Four Corners

Monday, 11 January 2010

Given Things away.

I've kind of been putting off writing up a concluding post to the 'Giving Things Away' trial, not for want of sharing it, but because I've been implementing the things that I've learned and in lots of ways moved the whole thing much further forward. Which means I have to now go back and untangle the various strands.

Laziness perhaps, but in my defense, the critic shouldn't mistake my drowning for waving, this 'live trial' is a pragmatic necessity from which I earn a living (call it R and D), not a passing whimsy. The write up I still find harder to justify because my photographer 1.0 brain stills sees talking about and sharing what I do as, at best indulgent vanity and at worst, commercial suicide.

However, in truth and in a Photography 2.0 one line summary, I've learned more and come further in the the last three months than I have over the last three years, the conclusion of which is that sharing
what I do as well as the mechanics of how I do it is crucial for my practice, and possibly, for others like me.

Hence, I begin my year looking backwards.

In brief summary: the original 'Trial" consisted of trying to use the internet for what it's really good at (distribution) rather than fighting those same dynamics. So rather than stifling use of my images with brutal copyright terms, I gave them away for free and then tried to make money out of the wider reaching audience.

In full: here are the links to the posts Part I Part II Part III and a further follow up (which riffs a bit, but buried in there are some outcomes).

In keeping, the following is split into a skinny and a full fat version, the former consisting of the numbers the latter pertaining to the broader fall-out.

Caveat: God knows, I'm not an economist so please indulge my language and please do correct me if I use the wrong terms. If I don't know of a term to describe what I find then I make one up (which I'll try to prefix with a 'what I'm calling'). I'll probably also mis-use terms, mis-quote people and inadvertently plagiarize , though on this last point someone once said that 'Amateurs plagiarize whereas Artists steal', a quote which (in keeping) I have stolen.

The Skinny:

Total gross cost of making the original images of Cory £114.00 GBP*
Total cost of producing the 111 small prints for sale £111.00 GBP (that's approx)
Total cost of Printing the three large contact composite prints £ 150.00
Total cost of packaging (archival sleeves, envelopes and tube) £65.00

Overall cost per unit £ 3.85 GBP
Total overall cost £ 440.00 GBP

Income from Etsy print sales £ 875.00
Income from Print usage $250 (see here for client refusing to use the image without paying)
Income from Guest Speaking about the trial £ 300
Total income £1
Minus £125 donation to charity (tax deductible)

Net Profit to date £ 760.00 GBP

*These costs don't include the net costs of doing business (cost of my time, business overheads etc) nor the opportunity cost (opportunities forsaken to produce the work, in other words - what I could have done instead during that time).

The fuller fat version:

The skinny really doesn't tell the full story. For a start there remain sixty unsold prints which I've already said here, will go on sale for one month when Cory's "For the Win" is published at ten times their current price. There will be no second edition and any remainders will be destroyed. So there remains potentially, a significant further income from sales.

There are a number of what I'll call 'perceivable non-material benefits' which range from my learning experience in general to the increase in number and make-up of my contacts, to my general status as a practitioner. What to include and what not include here is a bit messy and really the untangling of which I spoke earlier, but here are some clearly tangible and relevant examples:

The original image that Cory annotated to date has been viewed 8,321 times on Flickr, the others from the set have been viewed 972 times and 1,344 times respectively - every page of which links to my site and credits me.

One of the images appears on Wikipidea - again crediting me and driving traffic to me and my site.

Cory also has a significant twitter following so when he tweeted what I was up to it went out to 30,000 plus people. I tried to keep up with the (what I'll call) 'compound retweets', in other words the total number of people reached when someone following Cory or me, retweeted what we were saying to their followers, and them in turn to theirs and so on. For this purpose I had columns in my Twitter desktop application that were just searching the relevant key phrases, the upshot of which is that after 36 hours I lost count somewhere around a conservative 750,000 people reached. Perhaps this is what Clay Shirky means when he refers to Twitter's “algorithmic authority”.

Cory wrote about the experiment on his Craphound blog:

Jonathan Worth is "experimenting with new business-models for photography that leverage, rather than fight, the Internet"

and also at BoingBoing where he is an editor, these both directed more traffic to me and my site
(and continue to do so).

"Jonathan Worth tries out a copy-friendly photography business-experiment"

In turn, a further series of articles and blog posts followed, which likewise generated more traffic, reached even wider audiences and so on.

