As Gail Mooney pointed out, Chris Anderson’s new book “Free” is causing quite a stir. Evidenced by the lasting effect Anderson’s observations and predictions in “The Long Tail” have had on business and culture, it is likely “Free,” the idea that businesses need to think about giving things away for free via the Internet in order to make money, is a concept that is here to stay. What is uncertain is how photographers can adapt to, and take advantage of the “Free” model. Musicians, using MySpace and other online tools, give away streaming music tracks to cultivate a larger following and sell more tickets at their next concert. Mr. Anderson provided free access to “Free” online for a limited time to generate more speaking engagements and sell more books. While these techniques are effective for their respective businesses, they do not correlate well for most photographers who are selling business to business instead of business to consumer. And, in an age where photographers are still working to communicate the value of professional photography, what would giving it away for free communicate to businesses?
Here’s an idea. I think we can all agree that giving away a photo as free stock is generally a bad idea. So, instead, give away free e-books of your latest photo project to sell limited edition copies of the book, fine-art prints, or to serve as a powerful, yet inexpensive marketing tool. Can this “free” strategy also be successful in generating one-on-one relationships with clients—most photographers’ ultimate goal?
It remains to be seen if photojournalists and fine-art photographers will be able to use the tools of “Free” to galvanize followers of a cause or patrons of the arts to fund a book project, documentary film or traveling exhibition. Certainly the concept of “Free” will challenge the business models of not only photographers, but also the businesses comprising their primary client base.