Free Photos and Artistic Vision

In a continuation of my recent themes of artistic vision and photo industry changes , this month’s Wired (and column over at, editor Chris Anderson is ranting about the topic of his new book: FREE.

The entire article is well worth the read, but there’s one thing in particular worth noting if you’re a photographer or a musician, and that’s his little diddy about “Zero Marginal Cost”. That is, the cost of digital things that are easy to copy and distribute go to zero [read photos, music, etc]:

What’s free [in a zero marginal cost model]?: things that can be distributed without an appreciable cost to anyone. Free to whom?: everyone.

This describes nothing so well as online music. Between digital reproduction and peer-to-peer distribution, the real cost of distributing music [and photos] has truly hit bottom. This is a case where the product has become free because of sheer economic gravity, with or without a business model. That force is so powerful that laws, guilt trips, DRM, and every other barrier to piracy the [music] labels [and photography trade organizations] can think of have failed. Some artists give away their music online as a way of marketing concerts, merchandise, licensing, and other paid fare. But others have simply accepted that, for them, music is not a moneymaking business. It’s something they do for other reasons, from fun to creative expression. Which, of course, has always been true for most musicians anyway…

IF (capitalized for emphasis) this is the case, and photography–like music–is a zero marginal cost model to the distributors, where goes the future of earning a living as a photographer?? The future of earning a living as a photographer lies not in your old pictures, but your next pictures. Sure, one-of-a-kind historical, documentary pictures will always have their earning potential, but the successful professional of the future — just like the successful professional of today — will make their money getting hired to deliver their commissioned, artistic vision for the newest product, trend, or photo of the moment, NOT to deliver the ones and zeros from yesterday’s digital file.

Scary to some, exciting to others. You just need to decide on which side of that fence you’re going to sit.

Related entries:
[Creativity in the New Economy]
[To Go Or Not To Go]
[Kader Attia: It Comes From Within]
[Getty Images SOLD. Now you feel _______.]
[Don’t Worry, Just Focus. Please.]

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