Another shot was fired this week in the killing fields of photography. Just after announcing the purchase for $1 billion of Tumblr, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo declared “ There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”

This is not a surprised coming for a person who has never dealt with with pro photography in her life, neither at Google nor currently at Yahoo. None of the product or services that these two companies have created, so far, have helped pro photographers. In fact, mostly involuntarily, it has made their lives a little bit more difficult.
She has since apologized, of course, after receiving a ton of not so friendly tweets from the non existing pro photographers and their supporters. It was a misstatement, she said. Really what she meant was that no pro photographers would be using Flickr. Which, in a way, should be a warning.

This comes, as we mentioned, after she closed a deal to purchase blogging site Tumblr, who probably host the most copyright infringed content in the world. While Tumblr always had a policy of abiding to the DMCA and would take down any flagged images not properly licensed, it is however a fact that out of the 107.8 million blogs and 50.6 billion posts, the majority are made of images stolen from other sources.Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander, August 16, 1934

Thus, like Google and the acquisition of Youtube, Yahoo has bought for $1 billion worth of stolen content, mostly photographs. They don’t care because, according to the law, the users are responsible for what they post and not the companies that host them. However, that is a lot of cash that is not going to the pro photographer community. No wonder then that she declares them dead.

Big internet companies ( Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple) are now in a frenzy purchase of content. The reason is that content attracts traffic and traffic is what they sell. The more content, the better. And since making content is expensive, they rely on the crowd to create the content. However, one of the internet’s dirty secret is that what the crowd sources is mostly content made by others and repurposes illegally.
Take Tumblr for example. The majority of the Tumblr blogs are made of user curated content taken from other sites. They repost what they like and Tumblr makes it very easy to do so. But in the process, they steal content unlawfully. Photographs, mainly. Created by pros.

The next content creation machine to be sold/bought for an obscene amount ? Pinterest. Same as Tumblr or Youtube before, it is even more obviously made of content created by others and un licensed.

While photography remains the number one value of the internet, it is still not the pro photographers benefiting from it . Rather, it is those who have successfully managed to bundle and repackaged them in huge quantities who have found the golden lining. 

Author: pmelcher


  1. I dunno.

    The $1bn isn’t for the content, it’s for the audience. Granted, the audience gathers around the content, but it’s not the content itself. It’s reblogging, the Tumblr UI and the community that’s formed around the particular veins of interest on the site.

    I don’t know what the future is for pro photographers, but more than ever there is an audience for photography. An enormous, insatiable collective apetite.

    Maybe John Perry Barlow (the Grateful Dead and EFF) was right in his assessment that for the longest period of history it was nigh impossible to earn a living from creative expression. Then, for a short while during the 20th century it was possible not only to live off the sale of expression, but even to get rich off of it (if you were good — and by good I mean able to achieve standing in one of the scarce, lucrative distribution channels).

    The dilemma faced by the pro community is that people are more than willing to produce such creative expression for the sheer joy of it. The value in licensing was never the imagery itself, but the delivery mechanism. People paid for the magazine, paper, gallery entry because what other way was there to enjoy pictures?

    The retrievable value it seems was not the content, but the container. The scarce resource, in economic terms, has never been creative expression (music, film or photograph) but distribution. With free distribution, pro photography finds itself in competition for a much scarcer resource: the attention of the an audience.

    So expensive is attention now, so wide and saturated is distribution, that even great works pass by in the stream, transient unless puffed back into circulation by being re-shared, reblogged, repinned, linked or liked.

    How many shares does it take before enough attention can be brought to bear upon a single person’s work that they can leverage the hunger for more? How hungry does the net need to be, how much attention do you need to have focussed on that next thing you’re going to do, to be able to promise, that you can earn a commission from it? Knowing it’s not a commission for the work itself (any client of merit will plunge the content into social media to reap the network effect), but for the attention it might garner.

    It’s change and sure as hell it hurts. But good or bad? Only thinking makes it so. There’s never been a better time to be an ammeter; or, I think, to be a lover of photography.

    Whether this free-dom of distribution will destroy the incentive and capacity to produce great work really depends on whether you think the profit motive adequately stimulated great work in the first place. The big question for me is who is editing? Who arbitrates (and by doing so educates) on taste. The time-starved mob hasn’t proven itself to be a great appreciator of nuance so far.

    But yes, it might just be that ‘pro’ as we knew it is not much longer for the world. (See also: Leica’s realisation that photojournalism is no-longer the domain of the professional, at least so far as economics is concerned

    1. How many shares does it take before enough attention can be brought to bear upon a single person’s work that they can leverage the hunger for more?

      Oops… Maybe we could ask Paul Octavious?

  2. Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest. WordPress and tons of other sites to mention that have members / bloggers using copyrighted material.

    Some areas of protection don’t carry much weight. Like ripping music CD’s. Our computers come with software that will copy music CD’s. But the movie industry must have more clout, for copy programs to get around DVD copy protection is illegal.

    It seems no one cares about copyright any longer unless there is deep pockets to go after for commercial use.

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