Long time readers will remember that I starred in three online learning projects for Craftsy.com. They were very successful online programs when they hit the market in 2013. I had a blast doing the productions with a great video crew in Denver, Colorado but declined to do any more because I felt like I had tried the experience and moved on. Back in 2018 Craftsy.com sold their online learning assets to NBC/Universal which continued the online learning business under the name: Bluprint.
Partner/Contributors to Craftsy.com, now Bluprint, got notice last month that the business would be closing and that after giving customers the opportunity to download their paid for programming they will be shutting down the online education products. Craftsy/Bluprint will cease to exist.
It was interesting at the time to be involved in the earlier stages of online learning products. To many in the industry it seemed that the potential of online glasses was nearly unlimited. The secret of success, many in the online education space thought, was to clearly identify which subjects (and which subcategories) would appeal to broad enough and passionate audiences. Making the right choices and backing up those choices with very high end, three camera video productions, and good editing decisions, would give the site owners enough creative "product" to potentially make a handsome profit while also paying talent/participants very good royalties and a share of the profits. Additionally, the talents could increase their income by delivering referrals back to the site.
I had a great time doing the original three programs. Each one took a week or so of pre-production on my home turf. After going back and forth with a producer to fine-tune tight, written outlines, I got to travel to Denver where the company put me up in a comfortable downtown hotel, gave me an generous advance, and an even more comfortable per diem, and then coached me through three or four days of in studio or on location shoots. I learned more about producing video by being on a set for eight to ten hours a day, over the course of a month, than I think I could learn from actually watching endless YouTube videos about video production for a year. Which, in itself, is a pleasant irony.
2013 was a busy year. On the heels of my three stints at Craftsy's studios I headed to Berlin, Germany for ten days to go to the IFA show and to participate in some beta testing of Samsung's doomed Galaxy NX camera. When I got back home I was off a week later to NYC to participate on behalf of Samsung at the Photo Expo. For about a month I felt like a celebrity photographer. I was even considering buying one of those photojournalist's vest, a Tilley (boomer) hat and maybe even a larger camera bag. People back then would actually pay to go to workshops by small town photographers like me, or pay for photo business advice from at least two semi (web) famous photographers who've spent their careers poised on the precarious edge of bankruptcy. And dissolution.
But that was then and this is now. Life in the pandemic. Businesses closed. The market for creative services on the thinnest ice.
So.... Craftsy.com/Bluprint is closing. It had a good run. The sad thing will be the loss of those nice royalty checks. Not all of them were big but some were generous enough to pay for wholesale camera system changes whereas others barely covered the cost of a new lens. But I always saw the payments as gravy; not a core part of my business income. Like a continuous and generous tip for a job well done.
Samsung has long since exited the camera markets and, I like to think, at least some of that decision was arrived at with our collective feedback about the Galaxy NX camera which, I think, was universally hated amongst real photographers. Yes, you could play Candy Crush on the 5" screen if you were bored but that was no real compensation for the 30 second start up time.... In spite of the shortcomings I thought the sensor and some of their lenses in the NX system were really good and I have have some great photos as a result of my participation.
Change happens all the time and it may just be my perceptions but I think rate of change is also continually accelerating. The pandemic will force us (collectively) to completely re-imagine how everything will look in the future: from dining outside your own home to how, and whether or not, commercial photographs get commissioned. I would count it all as scary if you were taking advantage of the status quo previously, and stumbling along on little more than your good looks and your uncanny ability to always show up with a camera in your hands.
Styles that were pervasive as late as last Fall already seem dated and passé now. "Influencer" work seems to be trouncing conventional photographic work as far as advertising agencies are concerned. I got a call from an agency last week and was asked to bid on a couple of jobs for a multi-national medical products company. To do the jobs right will require $20,000 of budget for each job. I have no reasonable expectation that the company or their agency will go forward on these projects. I wouldn't. The campaign already looks dated and over produced. I'd look for something a lot cheaper and a lot less "produced" but no one really asked me for creative direction.
I look at stuff like this as the "last gasp." Campaigns like this are being pushed by art directors who've been in the business for twenty or thirty years and it feels like a retreat to familiar safety. No one is willing to take a chance here. But just like the short cycle of online learning I think we'll see a big and scary transformation in the advertising space and people with ten or more years in the business will have absolutely no idea what hit them when the shift gets geared up.
It seems not to make sense that online learning channels are having more difficulties right now since everyone is staying close to home and either overwhelmed or bored, but in fact Bluprint is hardly alone in seeing a decline in paid access or subscription schemes for online learning channels. Given that most of the people who are in the demographics where they can choose to spend extra dollars for edu-tainment are the same people who are most able to work from home and are also stuck on Zoom calls, helping their kids navigate online education, and then filling their time with TV and movie bingeing on Netflix, Hulu, Disney and Prime burn out with passive entertainment must be rampant. In the case of my classes, specifically, I believe that anyone who was interested has already taken the course and also, so much has changed since those were produced seven and a half years ago that they have become dated.
But therein lies a similar problem for all the streaming services I mentioned above. The "faucets of content", the producers, crews, etc. have been prohibited by the pandemic from feeding the beasts of "on demand streaming" with new stuff. I often joke that I need to cancel my Netflix subscription because I've already seen all ten of the good movies they have in rotation....Everything is started to look like a re-run.
