One morning you wake up, and it’s facing you. Everything you took for granted and that made your life comfortable is suddenly gone. Probably forever. Welcome to the economy of fear.
Your formerly cozy job, which once brought you a new batch of creative challenges every day, now brings you a daily dose of doubt and uncertainty. From photo editors who are not sure how long they will keep their jobs, to staff newspaper photojournalists who could be shooting their last images, everyone is living in fear.
In the last decade, the photo industry has pivoted from an economy of wealth and abundance to an economy of fear. It is not so much about talent, creativity or effectiveness anymore. It’s about who can scare the other into submission.
Decision-Making Based on Fear
Pricing for example, is no longer based on usage, or talent, or even level of professionalism. It is based on the fear that someone else could price it lower and thus take the sale.
Whether assignment or stock, images are priced on how high they can go before losing out to the competition; these days, that is not high. Photo editors negotiate with the “I can get it cheaper” stick raised overhead — forcing photographers and agencies into fearful submission. There is little conversation about quality anymore.
The fear factor goes beyond pricing. Companies like Getty Images approach and retain photographers on fear. If you do not work with Getty, they claim, your images will never be published. If you work for a competing agency, you will never work for Getty, and so on.
It’s a bit like Walmart’s infamous strong-arming of its suppliers: “We own the market, we own you.” Some Walmart suppliers, by the way, have been forced into bankruptcy, because they were forced into unsustainable low pricing.
Stock shooters fear the ever-growing crowd of microstockers. Photo agencies fear other photo agencies. Wedding photographers fear lower-cost wedding photographers. Photo editors fear their bosses. Publishers fear the future.
On top of that, almost everybody fears Orphan Works, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the government, new technology, and in some cases, even their car.
Recently, an image-matching company released a report saying that eight out of 10 images appearing on commercial Web sites are being used “non-legitimately,” offering their service as a solution. Fear as a selling strategy. If I scare you enough, will you buy my product?
Magic Potions and Security Blankets — for a Fee
When the future is uncertain, like it currently is in the photo world and elsewhere, it is natural to be worried and scared. No one can seriously say today that they know for sure where they will be five years from now.
However, for companies, or individuals, to capitalize on that fear, to use it as their primary bargaining tool is despicable. It is like pushing down on the head of a drowning person with the promise of saving them. A false promise.
Photography does not live well under fear. Creativity gets lost and conformity becomes the norm. Snake charmers invade the land with their make-believe magic potions, orators take to the podiums to agitate more fear and offer their security blankets — for a fee. Opportunists see opportunities to make deals that defy reason, well aware that fear is a powerful logic sedative.
We are going to see a lot of decisions driven by fear this year and next, mostly creating poor results for our industry. We’ll see a lot of people jumping off cliffs in order to avoid the fire. But mostly, we will see a lot of fear-smellers taking advantage of the situation.