Priced To Sell: Gladwell vs. Anderson Considering Photography

About 18 months ago, I wrote about Chris Anderson’s ‘Free’ in the context of the ever-evolving landscape of photography, video, and their relation to new media. In today’s New Yorker Magazine, Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point,Blink,and Outliers,) offers some cogent analysis and great counterpoints to Anderson’s claims that are well worth the read:

“…And there’s plenty of other information out there that has chosen to run in the opposite direction from Free. The Times gives away its content on its Web site. But the Wall Street Journal has found that more than a million subscribers are quite happy to pay for the privilege of reading online. Broadcast television—the original practitioner of Free—is struggling. But premium cable, with its stiff monthly charges for specialty content, is doing just fine. Apple may soon make more money selling iPhone downloads (ideas) than it does from the iPhone itself (stuff). The company could one day give away the iPhone to boost downloads; it could give away the downloads to boost iPhone sales; or it could continue to do what it does now, and charge for both. Who knows? The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.”

Counter to some predictions, photography and video are are not bound to ‘Free’. I’m in agreement with Anderson that ‘Free’ is most certainly carving out its space–even reasonably so–in every digitally based industry, but I’m in complete alignment with Gladwell that the two markets ‘Free’ and ‘Not Free’ can and will continue to co-exist reasonably nicely. The trick is/will be in…[click the 'continue reading' link below]


…finding the balance. I find this to be the case in my own personal preferences, both in regards to how I obtain digital content as a user, as well as my life as a content creator and distributor.

Suffice it to say, this article is an essential read if you’re at all interested in the intersection of art + new media. Get it here (for free ;) at the New Yorker: Priced to Sell, Is Free the Future?

Update…Featured Comment: I thought this comment by Craig Swanson of CreativeTechs was particularly smart and did a nice job of bridging the gap between Gladwell and Anderson. As such I’m featuring it here. I’d also say you could sub my name out of his thoughts and insert any independent artist who has taken a similar path…be it you or any other photographer on this march…

I’ve spent the weekend listening to the abridged audiobook of Chris Anderson’s FREE. Which I (of course) downloaded for free as digital MP3 files. I think there is a tremendously important, and frequently missed point in the concept of “Free” as a business model tactic in today’s digital economy.

In Chapter 3, Chris Anderson compares the results of abundance vs. scarcity in the prices of digital items in today’s information industries.

I can’t easily find the specific quote in the audiobook (which is one reason I’ve already ordered and paid for the printed edition), but Anderson compares the prices of digital commodities that are racing towards “Free” with other digital products such as Microsoft’s Windows, or Adobe’s Photoshop which have held their prices even while the marginal cost of manufacturing individual copies has dropped to nearly nothing.

The difference being that, for the moment, Microsoft and Adobe have maintained a level of monopoly with their products. If you want “Photoshop” there is only one company who makes it (Leaving out piracy and theft for the moment).

The question becomes where you and your creative work falls.

Today, we’ve seen the great abundance and availability of stock photography reducing the value and revenue from individual stock collections. Based on results, I think it is fair to note that generic stock image libraries are among the digital products already on a steady march towards “Free”.

Meanwhile, the value of time and creativity from certain specific photographers (like you Chase) have increased greatly over that same period. While photography as a whole is quite abundant (abundant digital items are racing towards “Free” status), the availability of, for example, “Chase Jarvis” is quite scarce these days. (Scarce items maintain and even increase their value).

So I think this has a lot to do with how we manage our careers and art in the future. To maintain our value we must become our own monopoly. Become a “generic” photographer, designer, copywriter, or in my case Mac IT tech, and watch your market value drop as the world shifts.

Become a monopoly of one, and watch your value grow. I may be able to hire a generic photographer at a wide range of prices (including free in some cases). But if I want to hire Chase Jarvis, there is a single person who controls the price and availability of that particular monopoly.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t even fair. But it is the world we’re living in.

[Thanks @mcbill for the tip! Gladwell image by C. Davidson/Hastac; Anderson image by Joebeone.]

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22 Responses to Priced To Sell: Gladwell vs. Anderson Considering Photography

  1. jefflynchdev July 5, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    Those that value the "content" provided by professional photographers will always be willing to "pay" for that content, be it a fine art print or a stock image. It's in the "consumer's" best interest to pay for the content to ensure that the artist can continue to create that content in the future.

    I love photography as a medium of expression, as a worthwhile pursuit and for its inherent beauty. I enjoy both the craft of taking photographs and viewing others' images. I am both a "producer" and a "consumer" of photography and would never expect it to be free in either sense.

