Creativity In The New Economy

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.

(via Seth)

18 Responses to Creativity In The New Economy

  1. Martin Joergensen February 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm #


    Can only agree with with Kevin (and yourself) and have been of the same conviction for many, many years. It’s a classical economic truth: when a commodity becomes extremely easily available it looses value… Can you say Indian cotton shirts? Electronic toys? Music? Good writing? Knowledge? Video? Images? That’s one of the things the Internet has done.

    It’s like I always say when I teach or speak: “People can have my knowlegde for free, because it’s my body they want!” ;-)

    It’s not like I can do things that no one else can do: program, write articles, shoot images. If people like my style and personality, the value comes from the fact that I’m the one who does it.

    Musicians need to perform live, writers have to speak and photographers need to sell something more than just bits in image files. Bits are basically worthless.

    My customers don’t just want my products. They want me in person. The fact that I do it is part of the product.
    Chase Jarvis customers want Chase Jarvis – not just your style or your products, but you! The fact that you do it is part of the product.

    It’s the new economy in an Internet age.

    Thanks for yet another great post in a great blog.


  2. Ola B. February 4, 2008 at 2:11 am #

    I suggest picking up a copy of “The Dream Society” by Rolf Jensen. isbn: 0-07-137968-1

    It’s a great read, and will definately give you a new perspective on how to model your business in the future.

  3. ED February 4, 2008 at 9:00 am #

    Phenomenal post chase. Kevin Kelly is sweet-

  4. TBD February 4, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    What a great post, completely enjoyed reading both yours and Kevin’s thoughts on the subject. I can honestly say that it kept me up last night thinking about my own work and how it will be affected.

  5. Chase Jarvis February 4, 2008 at 10:29 am #

    Friends: So glad this post seems to have made an impression on you four. This kind of stuff fascinates me. Additionally, it’ll be interesting to see the cross section of the readership who continues to comment… More than any recent post on this blog, the ideas in this entry seem central–in an optimistic, exciting, subtle way–to the future evolutions of art and photography. Sure this is in the context of the new economy, however there are implications beyond that narrow scope as well. The material might be too gooey or murky for some, but I hope that it resonates with many. Time and the number/type of comments that come in today will tell. I could be fooling myself, but this stuff (Kevin’s work) seems especially insightful.

  6. Sarah Rhoads Photo February 4, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    word. I love your attitude of embrace. I think it is a great thing when we can be adaptable and embrace changing times in our world. :)

  7. n1x0n February 4, 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    I’m glad there are others who are able to actually see the “evolutionary element” in all that is going on in the world of photography today.

    Most of the photographers actually overlook the great opportunity that presents itself these days. The fun, the excitement, the challenge of sailing uncharted waters…

    No doubt current events will push our creativity to its limits… both in terms of art and business skills.

    Best regards and thanks for the refreshing reading!


  8. Dave February 4, 2008 at 8:08 pm #

    Hey Chase, Another great post.
    I’ve been thinking about this stuff ever since I started hearing about istock. I wasn’t threatened by istock directly, but I had this feeling I couldn’t explain that I thought we as photographers were entering a new time. I don’t want to focus on a small point of the post but I’m wondering how you feel about his comment…..”Nor are legal skills surrounding Intellectual Property and Copyright very useful anymore” ? Especially with your stand against K2, or do you think he was talking about something else?


  9. ShaolinTiger February 5, 2008 at 1:55 am #

    I would change your title slightly and say Creativity IS the new Economy :)

  10. Chase Jarvis February 6, 2008 at 7:13 am #

    @ Dave: I’ve said it 100 times before: copyright is changing. With the advent of the internet, copyright is being tested, and we’re seeing that there are inadequacies in the current system. As those laws evolve to accommodate the new media, you’ll hopefully see less copyright disputes. (right now, there are more than ever before…) So, while artist rights to their work are and will always be supreme, the evolution of the law and common practices will place less a burden on the legal system and creative people’s ability to navigate those challenging waters, and more on common sense, creativity, and the foundation that the copyright laws were based on in their original iterations.

  11. Allen February 11, 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Chase,

    Thank you again for hosting the hanger shoot. Had a blast! :) You mentioned creating your own brand. This is something I’m struggling with. How long did it take you to create your own brand and what advice would you give someone still trying to develop his/her own style or brand?

  12. Andy. February 12, 2008 at 12:36 am #

    Good article and a very interesting subject but I’m not sure the conclusion is a sound one.

    Generosity is not strong enough to sustain itself as a business model. It has to be a quantifiable asset before it can survive as such. Not only that but it has to be employed by everybody for it to work, otherwise the generous people/companies end up getting shafted.

    Also, haven’t those generatives always played their part?

    Immediacy. Mini lab services for turn around of holiday snaps: $5.00 48hrs or $10.00 24hrs [or whatever].

    Personalization. Nothing can be personalized like a photograph can.

    Interpretation. Isn’t this like a portfolio review? Pay for advice on how to improve/use it?

    Authenticity. Always been the case.

    Accessibility. Already doing this. Clients access their commissioned images online/FTP.

    Embodiment = Personal touch. Always been the case.

    Patronage. Always been the case.

    Findability. Before the internet, the guy on the first page of the telephone book got a call first. Now the guy on the first page of Google does. Always been the case.

    Or have I misunderstood something?

  13. Chase Jarvis March 16, 2008 at 10:56 am #

    @ allen: that’s a big question. Generally, creating your own brand is a lifelong mission. It’s everything you do, with whom you identify, partner, collaborate, serve etc. It’s not unlike creating art: try to direct it on purpose with intention, rather than without thought and control. Have decisive meaning an purpose behind the things you choose to do. A cork in the tide is just that…a cork in the tide. You’ll fare much better by doing things on purpose.

    Hope that helps.

  14. Chase Jarvis March 16, 2008 at 10:58 am #

    @ Andy – not sure I agree with your points, but I’m glad that you’re thinking critically. That’s, after all, what the post is about, eh? I’d retort by saying merely that it’s unique to consider each of these things together in this context. There’s power in that, and a power that hadn’t been aggregated much in the past.

  15. Tim Forcade March 27, 2008 at 3:40 pm #

    Kelly has given voice to much of what many of us have mused about for sometime. This is an incredibly exciting time particularly for those of use with decades of shooting experience. Most of us have been remaking ourselves at regular intervals for years. Suggest we all simply relax, keep creating & perfecting and enjoy the ride.

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