Photo Hero or Photo Zero: Two Points of View
A new company recently came to my attention and they’re making a lot of professional photographers unhappy these days. It’s called Unsplash and it’s nothing more than a very well done website that specializes in giving away FREE photography. Their tag line is, “Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” Wow, now that’s warm and fuzzy!
Yep, FREE Photos, not one red cent for any picture. They specialize in images you can use for as long as you want, for ANYTHING you want. The founder of this wonderful idea suggests that by giving away your work, you’ll eventually build a GREAT relationship with the panhandlers you support. Not only do they give your photos away for free, there’s no requirement for a credit line either. Imagine that, free photos that nobody has any idea who the artist is that shot them. Just another pathway to riches and great customer relations I guess.
OK, so those of you who know me know I have a sore spot regarding how almost nobody considers photography valuable anymore. I know, laws of supply and demand, but even worse is the reality that virtually nobody knows about or considers quality anything anymore. That leads to a glut of junk that people then suggest there is too much of, so why pay for it? Unspalsh c0-founder Mikael Cho has been getting so much flack from the professional community he decided to try and explain his idea for wealth and riches in a recently written defense of his business model. I read this piece and wanted to respond but since I’m so busy helping others take photos, I decided not to waste my time. Thankfully, one of the last heroes of photography, Allen Murabayashi, chairman and founder of PhotoShelter responded for all of us who still have a love for the business of making great imagery.
Allen makes some great rebuttals to the comments by Mikael Cho. Here’s one example.
Mikael Cho writes:
“Before the internet, holding on to copyright for photos was more beneficial because the value in licensing a photo was high. The issue today is a licensed photo is losing its value…At the same time, the cost to produce a photo is going down…While professional photography gear is still expensive, mobile cameras are improving at a rate that will eventually put a professional-level camera in everyone’s pocket.”
Allen Murabayashi responds:
“If photos had no value, then others wouldn’t seek to use them. The cost of simply pushing the shutter button has gone down. But the cost of being in the right place and the right time and possessing the skill to take a great shot is the same as it ever has been. Yes, the value of a photo has decreased with digital photography, but the value of a good photo is not zero.”
Who knows who will eventually win this battle? I still license my pictures, but I do it the old fashioned way, rights-managed. There are some clients I do give great deals to, but that’s because we know each other and there’s a beneficial give and take working between us for mutual benefit. I’m not some unknown entity who has agreed to give up all rights to my images in hopes that someday, somebody, might actually call me. And based on this ridiculous model, even if a potential client did want to call, how in the heck do they know who I am if there isn’t even a credit line?
In the end, my guess is that the person who starts making money from this FREE business model will be the guy who built and runs the website. That would be Mikael Cho in this situation. He’s all for encouraging photographers to give their work away because the more content he has, the more people he attracts. Eventually, he’ll start charging for ads which will then bring in loads of cash with photographers waiting in the wings for him to throw them a bone. As we all know, nothing in life is FREE. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll actually be able to make some money and possibly a living doing what you really enjoy.