    I suspect that those individuals that feel a photograph should be provided free of charge would also expect the universe to provide them with everything else for "free" as if the Lord "owed" them something.

    No truer words were ever spoken than these; "There is no such thing as a free lunch".

    But then, I'm just an opinionated old fart with a camera. :-)

  2. Daniel Baggs July 5, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    I believe Radiohead found the tipping point between free and paid for art when they released their album and let the fan choose the price they paid.

    Apparently, prices ranged from a few pence to upwards of £10.

    I'll happily pay money for something i like. because doing this means that the artist can continue to create what i like to see. it's all about the sustaining, just like chase talked about at the ADCD at Denver.

    As far as my work goes, i'm an amateur photographer, and i have worked for free and for money. But i have enjoyed the free work more. Maybe it's that i feel some pressure to perform when being paid. But then again, i work best when under pressure. Hmmmm

  3. joost July 5, 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    Don't forget to read Chris Anderson's response and Seth Godin's take on all of this. Also, why is Gladwell's post dated the 6th of July, when Chris Anderson responded to it on the 29th of June?

  4. Craig Swanson July 5, 2009 at 1:29 pm #

    I've spent the weekend listening to the abridged audiobook of Chris Anderson's FREE. Which I (of course) downloaded for free as digital MP3 files. I think there is a tremendously important, and frequently missed point in the concept of "Free" as a business model tactic in today's digital economy.

    In Chapter 3, Chris Anderson compares the results of abundance vs. scarcity in the prices of digital items in today's information industries.

    I can't easily find the specific quote in the audiobook (which is one reason I've already ordered and paid for the printed edition), but Anderson compares the prices of digital commodities that are racing towards "Free" with other digital products such as Microsoft's Windows, or Adobe's Photoshop which have held their prices even while the marginal cost of manufacturing individual copies has dropped to nearly nothing.

    The difference being that, for the moment, Microsoft and Adobe have maintained a level of monopoly with their products. If you want "Photoshop" there is only one company who makes it (Leaving out piracy and theft for the moment).

    The question becomes where you and your creative work falls.

    Today, we've seen the great abundance and availability of stock photography reducing the value and revenue from individual stock collections. Based on results, I think it is fair to note that generic stock image libraries are among the digital products already on a steady march towards "Free".

    Meanwhile, the value of time and creativity from certain specific photographers (like you Chase) have increased greatly over that same period. While photography as a whole is quite abundant (abundant digital items are racing towards "Free" status), the availability of, for example, "Chase Jarvis" is quite scarce these days. (Scarce items maintain and even increase their value).

    So I think this has a lot to do with how we manage our careers and art in the future. To maintain our value we must become our own monopoly. Become a "generic" photographer, designer, copywriter, or in my case Mac IT tech, and watch your market value drop as the world shifts.

    Become a monopoly of one, and watch your value grow. I may be able to hire a generic photographer at a wide range of prices (including free in some cases). But if I want to hire Chase Jarvis, there is a single person who controls the price and availability of that particular monopoly.

    It isn't easy. It isn't even fair. But it is the world we're living in.

  5. David Redding July 5, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    Dane Sanders and many of the top wedding photographers have known for a while now that if you base your worth and company on the value of the image itself, then you are on the road to doom. Once you place all the value on the image you are then competing with every other photographer in your market. Like Craig stated, there are tons of images out there.

    Dane explains in his book Fast Track Photographer, once you put the value on the photographer, branding and marketing the photographer you have no competition. There is only one of YOU and if people want YOU they will have to pay your price because there is no where they can go to get YOU.

    So many wedding photographer have done exactly what Craig explains and are reaping the benefits

  6. shambrick July 5, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    Craig's final point is the important one for me. From a marketing viewpoint Brand is a key point of differentiation that allows a business to command a premium.

    Brand is pretty intangible, but it's definately important.

    In the marketing world we talk about three dimensions of product. Let me use a car as an example:
    - Core product (transport, gets me from A to B)
    - Tabgible product (shiny alloy wheels and leather interior)
    - Augmented Product – (it's a Mercedes and people know that I am successful when I drive it)

    So when People hire Chase, they are getting an image (Core) from a photographer with good quality gear and sound technical skills (tangible), but they are also getting that intangible cachet associated with Chase, the Zeitgist of his name and all that this means to them, personally and professionally (augmented).

    It's the last part that are probably apying the most for, even though they can't really touch it or see it. Ironic but important eh?

