There’s nothing like an intern who covers the music business (NPR’s All Songs Considered) admitting she doesn’t buy music (I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With) to get the internet re-fired up about paying for stuff, business models and the survival of artists in the middle of the information revolution.

The arguments can be divided into two oversimplified camps. Those who think market forces should be left to decide the fate of artists and their income:

The Internet Could Not Care Less About Your Mediocre Band

Musicians (and as a member of Gang of Four I include myself here) don’t automatically deserve to make a living. They are not a special subset of society that should be supported at all cost.

Like many, many people who have had their lives or businesses upended by the Internet, his nostalgia runs so deep he wants everything to be the way it used to be. Ain’t gonna happen.

And, those who think people should behave ethically or be forced to behave that way:

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered

fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights.


This leads us to a similar argument in photography after MediaStorm announced a new pay per story business model (Why We Switched to a Pay Per Story Model) we have similar arguments in both camps:

Paying for multimedia: MediaStorm’s Pay Per Story scheme

Pay Per Story is not a silver bullet strategy. It’s not a self-contained, all encompassing business model that’s going to right all that’s wrong with the editorial sector.

“This is about [failed] business models, not morals,” says Mike Masnick of Techdirt, and I agree. [source]

– David Campbell

Paid Experience

There’s a lot of talk in photoland how you can’t really charge money for this kind of multimedia, and anyway, it would be wrong to turn this into a moral issue. I actually don’t subscribe to that idea. It is a moral issue, because we are talking about the income of actual human beings here

Of course, the photo business is a bit different than the music business. But the basic, underlying problem is the same: Unless there is an increased willingness to pay for content online, the livelihoods of content creators are in danger. In the long run, this means that if this current situation does not change, a large fraction of the content currently online will simply disappear, and the web will become dominated by corporations that can afford to give away some crumbs for free.

– Joerg Colberg


There are many parallels that can be drawn between music and photography. In the past both benefitted from a high cost to create and distribute the work, which created a monopoly and allowed them to ignore market forces. The biggest problem is that consumers have been trained to expect these very expensive products at very little cost. So, while I agree that it’s nice to have market forces in play and the monopolies disappearing, the monopoly will continue if we don’t retrain consumers to pay artists for their work. The long tail and freemium mostly benefit corporations that can afford to let pennies add up to dollars.

If you want to live in a world with artists you have to support them. I think that attitude is slowly catching on.

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  1. Thanks for the link, but casting things in such simple dichotomies misses the complexity in each position. For example, although Joerg and I disagree about the moral framing, we want to see good cultural and political work done, supported, and valued, in all senses of that word.

    My question for people who advocate “retraining consumers” is this: What is the practical step, the first part of a business model, that flows from casting the issue in moral terms?

    • itunes charging for commercial free television, nytimes charging for digital access, hulu charging for premium access, harvard business review charging $14 an issue on the newsstand. the sooner industry leaders move away from advertising as the only revenue source the better for everyone else.

      • I agree that something other than, or in addition to, advertising is important. Your examples – many of which I have purchased myself – show that people willingly pay for content on line.

        So why make “retraining consumers” the emphasis? If people are already purchasing, isn’t the practical question ‘why are they purchasing this and not that?’ And isn’t that something for producers to consider first and foremost?

        And if you still think “retraining consumers” is the best business strategy, then my questions remains: what does it mean practically?

        • the number of people who willingly pay for content is tiny compared to the potential audience. is that because the content is bad or because the audience is habituated to expect advertising to pick up the tab? is that because free alternatives exist? is that because pirated versions are easily accessible?

          retraining is the process that happens when a business tries to become sustainable by charging for their services instead of giving it away for worthless metrics.

      • Patterns of consumption shift, but there’s always been ‘free’. Network TV, and before then, radio, was always advertiser supported and hugely profitable. Still is.

        What continues to tie up the shifting of much of this to the internet is the contracts that specify who gets what piece of that pie. While people under 40 might not watch network TV broadcasts anymore, they do indeed watch the shows on netflix and hulu.

        For much of that content the money is very much in the audience, but not FROM the audience. Content is just the vehicle to drive the consumption. Advertising will always be a part of that.

        It’s important to note that there are different patterns of consumption though. General interest will always be free, or nearly so. Niche content and publications will charge their audience directly just like journals etc. do today.

        And of course, there is commissioned work which is an entirely different beast altogether.

  2. That intern of NPR, who doesn’t pay for her music probably doesn’t get paid herself (like almost all interns). So what could she pay with if she doesn’t make any money herself?

    Not paying for services or products received is not limited to the internet. It’s happening in every company in any industry.

    There are no laws against this that would work and it starts to look like a new form of slavery where the slave is not actually owned by the slave holder (which saves him money on housing, food, and health care). This should be the absolute culmination of outsourcing.

    One could argue that the analogue world has been trained to react like this by the everything must be free-attitude of the internet.

    The way out of this can only be quality work that can only be done by very few. By comparison, most computer makers have salami slice thin margins, but Apple can charge a premium for its computers, and they still sell out (like the recently released retina MacBook Pro).

