Photographers Testing Innovative Business Models As Well

from the true-fans dept

While we often talk about music and movies as creative endeavors that require new business models, it’s true that we don’t pay as much attention to photographers — though, I should say that when photographers do show up in the comments, they’re often the most vociferous defenders of traditional copyright (much more than even recording industry guys). That’s why it’s interesting to see some are testing out new business models as well. John alerts us to the news that a photographer who goes by the name Ctein is running an experiment where he’s asking “true fans” to subscribe to his work — paying $9.50/month for a year. At the end of the year, he’ll send them a couple of prints (chosen from a selection offered). It’s based on the idea of Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans concept, but also seems quite similar to the business model we suggested for musicians back in 2003. I have no clue if this sort of thing will work — especially as I’m unfamiliar with Ctein’s work as a photographer or the photography market. However, it’s great to see others experimenting with similar models in other areas. I look forward to seeing how well it goes.

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Comments on “Photographers Testing Innovative Business Models As Well”

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Your Mother says:

Re: The problem as I see it

Of course photographers are artists. Are you stupid? Have you ever watched a motion picture film. Do you realize your seeing 24-36 still photographs every second? Though photography stands completely alone as an art form. I had to put it in perspective for people who’d rather see photgraphs “move”. How many photographs have you seen in your lifetime. What do you think you are looking at? Some artist, professional or amateur learned to use a camera, and is documenting what they see at a click of a switch. That’s ART moron.

That was the stupidest comment I’ve heard in a long time.

R. Miles says:

Re: Re: The problem as I see it

That’s ART moron.
No, that’s skill. Art is what society placed on the outcome of this skill.

I agree with old guy, but to a point. Taking a picture of a frog and calling it art is laughable. The photographer didn’t create anything (the camera did), merely used the skills of photography to their advantage.

HOWEVER, once the picture is used in a creation which separates it from “just a picture of a frog”, then I will agree with you.

The problem with this whole concept is that taking a picture of a person, place, or object instantly instills copyright, which is bullshit.

Or did you miss the whole AP vs. Fairey issue.
The AP had a photograph.

Fairey turned it into art.

BIG difference.

Art says:

Re: The problem as I see it

It all depends upon your definition of art.

There are many highly talented photographers, in both digital and film. In addition, there are many who exhibit highly creative ideas and techniques with postprocessing.

Then there is the time and effort put into obtaining that perfect shot. ex: wildlife photography can be difficult.

So, yeah – if you are talking about point and shoot tourist type stuff, usually not considered art.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The problem as I see it

um where do you get the idea that photographers aren’t real artists? they are visual artists as much as a painters and sculptors. photography does require skill and a good eye.

And a sound technician working in a recording studio needs skill and a good ear. That doesn’t make him a musician. If a photographer takes a photo of a sculpture, who is the artist, the sculptor or the photographer?

Bill says:


A couple years ago I’d agree with you on the photographers not really being artists thing. After buying a good DSLR and spending two years trying to get one photo that gives me the “wow that’s sharp” feeling that I get when I see some other’s photographs I’d have to disagree now. There’s something different about the way a talented photographer sees things.

Still, I agree that very few photographers, if any, could find “1000 true fans.” I wouldn’t pay $9.50 per year for any photographer’s work hoping to get a couple prints… and it’s doubtful I’d pay $9.50 if I could go thru every picture he shot and chose a dozen of my faves.

R. Miles says:


Couldn’t resist, so I hit the website to check his work. Nice stuff.

However, the moment he told me I’m not allowed to host it on my website is the moment he lost me as a customer.

I don’t like being told what to do with my legal purchase. While I understand his concerns over unauthorized distribution, the control he tries to instill is too costly.

Especially, had I wanted to, I could have easily taken any of his non-watermarked, non-protected images hosted on his own damn site.

So, Ctein, good luck. With this restriction, you’re going to need it.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

For want of a better description, he is offering a lay away plan:

“I wish you would just buy my art, please! There are folks who find it easier to buy art by banking a little money each month than paying all at once. Others will find the “two-for-one” value of the donation a bargain way to collect my work.”

Pay a little each month, and at the end of the year, spend your account, plus he doubles the apparent value of your account.

This is where Mike needs to pay attention to that discussion of price and value, this guy has got it right. By doubling your money in the users account rather than cutting prices by 50% for those users, he is not only maintaining price, but helping to support the value of his work to all customers. By not selling at 50% off, the regular retail customers won’t feel they are over paying or that the work has less value than the price being asked.

Price and value – not exactly the same, but attached by a rubber band. Pull one too hard, the other one follows.

R. Miles says:

Re: Re:

Price and value – not exactly the same, but attached by a rubber band. Pull one too hard, the other one follows.
Wait, so you’re trying to tell me if price of content is $0.00, so too will the value?

