Friday, August 17, 2007

My Phones and E-Mail Are Working

Dear OnRequest -

Recently I spoke with a second person who reported that you have said to them that you have tried to get in touch with me about my reporting about your failed business model(s), and my otherwise critical position about how you're trying to generate enough revenue to be: a) profitable; b) a takeover candidate, or c) ???

So, I checked, and my phones work. I looked back in all my e-mail from pre-blog launch to present, and no correspondence. And, since I actually archive my junk/trash, I checked there to. Nope. Zip. Nada. I got nothing from you.

Apparently, when you were talking to a few photographers who have expressed reservations about your business model and manner in which photographers can generate revenue from a relationship with you, your folks have come back and said things like oh, you mean that Washington DC photographer? We've tried to reach out to him, but he's not interested in talking to us. Now, that's not a direct quote (otherwise it'd be in quotation marks) but the gist of what was said to them.

If you want to get in touch with me, and provide a cogent response to what has been written and reported, please do so. However, going around and suggesting that you have done so without actually doing so is disengenuous, and quite possibly dishonest. If you'd like to respond and take apart what I've written and provide an e-mailed point-by-point response, feel free to do that too. I'll review it, and be happy to provide a follow-up piece that includes it, with any applicable commentary on my part.

The last word I heard from OnRequest was when David Norris responded to another questioner in the audience at the Microsoft Summit, who was challenging the figure Norris cited (which was somewhere above $20k if I recall) for an entire library for T-mobile to use for their new campaigns, and who was suggesting that that figure was way way too low. Whatever the actual figure, the photographer in the audience doing the challenging knew whereof he spoke when he responded that the figure was a low low low amount.

Soon I'll be reviewing what your staff has referred to as your latest contract. Supposedly, it's better this go 'round, as nothing there jumped out at the person who was kind enough to provide it. However, a contract is a form of 'the price of admission'. It gets you in the door. Next will be - how fair is what you're paying for what you're providing. Are you treating the creative talent as day laborers - paid once and never again? Or, are you paying them 50/50 or all licensing revenues as an agency, or 80% to them and 20% to you when acting as their rep? I look forward to reviewing it, and, if you actually wanted to contact me, rather than just pay that act (of picking up the phone or e-mailing me) lip service, feel free to do so. If you have concrete examples of how your business is not just serving your clients, but also acting on behalf of the photographers and creative talent that you will rely on for any longevity, I am happy to review it.


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The Cult of the Amateur

As I was pondering my post for today, the Colbert Show was on, and I was doing some paperwork review. One of the guests on the show was Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture, and I paused and watched. In fact, I was so intrigued, I hit the "record" on my Tivo, and watched the interview several times. Here are some quotes from their exchange:

Andrew Keen: "The internet is destroying our culture.."
Stephen Colbert: "....I can go on any old web site and find pictures of any old art I want…"
AK: "That’s stealing culture...The problem with the internet is it is making it increasingly difficult for artists to earn a living because everyone is stealing."
SC: "You’re just an elitist...Here’s my problem. You say the internet is just for amateurs, and that the amateurs don’t actually create great culture."
AK: How do you pay your rent?
SC: I get paid by the advertisters who give the money to the network who give the money to me.
AK: I think you’re supporting my argument....The fact is, you are a professional artist making money through the sale of advertising, on television...On the internet though, people are stealing your content. They’re putting it on YouTube. They’re undermining you as a creatve artist."
SC: "Right, and my parent company Viacom is sueing YouTube for a billion bucks, and I am sure I am getting acut of it."
AK: "Are you in support of that lawsuit?"
SC: "Oh absolutely, Go get ‘em guys."
I encourage you to get the book. While I don't believe the book will change the swelling tide, what it will do is give you insights into the new frontier, and how you can adapt to it.

Evolve or die. Differentiate yourself or perish. Being a professional photographer is not for the weak of heart or diminished drive. A friend in Baltimore sent me a few interesting Flickr links, which I delved deeper into:
A listing of all Nikon D2x users on Flickr shows an upward trend this past year of this $4500 camera:

With almost 8,000 images uploaded just yesterday. Their full Nikon chart can be seen here.

For Canon, all 1Ds Mark II cameras also shows an upwards trent this past year of this $7,000 camera:

With over 5,000 images uploaded just yesterday. Their full Canon chart can be seen at here.

