10.24.2021

Do Blogs Continue on Like Zombies because of the Sunk Cost Trap? And what does that mean anyway?

an interesting overview: https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/

I've been thinking a lot about the Sunk Cost Trap. Here's what it means and here's why I'm pondering this issue in regards to the blog: 

You invest time, money or other assets in a project. The project may work out just fine for years and years but there might come a time when you no longer get value from continuing on the way you have done in the past. The costs are unrecoverable but you keep going on the same way because you have remorse over the costs you have sunk into the project in the past. Styles change. Products become obsolete. One's area of expertise shrinks. Competition changes the structure of the process, etc. 

A perfect example would come from the world of investing. A person invests say, $1,000 in a stock. Let's call that stock "Enron'' . The value of the investment does not go up. A declining pattern emerges.  Good things do not happen for the investor. And the stock drops to $100 in value. The smart play is to dump the stock and invest whatever is left into a better investment. Poor investors, having already sunk $1,000 and lost $900 of it tend to try and hold out until "the market turns around." In the end they lose the entire investment. 

On an individual basis it may be that you do something every day because you've been doing it every day for many years. The pursuit no longer brings you positive feelings or results because your audience has changed, you've run out of "assets" or you've outgrown the process,  but you continue because the pursuit is familiar and you know how to do it. You've mastered the process but the rewards no longer outweigh the time and energy spent.  Staying with the habit because you are afraid to stop is a reflection of an emotional sunk cost trap. Perhaps you used to blog because you loved a subject in that moment. Now you blog because you think it's expected of you. And you lose the time value that you invest by continuing to nurture a losing proposition.

When I started writing a blog about photography camera sales were rising by double digits every year. One had only to create a blog, toss in some content, make an agreement with a vendor (Amazon, BH Photo, Adorama, etc.), present content to an audience and then wait for the affiliate commissions to come rolling in. But then camera sales peaked in 2012 and have been dropping by enormous percentages in every ensuing year. The commissions shrank and shrank but many bloggers were unable to admit to themselves that the time and resources they continued to spend to attract readers had become out of whack with their return. Instead they increased their blogging output, added more and more links and became more and more focused on creating content that was less fun for them to make, and more mercenary.

Early on I had additional impetus to write blog because it helped generate book contracts that, at the time, were economically good. But I no longer want to write books about photography. That subject matter has been absorbed and flattened by progress and changing styles among audiences. Now people mostly want to get their information about hobbies from videos. Technical book sales are declining. Royalties are declining and publishers demand more skin in the game from writers just to get a book to the finish line. 

By that point I had developed a following and felt a "loyalty" to the readers for whatever reason. 

At some point bloggers might have evaluated the time investment-to-income ratio they were digging into and found it much more effective to... get a real job. Or go back to the business they had been blogging about and instead just pursue the business. Example: Someone who was spending enormous amounts of time writing about wedding photography and linking to Canon 5D mk. xx cameras would, at some point be better off actually just photographing more weddings than trying to become a de facto, online publishing house but without the support of staff or the income stream from royalties. They might imagine that their blog is necessary in order to maintain SEO relevance or something like that and so they ignore the falling income numbers, the lower commissions, the ever-increasing competition and the aching repetition of subject matter rather than walk away from their sunk costs of perhaps a decade of writing and posting fresh images. It's a classic sunk cost trap. 

Older bloggers seem to cling to their blogs past the expiration date/ sell by date for two reasons. One is that they desperately fear irrelevance and loneliness. A blog with even a handful of daily readers becomes more like a small group of distant friends. Distant and virtual friends who mostly live in some other town but some sort of friends anyway. The second reason some tie themselves to the mast and sail onward is because they hope that by continuing to reduce their personal expenses, and by adding new links and products, they'll be able to make it across the finish line to Social Security, Medicare and, with a little luck, some sort of 401K or pension income. They saw money come in during the years in the past and hope it will rebound or at least continue...even if only at a lower amount.

If they were to do a careful accounting they might find that they've bought into the Sunk Cost Trap and that they may be much more financially secure, and even happier, if they stopped repeating a failing strategy and tried a different line of work ( or income generation ). They might be less lonely and isolated in a very real sense if they were to stop sinking more time and effort into their relationships with online strangers and endless typing and instead spent the same time volunteering, being highly involved in actual projects with other people, or even heading into a fun and interesting workplace and developing new and actual relationships with people ---face to face. For some it would be healthier just to get out of the home office and be around people.

I've thought of all these things over the last two weeks since my friends convinced me to take a vacation. These topics are highly relevant to me. I can't speak for everyone but I think we are seeing the late "Autumn" of blogging, at least about photography. The field has become too granular and has changed too much for me to maintain the same feeling of relevance to the subject and excitement about sharing that I had in my ferocious grasp back when I started this. 

I'm just pondering out loud what it is I want to do next. Not worried about the income. Worried that I'm spinning my wheels in the sand here just to read myself write. I'll talk to some physical friends and see what I can figure out. 





The search for a smaller, lighter camera that has interchangeable lens capability and takes L mount lenses has come to an end.

