New Business Models in Photography and Motion – in a Global Economy

Manchester Airport, Manchester, England

This topic comes up a lot these days.  You  could apply “new business models” to just about any business – not just photography and video. Photography and video, in and of themselves are not business models at all, but rather they are mediums that are used commercially, non-commercially and personally. The business end of photography and video comes when you determine how you want to apply them in terms of today’s markets.

Today’s markets are global.  That’s good news and bad news, depending on the type of work you do.  If you are a stock photographer or even if you have expanded that into also shooting stock motion footage – your inventory or your content must be unique in some way in order to sustain that type of business model in our global economy. You will need to stand out and offer something unique,  if you pursue this type of market.

If you are a commissioned commercial or editorial photographer, cinematographer, or director, the competition is fierce and once again, if you don’t have a unique style or vision, most likely you will end up playing by others’ rules or signing “their” lopsided contracts.  It comes down to supply and demand of talent and work, and you will either compete with price or offer something that you do better than your competition.

The good news is, if you are willing to do the work, the world is your stage.  The portals for distribution of your “content” are open to all and as “creatives” we are no longer dependent on middlemen.  When I get asked to talk about “new business models”, I always look for where the new opportunities are.  Where will I be able to carve out my own “new business model”, rather than having to adapt others’ ideas of what that may be.  There is a big difference in those two approaches.

I am carving out a business model for who I am creatively, and where I see the most opportunities for what I do well.  When I am authentic to who I am and apply this to my work, I am able to deliver my own unique vision and reach the right audience,  while maintaining ownership and control over the licensing of my work.  I am able to do that not only because technology has enabled me to do that, but more importantly because I have set myself apart from everyone else who has a camera.

Think about it.  What are your strengths? What are your passions?  Now imagine a business model based on your answers. The world is our stage.


Copyright and Video

As still photographers move and expand into video because of the convergence of their tools, they often ask me about copyright, licensing and usage and how to apply that to video.  Essentially they are trying to apply a licensing business model from their still photography and sometimes that doesn’t work in video production.

The biggest distinction between shooting video and shooting still images is that for the most part a video camera operator is just one of the many creative people involved in a video production.  So unless the camera operator is also the producer and in charge of the entire production, including the hiring of the crew, they will be working in a “work for hire” situation.  One video project can’t have every collaborator on a project maintaining ownership of their part of the whole.

Depending on the job and the market you work in will ultimately determine who will maintain ownership, copyright and control.  Generally speaking the end client or video production company holds the copyright to the finished production.  This is why I made a conscious decision when I got into video many years ago, to position myself as a producer and not “just” a content provider. I wanted to maintain creative control and ownership of my projects.

But even in still photography these days, I see more and more “work for hire” contracts, and in market sectors like editorial where that wasn’t the case just five years ago.  Sometimes I feel that in our efforts to protect copyright laws, we end up fighting for that right for big corporate entities that in turn grab those rights from the creators through lopsided contracts.

Something to think about – maybe with new eyes.  Perhaps we need to start thinking of ourselves as “publishers” rather than just content providers.  It’s never been more possible to be a publisher, because distribution has been democratized by the web, giving all of us a pipeline to a global audience.

It’s time to look at our creative businesses with new eyes and not just on the creative part of the process – but the business part as well.  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and ideas on this topic.

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