Kevin Kelly has a remarkable post over at The Technium about the free flow of information online and how certain values must be cultivated in order to succeed in the New Economy. I think it very much applies to all creatives, and most certainly is of particular interest to photographers. Kevin says:
1. The internet is a giant copy machine, spreading your work to every corner of the globe;
2. When copies are super abundant, they become worthless; and
3. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.
Consider this in terms of the photography that you create. When copies of your work – through market pressures or otherwise – head toward free (read: commodification of photographs), you’ll need to focus on “selling” things which can not be copied, like artistic vision, trust, experience, excellence, or other similar “values”. Mr. Kelly offers up 8 categories of these values. Below, I’ve paraphrased and commented briefly on how each applies to photography:
Immediacy — Pictures that are faster to market could be worth more.
Personalization — Pictures of value must target or be relevant to a certain segment of the market. Generic content will have diminishing value. In order to keep your artistic content relevant, you’ll need to stay informed and engaged.
Interpretation — Your unique vision on something could create a premium value.
Authenticity — That which bears your personal signature – be it literal in the case of fine art, or figurative in the sense of commercial – could allow you to charge premium prices. Even more so, your personal authenticity to your art, your business practices, and your creative inspirations will add value.
Accessibility — You’ll need to keep your content or brand well-organized so that you can provide buyers with access.
Embodiment — At its core the digital copy is without a soul (consider Baudrillard’s simulacra). Music is a great example: nothing gets embodied as much as music in a live performance. Just like live music has a unique pulse where music from a CD–relatively speaking–lacks one; freshly commissioned, custom-created images will have increased value over their generic, commodified counterparts. The process of creating, and how connected you are with that process, will also continue to grow value.
Patronage — Audiences WANT to artists to get paid (whether your audience is a fine art patron or an ad agency, or someone else), but increasingly so only if its made increasingly easy to do so. Radiohead’s recent high-profile experiment in letting fans pay whatever they wished for a downloadable copy of their album is an excellent illustration of the power of patronage; and, for example, the recent success in stock photography of bundled “package” offerings (rights managed, multiple uses) and flat prices (rights ready), is reasonable proof that many buyers want “easy”.
Findability — A work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of pictures–or photographers ready to shoot commissioned assignments–requesting buyers attentions, having one of the images, agents, websites, whatever that is being found has obvious value.
And lastly, according to Kelly, fostering these eight qualities will require a new skill set.
“Success in the free-copy world is not derived from the skills of distribution since the Great Copy Machine in the Sky takes care of that. Nor are legal skills surrounding Intellectual Property and Copyright very useful anymore. Nor are the skills of hoarding and scarcity. Rather, these new eight generatives demand an understanding of how abundance breeds a sharing mindset, how generosity is a business model, how vital it has become to cultivate and nurture qualities that can’t be replicated with a click of the mouse.”
We’ve already seen much of what Kevin is talking about happening to the photography industry. Are you doing things to differentiate your creativity and your brand? Are you employing generosity in your business model? If not, you’d better start. I’ve said it plenty of times before, but this article underscores my point nicely: there has never been a more exciting time in history to be a photographer. Embrace the change.
If some or any of this stuff interests you, I highly encourage reading the original post entitled Better Than Free.