Paid Experience


General Photography

“Artists can’t keep starving for their art. In the same way we pay for food to nourish our bodies, isn’t it fair to pay for something that nourishes our soul?” - Phil Toledano

“MediaStorm has introduced a Pay Per Story scheme, asking viewers to pay $1.99 to watch its latest photographic and multimedia productions,” writes Olivier Laurent in an article for the British Journal of Photography. David Campbell published his thoughts on the subject matter here. I find it interesting that people are still pussy-footing around the very simple fact that you cannot run a business on free. Someone has to pick up the tab. (more)

There’s a lot of talk in photoland how you can’t really charge money for this kind of multimedia, and anyway, it would be wrong to turn this into a moral issue. I actually don’t subscribe to that idea. It is a moral issue, because we are talking about the income of actual human beings here.

It might be instructive to compare this situation with something that just unfolded in the music business. An NPR intern had blogged about how she essentially had never really bought any music, apparently finding nothing wrong with it. David Lowery wrote a gently blistering response (emphases in the original):

“The existential questions that your generation gets to answer are these:
Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?
Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?
Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?
This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:
Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!
Here is a conversation with Lowery. You may or may not agree with Lowery. But it’s fairly simple to bring this back to photography. All you need to do in the quote above is to replace “music” with “photography” and “Artists” with “Photographers.”

Of course, the photo business is a bit different than the music business. But the basic, underlying problem is the same: Unless there is an increased willingness to pay for content online, the livelihoods of content creators are in danger. In the long run, this means that if this current situation does not change, a large fraction of the content currently online will simply disappear, and the web will become dominated by corporations that can afford to give away some crumbs for free. Is that what we all want? We’re already seeing more than just the first steps of this development.

At this point the advocates of free all tend to turn into Grover Norquist and say something like “Yeah, but I need to be convinced that what I’m paying for is worth it,” placing the onus on the content producer (and, crucially, away from themselves). And this sounds great and convincing. But it isn’t. In the case of MediaStorm, we’re talking about $1.99. People want to tell me they need to be convinced that those $1.99 will be spent wisely? Really? Do those same people think as carefully and deliberately about whether or not to spend usually more than double for a Grande Ventucino Vanilla Moccha Twirly-Pop Latte with Bacon Sprinkles on Top, or for any the other small expenses that pile up during any given day? This is what really gets me: We’re usually talking about very small amounts of money here, but the proponents of free treat the issue as if it was a major investment that needed to be thought through very, very carefully.

Here is more why the onus might not exclusively be on the content producers: Maybe paying something might be a nice way to support an artist whose work one has enjoyed, mostly for free, for such a long time? Because, let’s face it, even though the Grover Norquists of the world would deny this, there is more to this issue than just money. There is the question of worth - the non-monetary kind. That aspect gets usually ignored here since you can’t easily place a dollar or euro value on it. Here’s how Phil Toledano phrased it in the aforementioned BJP article:

“I’m sure fewer people will see the film, and that does sadden me. But, on the other hand, artists can’t keep starving for their art. In the same way we pay for food to nourish our bodies, isn’t it fair to pay for something that nourishes our soul?
AlI had to do here was to add the emphasis.