On the prowl for photos, circa 1979
© Alan Pogue

Professional photographers can be kind of goofy. We want some cameras for some projects and other cameras for different work. I've dumped a lot of cash this year into buying a few full frame, Leica SL camera models and a bunch of a very nice lenses to use them with. When I take the time to use them with diligent care, and try to squeeze out the max potential of the system, I can usually come away with really good photographs. The combination of the SL2 and a lens like the Leica Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm delivers results with very little technical compromise and the only real drawback (besides price) is the weight and bulk of the system. But really, any professional camera system is mostly put together with an assortment of heavy zoom lenses so this is not a poke in the ribs specifically aimed at Leica.... Physics commands that fast, very high quality lenses that cover full frame sensors just end up being a certain size and all land in the same weight class. And solidly built, weatherproof cameras tip the scales accordingly.

I'm happy with the results I'm getting and I'm not at all dismayed, from a professional point of view, with the handling or weight of these cameras and lenses when I'm using them for work. In fact, their outsized presence is, in a way, comforting because I know these tools are one less thing I need to worry about when results are the one thing that matters. But....

There are plenty of times when photographing is not the prime focus of my attention but I still want a camera to bring along to openings, when out for a walk, when heading off on a walking intensive vacation, when spending at day at a festival, and when I'm just meeting a friend for coffee. In those situations a bigger camera and even bigger lens can be too... frictional. 

In those situations I find myself wanting to go back to a simpler system that's small and light but still a potent photography generator. I've spent six or seven months now also working with the Fuji X100V cameras and while they are quite nice I'm always bumping into the limitations, for me, of their fixed lens design with no little frustration. 

If I truly loved the 35mm focal length (equivalent) those cameras offer I guess I wouldn't be spending time looking around at other options (and please, please, please don't try to sell me on the adapter lenses for mild telephoto or lukewarm wide angle --- it's just not going to happen!). As good as they are the Fuji X100V's feel like a "one trick pony" of cameras. I kept wishing Fuji would make a version like the Leica Vario X camera which had a non-interchangeable zoom lens on the front but it's probably not going to happen...

The wish list for a more compact camera is always too rich. But what I wanted was something very low profile. Small and light. Uncluttered and well designed. As I said above I wanted the small camera to be capable of using the L mount lenses since I seem to have collected a bunch of them... And, here's the tough part: I wanted whatever camera I chose to have familiar and logical menus. 

I thought about Leica M series cameras. I really did. I'm not a novice when it comes to the M mount, rangefinder Leicas having owned many of the classic M series film cameras and having shot with that system for the entire decade of the 1990s. In 1984 I even spent a week in Mexico City shooting with nothing but a screw mount Leica IIIf and a 50mm f3.5 collapsible Elmar lens. But buying an M10 or similar camera means a whole different lens mount, too much money for a secondary system camera, and, the rangefinders have (at least in my experience) the pesky habit of falling out of adjustment just when you'd like them not to be out of adjustment. Which is always. As a digital solution for commercial work the SL cameras make a lot more sense to me than the Ms. But that's probably just me. So I moved them off the spread sheet of consideration

There's the Sigma fp but it's much more of a specialty camera and I end up using it slowly and sparingly. When I need what it offers I'm glad to have it but for a casual street shooter it's just too slow and quirky. I have one. No way I'd get rid of it. But if you dropped me in the middle of NYC for a full day of photography it wouldn't be my choice for a fun, fast, easy to shoot camera. 

That left me with a choice between two different Leica cameras with two decidedly different personalities. The TL2 and the CL. One is a design marvel while the other is an ardent traditionalist. Both use the same 24 megapixel APS-C sensor and the same processing hardware. Both take all the L mount lenses. But the difference between them in that the TL2 is a camera for which industrial design is a primary feature even above usability. There is no built-in EVF (but for about $700 you can add an large, external one). The body is beautiful but not as nice to handle. 

The CL on the other hand reminds me of the classic, screw mount Leica rangefinder cameras from the 1940's and 1950's. In fact, the body is nearly the same shape and dimensions. But it has more external controls than the TL and it has a very good, built-in EVF that doesn't exaggerate the overall size of the camera. One thing I particularly like is that the CL takes a very common battery that's used in many of the older Leica compact cameras and also in cameras like the Sigma fp, and the Panasonic G8. Unlike my bigger Leicas I won't be held hostage to the tune of $285 per battery for the privilege of powering on my cameras. In fact, I have about 12 of the smaller batteries (various brands, but mostly Sigma...) sitting around the studio. 

Things were coming down to the wire here. My deadline. I have a tradition that I truly enjoy which falls around the time of my birthday and which I've done every year for the past ten or so. I like to buy myself a desirable camera to reward myself for having made it through another year on my own steam. My own work. My own experience.

This year I also wanted to reward myself for hitting my goal of writing and publishing 5,000+ blogposts over the lifetime of the blog. But that gave me a hard deadline of next week to work with. As it is I think we'll make it right under the wire. 

I decided to give the Leica CL a try so I ordered one from The Leica Store in Miami. I've ordered two previous Leicas from them this year and both came quickly and were much better than described. The new addition should be here sometime this week in time to reduce, by some small measure, the bitter sting and angst of getting, officially, one year older. 

When the CL arrives I'm sure I'll be putting it through its paces and writing about it here in short order. In fact, if it does come in this week it's a prime candidate to take out to the Day of the Dead festival in downtown on Sunday the 30th. Fingers crossed.