"In the New Media World, Photographers Who Embrace Change Will Succeed" by Wayne Ford

"One Great Idea – Meet Jonathan Worth" by Lori Osterberg

"Social Skills: Using the Web more effectively
" by Charlotte Griffiths

Likewise, the experiment and now references to my practice as a whole, crop up in articles and blog posts amongst yet other strata of audience (and potential collaborators) :

"Required Reading: Posts about photography’s future you can’t afford to miss" by Miki Johnson

"Revolutions in the media economy (5) – the pay wall folly for photographers" by David Campbell

"Towards a Sustainable Journalism" by Fred Ritchin

Then in "recognition of (my) innovation and influential role in developing new business models for photographers using the social web”, I was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, another network whose pertinence was illustrated to me on a recent trip out to New York. I was out there primarily to try to meet Fred Ritchin (After Photography, Pixel Press) and see Stephen Mayes (VII) in the hope of getting advice. Fred kindly invited me to talk to his students at NYU, and the morning I was due to do this I tweeted to that effect. Within ten minutes I'd received an email from the RSA in the US asking if the talk was public as there were over four hundred fellows in the NY area and they'd like to offer the chance out to them to attend and meet me.

I mentioned earlier one of the publications that used the image of Cory to illustrate an article insisted on paying to do so, yet another (Jon Levy of FOTO8 magazine) after having used the same image, also contacted me to discuss the opportunity of producing a series of portraits for him in the same visual vein.

Conclusion :

The cold maths of this one-off trial don't equate to a viable business model, at least not my execution of it. Not when one takes into account the costs of doing business however, this is only a fraction of the story and the learning that I've paid for here with my time, someone else can pick up and take forward much more efficiently, as I intend to from now on.

There were a few things that made Cory an ideal su
bject and I think are worth reflecting on:

He has a cult following and he interacts with these followers, in fact he actually involves them directly in the production of his work, so that they become in every respect, partisan. Take for example when people point out typos Cory amends the mistake and thanks them in a footnote (who wouldn't buy a second copy of the book with your name in it?) and the very fact that his CC licensing actively encourages reworking or 'derivative' versions of his work. He takes Jeff Jarvis's advice to "make more customers take ownership of your brand" to the next level, literally.

He was also willing to motivate this community and so thereby indirectly grant me access to them.

The mechanics of how he does what he does are also detached from the end product. You read his books, you don't watch him write them, and so there's an element of mystery, wherein for the fan there's an inherent value. Think at base level of the autograph, then think of the actual pen that was used to write the autograph or the desk that it was written at, or the author's favourite chair/typewriter etc. This stuff is only valuable to the avid fan but the bigger the fan the greater the inferred value, the trick is enabling every level of fan to access their particular version of the product.

I incorporated this by employing something that Chris Anderson refers to in his book "Free: The Future Of A Radical Price" as 'Versioning'. The prints were available from zero cost and infinite availability (Flickr and towards infinite cost for the singularly unique, though in truth this was also where I learned about 'price discovery'. The most expensive prints were the first to go, from which I conclude that I should have pitched their price much higher. These more expensive prints enabled me to sell the cheaper prints at break-even but they should have made me a much larger profit or perhaps even more delicate versioning .

This still gave the fans access to versions of the product and because Cory granted me access to his followers I overcame the second traditional problem - that of geography - how to economically reach each and every level of fan, wherever they might live, which might be what
Jeff Jarvis describes as effectively 'targeting masses of niches' for which the internet is the only viable tool.

Distilled out - the Internet enables access, Social Media enables discerning access. Versioning enables the customer to dictate their individually perceived value of the product and at the same time it justifies that choice to their peers (see the comments section at BoingBoing where fans joust about who got to buy Ltd. Ed. Number 1).

It seems natural to me that the next step is to use this same heady cocktail to
ask the masses of niches "Who do you want me to photograph?". The product of which I could then afford to allow magazines to publish for free, so disseminating my work again amongst their paper-fans and using them for what they're still really good at (physical distribution and cross-promotion, such as when a reader of X-Magazine stumbles across my article after reading another unrelated piece), as opposed to relying on them for what they're no longer able to do (commission and pay).



  1. Thanks - I was happy to be a part of the "experiment", and equally excited to hear about the outcome. I love social, and know its here to stay. So the more we can learn together on how to use it, the more we'll all succceed.

    And you also hit on something key - you have no way of telling how everything you've done so far will impact the future. I'm constantly amazed at the emails I receive, and comments I get from things I've started months/years ago, and how they are still impacting people today. The beauty of social media is you'll always leave a trail, and it will affect your life from this point forward!

    Good luck in 2010, and can't wait to hear how it goes!

    Lori Osterberg

  2. Your experiment is a great example of social media's unmatched ability to reach niches. I think the trick – and what your project did so well – is targeting the right (ie. interested, willing to pay) niches. Imagine doing that same photo shoot with an unknown person rather than Cory Doctorow. It wouldn't have been nearly as successful at generating buzz or finding an audience.