Four Corners

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Three

"We don't know who discovered the water, but we know it wasn't the fish." Marshall McLuhan.

(iii) The Visionaries
(iv) and the Fish.

If you're over 26 then you're not a fish.

I doubt many people under 26 (
the Google Generation) would be here anyway and so I can them all Fish without fear of reprisal. They're the people younger than the internet and as such they're digital natives. Speaking at NYU last week, I asked again "How many people here use social media to research and develop their practice?", and as usual, my vernacular was impregnable.

Not because they didn't understand the terms, but as usual they just didn't regard their current social media habits as being the methodology by
which they'd define the sustainable photographic practices of the 21st century.

It was like me telling them that they all had a
ccents. Accents that only I could hear.

Which is kind of the point. It was too normal to point out, and for them too blindingly obvious to be an issue. This is a very circuitous way of saying that, the problem is all mine, and ours (that is, if you're not an aquatic). I can teach them craft but they're fettered by my ineffectual application of their digital reality, a traditional application just doesn't account for the huge shift in attitudes to terms like: 'access', 'value', 'free' and 'ownership'.

It's us that have to learn how their perception of the
digital landscape will redefine ours.

This particular bunch of students were very lucky to have the last sort of person that I met as their Professor.

There are the those people that see this moment in history to be one of unparalleled opportunity. A real chance for Photographers to take control of their medium and their practice. The chance to define a future where they can realise the full material benefit (both economic and otherwise) by leveraging the forces of this post Digital-Renaissance ('access', 'value', 'free' and 'ownership').

They see how (in very practical terms) this can define 21st Century Journalism as a force to empower their subjects to effect positive and lasting change.

These people are the Visionaries.

And right now, they're
all out fishing.

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Reasons to be Cheerful Part Two

... continued from Reasons to be Cheerful Part One.

(ii) The true Radicals.

Several of the magazines that I went into recently had shed a bunch of staff, more of the almost daily purges in that industry (our industry). So, aware of and sensitive to this (and also inspired by a conversation with Stephen Mayes of Vii), I asked some of them; what difference it would make were I to offer to work for free ?


.. I went on.

jw - What about if I traded my fee for a hotlink to my site. Perhaps it would be hosted at my site in a similar way to how Vimeo hosts my video but it's embedded in my site, so whenever anyone clicked on my Photograph it took them straight to that story in my folio - likewise for my credit wherever it appears.

mag - Why would you do that ?

jw - Because the particular traffic that I want to get at, is the person that either likes my work and wants to hire me. Or it's the person that wants to use the picture/ a picture because they're interested in the subject. You'd still pay the expenses for the job, I'd just trade my fee for easy access to a discerning sort of traffic.* And it would cut both ways, if someone came to my site and saw someone that they were interested in then they could link back to your site and there, they could read a story on them.

mag- But what about the print version of the magazine?

jw - Well, I'm not exactly sure that I see the future of your magazine as being paper, do you ?

.. more Tumbleweed , followed by debate.

I was staggered that this could be a question up for grabs. All I could think of was that these lovely people, whom I respect enormously, were in some sort of 'survivor-denial', they reminded me of passengers in a hot air balloon fatally holed. No matter how many get thrown out, it's only going in one direction unless there's a radical re-think. However, the fact that we even had a discussion about this left me thinking that perhaps these people, might be the real radicals.

Not me. I can't match that sort of extreme view.

So, after some more to-ing and fro-ing I was told that if I wanted to take this further then I'd have to speak to someone on the digital side because they didn't have much to do with them once they'd sent stuff over and '..can we do hyperlinking?'.

I watched a hot air balloon come down just then. It left a wet pink stripe across the floor of a vaguely surprised digital landscape.

*Frankly, this is pretty much the current version of events with a most of the newspapers and weekend supplements in the UK where the fees include expenses and seldom cover the costs of the job. Other magazines like iD and Dazed have always traded a minimal or no fee for the prestige/exposure that their publication offers. All this really does is formalise that situation, make it explicit and begin to concretise this notion of apparent "Prestige/Exposure" into a formal transaction.
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Monday, 16 November 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful Part One.

Last week I invested the proceeds from my experiment with Cory Doctorow.

Actually I gambled them, but then that's all investing is anyway isn't it or did I miss something ?

I gambled that some of the people I've not been able to access via Twitter (or any other of the traditional social media methods) might speak to me if I knocked on their door (old school).

