THE DYING THROES OF CLICKBAIT ARTICLES

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! 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

21 thoughts on “THE DYING THROES OF CLICKBAIT ARTICLES

  1. Excellent piece. Thank you, Olaf. Yes, more photography, more sharing, more learning – less snark and exploitation! Let’s do this!

  2. I don’t read a lot about photography. Every now and then, I check the websites of some of my favorite photographers to see what they are up to. I listen to the Candid Frame podcast. I follow about 600 photographers on Instagram (I hate Instagram by the way) and enjoy seeing what they post. Since I’m happy with my camera, I never click on a gear article.

    In journalism, you get what you pay for. I subscribe to The Athletic, a sports website with no ads or clickbate. They hire experienced journaists and all the content is locked behind the paywall. I don’t know if they are turning a profit, but thier coverage is far superior to anythign else out there.

    What are some of your favorite websites to look at for inspiration, education and entertainment in the photography world?

    1. Well, Jeff, I realise the question is addressed to Olaf, but if I were to answer your question, I see most YouTube channels or blogs trying to be generic, and so I don’t follow any really, but particular photographers whom I consider thoughtful and reflective: more philosophical.
      These people, despite clearly photographing a genre, write in ways which transcend the particular.

      This video, by Justin Jones, is what most consumers of /vlogs articles on photography would find boring, but I find him interesting on photography and the photographers he’s done short videos on…

      “What is a good photograph?”
      https://youtu.be/bdaxV2ieZgY

  3. The problem for me – as someone with a philosophical background – and as a photographer of around only 18 months, is trying to find what is considered “good” photography, and who the good photographers are.

    Being a “beginner” a lot of work I see getting into print and getting exhibitions and accolades (to me) seems to be either kitsch or pretentious, especially what seem to be pseudo-profound explanations of the pretentious ones, and mistaking post-processing for a good image, in the more kitsch ones.

    Street photography seems to be all the rage, and yet also the biggest offender. Could one consider much of it almost a fad – falling into what’s currently fashionable getting most notice – especially as you point out, what seems to be the amount of mimicry around?

    Being a beginner, I feel my comments “are above my paygrade” – who am I, a mere novice, to comment? – yet so much online is leaving me weary, gear related matter aside…

  4. What a thought provoking article! I admit I’ve been gorging myself on the web on just about every subject that interests me.

    The problem of course is there is so much “junk” and nastiness instead of community on many of the threads I participate in. As I sit in front of my three LCD computer set-up I think I need to go into detox! My choice of course, but it is so easy to get sucked in.

    I do pay for several sites, and actually don’t mind ads that reflect my interest in the main content of the sites I want to visit. news and magazine for online consumption. But even some of those, like the New York Times, still bombard me with ads.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I think we all find ourselves “gorging” quite often and we all probably need some “detox.” To be honest with you recently I started to think about places, which the quality is there and I learn something. At the same time I try to reduce pointless surfing and getting caught up with some nonsense content. It is great to have you here. Cheers, Olaf

  5. Olaf, you are really hitting the nail squarely on the head. There is so much noise everywhere these days, not just in the photographic “press” but everywhere, in every vertical, and it’s overwhelming.

    Less is indeed more, and I wholeheartedly welcome the immininent demise (will it ever come?) of “free” everything, because ultimately we all get what we pay for and it’s time to pay the piper.

    Time to remove PetaPixel and FStoppers from my RSS feeds.

    So I have to ask: what sources do you recommend subscribing to in order to satisfy our creative cravings?

    1. Hello Eric ,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I think you are so right saying that “ultimately we all get what we pay for.” In regards to sources – honestly I have been enjoying some online and printed magazines and publications – not necessary about photography. I know that it may sound inappropriate coming from me – as I run the Magazine myself – but that’s the exact reason why I started it. What I did recently I went to my local bookstore and spend 2 hours going through some fine art and lifestyle magazine from all around the world. They have great visuals and fresh ideas. At the same time avoid mainstream magazine which are packed with ads and sponsored articles. I will write an article soon in which I will try to share some of my favourites.

      Cheers,

      Olaf

      1. Can’t wait to see that article!! And you’re right: we don’t have to read about photography all the time in order to inspire our creative eyes. It’s a big world out there.

  6. Ha! As usual, Olaf, you have provided us with a timely and thought provoking perspective – just as I was unsubscribing from way too many photography emails which lure me into that deep dive of wasted time. The responsibility is mine; however, from the initial “sign up for our newsletter” to clicking “unsubscribe” from the banter which only takes away my valuable time and energy which I could spend photographing or reading from sources which are valuable to my growth as a photographer, sources like yours truly and several others. Discretion is the key, and I for one, need to discipline myself and show more discretion in what I allow into my mental and emotional space. Thanks again.

    1. Thank you Patricia. I enjoy reading your experience and perspective. I like your idea of discretion and discipline in photography and in life. This is such an important subject. I took a note. Thank you!!!

  7. Show business against art and honesty, online version. This is what we’re talking about, I think. And many times we confuse price vs. value, wich does not help, too. Fortunately, people like you Olaf, keep doing things right and making us feel ok with ourselves, keep this way 🙂

  8. So true, Olaf!!! I want to be a better photographer, too. And this is less about gear, news, ads or business and more about feelings, visuals, meaning and words… All the best, Dirk

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