Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Capitalist Inversion

There's been some recent buzz around the Beckham kid getting a gig to shoot a Burberry campaign or something. Lots of dumbshits who would never ever in a million years have ever been considered for such a job are bitching about how the kid basically stole work from Real Photographers, and all because he has a million instagram followers. This is actually kind of a thing. Photojournalism gigs are being awarded based on followings as well.

This sounds sucky, and in a way it is, but we'll flip it around in a minute and from that point of view it's still awful but in a completely different way. First let's look at a few other things.

I can think of two bestselling books recently have been turned in to Major Motion Pictures which started out as self-published books that went viral, essentially. The authors went and wrote books, edited them with the help of their friends, published, marketed, and only after all the hard work had been done and all the risk removed did the majors move in to claim a (presumably very large) slice of each of the pies.

Remember when photography was photography, and there was a separate discipline of re-touching?

The digital revolution has enabled in the first place each of us to do more, in certain dimensions. We can now, in practical terns, write and publish books, we can shoot photos, we can re-touch photos. We can do things that used to require a largish staff, and we can can do it more easily than we used to be able to do the single job. I can write, edit, publish, and market a book with less effort than it used to take simply to write it. I can shoot, re-touch, design, and publish, a book with less effort than it used to take simply to do the shooting.

It's also enabled us to reach out and touch people, to build and to reach markets, in totally new ways through social media. Even through blogs!

The upshot of this is a sort of inversion. The capitalist system, always looking to maximize revenue and minimize expenses, naturally leans on creatives to do more with less. Now that we can re-touch in photoshop, easily, the clients demand that we do. It's simply baked in to the gig now. The client increasingly shoves things that used to be their problems outwards into the hands of the creative. Great web design! Can you deploy that out, now?

Endgame for the capitalist is that the creative should do everything except the part where the money is collected. Design the campaign, shoot the campaign, write the copy, lay out the ads, deliver the ads onto the creative's own social media streams, and then the client collects the money.

Arguably the Beckham kid isn't a privileged idiot who's being given a leg up because he's famous, arguably he's a sap who's being ruthlessly played for peanuts by a huge and powerful corporation.

So you could go out there and work your butt off on instagram and social media your way to a gig.

A better bet is to grab not just the work, but also the part where you collect the money. Self publish, and keep it that way. If some major player comes along with a sweet contract, and some glib promises, tell that major player to go fuck themselves. Sure, you might make a modest stack of cash in the short term, but you know they're gonna drop you the second some new guy shows up, and you know as well as I do that that last check might take a while to show up.

I mean, if it's a choice between buying a can of soup and not eating, take the gig.

But otherwise, think it over.


  1. "Arguably the Beckham kid isn't a privileged idiot who's being given a leg up because he's famous, arguably he's a sap who's being ruthlessly played for peanuts by a huge and powerful corporation."

    The two are not mutually exclusive. Even if Burberry drop him post-shoot, he will still be part of Brand Beckham. Silver spoons and all that ...

  2. I'm quite surprised the name "Beckham" is a brand at all away from those parts of the world that don't play (proper) football.

    Come on, the kid's 16, he's a privileged idiot who's being given a leg up because he's famous, by being exploited for peanuts by a huge and powerful corporation. I'm not surprised people are annoyed.

    On the other thing, in the unlikely event some major player (Hello, Herr Steidl, sir!) tries to buy out any of my self-published work, I'm definitely taking that call! The most I have sold of any title so far via Blurb is 25 copies... I bet they could double that, easily!


  3. Certainly there's no particular contradiction! So stipulated!

    None of this is particularly relevant to those of us who haven't built up a social media following. But for those people, and those of us considering that route, the point is that you should consider monetizing that social media following yourself, rather than simply selling out. Lower revenues, higher margins. Also, more control over your destiny.

    1. Wish I did have a destiny! Always sounds so super-hero-ish. Think I'd rather have a Destiny than higher margins, any day.

      btw, I meant "that DO play (proper) football" above, obviously. An own goal, there, heh.


  4. To those of us who grew up knowing Burberry as merely a manufacturer of raincoats, etc., this is all a bit of "Blah, blah, blah". However, the fact that the boy has an Instagram account with so many followers suggests to me that Burberry wants to have some of the Beckham brand 'magic'(cough!)rub off onto their product.
    I would feel aggrieved if a professional photographer such as Kirk Tuck lost out to a "celebrity", given Kirk's obvious skill behind a camera, but here, I think the Beckham Boy is just part of the "buzz" (aka smoke and mirrors) that will characterize the campaign.
    Blah, blah, blah.................

  5. Forgot to add, I don't suppose the BB needs the money,so he's not really being 'ruthlessly played', but the exposure won't do him any harm, either.
    And as for a 'leg up', Prince Andrew, anyone??