Friday, August 17, 2007

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.


Devil's Advocate said...

Andrew Keen was a pathetic elitist on the Colbert Show.

He has such disdain for the average person it is pathetic.

I guess we should all be forced to enjoy what he tells us.

You can read my take on Andrew Keen at Copious Dissent - Your Daily Dose of Liberty

Unknown said...

Devil's Advocate is right. The guy was absurdly elitist, and not just because of his British accent. The idea that only experts are entitled to creating culture is offensive and regressive.

Anonymous said...

have you read the book? i'm just asking because this blog entry doesn't sound like you did, and because i have only heard bad things about the book till now.

Anonymous said...

Devil's Advocate writes a rambling and verbose rant on his site about Andrew Keen and how he is even more elitist than Al Gore, Jr.

I have no idea who Mr. Advocate is, nor do I care. I read his rant and laughed my tail off at his arrogance and ignorance. His blog comes off as just another right-wing blow-hard who thinks everything wrong in the U.S. of A. is caused by people who don't agree with his viewpoint or opinion.

I usually enjoy John's opinions and posts, don't always agree with them, but enjoy them and the commentary offered by his readers. Even Mr. Advocate's offered some comic relief.

Yes, the world is changing. I do not worry about non-profresionals. I try to not worry. (not always successful though) I try to go beyond the call of duty and create strong images that surpass my clients expectations, give them superior service, make sure that they are happy and do my best. In return, I have been rewarded with long-term clients who pay me fairly, are honest and most of all, loyal. I make a very good living and travel for pleasure and clients.

I do not spend my time reading rants such as Devil's Advocate or thinking about amateurs.

Life is short, the internet brings good and bad into all of our lives.

I choose to focus on what is truly important.

Ryan R. Dlugosz said...

John - those are some pretty shocking stats on the graphs. One thing is for sure: it's a good time to be Canon or Nikon!

This whole thing puts folks like me in an interesting position. I'm working on getting into the business - I do *not* give work away for free, have had some successful image sales, and get thrown gigs with increasing frequency. Here's the tough part:

Breaking out of the amateur world and establishing one's self as a true professional.

I'm working on doing what I think it takes: ambition, marketing, attention to good business practices, and producing unique, quality images. It's tough for veterans in a changing market & I'd argue that it's equally, though differently, tough for newcomers trying to stand out as pros and not just "amateurs with pricey gear". (Especially when you're maintaining another full time job to pay the bills...)

At the end of the day, the folks who make it will have people like you to thank for being so open with the behind the scenes details.

I'd be interested in hearing your opinions or advice!

Unknown said...

Regardless of what anyone thinks about Mr. Keen, John's post is dead on IMHO.

"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."

We should all be aware of the coming tides - rest and you're history. Where there is change there is opportunity, we all are on our own to find it.

As for those who post anonymously: it's easy to make statements with no accountability. It's the cheapest of prose and is worthy of being ignored regardless of content.

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Here is a book I found worthwhile.

"You Can't Win a Fight with Your Client" by Tom Markert

Little nuggets about business and insight into how business really works.

Amazon Link:

John W. Ratcliff said...

A wonder if Andrew Keen is simply taking an absurd position to sell his book. I would so *love* to 'debate' him.

My first question would be, "Why don't you believe in the right to free speech?"

As far as self-publishing goes, our most famous of Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was a self-made man, without a formal education, and changed the world through self-publishing.

Blogs are as American as apple pie and this British tart Keen needs to realize that his country already lost that war

Anonymous said...

Great post John,

There is absolutely no use in standing against the tide like King Canute. That tide is coming in fast.

What I don't like, is the way that big business and publishers are feeding off the naivety of the amateur when it comes to business practices.

I'm trying to get some tutorials and comments up over here on my site from a UK perspective.

I think the key to the future is through education and from pro's like you (and me eventually when I can get the content fully up) that aren't afraid to give something back.

If I can help one person get the business side of photography nailed so they're not taken for a ride then I'll consider it a success.

