National Press talks about Commoditization of Photo Biz

Just saw this link in the APAnet forum about yesterday’s Business Week article entitled:”Cheap Photo Sites Pit Amateurs vs. Pros”.

Yep. It’s now national news. The article talks about Getty partnering with Flickr. Now that Getty is no longer a publicly trade company, it will be hard to see where their revenue is coming from.

The article suggests that “Ultimately, creative professionals need to communicate the value they create for clients so they can differentiate themselves from commodity-priced images.”

I had suggested precisely that in white paper: “The Commoditization of the Commercial Photography Business” which I published in Aug. 2005 and which has been re-published in both the ASMP NorCal and ASMP San Diego magazines.

How many heard the wake up call and have been differentiating themselves?

Orphan Works debate

Maybe you’ve been so busy shooting you’ve somehow missed what has been almost a constant barrage of emails urging you to weigh in (or refrain..for the moment) in notifying your elected U.S. representatives your opinion about the pending Orphan Works (OW) legislation.

If that’s the case, then you might want to read all about it as a version of of this critical bill will come before both the Senate (S2913) and the House of Representatives (HR5889) very soon.

In the May 8, 2008 online edition of The PhotoDistrict News Daryl Land has written a good synopsis of the current status of the debate between the various photo trade orgs. He’s also provided links to Orphan Works position papers of the ASMP (they currently support the Congressional bill and oppose the Senate one), APA (currently opposes both versions), Stock Artists Alliance, PPA, and other trade organizations.

Additionally, the Illustrators Partnership, which supports the APA’s position, has created a Legislative Action Center with an easy way to notify your elected governmental representatives.

If you haven’t been closely following the (sometimes heated) trade org debates over the past month, I urge you to take an hour of your time to read the position papers at the above links, form your own opinion, and then TAKE ACTION on YOUR POSITION: If you’re a trade org member, let your local and national board know your position; email or fax your Congressional and Senate reps; make sure every person you know who makes a living from photography or illustration–or cares about artists’ financial futures– knows about the pending Orphan Works legislation; urge them to also TAKE A POSITION and ACT, and continue to spread the word.

If the bulk of voting artists were well-organized as a voting block, had tons of money to contribute to political campaigns, and had well-paid lobbyists working on our behalf, this grassroots movement wouldn’t be so critical. It’s truly time to get out of our lone wolf caves before our creative rights erode to the point where being a freelance commercial artist is no longer an economically-viable career choice.

And finally, Clem Spalding, a past president of the ASMP (2006-2007) whose insights are based on direct experience with the legislative drama of the OW saga, has given me permission to excerpt his recent posting on the ASMPproAdvice listserve. (I’ve added my own bolding for emphasis)

There’s an awful lot of emotion and misinformation out there recently regarding the current proposed Orphan Works legislation. Many people don’t even realize that there are actually two proposals, one from the House (which ASMP supports) and one from the Senate (which ASMP opposes). What is good and bad about the current Orphan Works situation and the the two proposals in play right now is explained here:

In my service as an officer on the ASMP national board and as ASMP president in 2006-2007, I was in the hot seat when OW first reared its ugly head. As originally proposed by the Library of Congress’
Copyright Office, it would have nuked our profession and put a lot of us out of business. …. My shorthand description at the time was “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers”. The devastating threat of that initial OW proposal galvanized our entire industry into an unprecedented spirit of cooperation and the Imagery Alliance was born at a groundbreaking meeting in NYC in October, 2006. The entire alphabet soup of photo orgs were in that room and part of this Alliance. From Day 1, we all acknowledged that, while we all share many common interests, we serve different constituencies and thus do not always agree. It is not a perfect union. It is not an omnipotent photo power. It is simply the nature of the beast and its the best we can do.

The unique and profligate nature of still images in the modern digital era means that we create pieces of intellectual property at a much greater rate than do musicians, writers, illustrators, film makers, etc... …I can create a thousand images before sunset today, while my musician buddies will take weeks to craft one song. Factor in the facts that photographers, as a group, have properly registered only a tiny percentage of their output with the Copyright Office, and that many workflows and final usages strip authorship information from our files and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm of vulnerability.

This means our OW problems are unique and that other intellectual property creators simply do not have a dog in this particular fight. Now mix in the facts that the entire population of working photographers is minute and that our collective war chest for lobbying and legal battles is tiny in comparison to just about every other constituency Congress must deal with and you can see how weak our leverage is here.