So, what is the world going to look like after we emerge from our various bunkers and go back out into the sunlight of normalized existence? I can tell you right now that there's going to be a hell of a lot more take out restaurants and a radically declining number of sit down establishments. Haute Cuisine is going to look a lot more like private dining and not a shared dining room experience.
A lot of advertising is going to keep flocking from photography into video. A lot of video is going to be crowd-sourced from people who've spent the last 3 to 6 months bingeing on tutorial videos at No Film School and all over YouTube and Vimeo. But those same channels are also going to see radical declines in viewership, and by extension, cash in payment for their content. It's a wild time to be a visual artist and yet this more or less clears the decks of the remaining boomers and sets a fresh stage for millenials and gen Z folks to make the industry over in a new way. A way that's essential for them.
I have a nice office. If only I made the effort to keep it tidy...
Can't imagine staying at home in a smaller space.
For many freelancers right now the big worry is the money. With corporations living in liability fear and unwilling to put their employees in potential danger there are so few video/film/photo projects being done anywhere that you can pretty much count them with a one line abacus. I'm in okay shape financially so I have the "advantage" of being more worried about the effects of isolation on my spirit and my practice of emotional intelligence, and glib conversation. I am, shockingly, sometimes finding myself at a loss for the right word, the right phrase, or the pithy quote that used to fall off my tongue like crystal glasses balanced precariously over a granite floor.
My belief is that when it's safe to come out again, when there is a vaccine for this coronavirus, when there is a widespread and proven treatment for those who contract the disease - like Tamiflu for the seasonal flu - we are likely to see some really profound changes. And some will be in the nature of a pendular swing back toward enhanced, actual social networking and face-to-face engagement.
If nothing else I think the lock down has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one, NO ONE actually likes online education. Not the teachers and certainly not the students! By extension, I think venues like Creative Live, Masterclass and all the firewalled private areas of V-logger's YouTube channels will (already are) experience a huge fall in viewership and revenue as people have been overdosed with Zoom calls and relentless, in-house, video entertainment.
I can almost see the logic of people betting on Cruise ship stocks, Casino stocks, and airline stocks. People will have had their fill of video in all of its guises and will be ferociously motivated to go out and have real experiences, see real things and talk to real people. In fact, video learning might be the platform shoes and bell bottom pants of the current time.
What does this presage for photographers over a certain age? Don't know. I think it all depends on why you practice photography. If you have a beautiful, modern style of portraiture you can probably count on business from commercial clients who need to re-introduce their companies to the public and, by extension, introduce their newly re-balanced staffs. If you are a videographer you'll find endless opportunities to help companies explain their new safety standards and processes. Basically, training videos that show customers how to use the company services in a post pandemic society.
Gone for now are the huge crews that used to make TV commercials. I've got an iPhone for that.
If you do photography for pleasure it may well become a new "golden age" for you as things open back up and you find new resolve and pent up passion to get back to making photographs of the things you just could not access a few months ago. Streets, parks and wilderness will re-open and be available as canvases for your ready re-discovery. I might even catch the "landscape bug" and start doing more work in Texas's rougher western region. I can only dream of making photographs in the streets again... of beautiful people without masks.
It's been a funky year for me. I've lost so many things and people and family members who meant so much to me. But I've also "lost" my photography. The stuff I love to do. I hope it comes back. The parents and Studio Dog are gone. I'm left with my good memories and my photographs. But my photography is the one thing that can, hopefully, be saved.
I hope I'll once again be able to invite interesting people into the studio and make portraits of them. I hope I'll once again be able to pack a few cameras and a few changes of clothes and travel somewhere I haven't been in order to make photographs that are completely new to me...again.
Studio Dog watching me carefully to make sure I don't screw up.
Or drop food on the floor.
I guess there is no good age at which to experience what we've lived through and continue to grapple with. The specter of a deadly disease and the cessation of normal and fulfilling life. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to be alive and well, but as I get older I get more cognizant of the fact that I've got less time in front of me than behind me and I begrudge anything that's standing in my way and preventing me from experiencing my idea of life to the fullest. But, of course, it could all be lots worse for me.
I am nostalgic now just for work. Not for the billing but the actual process of making photographs.
Ben picking out peppers at Skidmore. Three years ago.
one of my favorite, casual studio sessions.
The amazing and beautiful Michelle.
Believe me, that's not helping.
Swimming note: It was so beautiful to be at the pool today. On the weekends we only two workouts to choose from each day. You can workout from 8-9 or from 9-10, but you can't choose both times on one day. I opted for 9 am. After a week of rising at 5:15 to be at the pool and ready to go by 6 in the morning, 9 am seemed like a sybaritic holiday. The sun was warm, the sky was clear and the water was an almost frosty 76 degrees. I was fortunate to have my own lane and we thrashed through a nice set under the guidance of our coach, Hannah.
I count this morning as one of the ten most enjoyable swims of the past 365 pool adventures. It was just that perfect...
Camera news: Two friends get Fuji GXR cameras. I am vaguely impressed. I take the Lumix S1R and Leica 90mm out for a spin and I quickly get over any gear coveting I might have had. Seems smart right now.