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.]