From Disruption to Multimedia

Posted on Aug 31, 2013 in DocImages, journalism, Media, Multimedia, Photography | 6 Comments

DocImagesl-076This is one theme I have been talking about a lot lately. Earlier this summer I spoke about this in Nordic Freelance 2013 seminar, now last monday I spoke about it  in Tallinn, Estonia.

I just thought I summarize the outline of my thinking here. In case somebody might find it useful… Or someone might want to disagree?

The argument I am making is very simple.

Disruption

stanislavWe are going through a phase of intense disruption, combined with harvesting model in full swing and a rapid decline of traditional legacy media. The circulation levels are  down and  media is going thru an unprecedented structural change.

The legacy has opted to react in this situation typically by cutting production costs. And in terms of visual content (photography and videography) this means that we (as readers) are more and more bombarded with less than mediocre content, stock imagery and blurry cellphone snapshots which basically leave you wondering why that blot of color is there on the page in the first place.

The decisive factor for visual content often is the price – and nothing else.

Which obviously further contributes to the death spiral of the industry: bad content =>readers leave => more financial cuts => worse content => more readers leave…

It is a a no-brainer  that the future of our industry will see a transition from the paper to the touch devices, but many traditional players have chosen to harvest the maximum amount available from the legacy. Where IMHO a more sustainable approach might be investing on R&D and especially learning the necessary core skills – the language, if you like – we’ll be using in the future on these devices and platforms.

Adding all that up, our profession (pressphotograhy)  as we’ve known it in the past is dying. Or at least dramatically changing.

Do not misread me here. Photography per se is doing just fine – you could even argue that it’s doing better than ever. The possibilities are immense. But: traditional professional pressphotograpy, where you could make a decent, honest living selling your images as a freelancer… I dare say that barely exists anymore.

Unless you are willing to work for free or peanuts. But as the saying goes: you pay with peanuts, you get monkeys…

Multimedia

Now, there are couple of ways to act/react in this situation.

One (a very sensible one) is to get the hell out of this business. I know lots of people who have chosen this one. “Get a real job instead of photography” – I have had that several times.

Another solution is trying to work more. To produce more with less monetary compensation. That is a path which is doomed to fail, as prices/margins get lower and lower and eventually it becomes impossible to make even a modest living out of this. In addition the quality of the work diminishes, which inevitably leads to devaluation of ones own work and value.

One solution (a very popular one, btw) is to tell yourself we are simply going thru a phase… Carry on as you’ve always done and hope things will get better. Which naturally does not happen. It is a simple form of self-deception and leads nowhere. Yet  it is a behavior  you see an abundance of.

LauraThe only solution which really makes sense to me is this one: as the market (in the large sense) is flooded with cheap and gray visual noise, you have to stand out.

Contribute something of an added value, something which stands out, something which gets the readers attention.

Achieving this with single images is hard, as cameras have become so good and simple to use that taking technically decent frame (at least good enough for the publisher if it is free/cheap) does not require a professional anymore. IPhone in the hand of an accidental bystander takes care of the bulk of images needed.

And this is where multimedia comes along – or call it “rich visual content” , if you like. “Multimedia” as a word  is sort of hard to define, so maybe we should call it “high quality visual storytelling” – using audio, interactivity, stills and video… i.e.  the tools which are all around us.

There are more tools than ever in the history of photography to make really compelling visual content. Content that matters. Content of value people are ready to pay for. We just have to learn to make use of these tools.

Why the legacy has chosen to fill the pages with below par stock imagery – ignoring the immense possibilities we have at our disposal – is beyond me.

My argument is very simple: instead of making something cheap, I’d prefer making something good.

You understand now the title “From Disruption to Multimedia”?

A Gig to Remember

Every now and then you get a gig or something happens which sort of leaves you with one simple  thought in your mind:  “Life is good…”

I had this last monday when  we crossed the Gulf of Finland to give a small morning seminar in Tallinn, Estonia. Overall and Canon had kindly invited me to talk about multimedia and sports photography to colleagues in Tallinn in a small seminar. And as the weather during the previous week had been awesome so we decided to take a sailing boat over the bay instead of the typical Tallink/Viking-ferry.

combo4Apart from the shock of the first hour, the whole visit was simply awesome. The shock I am referring to was the zero response I managed to pull out of the audience initially (boy, did I get nervous…) until somebody (Thank You!!!)  during the break told me not to worry, as this – apparently – is the cultural norm over there.

