, and there are a hundred more behind them, like like the endless supply of the Digi-Canon crowd, who’d stick a shiv in their own mother’s back for an 8-point photo credit in some worthless magazine, thinking, hoping, praying, that that one photo credit will put them on the map.

  6. When AF lenses were created did the MF photogs say this was the downfall of the industry because you no longer needed skill to focus on your subjects?

    What about when high ISO film arrived. Did people say this was the end because you no longer needed expertise in the dark room to develop those dark photos?

    And when digital arrived did it mark the end? There are still lots of uses for film out there, but there are even more uses for digital. Granted I’ve only met several dozen photogs but they use digital for 95% of what they shoot. They’ll go back to film when it’s appropriate but for the most part they use digital.

    My point is that innovation promotes progress. While it may be the rising sea that lifts all boats we’re still talking about a navy where the professionals are like warships and the amateurs are floating around on rubber dingies.

    I started looking seriously at photography a year ago when my wife bought me a D40. Since then I’ve gone up to a D200 and D2H, purchased $10k of lenses, and have shot over 125 sporting events. Despite living a second career almost 8 hours a day after my regular day-job I’m still one of those little rubber dingies in comparison to the professionals. I don’t have the contacts, I don’t have the publishing vehicles, I don’t have the credentials, and I still don’t have the equipment that my professional counterparts have.

    It’s true that the availability of equipment and bandwidth has led to an explosion of photos. But there is still a huge difference between the amateur and the professional. There will always be that difference so long as the price of glass puts a f/2.8 lens up in the $1000 range.

    My opinion is that the professionals should look more critically at Getty and other commercial entities and ask about the money trails than assuming that their reduction in pay is linked to the digital revolution.

    Last time I checked the professionals were taking part in the digital revolution…

  7. The digital revolution isn’t solely to blame. Nothing is solely to blame, and I doubt many think it’s one particular thing or another. It’s just that digital has sped up the learning curve, and significantly lowered the barriers to entry.

    The sped up learning curve, along with the lower barrier to entry, and the significant increase in images in our daily lives, books and websites about becoming a professional photographer, and a general tendency for people to want to be passionate about what their doing with their lives probably all contribute to more people trying to become professional photographers.

    Unlike many professional photographers, I don’t harbor a deep disdain for the amateur, the part timer, or the many others trying to enter the field. I too, was once one of them, and I understand why they are doing what they are doing.

    There may still be a difference between the images of some professionals and some amateurs, but there were always some pretty bad professionals and some really good amateurs. The technology of today simply makes it easy to compare, contrast, and to learn. The good amateurs are getting better a lot faster than they used to. Also many photo needs can be met by less than spectacular photography, and hence can support, or at least encourage, many semi-pros, and part timers to keep at it for a long time.

    Unless or until, there is a significant increase in the need for top quality photography, the prices paid for it will not likely go up.

    Also while contemporary photography seems hot right now, it to is a very limited field. If you can be successful in it, you can get more interest, and most likely more money, for your editorial and commercial photography. Success breeds success.

  8. Rob references another blog today, where the author asks the question of who might solve the question of a “universal search feature”. That would be interesting; who could combine a Search between Getty, Corbis, fifty other Baby-Gettys, and all the way down to individual photographer sites, like Andy Anderson or Jim Erickson.

    It also will get interesting when the large stock houses lower their prices to the point that their quality photographers pack their bags, and begin to sell stock solely thru their own websites, avoiding any commission. A downward spiral, until we reach the point that there’s nothing worth buying on either Getty or Corbis, because The Big Guys pulled an Ani Difranco, and said, “We’re outta here; we don’t need no stinkin’ record company any more; we’re going to do it ourselves”.

    Or, maybe we need a Stock Photo Search on iTunes. Except, hopefully, it’ll be higher than 99 cents per image.

    The odd thing to me is, if you’re serious about shooting stock, the Production Expenses are going up up up, and with Talent balking at signing Stock Releases. I just can’t understand how anyone is making any money.

  9. Tony, you are so right on. I was bloging about the attitude that marketing and the presentation in photography is more important to success than the photography. This may be true but it is sad. And it is sad that photographers accept this and focus so much on those aspects while the quality goes down the toilet. The general public doesn’t seem to know, you’re absolutely right, they just want eye candy and that is what a lot of photography has become. More like illustration. Only when this attitude or truism changes or photographers seek more will things improve/change.

  10. Scott said: ‘The general public doesn’t seem to know’.

    This is a problem. Photography was, pre-digital, a relative backwater of culture with a clear-ish hierarchy of masters and aspiring pupils. It could be described as elitist, but whom comprised the elite was consensual. Photography, like playing the piano, took time and effort and passion to learn, and a lifetime to master.

    It still does, but digital has been hailed as a great populist emancipation on one level, that anyone can now easily take great photographs. On another level what comprises good photography and what it means to be a photographer has been redefined by an amorphous equality of opinion dominated by people who just got their DSLR last week.

    This isn’t a pro’s vs. amateurs matter, nor film vs. digital, it’s about values and visual literacy. For Joe Public photography *is* Flickr, and what is good is defined by faves. This is a Year Zero disconnect from all that went before.