    The internet economy is the most intense form of our economic model based on supply and demand.

  3. >> the monopoly will continue if we don’t retrain consumers to pay artists for their work. <<

    Maybe you want to think of another approach. You have zero chance of "retraining consumers." Seriously. Nobody on earth has that power.

    In any case, monopoly occurs when somebody is protected from competition.
    Nobody is preventing you from selling your music or photos, they're just chasing the same pennies you are. The problem in the music business is the same as in photography, which is oversupply. In the 1970's there were a few hundred professional recording studios in the whole country. Now there are tens of thousands of home studios, all lamenting the market that existed before they could afford a home studio. Likewise, there are millions of digital photographers working at a level that used to be attainable only by a few.

    The old market and the old model, aren't coming back. All these new digital gizmos make our work easier, but they also make it easier for everybody else. That dynamic will endure.

    • You can “retrain” customers. The unfortunate choice of the word “retrain” taints the discussion. Its really an issue of awareness. Goodby “retrained” consumers of milk with an awareness campaign that focused on reminding people to buy more milk so they won’t run out. The “got milk?” campaign did what was deemed impossible: it increased milk consumption and sales in a modern Western economy. I think the problem is properly posed as a question of awareness, reminding people of a truth. In the case of music, the truth is that musicians should be paid for their work. I don’t think anybody disagrees with that. The fact that music works on people on an emotional level (that is much more obvious and to the core of human experience than the need for milk) leads me to believe that there is an advertising solution to the problem. Now, who has $50 million dollars to spend on a campaign? That is probably the cost for a two year campaign.

  4. “In the past both benefitted from a high cost to create and distribute the work, which created a monopoly and allowed them to ignore market forces. ”

    Who had a monopoly? A monopoly is when a single entity has a controlling influence of a market. Was there a cartel of photographers that could conspire to keep other photographers from entering the market? There might be a high cost of entry (needing a studio, expensive equipment, etc.) but what else prohibited anyone from giving it a go? Was there a dire shortage of photographers? Could photographers “ignore market forces” by demanding any fee?

    • and economic barrier to entry creates a monopoly. I was speaking of magazines and newspapers.

      • No; not automatically. A very high barrier to entry may encourage a monopoly, but it does not by itself mean there is a monopoly. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to say “lawyers” are a monopoly because you need a law degree to be one. Lawyers must compete economically with each other, though the supply of lawyers may be somewhat constrained by the costs of law school. It’s a different problem.

  5. No-ones talking about MediaStorm’ attempt to monetize (hate the word) their content. Here’s their (for sale to others) player page Seems like they put a lot of thought into the player (HTML5) that runs anywhere (computer, smart phone, etc) and can be embedded anywhere (SpaceFace, Blogs).

    The only problem I have is their price, $1.99 seems a little steep for people who have been getting content for free. Most people think of $.99 as almost free, but my thinking may be outdated ’cause inflation may have made $1.99 look like free :-)

    Chase Jarvis does a Streaming series called Chase Jarvis Live. My guess is that many/most for his fans would pay a small sum to watch. Other online gurus could do the same, Joe McNally comes to mind (I find him funnier than Louis C.K. YMMV).

  6. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

    Hold on, but stop whining.

  7. I don´t really understand the point in all this whining. Who is stoping anyone from selling their work online. If you think your work is good enough, go ahead and try to sell it……. Very soon they will see what their work is worth minus all the hype. As far as i am concerned this is another navel gazing trip in the photoblog world.

  8. What happens when (if) we realize that the reason that everyone is giving it away is because the bar has been lowered to the point that it really doesn’t matter.

    That is to say, if photographers are getting slammed from amateurs who just started shooting a few months or years ago, then perhaps the problem is in the photographers work.

    Photography is not that hard to do anymore. Actually very easy. This is not to say it is irrelevant or not important, only that the gate to creating imagery that had a level of technical expertise has been lowered to nearly a diminished status. Anybody with $3K + can purchase a D800 and make really big, sharp images… and for a huge part of the culture, that is all that matters.

    For the gazillions of folks for whom the cool effect of an instagram shot of their girlfriend sticking her tongue out is ‘great’ there is no interest in anything that ‘serious’ photographers have to say. There is little interest in permanence, exploration or insight. There is but the moment.

    Photography has been balkanized. Choose your battleground carefully. For serious photographers worrying about instagramming teens is a waste of time.

    However none of these side arguments controverts the intern stealing IP. No one cares why she did it (I don’t) – she broke the law, and has thumbed her nose at the value of music. Screw her, find her, sue her.

    • Yup, photography as a whole is less valued in the culture. Imagine the 50’s when there wasn’t that much photography around and you open up Life and its full bleed Lucy in color, shot on 8×10. That was something special. in 2012 open up W and see some great photography, but because of the clutter of images in our visual lives, it has far less impact.

    • “she broke the law, and has thumbed her nose at the value of music. Screw her, find her, sue her.”

      An entire generation doesn’t give two shits about you or your ideas of how it should be.