    So for those shooters who can only provide the core product, it is inevitable that they will fall to the bottom of the food chain, at or near free.

  7. Jim Goldstein July 5, 2009 at 11:32 pm #

    I am eagerly awaiting Chris' book. I've read most everything on the topic to date as the release of the book nears and am withholding judgment on it until I can read the book in its entirety. Right off the bat what I give Chris credit for is ability to incite debate. This certainly is an important topic for creatives and I look forward to seeing how it disrupts conventional thought on the topic. Personally I found his Wired article to be extremely thought provoking and have read it several times since its release. As they say… to be continued.

  8. Konstantin Minov July 6, 2009 at 1:13 am #

    it is actually quite simple :)

    Sheep Is Free (SIF) License Version 1.0

    June 2005 Copyright (C) No such thing. Sofia, Bulgaria

    Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, and changing it anyway necessary is so allowed.

    Preamble

    Once there was a little prince. He came to a man, who happened to be an artist. And as he had also been crashed in the desert with his airplane, he obviously had a lot of free time. Aside from sweating and cursing the sun, that is. So, the little prince asked the man to draw a sheep for him. Kind of strange thing to ask. Yet having so much spare time, the man granted his wish and drew the little prince a sheep. And the little prince was happy and went on with his wonderings. What seems strange in this story?The little prince did not pay for the sheep. It was given to him for free.What do you suppose would have happened if the little prince had landed at, for instance, Adobe Corporation? Ha.

    What I mean is: Giving away sheep for free is everyone’s personal right. It might be even better than charging for your sheep.Of course, the bankers and the managers will scream out-loud just now:” And what, excuse me, Mr. Free-World-Hippy will you eat if you dispose of all of your creations for free?” Now, ain’t that funny. Where did I put “all”?

    You will charge for your sheep. Of course. But once in a while, according to this License agreement you have the right to give away a sheep for free. And that is what this License stands for.

    Sheep Is Free License

    TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR COPYING, DISTRIBUTION AND MODIFICATION

    You may copy and distribute copies of the sheep you created. Of course, sheep is just a term here. You may create anything you want. It doesn’t have to be a sheep. You may charge a fee for anything you have created. You may modify the sheep or whatever it is someone else has created, of course, if that someone has licensed his work under the conditions of this License agreement, or if you believe he would have done it if he had known about it.

    NO WARRANTY

    By following the practices described in this License agreement you may fall either under the pressure of the Law, or into deep poverty. You may also find a prince/princess. Anything can happen.

    How to apply this License agreement

    If you create a sheep, a poem, a space shuttle, whatever, you can either charge someone for it, or you can give it away for free if there is someone to give it to.

    That’s just about all.

    Konstantin Minov

  9. Fotografi July 6, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    Ideas, it's all about ideas… In photography you have to find a niche and to sty creative.
    I believe that photographers are used to change fast, our market changed several times in the last 5 years.
    We (photographers) have to inves in content and skills…

  10. Sergeant D July 6, 2009 at 5:51 am #

    Isn't this all really a discussion about price elasticity of demand?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_elasticity_of_demand

    In the case of "art," demand is likely to be fairly elastic (because it isn't vital to any core function of life/survival)… I think that's the primary determinant in this case, although as always it is more complicated than that, which is why it is so difficult to operationalize these things.

  11. J.R. Farrar July 6, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    Hmmmm Apple is making more money from the software than from the iPhone…sounds like history repeating itself. Hopefully Apple pays attention this time and learns from the past.

  12. Kathryn Lymburner July 6, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    For what it's worth, Chris Anderson also has an article in the July 2009 issue of Wired Magazine…it's also online (for FREE): http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-07/mf_freer

  13. Sean Azul July 6, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    Michael Bay shot Transformers 2 for nothing up front, but gets a piece of every dollar the movie makes.

    This is a big incentive to do the best job possible and create something that is valued by consumers.

    Should we as photographers continue to do work for hire or create content of value with a deferred incentive?

    I'm not exactly sure how this would work, but it definitely has me thinking about how to make my shoots more engaging and the end product superior.

    Sean

  14. Neill Watson July 7, 2009 at 2:49 am #

    You can also read the book online, for free of course, here:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/17135767/FREE-full-book-by-Chris-Anderson

    As a mainly editorial photographer concerned at the way traditional magazine publishing is going, it's probably the most thought provoking thing I've read in a long time.

