Sometimes it seems that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can do anything including the most difficult tasks that would never have been attempted twenty years ago.
We have commercials that say that if we pick up the latest Apple iPad gadget, we will be writing the next page in human history. Any task is possible with a computer and Google.
Want to takes the most unbelievable pictures in the world? Canon, Nikon, and Sony make it dead simple. Just hand over $1,000 or so and the world will be your digital canvas.
I even saw a commercial that promised that anyone can build a website. That is certainly true. Just about anyone can also build a house. However what you get from a skilled builder will look a little different than what you get from a chain saw carpenter or with a website in a kit.
We live in a really strange world. On the one hand everyone seems to be trending towards being experts in everything. On the other hand for those things which cannot be achieved by the iPad or a Google search there is an expectation that those who have taken the time to learn how to do those things or who might be really good at what they do in their jobs should share their knowledge and skills for free.
This is especially the case if you are a writer. I was amazed during the early winter when our local outlet for the Raleigh News & Observer would sell out of the Sunday edition. I finally asked the clerk what was happening, and it turns out people were coming in and buying five or six copies of the paper just for the coupons. That means the coupons were worth more than the content.
As a writer that is hard to take, but understandable. With the death of the newspaper, writers are a dime a dozen these days. On top of that many of us including the newspapers have given some of our content away for free for years in the hopes that some sort of Google model will work for us. Of course Google is bigger and better at it than the rest of us so we struggle on and sell a few articles or books while continuing to churn out free content. Writers only find success by drilling down and knowing a subject better than other writers like I recently did in my articles, It’s Time To Give Up On Swiping Credit Cards, and We Worry About Technology Even In Paradise. It is a fiercely competitive world.
It works the same way on photos. Rarely a month passes by when someone does not ask if they can use one of my images for free. If it is for a non-profit or a person who wants one for their desktop background, I always oblige. However, if it is someone who is going to put my image in their magazine from which they will make money, I expect a little money. I sold prints for years until it became hard to justify an expensive printer and inks much less the time when you are only going to get $20 for most prints. I sold some huge prints for only $100. However, the printer they came from took eight ink cartridges. Each cartridge cost $80. Usually as soon as you ask a publication for a few dollars, they disappear because the world is awash in free content.
I recently spent a lot of time putting together the best 100 photos that I took in 2013. I published them in a $2.99 Kindle book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year. The $2.99 price is only about 75 cents more than that Raleigh paper and unfortunately I do not have grocery coupons. I did set up a site where you can buy the pictures for your own use for 99 cents. A print shop can use one for a print for $9.99 and a commercial book publisher has to pay $25. I have also created a site where I will put occasional free photos.
But in a world filled with expert photographers, I am not surprised that the book has only sold in limited numbers. I did it more for my own satisfaction that for the money. I knew upfront that if you have a Nikon around your neck why would you want one of my photos? Surely your better, more expensive camera takes better pictures than my $400 one.
I recently read a tongue and cheek article about a photographer running an ad looking for people who do their jobs for free. He was obviously tired of being called by people who wanted to use his photos for free for all the great exposure they can provide him.
I share many photos on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest and Google+. However, in a world overwhelmed with free content, some of which is mine, why pay for my other photos at 99 cents a piece even if they are great when you can see lots of almost as good or maybe even better photos for free. I do take very good photos and many of them are from places that only a limited number of people will go but I make no pretension about making my living from photos. I am amazed that there are still photographers out there who can make a living from their craft.
Last fall I read an article about why IT people should never repair friends computers for free. The article, Ten Reasons Not To Fix Computers For Free, is a good read.
One of his reasons is "People don’t value things that are free." I have seen that myself. When I was working in real estate, I was amazed at how unappreciative some people were with the time we spent trying to help them find new homes. Most real estate agents work for commission only so if they spend six days showing you homes and you do not buy anything, they end up losing money since they are paying to be real estate agents and covering all of their own expenses. Because real estate agents do not charge for their time, it is not valued.
I have a great working relationship with a couple of clients in my consulting business. They tell me what they want done and it is sometimes with photos. I give them some prices and options. They decide what they want me to do. I deliver what they picked and they write me a check. Everyone ends up happy. I get paid for my work and they get the photos that they want and you can be sure that I have never given them one where the picture isn't level like I see so often in real estate listings.
Working with a good client is much easier than when you are writing an article. Sometimes you spend hours on an article, submit it, get a request for revisions, do the revisions and they still end up deciding not to publish the article. That is how some of my free content gets done. Often when you have worked on a story for so long, you do not want to fight the battle again with another set of editors so it is easier to start on something new.
It is the reality in the world where we live. Content may be king but it has a shaky valuation. In a world where everyone has an amazing array of information available to them, why is my knowledge worth anything to anyone?
I have spent much of my life as a sales person and my earnings have been directly tied to my ability to assess customers' needs and suggest solutions that make sense for them. I have been very successful at sales and on February 28, my friend, Stephen, who is also a very good sales person sent me a WSJ blog article about how big data and analyzing it will "remove the black art from sales." All I have to say is good luck with that. The world still needs some Stephens.
I guess CISCO has a program that predicts when companies will buy their next router. I am happy they can do that but there will always be sales situations that are best managed by a good human sales person. It is a little like me saying that I have a computer program, plenty of sensors and data which will actually predict who is going to catch the first keeper drum out of the surf at the Point this season. I am thinking Dr. Bogus who does measure the water temperature but also spends a lot of time actually fishing will do a lot better job predicting at least when the fish will start biting than any computer. I think humans still have the upper hand in some situations. I am predicting that we will continue to hold an advantage because we can be present, use all the tools that God gave us and tap into our years of experience.
There is still room for expertise in our strangely tilted world, it just requires more work and pays less. Maybe we will get to a point where we value good content as much as we value a ticket to a football game or grocery coupons. It is a little sad that we gotten to a point in the world where our senses are so overwhelmed that we have a hard time valuing things that will last like a good book or a nice picture. I am a little bit old school, I still have a couple of boxes of favorite magazines and even some newspaper clippings that I have hauled around with me. I miss the great newspaper writers, the sometimes stunning covers of Life Magazine and National Geographic. I also enjoy writing enough that I try to rescue and update some of my old free articles that provide useful information.
I still value my own talents and enjoy sharing my pictures and articles with people who seem to appreciate what I write even if it is free. I can tell you more about what is going on in the picture of our dock at the top of the post than any computer and most of folks reading this article. There is value in being present and actually on top of a situation. However, most times it will not buy you a cup of coffee.
Just for the record, I have never charged a friend to help them fix their computer. The only time I have ever turned down a friend with a computer problem is when I really did not have the time or thought I was the wrong person for their problem. Also most of my close friends have prints of mine hanging on their walls. They came from my big printer and they were all free. Our former church in Roanoke has more than a few of those prints and I feel blessed they were able to use them in such a wonderful setting.
Life is certainly not about getting money for everything you do. It would be a very miserable life if we could not give freely of our talents. I have friends who are very generous in helping me and I try to be thankful for their help and help them in return. However we have to be careful in today's world. With all the free stuff we do provide, there is a line that we need to draw in the sand or eventually all of us but the politicians will be working for nothing.