Afterexposure Photography

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Posts Tagged ‘Web 2.0’

Splitting Atoms II

In a prior post I wrote a bit about possible changes that might take hold in the photographic imaging business, specifically in the world of content creation, and the effects of microstock image warehouses and photographers and models that shoot ‘for free’.

Some would argue that the availability of high quality equipment has made this possible; the rise of the inexpensive dSLR and the enthusiast shooter. Some might point to sites like Model Mayhem as the root of all evil for making trade shooting available to the public (and by ‘public’ I mean ‘aspiring models’, as opposed to ‘professional models’ that don’t flake out on shoots… but that’s another rant…). Some might point to the internet as the great ‘leveler of markets’, where price information gets confused with value information, and chaos ensues.

I would argue the inevitably of it all; in fact, I would argue we haven’t crested yet (or troughed, if you are a glass-half-empty type). I think we haven’t seen the bottom of the price curve.

The crest, at least as far as past experience in other industries has shown us so far, happens when we can outsource the content creation, but use the internet as the medium… no agency, no face-to-face meetings, and sadly, no client lunches to write off. I would see this as half way between stock shooting and a commissioned shoot; with the client requesting only the general parameters of the image content, and letting the ‘market’ deliver the service.

Note I said ‘service’, not ‘experience’. That’s a key point in Pine’s video from TED about the next split in industry as a whole. Of course it’s happening now, but it’s not pushed out to Jane & John business owner in a big way.

So what’s this have to do with splitting atoms?

In a previous life at IBM (yeah, about as far from creative photography as you can get… no wonder I quit!) I participated in the creation of services, and one important thing we did was to identify the value of our people and their roles within the processes we used to deliver our services to our customers.

The key activity was to split what was previously seen as an ‘atomic’ element – usually a person – into two parts; their innate expertise, and the humdrum stuff that we could stuff into a process that anyone – or any computer – could do.

This splitting of person from role is the important exercise. If you let the people focus on the creative stuff, and encapsulate all the supporting the processes into a web-accessible format, you could open the door to a new niche of industry; one where the client can get high quality content for a much lower price, and the creative team is much more focused on creating, rather than unprofitable administrivia.

There is also the flip-side to Pine and his notion of ‘the experience’; there is great value in delivering something special to the customer directly; this is evident in successful photographers that continue to command high prices and have a style with great market value.

A final thought; it’s not important which side you choose; or even to choose at all.

It is only important to know which side of the coin you are working on.

Splitting Atoms

On Sunday I had a few parallel discussions regarding some possible future business models of photography.

My contention was that it should be relatively simple to add a ‘customer’ account type to sites like and inject some ‘industry’ into the ecology.

I wasn’t ready for what happened, but it shouldn’t have surprised me! I got a couple of quite different responses, but most were, on balance, negative.

One member of MM, The Devine Emily Fine, had posted this link to a TED video which I think encapsulates the ‘ether’ that my ideas exist in.  It’s a good watch, all the way through … go ahead and watch it … I’ll wait here.

I believe that the way customers engage creative professionals could change. It should change because those that offer a service will likely be challenged, while those that offer an experience should thrive.

This obviously works for retail / consumer oriented photographers; one of my favorite wedding photographers has created his entire brand about associating his customers with an exciting experience.

So why not let this creep into ‘the industry’?

Why not offer a path that enables clients, who otherwise would not have the production / art direction capabilities on their own, the ability to purchase creative services via the web?

The answer I got was “Well, we did the market research and no one is interested. They want to continue to go to a bricks-and-mortar agency”. Well, pardon me, but … “Duh!”

That has to be right up there with the predictions of “5 computers in the world” or “640k of RAM is enough”! Of course it works… today… because they are operating in today.

But press the fast forward button just a little, and do you think that long-distance outsourcing might happen? – just as it has for every other industry? It would be arrogant to think that what you do is so special, so unique, that no one else could ever do it. (As an aside, China and India graduate more geniuses every year than the whole US graduates students… yeah, you’re sooo special…). So create a unique experience of it, and offer it to the world. It works for this guy, so why not the rest of us?

So get ahead of the curve. By splitting the creativity away from the mundane functions of the participants in a creative endeavour, and giving those mundane functions a Web 2.0 ecology, you should be enabled to focus the right talent on the creative aspects of a project, casting, or single assignment for anyone, from anywhere. Add a bidding and staged payment system (a la eBay / PayPal), and you are most of the way there.

I’ll stop my rant here, and let this percolate for a while…