Sorry, but I strongly disagree. There’s plenty of things I’ve obtained for $0.00 which has significant value to me.

I think it’s time we cut your rubber band. Maybe this will open your mind a little.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re:

Price is affected heavily by value but value is NOT affected by price. The only people who attribute value based on the price are attributing value to the price and not the product. These people do not see the art but only their own stature and would not be one of the 1000 true fans nor the target of this campaign.

Dean says:

Photography not an art?


the products of human creativity.

the creation of beautiful or significant things.

a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation.
the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

any field using the skills or techniques of art

is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.

So none of these definitions of art can be applied to photography? Apparently some people are so ignorant that they wouldn’t know what true art was if it slapped them in the face. But that’s ok… their perception is their reality.

Inky says:

Re: Photography not an art?

You can’t define art via a dictionary. Let’s face it, a child’s scribbles are the product of human creativity. A mom sees beauty in her child’s scribbles and it doesn’t matter whether that child is 30 months or 30 years old. Many artists, art lovers, and respected critics have been fooled into praising the works of children and animals.

Perception is reality. If enough people tell you that something is art or and art form you often come to believe it. That’s especially so when you like to do something or want to make a career of it, but you don’t have the skills or talent or creativity. You find a way to twist the definition to suit you. Also, we forget the egos and deception and salesmenship and the like that goes into promoting and selling ideas and art. Almost all modern art… almost everything funded by the NEA… need I say more?

Everything we create is art. A tiny, almost inexpressable, fraction is fine art. Most of that is subjective too.

R. Miles says:

Re: Photography not an art?

So none of these definitions of art can be applied to photography?
The painting of the “Mona Lisa” is UGLY, therefore, I do not define it as art.

How’s that for a definition.

As I’ve stated, it’s society that defines art. These definitions you posted can easily include:
Programmers: They create. But I don’t ever hear applications (their work) called art.

DOT workers: They have skills using machines to paint white and yellow lines on the road. Are they artists?

House painters: Same concept. Would you consider a house art? I’m guessing no, until it’s placed into a photograph.

Anyone can take a picture. Doesn’t mean everyone is an artist, regardless how well the photograph came out.

Parker (profile) says:

Photo Models

That is an interesting model, but the problem I have with it is that you still have to pay to access the content.
While it isn’t exactly the same style of photography, I like the model of a photographer here in Toronto: he attends a lot of events, and takes great casual portraits of people and posts these on his website for them to use as their profile photo on other sites (Twitter, Facebook), or just use as great photos. These photos then become an advertisement for his photography business, where he will charge for more formal or custom portraits. It also serves as promotion for him to sell prints of his other photographs. I think he is quite successful, and it all comes back to him giving away the digital versions of casual portraits.

Frosty840 says:

How photography can be, and not be art.

Imagine a scene set up by someone calling themselves a photographer, or even a “photographic artist”, if they’re feeling like clearly defining themselves for the purpose of the discussion…

Imagine they have set up a scene to photograph, composing of some view of a static scene lit entirely by artificial lighting; basically a scene that will not change by any appreciable amount over time.

The “photographer” sets everything up to the smallest detail, sets a camera up to take the shot in exactly the way he wants it taken… And then leaves without taking a photo.

Now imagine I come along and press the shutter button on the camera.

In that situation, I am unquestionably the photographer. I took the photograph. I am, similarly beyond questioning, not an artist.

The art of photography is everything that takes place in order to properly set up an image to be captured by a lens. A photograph though, is not, by itself, art.

Very odd.

Krusty says:


Explain to me how your employee can own the work you paid him/her to do?
Because that’s what a photographer is your employee.
You engage in a business transaction where you trade money for work, yet he/she owns it?
That’s really twisted, what’s next my mechanic can use my car because they have worked on it?

Photo insider says:

Re: Photographers

Depends on the contracts drawn up before the shoot. Usage is considered before anything is done. Unless you work a 9 to 5 full-time photo job which is very rare outside of a handfull of catalog houses that setup their business’ with that in mind.In that case it would be work-product territory.

99 percent of the photography you look at everyday(magazines, any major advertisement) was photographed by a freelance photographer who sold usage rights to the advertisers to use their(the photographer) IP to advertise the product.

Photographers don’t usually sell photographs they sell usage rights to photographs that are usually custom produced for the clients (And usually in front of the them)

“That’s really twisted, what’s next my mechanic can use my car because they have worked on it?”

Your mechanic analogy makes no sense as he/she is not creating art by fixing your broken tail-light.

A custom-autobody guy can be considered to be making art by making your car as amazing as you envision it to be by producing custom parts (spoilers etc) and you probably don’t have the rights to reproduce his work very much like clients don’t inherently have the rights to reproduce the photographers work without their permission.

