Saturday, July 25, 2009

A thousand piles of free photography

I've been thinking about free photography lately -- well, more like bitching about it on -- and when I'm not thinking about it a musician's manager or agent will call me out of the blue telling me I have taken "best picture they can find" and that they expect me to give it to them...for free.

They say that's what it's worth, because they know a lot of photographers that give away all their work for free. Rather than say that they must know a lot of really terrible photographers (which may or may not be true), I just say that I have standard rates that are very reasonable, but not "free", and also mention that if it's the best photo they could find on the net then it should be worth something to them.

Has anyone noticed that the net quality of images in magazines, newspapers, and especially Web sites has taken a turn towards mediocrity and a generic iconic message that is colorful but says nothing? I have. Why? Free photography and microstock.

There's a book out called “Free: The Future of a Radical Price," and I noticed that Jim Goldstein has a pretty solid take on it:

Free magazines is an even dumber strategy that is turning once interesting magazines into one big collective Ad sandwich. Consider the magazines that are part of all those free cross promotions (e.g., credit card rewards programs) and ask yourself when was the last time any of them produced an interesting issue.

Seth Godin also is talking about "Too much free":

And, lastly, one of my favorite blogs, "A photo editor", has ongoing posts that explore the magazine industry and the effects that cheap and free photography have had on dumbing down and genericizing the content. I like this site, because he both complains and explores solutions. Here's one example:

The bottom line is that businesses are paying for mediocre generic stock images instead of the really good images that say something about the subject, and photo assignments that explore topics thoughtfully are way, way down.

I don't have any solutions. I mean I do, but none that people focused on the bottom line are going to use to reshape their model. In fact, usually there is no focus and no budget so the middle men are forced to come up with something that works on a shoe string...and that means cheap or free photography. They'd sell more in the long run if they focused on great compelling content with great images, but what business owners/agents/Web site managers/etc. are really listening to photographers?

Of course, I am saying all this on a free blog. Well, uh....


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