These insights are not meant to scare you, but rather, to be enlightening. Reporting this isn't going to somehow reduce the number of amateurs giving their work away for free using $10,000+ in camera equipment. Reading the book will help you understand the inside machinations of what's happening, and why. When you know how and why it's happening, you can then better understand how to develop your own roadmap of your career in photography. As a byproduct of this, It can also help you to better understand the mind of those amateurs, and how you could engage those most effectively when the opportunity arises, and, perhaps, in your community, school them how they are contributing to the decline of the creative products of professionals.
Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


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Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Debate Worth Paying Attention to!

Debates debates debates. Everyone's having one. CNN, Youtube, and to the right is the debate I had to interrupt my vacation to cover in Chicago for a day - the union's democratic debate on Soldier Field. The first debates that will really matter in the presidential field won't really come until the spring. Yet, a debate worth paying attention to is that about your future as a photographer.

Enter Photoshelter, with a forum of travelling debates they've dubbed "Photography 2.0: The Business of Photography in the Web Era," to give you some real insights. A panel of photographers AND clients has been assembled in cities across the country. From the press release:

The series will commence in
New York City on September 14, 2007,
with subsequent events to be held in
  • Atlanta, September 17
  • Chicago, September 19
  • Portland, OR, September 24
  • San Francisco, September 26
  • and the Los Angeles-area, September 28
Photographers of any experience level who are interested in the future of commercial photography are encouraged to attend.
This won't be some dry presentation either - when you get photographers and clients together talking about their future working together, it'll be an informative exchange. They've got: Brittney Blair, Art Director for Chicago Magazine; George Pitts, Professor of Photography at Parsons School of Design and former Photography Director at Life magazine; Marnie Beardsley, Global Director of Art Buying, Weiden + Kennedy; Jennifer Miller, former Director of Photography, JANE magazine; Shannon Hall, Photo Director, BlackBook Magazine; Asha Schecter, former Photo Research Editor, The New Yorker; and over 20 photographers including Bill Frakes, Chase Jarvis, Amanda Marsalis, Chris McPherson, Brian Ulrich, Michael Zagaris and many more.

Now, don't expect Ms. Blair to be in NYC, she'll be in her respective city. Each city will have a solid representation of local talent and local talent-buyers.

Oh, and I forgot the best part - it's FREE! Hurry up though, as space is limited. To register, and learn more, click here.
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.Mobi and Mobile Platforms

PDN's Pulse blog is reporting on the latest evolution of websites - the mobile website. While Caesar Lima is among the first, I am in production to adapt my own site to the mobile platform, and that should be up soon. Caesar is using a link from his main site to a "/iphone" sub-folder. I'd submit that that will work for a few months as a cool gimmick, and then he'll be wishing he just did "/mobile" or some other non-specific title, as other devices are not far off.

For my mobile site, I've registered "http://JohnHarrington.Mobi" and "http://John-Harrington.Mobi" several months ago, and they will, once the mini-site is active, be viewable there, however, they will also be viewable by going to a page off of JohnHarrington.com which will have something like "/mobile" or some other variation that makes sense, in a generic way.

If you're stuck with JSmithPhoto.net, perhaps now is the time to get your .Mobi account with your full name! I know of many a big name photographer who's .Mobi domain name is still available. (I checked).


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Monday, August 13, 2007

The 'Music is Included'? How can that be? (Updated)

I encourage you to exercise extreme caution when being pitched for website design and photo/audio packages. Just last night, I recieved the following e-mail blast:


Present Your Artistic Vision &
Unique Portfolio With Elegance and Style

Petruska Photography just did... Take a peek at their website

[click photo]

It's A Photographer's Dream...

A Professional Website With
A Premium Slideshow Photo Gallery & Music
For Less Than A Cup Of Coffee Per Day!
(Gallery & Hosting Incl)

Psst... Does your website need a design makeover?

Impress your clients with an optional Story Book or a
built in photo ordering form.

Let our elegant designs showcase your services.
We look forward to hearing from you... Call Nerds Software Today!

Now, Pat and Hans have nice photos, and the pages look good. I don't personally prefer the "page turning" style, but I am sure that it appeals to their audience. In addition to the "Copyright" tab at the bottom of their site, which details that their work is protected by copyright, is a nice link to the site designer, as well as three links which begin three well known songs.

All three songs are very popular songs, they evoke certain emotions, the first is by Lifehouse, the 2005 hit song "You and Me". The second is Seal's 1994 smash hit "Kiss from a Rose", and the third is the Goo Goo Dolls' somewhat lesser known "I'll Be". All three make you feel differently about the images you are seeing. A second sense - aural - enhances your visual experience.