      It was a fictional construction to begin with, only maintained by a past world where content required a physical object for distribution. This world no longer exists and never will again.

      “Screw her and sue her” at your own peril.

      • “…you or your ideas of how it should be.”

        Really don’t give a rats ass about that generation.
        They have run themselves bankrupt with student loans and an attitude of entitlement that will surely lead to a lifetime of insufficient… everything.

        She broke the law. It’s still on the books.

        Not hard to understand really. Now if that generation would like to change the laws so that people who create stuff are forced to do so for the other’s enjoyment without stipend or remuneration, I suggest they do it. (That may necessitate getting degrees in something other than French Lit, social justice and pop culture – but – well, that’s a bummer…)

        I understand that laws are not ‘fair’, and that it all seems so difficult to understand IP and waaawaaawaaa.

        Just so funny to watch. Intellectual midgets having at the big questions of the world… gonna grab me some popcorn!

        • Don’t want to get into sharing opinion of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m too tired tonite.

          But I would like to say that, as far as I can tell, this up and coming generation has not bankrupted themselves. I’m pretty sure my generation (baby boom) did that for them.

          In our pursuit of money and comfort we couldn’t borrow from the previous generation so we’re bankrolling our lifestyles by borrowing from the next.

          The job of youth is to confound the old folks. Those who don’t know that, who can’t roll with evolution, turn into grumps and whiners. They forget that they, too, in their youth, grappled with the big questions. Are too quick to judge.

        • IP is easy to understand.

          Sticking to old ways of the world and then rambling off topic about student loans, entitlement etc. is not. Myopic.

          I’m 30, all loans paid and own a successful business with more than a few ad campaigns and covers under my belt. And I know better than to stick with the past on this. You want to make money now and in the future? Don’t piss and moan about how things aren’t what they used to be. Nobody gives a shit.

          Adapt or be forgotten and made fun of on the internet.

  9. This model can be used to illustrate a lot that is currently going on beyond just the creative fields. Being someone that worked as a graphic designer, video editor and photographer, but now looks at those careers mostly in the rear view mirror. I farm now and work part time at a community driven organic farm. We struggle with individuals that don’t think it’s worth it to pay for amazing certified organic fruits and veggies, they thing saving a few dollars here and there buying food imported from chile or Mexico out of season is just fine, just as they save those dollars. The pay is low and the work is hard, but our commitment to our farm is vast, just like the commitment too art the “true hard core” musicians and photographic artists have with there craft, we will still plug away until the world starts to catch back up with understanding cheap or free is not cheap or free.

  10. From: Everything is Free, by Gillian Welch (and I understand I am here using her lyrics for free, stealing them).

    Everything is free now
    That’s what they say
    Everything I ever done
    Gonna give it away.
    Someone hit the big score
    They figured it out
    They were gonna do it anyway
    Even if doesn’t pay.

    I can get a tip jar
    Gas up the car
    Try to make a little change
    Down at the bar.
    Or I can get a straight job
    I’ve done it before
    Never minded working hard
    It’s who I’m working for.

  11. ummm. . . .line 7 should read: “That we’re gonna do it anyway”.

    I got these lyrics from the internet. If I had bothered to consult the lyric sheet that came with the CD (which I bought) I would have got it right the first time. More irony.

    • It’s an editorial use.

  12. “Pay Only” content driven and we get rid of a lot of junk; but we like to think we live in a free world and we all have a right to read junk or at least interact with it. I think most is junk, and would pay for “my” meaningful stuff, but that’s not what the internet is about. I think what the Internet is about is “FREE” whatever; content, whatever and it will never, never, never, change – “once the box was opened” :o)) joseph

  13. […] APhotoEditor and Conscientious Extended do round-ups of the many arguments and comments ignited by an NPR intern’s blog post about never paying for music and David Lowery‘s response to the post, looping in MediaStorm’s recent pay-per-story model announcement and its reception to explore what these kinds of attitudes could mean for the creative fields in general. […]

  14. In my opinion the solution is simple. Don’t give your work for free. Select few photographs which will represent you and keep the rest on your hard drive. Or create an iOS App and sell it. Huge companies which need high quality images will need to start to pay for them again. Whats the point to work for free? I can work for free on my personal projects only. Not for any “We are famous brand, we’ll make you famous – work for us for free” companies. Isn’t this a fault of photographers who agree to work for free too?

  15. BTW. If major music a movie companies would create something similar to iTunes Store ten years ago maybe they would’t have to face today’s situation on their market. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs to get this kind of Ideas.

    • iTunes is rapidly sliding into irrelevancy thanks to Spotify. Should be interesting to see how it turns out in a couple years when people stop buying $10 albums in exchange for all you can eat on Spotify. Hell, for $10 a month Spotify puts songs on your iphone or ipod for when you don’t have internet access.

      I stopped buying CDs when I started with iTunes. Now the only thing I buy on iTunes are the occasional apps.

      I actually don’t know anyone under 40 who still uses iTunes for music now.

  16. I’m 25 and use iTunes exclusively for music. I think ‘sliding into irrelevancy’ might be a bit strong, Craig.

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