Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reaction on Creative Commons, Photojournalism and economics

I reacted on an article by Sion Touhig. He is an accomplished photojournalist. His article on The Register highlights many of the changes that are taking place in photojournalism. He is blaming those changes partially on the Creative Commons. Though I agree with him that there are changes in that business, I disagree with him on the causes. The Creative Commons isn't a deciding factor there, though it might be a contributing factor.

So here's my reaction.
I understand your frustration on this subject, but I don't agree with your analysis. First off, the creative commons licenses rely on copyright as much as you do with the licenses you give on your pictures. It's the same laws, just different terms. Second its not the amateurs that have changed the rule of the game. That's just extra.

However, you still would have written this piece if the creative commons hadn't existed. Even if every picture on the net was copyrighted and we could actually enforce that copyright globally, you would find that prices would go down significantly. There are several reasons for this:
- With the advent of digital camera's, cheap webhosting, storage and connectivity, the cost of making and distributing content have dropped on a per picture basis.
- The cost of finding a picture have dropped even more significantly. Where it used to be that you were big in a region or country, now you're big in the world. Your pictures are probably published in more publications now than a few years ago, just because the news desk in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands can actually get access to them and choose them over the lesser quality picture of the same even of a Dutch colleague, which puts him out of business (and vice versa)
- The publishing industry is changing massively. Your pictures were paid for by advertisements in the paper. Those advertisements have gone to the net. Because the income is gone not every newspaper can afford sending someone to afghanistan anymore.
- (this one is counter intuitive) Where it used to be that only western media could afford to send a crew down to a trouble spot, now everybody can. Prices have gone down significantly, because the news crews can do more with less people (2 people and even one). If none of the other factors would have changed, you would have seen a multitude of news crews in Darfur and Afghanistan, much like on the beach of Somalia ages ago. However their content is more easily disseminated and the money to send them their has gone. But to put another light on it. Wasn't it a bit weird to have 100 photographers show up for the same events in the same country, making the same pictures?
- (Another counter intuitive one) If none of the other factors would have changed, citizen journalism and creative commons would have resulted in more money for real photojournalism in stead of less. Instead of paying enormous amounts for simple pictures that come a dime a dozen, the media would have used cheap citizen pictures. That would have left budgets higher for the heavy stuff, like sending people to Darfur or the Amazon.

So the conclusion is: You're working in an industry that was able to support an enormous amount of overcapacity because of advertising and the high transaction costs involved in finding and disseminating pictures. Now you find that those three factors have changed. It's cheap to make, cheap to dissemminate and there is no money to support enormous amounts of journalists.

BTW do you know that your posts and all those bloggers are putting people in other industries out of work? Many professional analysts (especially in the ICT industry) find that they are put out of work by people on the internet doing a better job than they could do. On TheRegister Rob Enderle an ICT-analyst wrote: "But the big firms are under heavy financial strain from the Internet. More and more IT shops are coming to the conclusion that they don’t need to buy research from a large firm because they can get the same data, or sometimes even better data, off of the web."

Your analysis, though flawed, is more accurate than some professional economists in the organisation I'm working for could come up with. I have therefore passed it on to one of my colleagues, who might cite it in an upcoming report. By writing this, you too have contributed to a change in the economy. You've made it harder for analysts to make a buck. However thanks for the free input. Do remember that if you wouldn't have written it, we might have asked someone to do research on the effects of the internet for the various roles in media. You've provided us with a first hand account of the answer.