March 24, 2012

Thoughts on Pinterest et al, from a photographer’s point of view…

Pinterest just changed their terms of service. Some thoughts about Pinterest and other companies that make money by simply providing a distribution model for other people’s content, which they use for free and in many cases without permission…

Spotify pays musicians when its users listen to music. Netflix pays filmmakers and film studios when its users watch films and television shows. To read an e-book I’ve got to buy it from Amazon, iBooks, or the author. So how then can companies like Pinterest and Tumblr build successful businesses off a steady diet of free photographs, mostly provided by third parties with no ownership stake in the work?

I guess the photographers must feel they’re getting something out of it. But what do you get out of having your work pinned or posted? Exposure? That’s true, but what’s that really worth? Fifty new people who click on your website once? Probably less. Why would they click to your site if they’ve already seen your work on a Tumblr blog or a Pinterest page?

The biggest problem in making photography a legitimate career is that photography is too damn fun. Too many people enjoy it. For many photographers, just having their photographs acknowledged (even through theft) is enough for them to feel successful. Maybe they’re new to the field and don’t realize that people used to pay for photographs (and still would). Or maybe they look up to the handful of photographers who have made very successful careers after becoming well known from the work they’ve posted freely online. Maybe they think they’ll be the next one on a flight to Dubai to teach a photo workshop and get sponsored by Canon or Nikon. But there are only a handful of those people (Trey, Thomas, Zach, Chase, David) and the odds against you becoming the next one are huge.

Today’s photographers believe in sharing. And that’s great. Sharing is a great human behavior.

The thing is, no one else is sharing. It’s only the photographers who are sharing. The camera companies certainly aren’t. The web startups aren’t. They’re not sharing. They’re taking everything you’ll give to them.

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