So, I wrote to Nerds, and asked them:

Mark --

How much does it cost to have the audio on the site as well as the design?

Within 15 minutes, I get a response from Robert Pritchard (his colleague), with the subject line:
Subject: Music is included
followed by a sales pitch email, that reads, in part:
Our Design Team would be happy to design a custom website for your use for only $399.00 + a $50.00 per mo. leasing fee. Please note that the first year leasing fee is payable in advance....Our pricing structure is setup to help photographers spread out the cost of a custom website over several years. Typically a custom website for photographers would cost at least several thousand dollars...You will notice that many of our clients have added a Story Book Intro (with 6-8 automated flipping pages) giving them an additional “WOW” feature showcasing their portfolios. (an affordable option at $250.00)...Our clients have been amazed at how fast, how simple & how little they had to do!!! A brand new website is launched in 10-14 days from the day we receive your fine photography & deposit."
They then include other sites which showcase their talents, like www.imaginique.net/ImaginiqueWeddings.htm uses the song "Unforgettable" to enhance the experience, www.jpatrickphoto.com/JPPortraits.htm uses Iz's (aka Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) extremely popular "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" recording, and www.stantonsphotography.com/ uses The Corr's top ten hit "Breathless". In addition, all have very defined copyright/IP notices on their sites.

None of these photographers are probably aware that, in any way, there is a problem with having these audio tracks on their sites. Just as many of their portrait and wedding clients may well believe that they are not doing anything wrong by taking their prints down to the one-hour photo lab and making copies. Yet, since I know that a Statutory license is not available to either the photographers, or the web design firm, and certainly that fee above for design can't possibly include the licensing for the above mentioned hit songs, while I don't definitively know that they haven't secured advertising rights for the use of those songs for each individual customer, or all their customers, the likelihood is that they have not.

When I wrote Robert back, I asked:
Robert --
I like the added experience of the music. Some of them have nice instrumentals, others have more well-known/popular music. Can I choose the songs I want from music that I like, and that appeal to my clientele?
Robert responded 5 minutes later:
John,
The quick answer is yes.
He then volunteers that if I would like any additional information, he'd be happy to talk to me.

I have music that I use, that I've obtained a license to use, from a company that is affiliated with the Professional Photographer's of America - Broken Joey Records. Joe, the owner, I met while speaking at PPA's ImagingExpo last January. He has a wide variety of copyright cleared music, because either he, or his partners wrote, produced, and performed the music, and grant a limited license to photographers, for a very very reasonable fee. Joe wrote an article here on the subject. There are also other sources for rights-cleared music.

Exercise extreme caution, and where vendors of yours are including copyrighted components into the work they produce for you, whether audio, video, or other graphics or still images, make sure that you have proof that your vendor has the right to re-license that material to you. Ultimately, in the end, these photographers will be on the hook for these alledged infringements.
UPDATE: One commenter noted the BMI service http://www.bmi.com/newmedia/entry/C1168 for licensing audio. I went through the process, and BMI's service, for a website (I made selections that are in line with a photographer's website), has a minimum annual charge of $299.00. When I indicated, as I was required to do, "Please indicate your estimated annual revenue:", I chose, first, $60k, which made my actual licensing fee $1,050. When I changed it to $25k, the annual licensing fee was reduced to $437.50.
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Do You Care If It's Bad for the Profession? Quite Possibly - No.

Many of you will act based upon your actions being morally right, ethically right, or just right on principle. However, there is a broader group that won't act as counseled to unless it's something that is personally good for the individual. In many cases, this is selfish, and is counter to a greater good, but for people to act based upon how the decision is good for them are either, in general, not concerned with that, or see themselves as not having the luxury, at this stage of their careers, with being concerned with that.

So, the question remains then - how do you affect someone who's attitude is "I do what's good for me..."? If you're that type of person, this post is for you. If you know that type of person, then the message points in this post are those which will help you convince others about how to change, for the better.

When I, or many others, say "don't do WMFH, it's bad for the profession...", or "don't do jobs for $500 that you know are worth $5,000 because it's bad for the profession...", those are a form of a "shortcut" of advice. When we say it's bad for the profession, that means it's not just bad for you, it's bad for your friends and colleagues.

