On Abundance and Value

On Abundance and Value

Seems like virtually everyone talks about how there is an abundance of content creators today, how there is more creative work than ever, and how everyone is a photographer, a writer, a curator (don’t get me started on how that word is misused), a musician, whatever. The argument then becomes: because there is an abundance of creative stuff (stuff they call “content”), none of the individual work is really worth much if anything now.

This argument about abundance in creativity and the pricing model gets it spectacularly wrong. First, the premise is flawed: the reality is there is no abundance of good creative work. Sure, there is an abundance of photography (and music and writing, etc.), but most of it is, frankly, crap. AI is simply adding to the piles of mostly awful work available. Good work is rare and great work is even more so.

Allow me an analogy: there is abundance of creators today in the same way there is abundance in drivers–there are billions of car drivers globally and just about anyone can do it, but how many people do it at a professionally fabulous level? I don’t just mean those who drive better than Mr. I-go-55-in-the-fast-lane and his crappy driving brethren out there. No, I mean, how many professional race car drivers are there? Not very many. And those who do drive at that professional level? Well, they are highly valued.

Real creative professionals (in whatever discipline) are like pro race car drivers. They can do things very few others can. Their skills are extremely specialized and what they do is, simply put, not of the same quality as what regular people (or tech) can do.

The media and, worse, the tech companies that control the discourse on this subject within the media, have tried to convince us that your creative work is the same as anyone who tries to make something of the same media. It is tool-based: you use a digital camera so anyone who uses a digital camera is your equal. Blech. Further, because it is the same (in their argument), that work is of the same value and, final coffin nail, because there is so much of that work available now, that value is near zero. In their world, for example, any pro photographer’s photography is the same as mine (for the record, I am not a photographer) and hardly worth anything since there are so many “photographers” out there. That’s like me saying that, as a driver, I’m just like and of the same value as Max Verstappen or Michael Schumacher because I know how to drive a stick-shift and don’t completely suck at it. 

Every time you let someone, especially clients, call you a “content provider” rather than by your proper title you let them define you as less than you are. You are a Photographer. You CREATE. There are damn few people on this planet who actually create and create well. How dare you accept their belittling title about who you are and the “abundance” of what you do. Worse yet, how dare you call yourself anything other than by your proper title! 

You are scarce and your creations are of high value. You are a professional race car driver. Don’t let anyone bully you into thinking otherwise. 

So, what does this have to do with the law? Well, words matter. When you are presented a contract by a client, insist on being called “Photographer” and not something like “Content Provider” in that contract. When it comes to negotiations on terms, don’t give away your rights—they are of (often great) value to your client or it wouldn’t be trying to get them. When the other side says something like “No one else complains about what we pay/our terms/whatever” reply with “I am not anyone else—this is my business and if you want to work with me, we need to respect each other and these terms are not respectful.” Standing up for your rights, including the right to your proper title and value, in my opinion, is the secret (legal) sauce to your success.

After seeing how creatives got screwed so often in business, I decided I’d love to go to law school to protect them better. It took a while before I could make that happen, financially, but in 2008 I got offered a full scholarship and leapt at the chance. I loved law school. I passed the California bar on the first try and have been licensed and practicing in California since 2011. I call myself a “bad buddhist” and you’ll see references to that in my work and writings here. Basically, it means I try to use respect, compassion, and a desire to resolve problems amicably whenever possible. However, when needed, I’m as tenacious as a badger. Think Carol Kane in Scrooged–sweet, but more than capable of going all lawyer-ninja on opponents. A Midwesterner until my 30s, I now live in San Diego with my boyfriend (Tony), cat (Ruth Bader Catzburg), and Blue Heeler (Mongo Santamaria).
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