I booked a flight, a couch and then whored my services as a photographer, an assistant, a re-toucher and a speaker, in order to pay for my stay.

"Sir, is your trip business or pleasure?"
"Sir, my Dad said 'Find a job you like and you'll never work again'. So I'm here strictly on pleasure."

The people that I met, fell broadly into four categories;

i. Those who saw their practice/business as being in terminal decline and/or out of their control.

ii. Those in denial (the true Radicals).

iii. A precious few who were excited and pro-active (the Visionaries).

iv. And the fish.

(i) One of the photographers that I spent time with described how he was struggling on his reduced editorial fees, that he wanted to fund new projects and he'd been trying to set-up a book deal for nearly two years without success. This very established photographer then explained that the book is a valuable aspect of his promotion and one of the vehicles that he employed to generate new commissions.

So I asked him why he wasn't publishing it himself and at the same time earning the proceeds ?

Answer; 'Because it's not that simple. Funding, design, storage, distribution - and there's no money in books '

What about if you minimised the upfront costs by say, using a print on demand company ? That way you can have it designed by whichever designer you want to work with (rather than being saddled with whichever one is at this elusive publishing house).

Likewise we just removed the storage issue (because they'd be printed on demand), leaving only Money and Distribution.

So I asked him; why he usually did both hard and soft-back versions of his books.

Answer - because one's better and more expensive, thereby catering for different buyer's budgets.

Great, but only two different budgets? Why not ten or twenty ? In fact, why not cater for everyone's budget? Why not have one virtual version that's open and available at no cost, one small softback version that's $5, one better quality at $10, another hardback at $20, another larger hardback at $30 and yet another limited edition with signed for $50.

$100 could buy you a hard-back with a signed print - some of these could go out to your commissioning editors and so on, until ultimately you make a unique handbound set of fine prints, stitched together by elves and delivered by you in person on a unicorn for $100,000.

Then follow that up by making yourself available for commission at $10,000 a sitting.

That just leaves distribution.

So I asked him; were there any people repeatedly interested in his work, like a fan-base? Or did he sell to different people every time one of his books was published? In answer to which, he showed me the vaguely terrifying list of email requests from assistants, students, enthusiasts etc all requesting an audience, work, advice, donations and so on.

Ummm.... so what about if you sort of provided a virtual forum for those people to congregate? A place where you could (for want of a better phrase), herd them towards other virtual environments to experience your magic first hand ? Like for example, which publications are showing your work, what campaigns you've been working on, what projects you're thinking about, perhaps even give these loyal fans access to behind the scenes footage and the odd contact sheet. Maybe even reward their commitment by offering advance copies of those books, special rates etc ?

Well there's this thing called Social Media and it allows you to do all of that and probably a lot more too. We're all still waiting for the Fish to work out and show us it's full potential.

And here's another thing about the "new commissions" part. What about if there was a way of gathering this loyal 'fanbase' and asking them if they'd fund your next project? In gratitude for which you'd reward these new 'patrons' with special treatment and access to some of the afore mentioned magic.

Well there's a website for that too.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Giving things Away Part III

Last Friday I sent out the following email to the purchasers of the Limited Edition Cory Doctorow Prints and Signed Manuscript pages;

Advance Notice of Withdrawal from sale of Signed Cory Doctorow Manuscript and Photograph.

As someone that has supported Cory's and my "Trial", it is my pleasure to give you exclusive, prior notice that the remaining prints will be withdrawn from sale at midnight GMT on Sunday the 8th of November. I will Tweet and blog publicly, to this effect from Monday 2nd of November.

The remainder will go back on sale when "For the Win" is published April 2010.

They will however go on sale at exactly TEN TIMES the price you paid for them.

So to be clear, if you bought one of the higher numbers 65-111 at $8, then any remaining editions will be back on sale at $80 each in 2010, if you bought one of numbers 7-17 then they will only be available at $800 each.

There will be no discounting and no exceptions. Should the situation arise whereby any prints remain unsold one month after publication of the novel, then they will be destroyed and there will be no second edition.

To affirm validity and value, I have kept a record of every purchaser, their Zip / Postal code and their respective Print Edition Numbers, if you sell or gift your prints in the meantime please pass onto me a record of the transaction and the details of the new owner.

I would like to stay in touch further, but I hate SPAM and presume you do too. If you would like me to send you updates such as this one (and there won't be many) then please just send a reply to this mail.

It's been lovely to meet you albeit virtually and I hope our paths cross again.

Very best wishes,