It's getting to be the time of the year when bloggers and vloggers fire up their keyboards or their video cameras and troll for affiliate cash in the biggest way. Get ready for those top ten lists!!!

 They are revving their engines. Doing their research. Trying to find out which photographic products will be in stock and which ones are in infinite backorder status. Why? Well, there's no cheese at the end of their tunnels if the "influencers" get you excited and give you links to products you can't buy. No sale means no commission, no spiff, no affliliate cash. So you wonder why each influencer touts different stuff and different brands throughout the year only to coalesce around best sellers in the last run up to the holidays? Wonder no more. It's much easier to reach into your wallet if there is a ground swell of consensus about "how great" a product is. And how much you need it. 

Here's my biggest prediction for this coming holiday season: No one will make a top ten list that includes: a Fuji X100V, a Leica Q3, a Ricoh GRiii, or just about anything else from Fuji, Ricoh or Leica. Why? Because they are mostly backordered. No sale means no cash. 

Here's another holiday sales prediction: The Panasonic S5ii will suddenly become many influencers' favorite new camera. Why? Because it's going on sale for $1699 and B&H and others would not promote a sale item if they could not fulfill the demand for the product. The price drop and the availability means a bonanza for bloggers and vloggers because people who want/need/covet a new camera will default to the products that yield instant gratification. Stuff you can get right now. Do you think the Ricoh GRiii X will make the "top ten cameras we want for Christmas" list? Not a chance as long as it's back-ordered everywhere. The S5ii, on sale, hits a price level with less resistance too!

I predict that influencers will try to differentiate between categories in their articles this year in order to get more reach. Instead of just a "top ten cameras" list I'm pretty sure we'll see a "top ten prime lenses" list, and a "must have ten zoom lenses" list, and a "top ten on-camera flash" list, and a "top ten favorite light modifiers" list (even from the "professional" available light photographers who never use flash). 

Once they get on a roll you just know that the next category will be: "The most professional and sought after camera bags." This from photographers who only weeks ago wrote about the fact that they abhor camera bags and only carry one camera and one lens at a time. 

Essentially our "favorite" content creators will steer you only to product that's readily available because, for them, back-order means "deal-killer." So what if they shoot with something different altogether? They are not in the business of making photographs, they are in the business of making you believe you must have certain products in order to be successful as a photographer. And they are in the business of linking you up with a retailer to supply you with those products. That's how they make money...

Remember the good old days when the photographers who blogged (and who we assigned credibility to) actually made their income from.....making photographs for clients? Or the tepid old days when they started to monetize their blogs and vlogs by hawking workshops? At least when they were selling workshops they posted examples and educational tutorials while trying to get you interested in traveling somewhere mildly interesting in order to stand around with many other photographers and soak in the "valuable" insights of the "pros." Now all pretense has vaporized and what's left is salespeople who are somewhat adroit at writing or producing video that's both entertaining and manipulative. Let's make a deal!

Gone are sentences like: "We shot with this lens as we were climbing Longs Peak in Colorado..." and have been replaced with: "I haven't shot with this lens yet, nor do I work with that brand of camera, but I've heard great things about it! Here's a link." Followed by, "Please use our links and support our site." 

I guess if I had my guilt gland surgically removed I would have written about a dozen posts praising the silver/chrome kit edition of the Leica SL2 camera with the 50mm APO Summicron lens. If I did and I wasn't as lazy about blogging as I seem to be I'd scatter links for the combo everywhere. Why? Because it's got an absurdly high price, looks cool, is an aspirational buy in some circles, and its high purchase price would net me huge affiliate commissions. Is it my favorite camera? At the tippity top of my top ten list? Naw, but it would be profitable. And right now it would be a lot easier to acquire than a Q3 or an X100V. And I'd get that payment from the outfit I linked to. Hell, I could hedge my bets and have affiliate links to multiple stores...