  15. Rick Koconis July 7, 2009 at 6:21 am #

    So nothing has changed. It seems as though the people that have responded to this all have their different opinions as to how to proceed and make a living at selling photography.

    It's quite simple. It has nothing to do with photography and everything to do with perceived value. If you can create something (Ipod, Iphone, the printing press, the wheel) that others, for whatever reason feel they must have, and you are the window through which they must climb to get it. Then you have created the need (or monopoly) and you can charge whatever you want. Until of course someone else comes along and creates a bigger need or the need you created falls out of favor.

    This is nothing new and will be the rule of supply and demand until there is no more us. It is not complicated. Just go out and create something that others can't live without (or think they can't live without). That's all.

  16. Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 8:35 am #

    I agree with much of what is posted here but other issues cannot be ignored. Yes branding is important but there are tough issues to consider in professional photography:

    - barrier of entry is low. a few thousand dollars and a workshop or two can produce a pretty good photographer. Others may argue this but the smartness of cameras continues to improve and workshops are very accessible
    - differentiation gets tougher when barrier of entry is lower
    - the parallels to the software market typically don't hold when compared to photography. The distribution costs of software are a small part of running a software business. Maintenance costs however increase rapidly when more customers buy software hence justification for upgrade or maintenance fees.

  17. Chase Jarvis July 7, 2009 at 9:54 am #

    sorry, but gotta disagree with both Rick (on one point) and Anon (in general).

    It's simply not realistic to think that a beginner with a camera and a couple of workshops is going to compete with the top 50% of professionals, no more than a beginner with a new set of golf clubs and a couple of lessons is going to compete with Tiger Woods or even Mark Goggin (further down the money list). Camera "smartness" will only ever get you into the absolute lowest tier of paid photography. Photography is about vision. Technique and marketing and all the other stuff are entirely secondary, tertiary, quaternary… There is a fundamental misunderstanding amidst amateur, upstart, and people outside photography as to what it actually takes to sustain a career in photography. It's not a camera and a class and a Flickr account, I promise. Those are all good starts, but they're a far cry from sustaining a career.

    And Rick, I'd argue that it does have everything with Photography first and perceived value second. People usually don't perceive value when imagery does not resonate both in themselves AND in the marketplace. And resonating in the marketplace requires years of hard work. True, "photography" in terms of an industry is more that just an image, but that image is entirely the root of its existence.

  18. Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

    I'm not suggesting that D3 and a workshop = a pro career. But I do think that in short order the masses can produce really good stuff and replace a portion of the pro market whether that be portrait, event, or in the case of stock also commercial ads. CNN's iReport is a good example and it's threat to ediorial shooters. In other words, commodity photography is being redefined and is no place to compete. But as an inspirational photographer once said "be a better photographer"! On a different not, the notion if declaring ones self a monopoly is a toughy without serious differntiated value and is missing the "poly" side of things. Which leaves you with a case of mono. (sorry, couldn't help it).

  19. Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 8:32 pm #

    It's worth a look for all readers here to check out iReport. This is free content sent to CNN by whoever. The point is CNN is able to use what is submitted by pedestrians. It's surely leading to something, perhaps CNN will twitter off payroll people asking for images of whatever and get their content. If you doubt the quality of what they may get, take a peek:

    http://www.ireport.com/blogs/ireport-blog

  20. Anonymous July 8, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Hi chase,

    just being cheeky here… when are you going to post another tech or raw video? Those are the things I'd like to see most…

    Insights on the business and life in general can be found on many places, but specific knowledge as in your video's is hard to come by…

    thanks!

    Joost

  21. Rick Koconis July 10, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Chase,

    In response to your response. I think that maybe I should not have stated so vehemently that it's not about photography. My point was not that photography doesn't matter. After all that is what this whole discussion is wrapped around. It is that you could place just about any endeavor in the place of photography and make a similar argument. I would think that it is a given that one must be a strong, talented and experienced photographer to succeed. Just as one would also have to be a strong, talented and experienced Ipod or wheel maker. But you can be all those things and still not have created a perceived value. The perceived value is the unique part of the equation. The part that sets whatever is being created apart from all others.

    For example, the market is seeing more competition for MP3 players or Iphone wanna-be's. These companies are more than likely filled with extremely talented, and experienced individuals in their R&D; departments and yet they have not created the "can't live without it" need. At least not in the unique way that Apple did.

    I apologize if I came off as argumentative initially. That was not my intent. It was more to bring to the forefront the basic idea behind the premise that I thought was being danced around.

    Thanks for your response, Rick

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