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Friday, April 11, 2014

Protectionism

Recently, Running Shots, the photography group that I shoot with got a message from an event organiser. That is nothing new considering that nowadays we get a lot of request from event organisers to take photos of their events. But this latest request was not a request to take photos. It was rather different. In fact, it was a request for Running Shots not to upload the photos of their events immediately after the event but to delay the upload for a month. The reason?

Let me reproduce part of the message here:

"We respectfully request that you do not post photos of our events on your site for at least one month following our events in order to allow these photographers time to receive the benefits for which they are employed. We fear that the posting of photos too soon will hurt the profession as a whole as we believe this talent and service should be provided first and foremost for a fee to ensure local photographers can continue to be paid for their work"

We were stumped. This was a first and we have no idea whether to agree or not to agree to the request. But here again we see an element of protectionism creeping in. Just like the saga after the Commando Challenge late last year. And this got me pissed off. Let look at the reasons behind the request.

- to allow these photographers time to receive the benefits for which they are employed.
- posting the photos too soon will hurt the profession ......... this talent and service should be provided first and foremost for a fee to ensure local photographer can continue to be paid for their work

There it is again. - benefits / pay. What utter baloney!

This is a free world. Where in the world nowadays can one company ask competitors not to compete with them so that they can make money? I thought protectionism exists only at the country level but it seems this isn't so. Seems like the paid photographers expect to be handled a golden platter to make money without competition. The argument is seductive. Hurt the profession = No more support from these photographer = no more photos. But is this really true?

The impact of such a policy will simply mean that the interest of a small group of people (ie the paid photographers) is protected and deemed more important than the interest of the majority (ie the participants in an event). Let me quote from this article by Murray N. Rothbard in 1988: "Invariably, we will find that the protectionists are out to cripple, exploit, and impose severe losses not only on foreign consumers but especially on Americans. And since each and every one of us is a consumer, this means that protectionism is out to mulct all of us for the benefit of a specially privileged, subsidized few—and an inefficient few at that: people who cannot make it in a free and unhampered market." This was written in the context of the Japanese flooding the American market with their products in the eighties but it is as relevant now to this current situation as it was then. To apply it to the current request - this is what they the event organiser is saying to participants."Don't take the free photographs from the volunteers. Pay big bucks to our paid photographers for your photos instead" Does that sound fair? I suppose yes if you are the one selling the photos and definitely no, if you are the one who have to cough up the money for it!

I said before and I said again, the paid sports photography market is going the way of the dodo bird. With over prized photos, quality that are not much better than what amateurs like us are taking, there is simply no way for such a business model to continue to be viable. With cheap and good quality dslr readily available nowadays, anybody can take a fairly decent photo. And most people nowadays do not print hard copy of their photos. Most are just happy to have a soft copy residing on their pc, tablet or phone which can easily bring around to show their friends instead of having to lug heavy photo albums. 

But instead of reducing prices or coming out with more innovative way to sell the photos, they resort to trying to block volunteer photographers from competing with them. But is that going to work? Mass events are public events and they cannot possibly shut out the public or stop anybody from taking photographs of the events and subsequently uploading them to social media or photo sharing sites. Even if Running Shots agree to their request, there will still be other groups out there like Running Kakis, Chasing Shots, Run Mo Cap etc around. Are they going to try to block everybody? And if they succeed, who benefits? The participants or the paid photographer?

No wonder a friend I met in Tokyo commented that Singapore event organiser do not have the interest of the participants and are only interested in making money off them and which is why he no longer participates in local event. Judging from the request of this particular event organiser, he is not far off the mark in his appraisal. And it will be a sad day for the local sport scene if volunteer photographers are sidelined so that the paid photographers can cream off the participants.

NB: the views expressed here are my personal opinion and do not represent the view of Running Shots and my colleagues there.

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