Thankfully, that original OW 1.0 proposal died a well-deserved death in committee. Since then we–the professional photography industry–have used all available means to present lawmakers with a powerful and coherent argument for a more common-sense way of dealing with OW. The latest proposal out of the House of Representatives gives us 85% of what we argued for. That’s huge, especially when you consider the fact that, in the tough world of Realpolitik, professional photographers are a tiny constituency with almost no power, no money, and no friends in high places. We prevailed to make these changes because of the cogent presentations and savvy footwork in the hallways of Congress by folks like ASMP’s staff attorney, Victor Perlman, and PPA’s CEO David Trust. There was no horse-trading or back room deals. We have nothing in our arsenal except facts and reason and yet we have achieved so much.

So why not hold out for 100% of what we want?

1) Because we’ll never get it all and holding out will make it all too simple for CopyLeft proponents to destroy all the good work and inroads we have achieved to this point. In Washington, as in most of Real Life, nobody gets everything they want. Those who insist upon this ultimatum did not pay enough attention in …History and Civics classes.

2) Because we will be dismissed as an irrelevant and immature rabble and Congress will take the easy road by giving their larger constituencies what they want and the heck with these annoying,trivial, and disunited photographers.

3) Because politics is the art of the possible. We have gotten just about everything possible here. Achieving 100% satisfaction is not in the cards. When was the last time anyone on this list has walked away from a deal or a relationship because you “only” got 85% of your demands met? This is not a morality play nor is it a Mr. Smith Goes
To Washington fantasy. This is reality. This is politics. This is business. This is nothing personal.

4) Because this OW saga is but one chapter in a much larger epic: The Future of Intellectual Property and Creative Content. There are many more battles yet to fight, many more photo-unfriendly laws that will be proposed, many more oxen that will be gored. We have spent years learning the game, getting to know the players, and elbowing our way to a seat at the table. And as they say in the Beltway, “If you aren’t at the table, then you’re on the menu.” We blow this opportunity to demonstrate our reality-based earnestness and it will be many expensive years before we can get back to our current position of influence.

5) Because the chances of this House bill making it intact into actual law are dicey at best. Back to [civics and history] class: The Senate has its own, inferior OW proposal. If either one makes out of its respective chamber, the legislation is then usually brokered into a compromise Act that can pass both houses. Then it must be signed by the President unless there is a veto-proof majority in both houses to support it. …ASMP is simply saying it supports what the House has written at this time.Who knows what things will look like when we get down to the nut-cutting? Who knows what our best play will be at that point?

And then, if when an OW Bill does get passed, the fun moves to the courts, where all the dangling, undefined, and unresolved aspects of the Bill (inherent to all legislation) will be hammered out in precedent-setting cases. Rest assured, ASMP will be there too, fighting for your interests.

6) Because, as I write this, good folks are hard at work to achieve the needed improvements in technology and workflows that will render most of the OW threat moot for us working stiffs. Should we not all be paying more attention to and acting in support of these work-arounds?

7) Because, as Ben Franklin said back in the day “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” We must learn the ability to present a strong and unified (albeit imperfect) voice to the national political arena, or we are toast. Life is too mean, fast and short to waste our energies on internecine warfare.

I wish I had something better to tell you all, but I don’t. It boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils, and thus being better positioned to fight our best in the much larger battles still to come. Curiously, our opponents today could easily be our allies tomorrow. I know, it makes my brain hurt too. Welcome to the new century. I personally am willing to put my faith and trust in the expert(s) who are employed by my trade association and who are actively engaged on the front lines of this issue, rather than rely on the under-informed, emotional, and unrealistic speculations of those who are not. We all need to decide for ourselves who we are
going to believe.

My dear Sisters and Brothers in Professional Photography, I am a huge fan and supporter of the collective power of our organizations, I am a huge fan and supporter of healthy, honest, respectful, intellectually honest debate–that’s how good ideas get better and bad ideas get killed. Let us continue this debate in a constructive manner. Let us listen carefully to those who are actually in the arena and draw our conclusions with sober reasoning and without over-heated emotions. The Durm and Strang helps no one.

There’s plenty of room for debate and disagreement here. But let’s avoid the temptation to assume the worst and villainize those with whom we disagree.

Best regards, Clem

PS (Please note that I no longer hold any office in ASMP. I’m just General Member with a history and an opinion.)

