One of the leading explanations for the disappearance of the Neanderthals was that they could not adapt their tools to the new conditions surrounding them. They stubbornly (or stupidly, considering their limited brain capacity) continued to use the ones they had. Then, they vanished.
There are those in the industry today who fear photography is dying. Actually, it is doing just fine — better than fine. Photography is experiencing a tsunami of interest and demand. Indeed, there are more than 50 billion images on Flickr, PhotoBucket, ImageShack and Facebook — and more cameras on the streets than at any time in history.
Prehistory Repeats Itself
And what is the photo industry’s response to what should be an unprecedented opportunity? It stands there with its umbrella turned inside out, fretting about the wind.
The pro photographer says he can’t make a living anymore.
The photo editor says she has lost her budget (if she hasn’t already been laid off).
Magazines, as they die in print, try to replicate their old models online. (The fact that it’s demonstrably not working doesn’t seem to deter them.)
Photo agencies try to hang onto the slippery slope of declining revenue by agreeing to cut fees in hopes there is a trampoline at the bottom of the hill. (There isn’t.)
Photographers still shoot the same thing, the same way, for a clientele that is shrinking, both in size and resources. They desperately cling to old formulas that they hope will resurface some day.
Everyone is playing the waiting game, hoping that as they continue their worrying, some savior will appear with the magic solution.
In the meantime, they are all guilty of killing photography by undervaluing it.
From the publishing CFOs convinced that by cutting their photo departments they will reverse their circulation declines, to the photo agency executives who believe that by cutting prices they will cheat Chapter 11, to the photographers smiling when they receive commission checks for 11 cents, there seems to be no shortage of Neanderthals these days.
We are seeing prehistory repeat itself.
A Painful Carnage
Armed with the blunt instruments awarded by their MBA programs, a steady stream of industry executives have tried to adapt photography to their tools — price cuts, subscription models, and so on — rather than developing new ways to succeed.
Like a bunch of irresponsible farmers, they are creating their own dustbowl.
Most of this is driven by fear. Fear of change, fear of losing, fear of even trying. Too many in our industry seem to believe that, on the other side of change, they will find only chaos, death and emptiness.
No — that is what awaits on this side of change.
Before we know it, the landscape of photography will have been completely transformed. It’s going to be a painful carnage — and for some, it has already started.
The first to go will be those who fear.