A photographer is making a clients product look as amazing as the marketing people selling it need it to look. Your mechanic is fixing something that is broken. Very different things.

Dean says:

It's all in what you consider art...

@ Inky and R. Miles

“Your perception is your reality” means just that. If you believe something is art then it is art… “to you”. I believe photography is art so therefore it is art “to me”. In fact the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” could not be more true when it comes to the subject of what is and is not art.

However, the problem I have is when people devalue someone’s talent and hard work simply because they do not understand or appreciate what they do. In my opinion, it’s fine if you don’t particularly like what someone else considers art, but people with a negative, nonconstructive opinion also have an opinion with no value.

Besides, it has been my experience that people usually try to tear down, devalue or destroy what it is they envy… Especially when it’s something they are incapable of doing themselves.

AC says:

Re: Then he is an artist...

Then everyone becomes an artist, because everyone has a talent or skills for something creative. If everyone is an artist though, then being an artist means nothing at all and art (in general) has no value, which is the point.

Art used to be a trade, just as every other trade, until recent history when it became elevated to a higher status. Then all the people seeking higher status, and wanting the opportunity to work at something they enjoy and be rewarded for it to, started including every other form of creation into “art”. Now everyone is an artist and being an artist means jack sh*t to most everyone but those that fancy themselves an artist or those that like to dabble in the movement.

Dean says:

Re: Re: Then he is an artist...

YES!!!!!!!! Everyone is and/or can be an artist!!!!! That’s the beauty of art!!! Anyone can do it! What is wrong with that concept and why do so many people have a problem with it?

Being an “artist” is not a career or a job… it’s a state of mind. If you go down to you local drug store and buy a $5 point & shoot disposable camera and take a picture of your dog. Then you take that picture and you put it in your photo album. Then you show that photo album to your family and friends and they look at that picture and say, “aww… how cute!”… You just became an ARTIST!!!! Why? Because you “created” something someone else “appreciated”.

You don’t have to have a lot of talent and skill and make lots of money with that skill to be considered an artist… All you have to do is create and be appreciated… By anyone.

Wow such a simple concept but so hard for some to understand.

AC says:

Re: Re: Re: Then he is an artist...

God, you are dumber than Weird Harold. Who the flying fsuck cares about the artist state of mind? That’s akin to the whatever you do is good mentality that’s coddling and screwing up all the kids in the world.

This is EXACTLY about careers and jobs and business and NOTHING MORE. This isn’t a hippy, feel good about yourself, art blog you moron.

Mechwarrior says:

Re: Re: Then he is an artist...

Art isnt a finite commodity, like say gasoline. Art isnt included in supply or demand, nor is any kind of artifact of culture. That is why it is art, because its value isnt immediately recognizable. Look at post-modernist paintings and photos. Art is completely subjective, and its value is amorphous.

Some people are just culturally bankrupt…

AC says:

Re: Re: Re: Then he is an artist...

That’s where you’re wrong. Art is a finite commodity. No, the kind of art produced by everyone because everyone can be an artist isn’t, but that’s not really art. That’s a made up, feel good, concept that lets lazy, talentless, uncreative persons live in little fantasy worlds where they can convince themselves they have great value to society despite the fact they contribute nothing. True art though, the kind that rises to the top and lasts for centuries, that is a very finite commodity.

Some people will bankrupt culture to feel good about themselves…

Carlito (user link) says:

Digital Blasphemy Gets It

Similar business model at He’s not a photographer, but he makes computer-generated images and landscapes that people can use for their backgrounds. He hosts a free gallery, which anyone can use for pretty much anything, and sells a couple of tiers of membership (monthly, lifetime, etc). As for the images in the members gallery, people can use them on their perswonal things like their website or in a youtube video, as long as it is not for profit. All-in-all I like his business models, and as a “true fan” i purchased my lifetime membership a long time ago. He’s been successfully running this business full time since 1999.

Photo insider says:

Re: Photographers

You got a good deal.

Although I would like to note that photography is a multi-niche industry.

Wedding guys (typically) run in a shoot for less and sell prints to make up the difference style while editorial(think every magazine photo spread) shooters tend to do editorial work for little to no pay in hopes of using the magazines as a springboard(free advertising) to the big jobs which are advertising( bigger budgets and more money in usages fees which are usually territory based) or long term freelance catalog(the bread and butter gigs where you shoot for less per day but shoots can last a week or more). You take a big risk in the second way as you may have to eat the production costs because the client doesn’t want to pay. Although in the editorial world you can usually retain more of your artistic vision as the client hired you because of the style you presented in your portfolio/website/sex exchange.

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