Never mind the daily drama on the news—you don’t need to look far to know that things are not going well. A glance at the daily headlines on major photo portals says it all.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a naïve person; in fact, I am quite pragmatic. Most photo-related websites that cater to everyone with a camera want to win the attention war. This is nothing new and the subject is probably not really worth bringing up. The number of eyeballs translates to advertising revenue. At least that’s how it has worked so far.
So, why bother writing about it? Interestingly, things have changed. There is no question that the entire photographic industry is in crisis. The camera gear market is shrinking. The mobile phone revolution caught the industry unprepared and without a major plan how to reinvent itself. It is handing the bulk of its clients to Apple and Samsung without much of a fight. The two biggest players ignored the rise of mirrorless—the only lifeline hanging from the deck. Now they are trying to stay afloat by throwing everything they can overboard. There is so much junk hitting the shore that people have stopped picking it up even if it is heavily discounted.
It only gets worse. The news and review websites have jumped on the FREE bandwagon along with the entire publishing industry and they are going after a shrinking pile of advertising dollars. Advertisers, in the meantime, are being offered new ways to reach an audience including social media giants such as FB and Instagram. Although some general news outlets are slowly backing off from the failed FREE-FOR-ALL strategy, the photographic industry is hanging on to this failed strategy.
With all the pay-for-content bridges burned, this peculiar situation has given rise to clickbait content. It has become clear that a thoughtful and well-written article by a highly knowledgeable and experienced photographer will always lose out against a poorly written but sensational and alluring piece about gear. It is not that this sort of article is new but the recent dire situation has pushed some outlets over the edge. Almost daily we are being bombarded with fake controversies and bizarre statements. The more outrageous and idiotic the article and the claim, the more blood-hungry eyeballs show up.
With so many competing sites, all the gloves are off. There is no longer any need to check claims or facts. Nothing has to make sense. Capture One against Adobe Lightroom; which famous photographers cheated on their photos; why medium format is a lie; here is the proof mobile phones beat full frame; who stole the photo from who; why film is dead; why film is not dead; how the bride ruined one photographer’s life; why this YouTuber is an idiot; 10 things about photography that you are wrong about… the list is exhaustive and exhausting. I recently opened one of the top portals and couldn’t believe my eyes. I had no choice but to head straight to my bar and grab a drink. No, it wasn’t free but I liked it and it was the only way I could continue to read this nonsense.
What’s even more distressing is the number of comments under each of these pieces. Of course, fighting is fierce, profanities are in huge supply and anger on full display. Mission accomplished! After all, the number of eyes watching is at least not collapsing. We will see another day – they say.
But desperate photographers who write those pieces may not make it, may not even believe in what they write. After all, it is all about exposure, isn’t it!? Paying for content? You must be joking. Why would they! With such a supply of desperate photographic souls they will always find one who will pull some controversy out of the bag. No worries. Those who are strong enough to say no to such an arrangement will be replaced by the army of freelance writers making sure the words are biting and the headline will cause group eyerolling. The rolling is important here.
You may ask: How have we arrived at this point? If we are honest about it, this is a crisis of our own making. It is we who jumped on the give-everything-away bandwagon. It is we who lowered all possible journalistic, educational or writing standards just to hit the numbers. Isn’t it all about numbers? At least that’s what YouTubers thought. It is we who pushed the collaboration scam, making the army of professional photographers working on every project for free for the good of the industry. Confusing? Yes, it is!
But if there is any chance that the “industry” screws up and you read this piece because you cannot find anything else more controversial today, you may be disappointed—there is actually some good news. No, it is not clickbait. In recent years the rise of pay-for-content websites and publications may not have been booming but it is certainly working, which is a huge success on its own. The realization is dawning that clickbait won’t get you anywhere. With fewer advertising dollars, the number of eyeballs required for it to work is going up at a staggering rate. The race is over before it started.
In the meantime, the audience is getting tired of the constant clicks and bait. They are starting to appreciate privacy, time, quality photography and good writing. Another scandal? No, thank you. Another controversy? No, thank you, I can get it for free. The audience looking for quality content is certainly in the minority, but it exists and it is slowly re-emerging. This is really good news.
The change won’t happen overnight. Sometimes when I read the headlines, I feel we are in the middle of a busy and chaotic marketplace where everyone is yelling at us to taste their own product. As we walk around, we are being surrounded by an army of desperate salespeople cursing each other and baiting every passerby with colourful food samples. I am tired and I cannot breathe as the sweat and smell are overwhelming. Despite getting a dozen free small food bites, I have a headache and I am still hungry. I’ve had enough. All I want is to go to a quiet, clean corner restaurant. I want to have a proper, well prepared meal which would allow me to relax and feel better. I may even be willing to pay for such a luxury or… maybe necessity. I just want to be a better photographer. And you? You tell me, my photographic friend!
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