Consider the call girl. Not because I am going to equate some photographers to them. Rather, there's an almost universal agreement as to opinion about them and the profession. We all can agree that being a call girl has moral and ethical and principled deficits. We all can stand back and say "she shouldn't be doing that...". Further, few, if any of you, could hold in any regard the profession of call girl. That leaves the call girl herself to discuss. There are three primary things wrong with her and her chosen profession then. The first is that, while subjecting herself to that line of work, she's at high risk of contracting a communicable disease that quite probably will kill her. The second is that, she is also at a high risk of physical abuse or assault. The third is the psychological damage - the transfer of percieving intimacy as for sale, and quantified by a dollar figure, affects the call girls' ability to be genuinely intimate or genuinely in love in the future. Yet, in these instances, the call girl doesn't see all of this diminishment as bad for women, she just sees it as income - as good for her. She's not considering, nor does she care about, short term versus long term benefits, she's just worried about making money. No matter how loud you shout that what she's doing is bad for her, or bad for women, she won't hear it. She only will stop when she comes to her own conclusion that it's bad for her, even when she may well know, deep down, it's bad for her, she does it because she feels she has no other choice.

Consider next, the day laborer. Forget for a moment, whether they're illegal immigrants or not. That person earns a nominal hourly wage, each day, for back-breaking work. Each day they work, they earn dollars. When they don't, they don't. Further, their daily income is all but capped. With that income, they'll never own a new car, they'll never have health insurance, they'll never buy a house. In order to do these things, they must leave the profession where they are paid for their physical capabilities, to being paid for their mental capabilities. That worker is only concerned with how much money they're bringing in for themselves. They're not concerned with how, by their subjecting themselves to those working conditions, they are telling their employers "hey, it's ok to treat me this way..." and then, as more and more people do the work, those working conditions become more and more acceptable. Further, they won't be able to support or provide for a family as they should.

Photographers are not day laborers, nor call girls. Yet, when a photographer accepts a WMFH job, they become, in effect, a day-laborer. They're paid for that work, and will never generate a dime from it again. When a photographer accepts an assignment that they're paid $150 for, that should be an assignment for $1,000, they are selling themselves short, and not recognizing the true cost of that assignment, and how they have given away their creative talents for a fraction of it's value.

When we say "it's bad for the profession", what we're saying is a shortcut to how it's really bad for you, and that it'll hurt your friends as well. It's not a holier-than-thou attitude, it's sound counsel. You may know, deep down, that WMFH is bad for you, but you feel you have no other choice. You do. You can say no to the deal, or, better yet, negotiate the deal to a yes/win-win for both parties. Sure, some clients have such a long line of people saying yes to WMFH, that you have no bargaining power. Don't work for them. Don't work for people who don't value you beyond your eyeball and trigger-finger.

As you enter the profession, there are leaders in trade associations who all are (or have been) photographers, there are the legends in the field, peers you look up to, and the middle-of-the-road photographers, and when all of them are telling you that something is "bad for the profession", they're saying it's bad for you, so don't do it. These folks know whereof they speak. You've probably, in preparation for entering the field, read their books, or been inspired by the images they have produced.

What's good for the profession, is, in turn, good for you, as a member of that profession. What's bad for the profession, almost without exception, is also bad for you.

When you don't know what you're talking about, or when you're new to the field, listen to the people around you whom have been in it awhile, or listen to the people you look up to and aspire to be like. These photographers will be able to tell you what's good for the profession, and what's not. Listen to that advice.


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Penny for your Thoughts

I was passing through a drive-through during my trek through the Northwest these past few days, and there I found an interesting insight. "Jack", of Jack-In-The-Box fame, was cited as the source for the phrase:

"Whoever said 'a penny for your thoughts' was a cheapskate."
Who knew this wisdom was a tangential byproduct of fast food? (For the 'Straight Dope' on the initial phrase, click here.)

It's so appropo to creatives. People continue to devalue what your mind dreams up, and what your mind sees. With technology making exposure and focus so much less of a hurdle to a usable image, the value of what's in your mind's eye becomes far more valuable. What you see. How you see it. How you frame it. When you trigger the shutter closed.

At some point, we evolve, as "paid people" to a cap for what we are worth as a physically producing worker. Attorneys, doctors, and consultants, are paid hundreds and thousands of dollars an hour for their extensive knowledge-bases, for their talents, unrelated to how long or how physical their work is. So too, are we, as creatives, best valued for our thoughts - how creative we are, and how we can best solve creative challenges when we're presented with them.

Remember, you set the price for your thoughts, and what your bring to the table. Don't let others dictate to you what you're worth - they will, almost without exception, undervalue (either intentionally, or unintentionally) your contributions.
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