Instagram Joins The Brownie As The Next Great Photography Disruptor

- - The Future

In an article on La Letter De La Photograpie, Paul Melcher says Instagram just showed the world that “there is no limit to what photography can earn.” That is of course in reaction to the 1 billion dollars Facebook paid to acquire the company last week. Paul goes on to describe the leaps that evolve photography from the massive camera to the instamatic, from manual to automatic (focus, metering and imaging) and how a company that figured out how to make crappy phone camera images look interesting and easy to share, can suddenly be worth a billion dollars without a dime of profits on the income statement (read the whole article here).

This, my friends, is a trend in business called “Software Will Eat The World” coined in an article for the Wall Street Journal by Marc Andreessen (here):

we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.

More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.

Why is this happening now?

Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.

Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago, when I was at Netscape, the company I co-founded. In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.

On the back end, software programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software-powered start-ups in many industries—without the need to invest in new infrastructure and train new employees.

Which explains how a company with 13 employees and no profits can replace a now bankrupt company that once employed over 120,000 people with annual sales of $10 billion as the “manufacturer” of a device to bring photography to the masses.

 

There Are 30 Comments On This Article.

  1. Patrick Downs (@PatDownsPhotos)

    “a company that figured out how to make crappy phone camera images look interesting and easy to share” The easy part is easy to understand. The crappy part, not so much. I hope the crappygrams just serve to make good photos look better by comparison. Of course, the opposite effect is possible … people will just forget what good photos are supposed to look like!

    • c.d.embrey

      The demographic that counts, i.e. those that spend money, are the young. They have all bought camera phones and are happily snapping away. Photos (and videos) are as common as dirt, and have about the same value.

      And no-one notices that they are crappy, or even cares. Time Marches On.

  2. The medium may not be THE message, but it’s always part of it. The hard work that goes into making a wet plate has an impact on the message given by the four corners of the end result, just like the “cool new process” sends a message beyond the subject matter in an Instagram or Hipstamtic photo. Add social networking, and the message gets amplified (and monetized). Some people like a message of hard work, others a message of being trendy or whatever, but both are participating in the same “medium is the message” aspect.

    • perfectly said

      I am a university prof and find it sad that students these days think kitsch means hip… then have them defend that the word has new meaning now. Like suddenly ‘this really is a pipe yo’. Sadly the success of Instagram can be summed up as it sold for so much because all those users are going to be mined and monetized – big brothers oops I mean Facebook’s specialty.

  3. Instagram is to photography what Xerox was to producing great literary works. But hey, 13 people just won a huge lottery. I wonder how many jobs they will create?

  4. Camera phones are the AK-47s of the photography world: cheap, they do an okay job, are easy to use, and they are everywhere.

    Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and price they paid for it makes short term tactical sense as it keeps it out of Twitter’s hands.

    Of all it takes to disrupt that deal is one hungry smart hungry programmer in his dorm room to come up with a better app.

  5. Correction:
    Of course all it takes to disrupt that deal is one hungry smart programmer in his dorm room to come up with a more appealing apps.

    Apps are like hit songs, the best will have the timeless appeal of certain works by Mozart, Beethoven, the Gershwins, Lennon & McCartney, or Goffing & King. Most will be like yesterday’s Lady Gaga or the Archies.

    The muse moves on.

  6. scott Rex Ely

    I think the company that brought the film thingy device to the masses earned their nickel several times, several years ago. The question is Can new aesthetically driven digital technology, used in pedestrian vehicles, be a short term profitable enterprise?
    We can’t extinguish a dinosaur without looking at what genes, modified for survival, will give us next .

  7. Instagram’s success versus Kodak’s failure isn’t entirely about photos looking ‘cool’.

    Instagram is incredibly easy to use. In just a few seconds, anyone can share their photos, see their friends’ photos, and meet people from around the world.

    In its heyday, Kodak’s Brownie camera made it incredibly easy to shoot and develop photos. Just click 100+ pictures, send in the camera and Kodak sends it back with fresh film and your prints.

    Instagram enables mobile phone users in the exact same way, but with 21st century technology. Kodak missed their chance, and suffered.

  8. The Brownie made photography affordable ($1 vs. $25 for a “real Kodak”) and was initially marketed to children (Eastman was surprised at the number of adults buying the camera for themselves, and shifted marketing accordingly). Eastman had hoped to use the Brownie as a gateway drug to the more expensive Kodak line. For most people who are interested enough in photography to be reading this site, using Instagram would be like stepping down from Kodak to Brownie. But for all those Instagram users, it might follow the “Plant the Brownie Acorn and the Kodak Oak Will Grow” pattern: the Instagram user might move on to film or Photoshop. A big difference, however, is that if Instagram proves to be a “gateway drug” for higher end photography, then it’s a gateway that leads away from Instagram.

  9. Software companies taking over the world? Or isn’t it rather that judgement day style articles are taking over journalism in order to stand out against the white noise of news?

  10. Apart from the misleading and provocative title the article says one thing: more and more work is done with the help of computers, which just now got powerful enough to do these kind of jobs economically.

    And, of course, for this hardware, you need software. But, on the other hand, for this software, you need the hardware.

    It’s basically an article that describes what is already in the public knowledge, but slaps a provocative headline to it.

    What does this mean for photographers? We’ll get better software that will help us to focus on our work more. Increasingly, people will get “Photoshop” actions packages (Instagram button press looks for Photoshop).

    When everybody can produce a highly processed looking photo with the press of a button, good photography will take the cake.

    So, now I tried hard enough. Can’t see anything threatening in the above article. The only threat I see that it took some time out of my sleep that I need for tomorrow’s shoot. Good night.

    • yeah, real provocative because we all remember when the Brownie was announced photographers went running through the streets screaming their heads off about how processed film will destroy photography because without chemistry there is no artistry…

  11. if we take the idea that a CEO “panics” and buys a small company,
    how can that be a disruptor of photography?
    the purchase, which may not be repeated but for some smaller scale deals,
    is not going to disrupt photography —
    it is going to disrupt social sharing of photos.
    that is, people will shift alliances,
    or discover another use of smart phones that allows them to ditch their compacts.
    social sharing of photography is not photography,
    but a component of it.

    Instagram already made its disruption by enabling rapid sharing,
    since digital photography already disrupted photography by further democratizing good photography.
    in that sense, flickr* did a bigger disruption than Instagram towards this democratization.
    the disruption is heavily weighted towards social aspects and markets — 
    compacts are being assaulted by smart phones (and good/easy software),
    and mirrorless cameras.

    * for instance: I can go to exhibits and galleries for photo exhibits. a thought that will come to mind is that “I have seen better stuff at flickr, from just as talented photographers.” will the same be said of what Instagram enables?

  12. Instagram has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with posturing. What instagram does is create a non realistic looking image that sells a lifestyle or situation at a higher level than it actually is. Ie the treatment outweighs the content. Don’t fear the death of photography. Photography does not occur on an Iphone.

  13. Thanks for the good article. I also have a lot of interest in Camera apps, and found a new app which has great filter effects: you can download and check it out from the link. goo.gl/dsQQ1
    I expect a post about this kind of non-popular apps as well. 

  14. Well said anthony and blanc. I saw some of the photos my friends took with instagram, and I was wondering whether the app just boosted their skills. And then I asked to take a look at the original photo, it was already nice to begin with. He just improved his photography skills. Instagram can make bad pictures look good but they cant make bad photographers turn professional. But that said, to me its just sort of a fun photo sharing app. That’s all. Its the whole social idea. That’s why I feel it probably really belongs to facebook. I don’t think people should treat it anymore seriously than that. Especially not all its effects thingy.