    Of course, there are probably more superb photographers now than at any time in history, but they are lost in the signal-to-noise, appreciated mostly only by other photographers.

    If you applied this to any other discipline, it would seem ludicrous. What if painting, or literature, or cookery lost its memory and began again from scratch? You’d hope that the public would quickly notice that the average text-jabbing kindergarten kid was not quite Norman Mailer or John Steinbeck.

    But it ain’t going to happen because – well, I’ll quote myself from 1996: ‘The success of a technology does not depend on enhanced utility, technical elegance, aesthetic superiority, economic efficiency, nor any contribution to quality of life, but upon the extent to which it transfers power and control up the food chain. This is as true of digital anything as it is of fishing rods or Kalashnikovs or EOS1n’s.’

    The masses are equal to us now because they have the same tools, the same power and control. The wisdom of what to use this for does not come with any instruction manual.

    Having said all that, we mustn’t miss the point that it is digital distribution that has done the most to emasculate creators, and digital cameras are just an input device for that collapse in the balance of power.

    Mark Getty famously understood what we missed about digital distribution : ‘Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st Century. Look at the richest men a hundred years ago; they all made their money extracting natural resources or moving them around. All today’s richest men have made their money out of intellectual property’.

    However what Getty missed is : what happens when photography becomes a freely available and endlessly replenished commodity, beyond monopoly control? Getty never saw Flickr coming either, he just trashed the stock industry to build a bigger dinosaur.

    In the long term, some of the public will learn discrimination and expertise, whilst others will become bored with photography or move on to the next great gadget fad, holographic video or something. I’m not sure who or what will survive this ice age, but pro’s are the most vulnerable and there is a dire shortage of viable niches. It’s a quite extraordinary state of affairs given that commercial usage of images has never been greater. In no sense is photography obsolete but it seems the people who do it best may well be.

  11. You quoted Paul Melcher on the state of photography. And this passage struck me as ridiculous:

    ‘Everyone knows that there is too much photography available, both in stock and editorial. It is time to force the medium and lesser photographers and agencies into a rapid bankruptcy in order to sanitize the offering.’

    There may be a wealth of imagery, but there ISN’T a wealth of the right pictures. And no matter how large or small the marketplace anything in short supply is worth more…

    The other assertion that running people out of the market of photography is not only impossible, but dumb.

    Why on earth do we need to ‘force the medium and lesser photographers and agencies into a rapid bankruptcy’ in order to improve the health of the marketplace?

    Maybe a photo buyer gets this, but I’m stumped. The harder it is for you to find the right photographers and the right pictures the better.

    Oh, and he’s totally wrong on his other point. People with cameras can always make money if they make pictures that someone actually needs.

  12. Hey!

    Did your blog just go unanoymouse? No matter, I came across your blog a few months ago perhaps through kottke.org or somehow. I´ve really enjoyed reading it and learned alot. I only photograph professionally for a brief amount of time and learnt the hard way with magazines, people who pay little, pay who paid 4 times more than I expected, and not to give any freebies from all those NGO requests on Flickr (non profits pay the salaries of their workers and graphic editor, why not use photographers?)

    I only photographed in the digital age, benefitied from it, but realize it is also making it tought for me to do photography just full-time as my only source of income.

    But the belief in my quest to always be better, learn more, capture more interesting things, and not sell myself short.. keep my going..

    Best regards from Berlin,

    Joao Paglione

  13. I think that Melcher is right on if for no other reason than there are so many more of us than there used to be. Population is up which means more of us wanting to be photographers (and writers, and musicians, and everything else). But there really aren’t more publications (print or online) to get work from. The existing publications will just sell more copies and if you want to be successful you’ve got to better than good. More than before because competition is up and the equipment makes it easier than ever.

    What really separates amateurs from professionals is the same in photography as it is in all other professions: consistency and reliability. As an amateur I have a lot of great shots in my portfolio that I’ve taken over a lot of years. But can I guarantee that on any given day I’ll produce? No I can’t and that’s why I’m not a pro and why any editor who hires me for a deadline story would be taking a chance. Not every pro makes great images but every pro who lasts takes pictures that are Good Enough.

  14. Yes it is true that there is a glut of photography, but will falling prices really lead to higher quality photographers and better photographers? Surely those who can afford to keep their business going by any means necessary will survive for we all know that there is no accounting for taste and commerce will always abuse culture for financial gain. You only have to look at popular film, television and music to see how the market works – sure there is great talent but it is the exception rather than the rule. Most of what exists will pander to the lowest common denominator.

    This state of affairs is also bad for those who are just starting out in the industry. It costs a lot to get a photographic career off the starting blocks and if the pay continues to stagnate and even fall then many talented young photographers will just simply not be able to afford to continue.

    Photogarphy is the same as all other creative industries and to pretend it is somhow unique and special – as many people seem to – is sheer folly. It is a struggle and many seemingly undeserving people will make good money while many great talents will never make a penny.

    I would love to be able to provide a neat solution but as photography is a heady cocktail of art and commerce, liberally dosed with science and politics and anything else you may care to add then it will remain a tricky and difficult career, subject to trends, fashions and whims.