Of Paywalls, Expectancy And Stupidity

It’s the content stupid! Well, no more.

Some time ago, if you were lucky enough to have created an image that all wanted, you could easily sit on it and wait for your phone to ring. Not really anymore. The centre of the business gravity has shifted. To those who create value around the content.

The downfall of journalism is a good example. The great sites for journalism are not doing as well as those who couldn’t care less about quality. The Huffingon Post beats the New York Times. Sure, traffic will tell you a different story. But, finance will not. While the NY Times is struggling to find ways to create dollar value, the Huffington Post sells for more than $300 million. Why? Because they are in two different businesses.

One is obsessed at creating content, the other in monetizing content. And, right now, the money is in those who know how to monetize content.  In photography, the same shift has happened. You could be the greatest photographer alive; it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t know how to create value around your content. Those who have experience in doing so are the publishers.

They can take cheap text from one place, a cheap photograph from the other and voila, done. Why? Because in the internet age of fast and free consumption, people do not expect value for their money as they do not pay. They are fine in receiving what they have paid for: not much.

Thus, why should publishers pay a premium for any photograph? They will not retain viewers longer, nor will it guarantee fidelity. Rather, what they focus on is the volume and the management of expectancy. As long as they deliver the little that is expected from them when it is expected from them, than they will create traction. And Dollars.

Why bother paying for an exclusive image when that image can be copied and pasted in thousands of websites within minutes?  Why pay more for a photograph which will grab someone attention for less than a second before they move on? It would be a waste of resources.

Rather, it makes much more financial sense to have a repeated pattern of offering over and over, with accurate consistency, the exact expected result. That is where the revenue resides. Within a context, not within the content.  Furthermore, a context can be managed, not content. That is the economy we see all around us and that is why photography, by itself, has little or no value. It is just a very small brick of a much wider context.

Photographers, photo agencies and related have no experience in building value around their images. They sell a raw material that has devaluated because the refineries, those who transform it in consumables, the publishers, only use them as small elements of their final product. They are not the product.

Can it be changed? Maybe. No one has really tried to create a publication with exclusive or high end photography only. Mostly because those who have tried with text, like the New York Times, have spend a lot of money and failed. Up to now.

Will it change? It will certainly if pay walls start to be successful. Because as soon as people pay for content, they expect the content to match or surpass the value they paid for it.

Thus, the future of photography, or at least the future of photography online, depends on the success of pay walls.

About the author

This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians”  Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.

Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

3 thoughts on “Of Paywalls, Expectancy And Stupidity

  • April 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    “It will certainly if pay walls start to be successful” is the main point and so far, the answer is no. Pay walls, so far, have not been successful, at least as far as news is concerned. That’s because for basic news information, there’s not enough unique information from the NYT to be worth the price of a paywall. Especially when much news is syndicated from sources such as the Associated Press.

    What the NYT has beyond basic news is Opinion. And, their general opinion can also be obtained for free from sources such as the Huffington Post. So, again there’s no real need for the NYT in their current format.

    What does this have to do with photography? Well, old-school careers such as photo-journalism is definitely going by the wayside thanks to citizens who are often on the scene of any major disaster long before any true photojournalist arrives. And, that citizen can shoot stills and/or video and have it uploaded to Flickr or YouTube in minutes.

    There is still a need for commercial photographers who are able to take proper care of high end clients such as large ad agencies. The same holds true for niche stock agencies. Our revenue is increasing because we have something unique that the major stock agencies do not have. We have no need to race to the bottom with pricing like the major stock agencies seem to be doing.

    The bottom line is that top talent in any artistic field will continue to do well if they play their cards right.

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