Adobe releases free web-based version of PhotoShop

I’m not a PhotoShop user but all my photography consulting clients are. This latest player in the web-based services applications game underscores what I’ve been telling people for years: the software you use very day to run your business will one day all be “on the cloud” or web-based. Anything you now have to do while tethered to your desktop computer, you’ll soon be able to do from any computer… anywhere just by logging into your account. All you need is good access to the web. I personally love this trend and already use a number of web based applications to run my own business (e.g. Google Docs).

Here’s an except from a story appearing March 27th, 2008 on the AP news service about the “beta’ version of their new, web-based application, PhotoShop Express :

“Web-based software is increasingly popular, and Adobe knows it’s got to get on that train, said Kathleen Maher, an analyst at Jon Peddie Research.Many kinds of software are available for use online in a trend known as “software as a service,” or “cloud computing.” The earliest were e-mail programs, but they now include services to create and manage content and even whole operating systems. And they don’t require time-consuming upgrades because they’re maintained by the service provider.
Google Inc. provides a host of such services, as do Microsoft Corp. and others.”This is the battlefield where Adobe and Microsoft and Google are going to fight some pretty big battles,” Maher said.”




Part 3:When the Winds of Change blew hard, Kodak changed course

If the previous two posts took the wind out of your sails, please don’t get discouraged. As the owner of a small business, you’re in a relatively light and nimble vessel compared to some of your suppliers who are steering veritable ocean liners. For a light-hearted view of a photo business of enormous proportions (Kodak) forced to make enormous course corrections in the face of this industry’s sea change, check out:

Part 2:When Winds of Change blow hard, check your navigation skills.

What do you do when a technological innovation is brewing that’s seemingly unrelated to digital imaging skills? For example, faster and cheaper broadband access and 5MP camera phones. When with a click of the Send button, it’s super-fast and cheap to share what you’ve shot– with anyone who cares to look–you can see that storm cloud of UGC (user-generated content) for marketing images is not far behind.

With the winds blowing strong from both of those directions, how does a photographer avoid capsizing their career? Analyze the horizon. Learn from those who are adept at reading the ‘weather.’ Get expert advice. Learn to predict and anticipate what tack will be needed to change your approach. For example analyze what you’re doing now that could be expanded into a viable niche or new service offering.

By making adjustments in what they’re offering, photographers can pull away from the pack of pro-sumers whose Flickr-minded image-pricing is continuing to erode the perceived value of the skills possessed by professional photographers the world over.

Reading the horizon means asking yourself: “What is it that I can do that can’t be possibly ever be done by an amateur with a 10MP pocket camera?” If you can’t answer that, it’s like trying to sail toward your destination without knowing which way the wind is blowing.

When you learn to scan the horizon for the multiple aspects of technology–not just imaging tech– that can affect your photo world, you will be ready to survive the next big storm of disruptive technology. The most important skill sailors and photographers can have is to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. As on the sea, hot air alone (i.e. whining about the changes) doesn’t get you where you want to go; actions must be taken to harness that power. If you’re flexible and willing to learn new business skills, you’ll soon discover you can still happily and safely arrive at your destination.

Remember….it’s not the ship that gets the sailor safely to the shore. Nor is it the equipment that makes a photographer; it’s the eyes, the intuition, and the willingness to change course, that get both to safe harbor.

Smooth sailing, oh, talented sailors!

Part 1:When Winds of Change blow hard, you might want to check your navigation skills.

Comparing your photo career to a ship upon the sea is probably a way-overworked metaphor but begging your forgiveness, I’ll set sail on a cliche-ridden sea; it’s still a good analogy when thinking about plotting the course of your photo business. [my apologies in advance to the expert sailors among my readers for my technical mistakes]

In my long career of working with professional advertising photographers I’ve always noticed that there are two types of people who set out: those with a clear destination in mind, and those who seem headed out for a pleasure cruise with no particular destination in mind. As it’s been said, if you don’t care where you’re going, then it doesn’t much matter which way you go or what map you use. However, if you do have a goal in mind then you’d better have an accurate map– and the skills to get yourself back on track if, and when, you are blown off course.

In this article I’m going to address the skills that the “sailors” who actually have a destination need to use on the sea of photo success; skills that will serve them no matter how choppy the economic seas…and yes, this economic climate is one whopper of a storm.

Those of us who sailed through the recessions of the late 1970s and early 1990s have the perspective of having survived what, at the time, seemed to be career-killing storms. Sailing through those recession storms taught us a lot about what you need to survive when things start to look really choppy. Survivors of those turbulent times learned that a keen analysis of the situation, flexibility, and a willingness to adjust course, is what got them through it.

