Continuing my thoughts from my previous post Assumptions of “Free”…
One of the strongest arguments made in Free is that in a competitive market (namely the Internet for sake of discussion) all prices are driven towards Zero or Near-Zero Marginal Cost. In economic terms I completely understand the principle, but as a creative I find the notion disconcerting on multiple fronts.
Back in 1993/4 I was a research associate in a genetics research lab at my alma mater, the University of California at Santa Barbara. In those days experiments had a lot of downtime, upwards of 3 hours, as we waited for DNA to run on an agarose gel. During this downtime a lot of time was spent surfing the web and checking email, but the experience was quite different to today’s standards. Email was checked through a UNIX account via vi editors (command line based email) and surfing the web was done by Lynx a text based browser. There were no photos, videos, or anything graphical in nature to see. Compared to what we’re used to today it was certainly the dark ages of the Internet.
One day a co-worker wanted to show me something mind blowing and we went upstairs from our lab to a computer and used the first web browser, Mosaic. It took upwards of 5 or 10 minutes to load a small photo on the very fast university network. It took so long in fact that I quickly lost interest. It took a while before I revisited using Mosaic, but I did begin using it regularly and eventually transitioned to the earliest form of Netscape.
The significance of this story is that the web owes its adoption to the creative content that fills it. As a photographer I find it very satisfying to know that photography had a huge influence on the adoption and transformation of the web. At the same time I find it alarming that its so widely believed that the content that fueled the early web is now so commoditized that its worth very little to nothing.
Looking at Near-Zero Marginal Cost in relation to photography I can see validity to the argument that Chris Anderson makes, even if his focus is perhaps on other types of products & services. In reading his thoughts on this subject I began to think as a photographer less in terms of Near-Zero Marginal Cost and more in Marginal Cost of Creativity.
At the moment, there is an increasing discrepancy between the value of photography and the cost of creation. It is fairly common knowledge that the photography market is becoming increasingly saturated and as a result much, but not all of created content in this market is experiencing downward price pressure. From an economic perspective photographers are or will soon be on a path to losing money as they attempt to create content, but overtime I’d expect (and hope) this will automatically correct itself… hopefully before too many photographers are forced from the profession. Time will tell.
As perception of photography having a low value persists its important to keep in mind what the Marginal Cost of Creativity is, and its not just the cost of doing business (CODB). The Marginal Cost of Creativity is different for every photographer, but it does share common attributes:
Time in the sense of not just how much time it takes you to complete a job, but time in relation to…
For the lucky or blessed, depending on your perspective, creative concepts easily come to mind. For others it takes time to think about creative ideas and work through a variety of creative options. Far too often people think of the creative process as an easy instant one, and often it is not. If it is instant or of a shorter duration then it often is due to…
Every creative and the way they see the world is different, no doubt as a result of different life experiences and paths to becoming a creative. My creative outlook has been shaped by experiences, events, environment, etc. that are unique and different from any other artists. Even the slightest difference in experience between I and my nearly identical evil twin that exists some where in this world creates individuality and as such drives different interests that require…
Out of Pocket Expenses
Out of pocket expenses are what you’d think in regard to cost of creativity or CODB and this indeed is the very tangible part of our industry. My interest in nature, landscape and travel photography requires use of rental cars, air travel, rented camera gear, etc. The prices I set for print sales and/or licensing is dictated by my need to cover cost and generate profit to sustain my family. Getting to my destinations of choice are only the tip of the iceberg as I do need to own equipment to prepare my work for sales accounting for…
The equipment I opt to own such as computers, software, computers, cameras, etc. carries a cost and is also something associated with CODB. This is certainly what most people associate with cost, but everything added together leads to the cost of…
Here every component of Marginal Cost of Creativity previously mentioned comes together to leverage creative thought to identify what and how to create. Discovering, evaluating and planning are critical components of research, but in the end it comes down to…
The ability to execute is what differentiates creatives. Those that can execute command respect, authority and earn a client base. Much in line with the assessment of Malcolm Gladwell’s finding in Outliers: The Story of Success the truly exceptional emerge as a result of a variety of reasons and I would argue the non-financial attributes noted here with an emphasis on Execution are what define Creative Outliers.
As you consider the merits of Free, is the Marginal Cost of Creativity a consideration or is it irrelevant to the “hard economic certainties” painted in Chris Anderson’s vision of the online economics?
Next Up: The Value of Free: Where Is It?
Previously Discussed: Assumptions of “Free”
[tags]Chris Anderson, Free, Review, Free: the Future of a Radical Price[/tags]