Is all this blogger and vlogger list making and promotion a "service" to loyal readers? Are they somehow being better educated by hungry bloggers? Naw, in most cases they are being guilt driven into supporting someone else's hobby. At best. 

But "no harm. no foul." Right? Every blogger will tell you --- hell, they'll put it in writing, that they get a small kickback from the retailer but it doesn't change the price you will pay for the product. So why should you care if they get paid for taking 30 seconds to prep a link? Well, hold on there for a second. Since there are now hundreds of thousands of photography "influencers" spread across TypePad, Word Press, Blogger, YouTube, TikTok, etc. their content has killed photo magazines as an advertising venue. The market for camera is too granulated and small for national TV advertising or wide audience targeting in other mainstream media so the camera and lens makers have turned to influencers and web channels as a sole conduit for advertising. (The influencer "firehose.") And it's easy to measure sales success in a digital universe. The data is right there. The gear makers and retailers have to set aside the percentage of the product price equal to the money they pay the influencers to "influence."  To convince you that you are doing a real service to a deserving content creator by clicking through their links. And that buying the product was a good idea which might even have originated from your brain. This raises the prices everyone; influencer audience member or not.

If you avidly read a blog or tune into a YouTube channel about photography frequently, and the crux of the content is about the gear (sometimes wrapped around fluffy essays about the "art" of photography) I think you may have discovered what caused your G.A.S. in the first place. It's the continuous bombardment about products and the relentless normalization surrounding the idea of continually upgrading that product. Going after a better and better grade of crack... "Upping your game." (So cynical).

I think it's a bit sinister that blogs and video channels have become nothing but defacto sales tools. In the beginning blogs and then vlogs were made with the idea of freely sharing information with other like minded people. Now going online to actually read the very limited amount of real, original content, is like wading through a thick and poorly designed catalog to find a sentence or paragraph positioned in the middle of mercantile propaganda which is remotely interesting or instructive. All the rest is the science, conscious or otherwise, of writing or generating content that makes you feel a kinship, a resonance, a commonality with the writer whose basic purpose is to turn their relationship with you into a business --- in lieu of holding down a real job or practicing a profession. If you have any doubt, ask yourself what these people would be writing about if there were no links. No cash incentive. No candy at the end. 

I can almost guarantee you that the content would not, week after week, be about the thrill of making a photograph of a neon sign on a brightly lit street, speckled with strangers walking by,  and how the experience of emulating what real photographers were able to so 25, 50  or even 100 years ago with much more primitive gear but much more creative talent, fills current creators with pride and wonder. It wouldn't be. We rarely get that good stuff now. Mostly it's just another top ten list of crap you should buy. Or an article insinuating how much alike you and your favorite content creator are. (building that bond). 

Want a real thoughtful blog about actual photography and art instead of gear? Go read Andrew Molitor's site: http://photothunk.blogspot.com/ He's damn sure not trying to sell you anything or to introduce you to the cult of Leica or Sony or Canon.

When I first started this blog I was hawking my lighting books. I had links back to Amazon and while I rarely wrote about the books in the actual content I did include the links at the bottom of articles, hoping not for affiliate cash but hoping instead that people would buy my books. I'd get a royalty payment for each one sold. But after a while it seemed too mercenary. So I stopped. And now I write about what I want to write about and while I'd love it if the content was enjoyed and appreciated by you the end result is NEVER to sell you something. Never to pull the money out of your pocket. I think it's more honest this way. And it's a hell of a lot more fun for me.

I wrote this because I had a visceral, negative reaction to all the top ten lists I saw during all the last 10 or 15 holiday seasons. I can't believe it's profitable enough as a business to make much sense. Maybe for a tiny few but most bloggers and vloggers are working for subsistence fees. I wonder if they would be happier just having a normal job?

Please keep this in mind while reading your favorite blogs and call me out on it if I ever join the "shopkeeper" pack. 

