Business Challenges for the Visual Arts in the Digital Era – part 1- The Commercial Market

Digital Nude. © Jorge Parra
As digital technologies are constantly reshaping lifestyles, industry business models, the markets and the society at large, culture is also massively influenced, and there are still so many questions to answer as to what are the new directives, what will become the actual drivers and trend setters of our future, and truly important here, the profitability factor in several fields who were truly successful in the analog world, but are not yet properly adapted to the digital changes. There are many careers which used to be a perfect niche, a shot to the floor, as a proven way to success (lawyers, architects, just to name a few), who now see their market drastically changed and profits diminished. Same thing occurs for some aspects of the Visual Arts.
We will first talk about Visual Arts, mainly photography, and it’s interaction with the business markets, and then we will talk about the world of Fine Art in the digital era.
Digital technologies have brought a true democratization of the photographic process, with both positive and negative connotations. The presence of decent cameras in almost every smart phone out there, (not to mention the ever-improving quality of affordable, pocket digital cameras) is providing the background for a market flooded with “good enough” and cheap (or free) images that are affecting the way professional photographers are perceived. Most of the times, the perception is blurred, and Pros have to clearly showcase their differentiation capabilities to prove their worth in the market.
Well known cliches, like, “everybody is a photographer now”, is helping build the most amazing collection of images of human life, the environment and everything related, but is not necessarily positive in the commerce / advertising world.
The discussion about good enough images and cameras has reached a point where the perception of the average guy is that “a great photo comes from a great camera”, rendering the creator, the photographer, a second-hand matter.
If we add to this that millions of freely available images are added on a daily basis through so many digital online channels, the concept of what is a professional photographer in this digital era, needs to be reviewed, specially when we talk about commercial / advertising photography, used by businesses to promote their products and services.
The actual bottom line is that there is no way to impose criteria on people, it is and will always be a subjective issue, a matter of perceived value, except for the fact that a true professional photographer will be able to bring to the table, not only the much needed images, but all the production values that are involved in making those images, both before and after the capture process. Agencies and clients looking for visual services must focus not only in the glitz coming from highly photoshopped images, but how the business-savvy of each artist can certainly accommodate to corporate/industry business standards, and I promise you, not every person with camera can do that!
Saving a buck here and there, by hiring the wrong (inexpensive) person, can become a disaster for your marketing efforts and eventually, for your business. The use of inexpensive, Royalty-Free or Micro-Stock images has led competing companies to use the very same image for their advertising campaigns, harming them both.
(see for example,http://fairtradephotographer.blogspot.com/2010/03/microstock-why-would-reputable-company.html).
Photographers also have to adjust their business models and the way they interact with the markets, in order to maintain and improve their perceived worth. Current photographer trade organizations are not really up to the dynamic of the changing markets and trends, and creators need different strategies to cope with those changes. The trade groups had their relevance back in the days, but are not currently capable of influencing the directions of the markets, setting trends or even protecting the professional photographer’s interests in a tangible way.
(see for example: http://asmp.org/articles/getty-images.html).
I firmly believe that smaller, clearly focused groups, like the Photographer’s Collectives, are becoming a better working structure, based on the cooperative business model for true professional shooters, and the aggregation of different collectives may certainly become the replacing structure of aging trade groups.
We created the Miami Visual Collective (www.MiamiVisual.com), a group comprised of professional advertising/commercial photographers in Miami, in an effort to add our names, and both contribute and influence to the current trends and changes in the industry. There are already a good number of such collectives in the US and Canada, and we expect more collectives appearing in the markets in the coming years. We are already exchanging ideas with Canadian collectives, and this trend will keep growing.
In Part 2 of this text, I will discuss the influence of digital technologies in the Fine Arts Markets. Stay tuned!
About the Author: Jorge Parra is the owner of Jorge Parra Photography and founder of the Miami Visual Collective. More of Jorge’s ideas can also be found in his Blog.
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