Like many areas of life technology and software is slowly eating the world and bringing what were once technical skills to the mass market. This actually has enormous economic benefits that out way short-term losses to niche labour markets. Photography is a prime example of this tech trend. Last year the UK reportedly took 1.2 billion selfies. This is exclusively due to advances in digital photography and it’s availability to the mass market through quality smart phones, and cheaper DSLR cameras.
None of this diminishes the required creative talent in order to produce a great photo, but as we are already seeing, the man in the street is now able to take ‘money shots’ that will make it into the mainstream media headlines.
The somewhat touchy topic of photography rights appears every so often in the equestrian blogosphere, raising debate over who should be allowed to do what and when. Here’s a recent, well thought out post from Katie Mortimore on e-venting on the issue. Currently (from my understanding) official photographers (those contracted or appointed by an event organiser) are afforded exclusive status to sell their photographs of that event to competitors (usually for a period of 3 months). As such any freelancer is not authorised to take and sell pictures to competitors during this three month period. Understandably this causes friction when paths cross.
Like any business activity, success is all about the execution, not great ideas or defensive measures (eg. patents or copyright). To stay ahead of the competition you need to execute faster, better or do something the competition can’t. Any business that relies on defensive measures is going to have a constant uphill battle on their hands. This is why I remain to be convinced by all of the proposals I’ve read so far to alleviate the problems faced by event photographers. Defensive measures provide merely a backstop, not growth plan.
All is not lost though. I believe technology & the growing trend of the sharing economy and crowdsourcing could possibly be the saviour!
“No Matter what your business is, technology is either giving an advantage to you or your competitors”
Joe McCann (The unbundling of everything)
For businesses to flourish they need to constantly invest in new technology to enable them to stay ahead of trends, and drive efficiency, and they need to invest in sales & marketing to stay the right side of break even. This is why successful photographers are successful.
With this in mind I see the following as a growth plan for event photography.
Do Something Unique:
An event photographer I worked for once told me off (quite rightly) for standing in the wrong position, “where anybody can take a photo from”. Instead I should have been standing in a prime spot not available to the general public. It may be an extreme example but at Badminton we have a number of prime locations fenced off for accredited and official photographers, and it does make it very difficult for anyone else to take a money shot. This is part of the puzzle that most event photographers have already nailed, but the ‘built it and they will come’ strategy rarely works in isolation.
Promote The Product:
For the majority of us in the UK who compete, we can easily receive a text message with our start times as soon as they are available. Wouldn’t it be great if you could also receive a message to say “Hey Dominic, photos of Mont Blanc in the SJ [or XC] are now available to view”.
Buying a photograph is possibly the next best thing to winning a rosette – one of those mementoes that clearly illustrates your achievement. Yet I’ve never received a prompt from an official photographer to buy one.
The Uber Effect:
It is in no one’s interests to reduce the number of photographs online. The sport, organisers, competitors, even photographers all benefit from having more photographs online. It raises awareness and ‘the cream will always rise to the top’, especially in this era of social media. So trying to police and enforce restricted publication of images wholesale is counterproductive as well as futile.
Instead why not turn the problem on it’s head and draw the ‘naughty crowd’ into the fold? I’d give other photographers an opportunity to sell their (quality) photos via the official photographer’s app/website (see below). Crowdsourcing photography is not a new concept. There are plenty of very successful picture agencies that work on exactly this type of business model. I dare say it would be significantly more financially rewarding for both official photographer and freelancer, as ‘all boats rise” in “sharing economies”.
Reduce Barriers To Sale:
I’m not going to be thanked for saying this by some, but I find the way you currently purchase photographs from horse events outdated and a little draconian. We live in a ‘mobile first’ world where we’re connected the vast majority of the time. Technology is such that a photograph can actually hold a plethora of metadata to index photographs and make them searchable (example search). Providing an app that notifies you of when particular photos are available and also lets you search, browse and buy those photos provides consumer convenience and reduces many of the barriers to sale that are present in the current mechanisms.
The Back Stop:
If I were an official event photographer I’d have an agreement with an event organiser that contracted me to manage and maintain all photographic rights for an event, effectively giving me the rights to all photography. This would allow me to use sub contractors (freelance photographers) and award accreditation to bonafide media photographers, which I might be obliged to do. This agreement might also afford me the opportunity to request exclusive prime spots at the event, access to entries & results data, and co-opted marketing prominence.
All of which is designed to give an official photographer an advantage first and a defence second.