Every day there are horror stories out there about stolen images, duped amateurs, and rich business taking people for a ride. The more they understand their rights, the more they can defend themselves and their creativity.

Whatever we do, the rise of the amateur isn't going to stop in this profession.

Lets just hope that the amateur is open to education and wants to earn what they are worth!


Anonymous said...

Full House: the Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin
( Stephen Jay Gould )
is about this exact situation.
In open ecologies, once a niche gets discovered, the competition fills it to the brim.
He shows this through both baseball & evolution.

What's happening now to photography is simply a new order of magnitude of competition, inevitable in an open ecology ( but that doesn't mean that immoral business exploitation is inevitable! ).

The Definitive Business Plan: The fast track to intelligent business planning for executives and entrepreneurs
(2nd Edition) (Financial Times Series) (Paperback)
( Richard Stutely )
ANYONE who wants business competence can gain in working-through this one:
Every aspect of planning survival is in here.
Marketing plan? Competition? SWOT? Differences between individual & government-sized organizations? Knowing who your audience is for /this/ plan? Time scale?
I'm not even scratching its surface, every bit of this book is awesome.
( Richard Stutely has made business plans for organizations up to, and including the British Treasury itself: he knows this understanding )

if you are planning a business, or are in business, you /cannot/ fail to gain from working through The Definitive Business Plan.

I wish it were required for high-school, because then much more would autonomy be normal, and much more would many own their own lives.


What happened to the book copyists ( whatever they were called ), when Gutenberg hit 'em, with his Moveable Type invention?

What happened to the carriagemen when the horseless carriage hit?

What happened to knowledge-establishment when mechanism got replaced with electronic information?

What's happening to pro photographers ISN'T as disastrous as that, because
a) no matter how artistic a given amateur's image might be, the pace of production is something that amateurs cannot do,
the Every Shot Needed Gets Got is unlikely in amateurs, &
b) the business competence isn't likely to be there ( liability, use contract, etc ), &
c) the professional network isn't likely to be there ( say I need someone to do a food shoot, and I need them to recommend a food stylist... an amateur is likely to be professional enough to be able to name/recommend several? No, not likely... )

What businesses/corporate-entities are doing to individual photographers is nothing different from what the music industry did to black musicians, a few decades ago ( hit song, sold millions? artist got a few dollars, and was lucky to have got that,
that's the way corporations work: it isn't profitable to pay more than necessary for anything, so therefore predation against creative-work is inescapable...
in the quarterly-bottom-line paradigm

Corporations aren't creative, humans are: therefore corporations cannot value creative-work the way a human can, and corporations will do everything in their power to distort the laws to extract/appropriate all they can, which is natural hunger-to-greed spectrum.
Concerted greed is vastly stronger in capability than is individual greed )

As for individuals working to help protect individuals from being preyed-upon by corporate-"persons", only a 24/7 organization "person" can compete against its kind.

It's like a person trying to help other persons not be trampled by an oncoming stampede: maybe help one or a few, no chance in hell of helping most, let alone helping most enough.

Therefore, until someone gets a corporation going whose function includes
a) education of "amateurs" about worth, about defensive trade, and about assisting in the gutting of creative-work
b) enabling of pros, &
c) in sufficient depth informing of the general population ( so as to make rights work right through our fearless lawmakers )...
then predation defines the world still.

Nothing new about that...

As for going and "educating people": push & they push-back.
Instead simply show 'em what situation they make others & their-future-selves land-in,
& ask 'em honestly-enough to understand.
That's where real leverage is.


As for someone's accent being elitest, one of my parents wasn't north-american born, and I get that sometimes too, but if you grew up in a family that was culturally grounded elsewhere, then your family culture would have marked you, too.
If his ATTITUDE is elitest, then that's that, but people's accents are set before one can understand elitism or meaningful equality, or the whole culture/status B.S. so putting someone down for their accent, is not on. Their manner..? different story...

Excellent & useful site, BTW, many thanks

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