If you know me for more than a few days, you’ll know how I love online social exchange. I’ve been active in the iStock forums since I signed up in early 2007, I’ve been on Facebook since 2008 (I think) and signed up for Google Plus when it was in Beta (and now I do the same on ello).
I was also active regularly on MicroStockGroup, and after dropping my exclusivity I made a short appearance in the Shutterstock forums. I dropped almost all forum activity, though. I just jump over and check it out when someone sends me a link to a topic – or when I notice a surge in hits on my blog as someone linked to one of my articles.
But as you see on this blog and the social media activity, I didn’t turn silent. It’s just the forums that bother me. Why is that? What changed?
Times are changing, so are the forums
I can’t really point the finger to a certain event or time. But I think the value of the forums has declined over time. When I joined iStock, it was an active, positive, constructive community. People were helping each other find their ways. You could get Sean Locke to tell you what’s wrong with your images and how to produce better content. You had people like Franky DeMayer design software like DeepMeta to overcome the weakness of the iStock website. Questions were answered thoroughly, problems were solved.
Today, it seems more like people are mainly looking to talk each other down. And when there is an opportunity, they talk down each of the agencies they use to market their images. Obviously there are events when that is absolutely reasonable. But it should not become a mantra. Agencies are bad by default and the stock photographer’s natural enemy? Not really. Or asked differently: If you are disgusted by everyone else in this business, why do stick in this business? Look for something else that makes you happier.
I couldn’t say I’m not part of this development. I’ve been talking down Getty/iStock whenever they did another change that I did not agree with. At least I tried to find the positive sides of changes as well occasionally. And most of the times, my main goal was to analyze the business side, the reasoning behind and the potential impact on contributors of those changes.
Direct communication is far more productive
I did not approve with other agencies’ decisions all the time either. But with some agencies there is a better way: Talk to them instead of the public. There are strong internal communities at Stocksy and Westend61 where everyone including the management is involved in discussions and contributors are asked for opinions.
When I have the chance, in a business relationship direct communication is far better than public discussion or speculation. And when the direct discussion with an agency isn’t going to answer all my questions, I can still ask fellow contributors for their opinions, experiences and advice. Why should I trust an anonymous voice in a forum who might have 20,000 images online and ten years of industry experience – or 100 images they submitted over the last three years. How do I know?
So forums are not trustworthy anymore to me. Because I don’t know the people. The only indication I have is that many of the participants are lacking business sense, experience and sometimes even reason or manners. Not all of them but surprisingly sometimes the most active ones. They are seeking for trouble or arguments, they are rarely constructive or stick to the topic at hand. And they are usually the ones who know best what you are doing wrong. As I said, there are exceptions. Luckily for those who are still looking for answers. They just need to filter out all the talk in between the knowledge that is being shared.
I think we also have to blame the market development: Years ago there was almost no reason to keep back helping others. Today it is much more about considering how much “business secrets” you are giving out to potential competitors. Many of the good people stopped sharing their knowledge completely. Even I decided to get a bit more unspecific about the details. I’m still talking about the business in general and my take on it. But not in the forums.
So if you want to discuss the business with me, do it in person. Let’s get a cup of coffee or have a beer. Meet me at events like a Photokina or the Microstock Expo. And tell me when you visit Berlin. I’m happy each time someone gets in touch and we can sit somewhere and have a chat. And if that isn’t an option, leave a comment in my blog, or on any of my social media outlets.