This 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.
We 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…
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.
The 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.
Apart 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.
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.
Saara wrote a nice post about our visit in our DocImages blog (in Finnish).