What photographers can learn from the music industry

Mike Masnick at the popular (850.000+ subscribers) Techdirt blog has strong views about copyright. He is a believer in loosening copyright and giving away content for free. He believes in this so much that he does not oppose re-using his posts and even allows people to copy all Techdirt posts and publish them as their own. The reason for this is that he does not believe in making money from copyright but instead monetizes his community of followers in other ways. One of his main subjects has been the music industry. He has been actively opposing the fight against music piracy which recently even led to a bit of an argument with Lily Allen.

We have posted articles on the music industry here before. There are obvious similarities to the business-model of other stockmedia like photography. The challenges that come with it are similar, in particular the question whether or not to give away content for free. This subject is being debated heavily in the music industry and on the copy-side the decisions about paywalls are coming to a head. While the stock photography community is actively debating the recent rise of microstock it hasn’t fully tackled the issues of free content and the challenges and opportunities this will bring in the future. Below are a few examples from the music industry from the techdirt blog that may give some guidance of what’s around the corner for photography.

“However, not everyone got the message, apparently. In a discussion on the “manager’s role” in developing an artist in the digital era, Chris Morrison — who manages Blur and the Gorillaz, among others — waited until the end to start trashing “pirates.” What was odd was that earlier in the panel he was talking about how much attention and free publicity the Gorillaz got when their latest single showed up on file sharing sites last week.”

“Back on the first day of the event, legendary producer/musician Pharrell Williams had noted that file sharing is “like taste testing,” in explaining that he wasn’t worrying about it, noting that if people liked the “taste” they could then find something worth buying. But Morrison was having none of it: “It’s not a taste. It’s like giving them the whole bloody meal!” That’s an interesting viewpoint for a manager to have, and one that makes me wonder. I can see how a record label — who tends to really only own the recording — could see things that way, but as a manager, he must realize that there’s a lot more to sell out there than just the music itself. So, no, it’s not the whole meal (bloody or not), but a taste of what the band itself has to offer. And many of the things bands have to offer are not easily copied and shared — and any manager who wants to cope with today’s digital market needs to understand that”. via Techdirt.

In another post Masnick quotes a guardian interview with Brian Eno who describes recorded music as a moment in time that passed and will never come back. How does this compare to photography? Could this be a similar moment in time that is passing fast?

Then I go back to my computer, and see an anonymous submission of a wonderfully brilliant interview with music legend Brian Eno… and right there at the end, he has a beautiful description of what’s happening to the recording industry — comparing it to whale blubber:

“I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate — history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”


Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

2 thoughts on “What photographers can learn from the music industry

  • January 27, 2010 at 11:15 am

    The remarkable number of people in the photography/music industry who continue to believe in this linear version of history – ‘history’s moving along’ to quote Brian Eno – would do well to read some books by John Gray – ‘False Dawn’ as good a place to start as any. He savagely debunks this idea of constant change, constant progress. History does not move along, it goes round and round and round. The relevance to stock photography? Don’t lose sight of the core principles that underpin the industry in a desperate stampede to ‘innovate’ and find ‘new models’. Not all the old models are bad. In the mid-80s with the rise of electronic music and the introduction of the CD it was assumed that live music was dying – who would pay to go and watch a band push a few buttons when you could listen to a better quality version in the comfort of your home? Now live music is the most vibrant sector of the music industry. Some things come back because of their intrinsic value. It’s not all whale blubber…

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