12.14.2009

A rant about an editorial in the NYT by Thomas Friedman.

The following is from Thomas Friedman's Editorial in the New York Times from Sunday, December 13, 2009.  I am excerpting it according to the fair use provision of the U.S. Copyright Law to discuss it's interpretations about the new economy......

In this article Friedman is discussing his friend's re-working of an advertising agency to deal with the "realities" of the new economy...........My note are in red....

 "He illustrated this by telling me about a film he recently made for a nonprofit.
“The budget was about 20 percent of what we normally would charge,” said Greer. “After one meeting with the client, almost all our communication was by e-mail. The script was developed and approved using a collaborative tool provided by www.box.net. Internally, we all could look at the script no matter where we were, make suggestions and get to a final draft with complete transparency — easy, convenient and free. We did not have a budget to shoot new footage, yet we had no budget either for stock photography the old way — paying royalties of $100 to $2,000 per image. We found a source, istockphoto.com, which offered great photos for as little as a few dollars.
If there was no money in the budget for any production was there money in the budget to pay Greer's fees?  If so, how did the money get there?  Was it part of a negotiation?  If so, why wasn't appropriate money negotiated for all the other creative resources normally necessary?  In other words, how did everyone else's budget disappear while the budget for Greer remained?
“We could easily preview all the images, place them in our program to make sure they worked, purchase them online and download the high-resolution versions — all in seconds,” Greer added. “We had a script that called for 4 to 5 voices. Rather than hiring local voice talent — for $250 to $500 per hour — we searched the Internet for high-quality voices that we could afford. We found several sites offering various forms of narration or voice-overs. We selected www.voices.com. In less than one minute, we created an account, posted our requirements and solicited bids. Within five minutes, we had 10 to 15 ‘applicants’ ” — charging 10 percent of what Greer would have paid live talent.
(And, of course, when they've succeeded in eliminating all of the "live talent" in the market what will they do when the market recovers and clients demand original, creative and complex voice over solutions?  Will they wring their hands and plead ignorance?  Doesn't the work itself have an intrinsic value? Are all skills merely commodities?)
“Best part,” he said, “within minutes we had sample reads, which could be placed into our film to see if the voices fit. We selected our finalists, wrote them with more specific instructions and within hours had the final read delivered to us via MP3 files over the Web. We could get any accent or ethnicity we wanted. For music, we used a site calledwww.audiojungle.net,” where he could sample thousands of cuts of music and sound effects with the click of a mouse, and then buy them for pennies.
(How can Friedman, or for that matter, his friend Greer, not understand that by decimating each layer of creative businesses by not having the balls to charge liveable and sustainable production budgets they will create  a business model that will quickly go up the food chain.  Pretty soon,  if there is no solidarity among creative professionals the next step is to automate advertising and marketing or offshore it to third world countries.  People might say that this is a new "paradigm" driven by the web but what is really happening is that the massive destruction of creative markets, and other similar skilled markets, is leading to  people making non sustainable choices in order to survive for the moment.  As usual, only the consolidators are making any profit.  Eventually these vulture-like pricing strategies will push most of the creative class into poverty.)
By being able to access all these cheap tools, Greer got to focus on his value-add: imagination. The customer got a better product for less money. But he didn’t create many new jobs. For that, he needs the economy to pick up. “If we could only borrow a buck and invest,” said Greer, “we’d all be rolling again.”
(There is no proof that the client got a better product.  There is no proof the client got a good product. Only a groundless justification for cutting the profit out of three different areas of creative endeavor.  "Save yourself and forget the rest of the passengers!"  "Take him, not me!"  Finally, what does Greer need any additional capital for?  His supplier costs have dropped by a factor of ten.  He's doing his jobs for 20% of what he used to charge.  If his sole value add is imagination wouldn't he be better off eliminating all of his staff and just sit around being imaginative?  ........Imagination is the most readily available resource in all of the advertising world.  Hell, you can get better imagination from just about any six year old than you can from the typical ad man.  The real shortage is of skilled practitioners, and companies like Greer's are picking them off one at a time under the guise of "efficiency".  That Friedman applauds this makes me nauseous.  When the NYT downsizes him out of a job, replaced by random column generators, or "crowd-sourcing"  I hope he'll understand what he helped to destroy.  Makes me want to re-read the Lorax by Dr. Suess.)


What does this have to do with a column about photography?  Plenty.  In nearly every avenue of our lives big business is trying to figure out how to squeeze more and more cost out in order to  return huge profits to a smaller and smaller group of people (not necessarily the stockholders).  By denying quality suppliers a sustainable profit they drive the suppliers out of business or off shore.  By doing so they decimate support for local communities.  Photographers have been especially hard hit in the last few years by stock photography marketeers that market to the dreams of a vast army of amateurs, convincing them to work below their own costs (the very thing our government routinely accuses China of doing....it's called "dumping" when countries do it).  In this way legions of people, hungry for some sort of misplaced artistic recognition, subsidize companies owned by powerful corporations.   In a way it's similar to the way that state lotteries prey on the ignorance of the poorest segments of society.  They show off the "big winner" to a demographic segment that doesn't understand the statistical relevance of "one in ten million..."


In the same way the legions of microstock photographers don't understand that they are part of a system that drives the cost of "marketing intellectual property" to zero for companies so they can more efficiently take even more money out of the pockets of the very people who subsidize them.  Corbis=Microsoft.  


When mega corporations have succeeded in driving off the musicians and artists and filmmakers and all the other people who bring beauty and relevance to our lives what exactly will be left?  Canned music over fries at McDonald's?  Endless animated movies?  Billions of nearly identical photographs?  A broke middle class?  A poverty stricken class of skilled workers?  And when Google finally figures out which legislators have to be paid to make all books available free who will ever want to write a book again? Then what will you read?



Finally analogy:  If you take a great bottle of red wine and dilute it with several gallons of water is it still a great bottle of wine?  And if you train a new generation of people to drink the diluted wine will they have actually experienced good wine?


If we as a culture are willing to settle for less and less, where will it all end?  What will we have done to ourselves.....?