Any sailor knows that the wind can change quite suddenly and unexpectedly–just like the photo business did with the advent of digital imaging. By analyzing the wind–noticing where it’s coming from and how fast it’s moving–the skipper can change the ship’s angle to the wind to maximize the speed and direction they’re sailing. By making adjustments in response to the changing environment, arrival at the destination can sometimes be faster than if they’d followed their original course.

By changing their tactical approach i.e. trimming the sails to maximize the angle and direction, they still achieved the intended result. Similarly, the wise photo/sailor who early on adopted a digital imaging work flow found that clients could be served more rapidly. In addition, images could be digitally tweaked to perfection in pre- and post-production–both of which were new value-added services which clients loved.

But those who adopt the new–and now critical– skills of integrating memorable branding across all customer touch points, really have the skills necessary to navigate these turbulent times. The destination achieved: strengthening of existing client relationships, more business, and new opportunities.

It’s stating the obvious to chronicle what happened to those photo “sailors” who failed to see–or chose to stay the same course–when the first big tech storm blew across our industry. Those who made no adjustments to their course (e.g. by clinging to the argument that “film had superior tonal range and repro size capability”) got washed away as the inevitable technological advances provided digital files now superseding the tonal range of film. Today’s able sailors knew how to tack when it came to the digital imaging storm; they’re set for that weather condition.

But then the wind suddenly shifted again: faster and better camera chip technology, put 10MP cameras in the hands of consumers for less than $500. And some of those consumers are responsible for their company’s marketing images. What angle do you have to take in that wind?

Report from the ad tech conference in Chicago

Last summer I attended one of those geeky tech conferences I love to attend–along with several hundred other attendees curious to hear advance notice about the “next big thing” in online marketing.

Most people were there from the major corporations’ marketing departments. They were in search of the elusive killer app that will bring an even greater ROI in their online marketing efforts.

First I should report on last year to give you some perspective on this year’s trends:Last year’s hot topic was Social Media (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.) and how to best gain a presence and hopefully a new customer from that cyber space presence. UGM (User Generated Media) was just starting to show up on the radar. The UGM created for FritoLay’s Super Bowl spot was not yet created.

Now we are in the era of multiple streams of UGM. Do a search on YouTube for just about any brand you can name, and you’ll find something there.

This year’s seminars focused on how best to serve the person who’s using a search engine to find a product or service. Giving the most relevant search results are part of a good branding strategy.

We’ve all probably experienced clicking on a search result on Google and wondering how the heck that page was even related to what we’re searching for. It’s especially frustrating when a site visitor arrives at a site and has to click several more times to get to what they’re looking for. This user experience does not a happy customer make.

Imagine that you’ve done the research and you know you want a certain model of scanner. You type in the make and model into Google and you’re given several results with that model listed. You click on the top link and end up being taken to a page with copiers, printers, inks, accessories, etc. When you’re pressed for time and ready to buy that result is probably not going to make you feel as warm and fuzzy towards that vendor as arriving at a page with just the right info when you’re actually in the mood to buy.

Let’s say you get tired of trying to find the item on the first site and click on the second search result. And it takes you right to a page about that item with all the info you need. One click arrival path. Which vendor gets your business–and perhaps your repeat business.

The overall good news for consumers is meeting our needs with relevant when we arrive at a search engine is now the hot new marketing strategy. The marketing folks call it Search Engine Conversion strategies.

Is your site invisible to cutting-edge web surfers?

Are you invisible at the cutting edge?

Can the Mac-based “early adopters” (i.e., those communication industry trend setters who others soon follow) review your web site??

If you’ve an all-Flash web site… you’re invisible on the iPhone.

It’s been almost a month since the incredible frenzy surrounding the release of Apple’s iPhone monopolized the media reports.

You may now have one, covet one, or care less about the whole subject.

But no matter which camp you’re in, there’s one thing about the iPhone you have to be aware of: the current version of the iPhone does NOT support Flash. Yep. According to Steve’s Jobs vague answer regarding the subject of Flash support, he said that Apple “may do so in the future”. With the next upgrade of the iPhone software, I suspect that they will. But right now all-Flash sites don’t display in the phone’s web browser.

What this means is that if you have an all-Flash site (something I’ve been campaigning against for years), all those award-winning, cutting edge designers and art directors–you know, the ones who tend to be early adopters of all things Apple, and who have hordes of people following their every creative move–will not be able to see your site while they’re web surfing and showing off their iPhone to anyone who sees it in their hands.