People do listen, make notes, they are interested… they just do not ask spontaneous questions. But the discussions I had with people afterwards made up for this.  Real nice crowd, good comments and insights when we  got talking informally after the presentations.

getter

In the evening we took the boat out with some friends and colleagues.  And it does not get better than that, it was just simply beautiful: nice 5ms/sec NW breeze, sunset, couple of glasses of wine, great conversations… I really enjoyed it – and I think we all did.

Considering that most of my public talking concerns the crisis and decline of the tradional media… it was just a reminder of the more important, simple things in life.  Such as hanging out with friends.

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Edit:

Saara wrote a nice post about our visit in our DocImages blog (in Finnish).

6 Comments

  1. Tim Bird
    August 31, 2013

    Well said again. Fighting the legacy remains abig battle though. Everywhere companies are also reaching for Instagram as an image source to save money, also assuming they are being cool and trendy.

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      August 31, 2013

      Thanks Tim –

      I sometimes feel I am playing the same old record over and over again…
      But I have thought for some time now that I really should try to express the logic (or expose the lack of it… ;-) ) of this.
      So this was my modest attempt to that direction.

      Reply
  2. Rea Peltola
    August 31, 2013

    Yes, and the same process is happening in all work I think. The motto of the world has been, for some decades already, “More, worse, cheaper”.

    And this is where we have come; soon nobody wants the product, even for nothing.

    It might be wise to start again, with “Less, better, so valuable that also the producer gets a decent pay”.

    But I suspect that there will be a great crash first; the economy is based on such a big bubble that most people want to try and pick their winnings playing with the bubble – and hoping to get off before the bubble bursts.

    Reply
    • Jan Vehrenkamp
      September 3, 2013

      As always Kari, you can keep the hammer – keep nailing it!

      @Rea:
      That’s something I’ve always been trying to say.
      The biggest flaw in our current trend of “give me everything, instantly and for free – oh and did I mention? I REALLY value quality” is just that it can not be done.
      And I’m amazed how blind we remain to this fact. It’s just like with friends. You can have a good handful of really close friends, but once you go past that, you can not give everyone the quality time the friendship would require to be on that kind of level, yet those among us with the highest score in FB-friends are looked up to. (And yes, I have too many FB-friends to keep up with too.)

      Personally I can’t help but wonder what humans did before we had tv’s with all their players and consoles and what not attached to them, and all the other useless crap we use every day and think of as mandatory to survive in this world, which we all know is just crap.
      All we really need is water(good we ruin our groundwater with various techniques from radiation to fracking), food(funny how that can’t be cheap enough these days), good friends(quality or quantity?) and here in Finland a relatively warm house for the winter. Everything else is just bonus.

      I’ve been thinking very hard about this and some other subjects lately, and anyway I turn it, I can’t help but think that I’m beginning to go nuts. Just in case: You read it here first. :D

      Reply
  3. Jukka Watanen
    August 31, 2013

    I totally agree, kari… Yet I think it is time to the people in business to get together, find ways to collaborate, to get the tools to lift “storytelling”to a new level : that is add movement and music, maybe speech to the great tradition of magazine photo journalism. The picture still “says more than thousand words” if it is strong and evokes emotions. I hope there are enough talented and “hungry” people in this business to open the finnish photography to this possibility. There are young individuals in fashion, film, design etc that have done it, why not us- the image professionals ?

    Reply
    • kkuukka
      September 1, 2013

      Jukka –

      one of the things I have learned is that working alone is a recipe for disaster. Trouble with photographers is that they are used to working alone, the whole business sort of encourages individualism. I teach occasionally kids who are in their first or second year of university and they have more often than not internalized this tradition already…
      One of the challenges is to get them (and everyone who wishes to pursue anything more complicated…) out of that path.

      Reply

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