I’m not obsessed with money but my local supermarket seem very keen on my paying for food with it before leaving, why is it then that in the virtual world there is an expectation that I should give away my products for free? Established magazines and publishers get in touch with no mention at all of a reproduction fee. There is an implication that I will be giving my pictures for free now but it will be in lieu of some future benefit to my career, a benefit that never materialises in a form acceptable to my local supermarket.
The problem is, and I know this isn’t lost on most of you, we are now working in an environment were less and less photography is being commissioned, print magazines are moving onto iPads, advertising poster sites are becoming video panel sites, fee’s have been sliding for a decade and the few commercial jobs that are about are spread amongst the competing photographers so thinly that effectively commercial photography is over. I have met with a number of established names in the business over the last fortnight and they all tell the same story in one way or another, they depend on their wife’s income to get through the quiet patches or they are relying on cheques from stock sales to survive. Some like me have accepted that this situation can only get worse while others are still optimistic that ‘Things will improve’.
Most working photographers spend more time on promotion through the plethora of online and social media means than they do shooting projects, I for one did not do a degree in Photography to spend more time with a mouse in my hand than a camera.
This state of affairs has been largely technology driven, both the internet and cheap digital cameras have mean’t that anyone can put the word ‘photographer’ after their name and go out looking for work on the net, most are below terrible but they make for a cacophonous visual market place where good and bad are equally drowned out by the visual noise. Ironically the same technology has propelled photography forward in popularity, because everyone has a camera they want to see exhibitions, buy photobooks and do photography workshops…this has lead to the strange situation whereby Photography is flourishing but Photographers are not.
Obviously this technological revolution also has it’s upsides and I believe that if we can return to a situation, like my local supermarket, where we are prepared to pay a little something for high quality independently produced content then we might just all survive. This brings me to the subject of this post…I recently became aware of the online film distribution service Distrify.com and liked their approach, started by two filmmakers Peter Gerard and Andy Green, they cleverly combine existing web technologies like Streaming Video, Paypal and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Blogging to ‘Seed, Sell and Share’ film content. Filmmakers can offer their films as a streamed download watchable 5 times over 30 days or as a full HD downloadable file. Prospective customers can view a trailer of the film to help them decide if they would like to pay for the whole thing through their Paypal account, if they are fans of the film they can also sign up to be an affiliate of that film whereby they embed the film in their own site or blog and take a commission, usually 10% on each and every viewing that comes through their little bit of the web. This means their is a tangible financial benefit to promoting someone else’s film to your own online community.
Too good to be true?……Let’s see.
I uploaded my recent 38min Street Photography documentary ‘in-sight’ to Distrify two weeks ago. The film had taken three months of my life to make and although I had never planned to make money from it, I didn’t feel like giving it away completely free either. The setup process was easy and I was quickly up and running, after a few Tweets, a Facebook post and a blog placement, I started to get emails popping in from Distrify notifying me of my first sales. Approximately ten days after posting the film Distrify transferred £800 to me and downloads have been fairly steady ever since.
After the film had been online for four days a friend kindly alerted me that someone had posted it on Youtube, this had been a fear of mine but to be fair this can happen from a ripped dvd sale just as easily and I don’t see it as a particular issue with this form of distribution. I mentioned it to Andy at Distrify and despite it being a Sunday morning he had it removed in a matter of hours.
I am encouraged by my experience of selling my creative content direct to the public online, in some ways that is what I did with my magazine PUBLICATION and in-public’s 10 book, both of which went into profit. Distrify takes another step towards an ideal situation where independent filmmakers, photographers and musicians can expect to receive a small donation in return for their products, it’s a possible model for a future that combines micro payment with the huge global reach of the internet to generate a reasonable return for creative producers. It’s vital that we stop giving our products away for free online in the hope that ‘someday’ it will lead to a profit and my Distrify experience makes me feel that one day we will all be happy to pay just a few pence/cents to watch a multimedia film by a photojournalist direct from Yemen or an innovative short film edited in a bedroom by an independent filmmaker. Giving away your content online needs to become as socially unacceptable among creative people as throwing down litter or farting in a lift, it’s got to stop for the good of the whole community.
My film can be streamed for just £2.54 but as my first ten days have shown those small amounts add up when the world is your market place. The money generated will literally enable me to work on another film project.
My thanks to all who supported the ‘in-sight’ film, I look forward to donating to view the fruits of your next creative venture.