Can you imagine what your web traffic logs would have reported this month if your site was one of the visible sites that the iPhone-owning designer had bookmarked?

If you’ve seen anyone with an iPhone in the last few weeks, then you know what kind of attention it gets from curious onlookers. How many of those iPhone owners creative community business contacts and friends could have seen your site in that impressive show-and-tell session? What pass along “wow factor” could have been yours that day?

And further consider if your page had been optimized for mobile devices… how better would that have been?!? Some people in the photo business spend time considering these marketing technology issues. Because they know that no matter how great someone’s images are, if they’re not viewable to a potential client anywhere, anytime, on any device, a potential sale can be lost to someone who is. Our clients and their clients are thinking about this marketing message delivery stuff. Are you?

Next week I’m off to another one of those geeky technology conferences I love to attend; I’ll be bringing back more news from the bleeding edge of internet marketing.

Another blow to commercial photo biz came today

The NY Times reported today been a release of yet another microstock site. No doubt this will further drive down what clients expect to pay for an image. Today, Corbis announced the release of SnapVillage a new site which allows amateurs and semi-pros to sell their images for $1-$50.

The rate SnapVillage pays the photographer? 30% of each image sold. So when buyer pays a maximun of $50 for an image, the photographer would receive a whopping $15. Once you reach $10 in royalties owed, you would be paid on the last day of the following month.

Read more

Teeny Tiny Steps: Part 2 of 2-part series

Here’s Part 2 that I promised.

“Teeny, Tiny Steps the Create a Mountain of

Here’s one of those small actions that’s paid off for
clients who need help in the creative-unblocking
realm: spend less than $1 and buy one of
those spiral-bound notepads that fit in your
pocket. (Or if you’re more tech-inclined, create
a new Memo record in your PDA).

Deliberately name the notebook (or file) so as to
engage your sub-conscious about your intention.
Call it “Inspirations,” “Messages from the
Interior” , “Finding my Focus, ” etc. Whatever
works for you.

In that notebook or file, start noting and recording
when you are struck by a scene in your day-to-day life.
You may or may not have your camera with you at the time.
But what you always have with you is your attention.
By noting what attracts your attention when you’re
not deliberately looking, you’re going to start
becoming more conscious of a normally unconscious action-
i.e., where your attention is drawn to without you deciding what
to focus on.

That, in turn, will lead to becoming more aware
of what you’re seeing unconsciously-which is an
aspect of your unique vision. Oftentimes, that’s
not what’s reflected in your portfolio–but it
should be. Because it reflects the YOU that no
one else IS.

It’s different for everyone. It could be you’re
always drawn to faces. Particular kinds of faces.
Or shadows of a certain density. Or colors of a
certain hue. Or relationships between people. Or
between people and their environment. Or certain
objects. the way light wraps around metal, or
fabric or liquids.

Over time, you will start to see patterns. You
will see where your attention is consistently
drawn. You will start to have more confidence
that you do indeed have a unique vision.

What this will also do is help you become more
intimately acquainted with the You that is
noticing these scenarios. The reason you need to
know that You better is that that You is the same You
that has shot those gorgeous images in your book
that seem to have ‘just happened.’ Your own
“decisive moments.” The ones that in a flash, you
created brilliantly without thinking.

They’re the images that everyone seems to love
but the ones that you feel a bit sheepish about
including in your book. You tend to devalue them
because you didn’t have to “crawl over glass on your belly”
to capture them. “Hard-to-do=Good” is a deeply
embedded myth in our Western culture.

What I’m asking you to do is to deliberately
engage your subconscious creativity on a daily
basis. You’ve probably have heard this in other places.
To be in ‘the flow’ is how it’s described
in the sports world. To have access to a more
powerful way to confidently and consistently
create new content in your portfolio; content
that reflects your unique vision.

Why? Because that-more than anything-is what will
set your book apart and make you more marketable.
And that will lead to better sales-and at a
higher price.

This same simple recording technique can also be
powerfully applied when you want to grow your
business. In the marketing arena, obviously a
different set of observations gets recorded.
Many of my clients have been amazed at how easy
and yet how powerful that simple habit becomes
when leveraged against a marketing strategy.
I’ll share one of those tips in a future article.

Until then…Take some teeny, tiny steps. Every
day. With Attention. And Appreciation for the

Or as a mentor once said to me: “What’s hard by
the yard is a cinch by the inch.”

Start focusing your vision. Today.

All the Best,
(c) Carolyn Potts 2006