My takeaway? I think writers and videographers should decide to just put up a paywall and see, once and for all, if their readers at large really value the content they create. It would be an interesting experiment. I'd surely pay money to read or view a site with outstanding content and no commercial interruptions. Just as Flickr does with their professional level membership. Makes sense. At least to me.

Happy Holidays! Don't buy anything on this site!!! 


Roland Tanglao said...

happy buy nothing on kirk's site holidays LOL! Amazing writing as always! MOAR please or not, "you do you" :-) i love that saying because it's so true!

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

fun reading here: http://photothunk.blogspot.com/2023/09/the-photo-grift.html

JC said...

On my website, I only endorse the Foretravel Motorcoach Presidential Series Realm FS605. At $1.3 million, I've never sold one, unless somebody's cheating on me, but then, I only need to sell one to get a whopping big commission. Makes me laugh to think about people scratching around for $10 each on camera commissions. /s

Dr Nick said...

I’ve seen a formerly sponsored pro who is now a phone and AI based photographer. Still doing workshops and travel photography.

Biro said...

Andrew Molitor is very good. But you can tell he’s an angry guy these days. Still, here’s the thing… I don’t blame him for being angry. The landscape is not a pretty one.

Robert Roaldi said...

I wonder if there's an audience for de-influencers.

Gary said...

There's something about those "top ten" or "best of (xyz equipment)" lists I don't understand: Is anyone going to be motivated to change camera systems after reading them? I, for example, am firmly ensconced in the Nikon system. (It could be any of them.) I've invested many dollars and hours into the system. No list published by a blogger will induce me to switch to something else. Or, since the top ten etc. lists seem to include cameras and lenses from all the big manufacturers, is the goal of the bloggers to induce you to buy the "best" and most expensive cameras/lenses in your chosen system?

adam said...

I relented and picked up one of those voigtlander 27mm for fuji, it's a really nice lens, it moves in and out when you focus which doesn't thrill me, I get bits of mildew on gear sometimes, better keep it dry I suppose, it's manual but has the electronic contacts so passes on all the data for lens corrections etc and as soon as I touch the focus tab the camera zooms in on the af area, it's pretty useful, I expect all cameras do that nowadays :)

Anonymous said...

>>"Now going online to actually read the very limited amount of real, original content..."
Thank you, Kirk, for creating real, original content.

I've given up reading listicles of all kinds. Some rando stranger writing down unverified lists of this or that is not journalism, nor is it real knowledge transfer.

This article should be reposted every year, pre-Black Friday!

Dr.Nick said...

Maybe if you’re work professionally or semi professionally and are into video. Not being into video, I wouldn’t know, but I imagine it’s now a bigger differentiator between systems than stills performance is.

Anonymous said...

Noteworthy also is that their recommendations are invariably for the brand new latest models sold by linked online retailers. Seldom for still available previous models. Certainly never for clean used gear.

Jeff said...

I wonder if the big camera companies are slowly dying, not withstanding the recent wave of upscale Zs and As. They definitely need to advertise and the influencers may be cheaper for them than ads in the photo magazines used to be.

As to the influencers and creators, there have always been people hustling to make some money. This is just the newest deal. They don't really care what they are selling just so you buy it. Maybe not so different from the old cigarette, car and stereo ads and TV ads for ginzo knives or super waterproof glue or whatever. It's all advertising and we still have to remember not to believe any of it.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Jeff, It's a bit like what happened to TV advertising when we went from only having three national networks to hundreds of cable channels. I was in advertising during this transition. It actually made advertising for national clients much harder and more expensive. As people drifted away from the big three there were now hundreds and hundreds of channels vying for viewers and while the per channel cost was lower the number of channels you had to buy to reach the same basic demographic was enormous. And you needed to create messaging that was different for each variation and each audience segment. The same has happened here. In the past I'm sure the big camera companies could buy ads in Modern Photography Magazine, Pop Photo Magazine and maybe Outdoor Photography Magazine and Photo District News and hit 95% of their target markets in basically four buys. Now they have to do co-op support and sales support across hundreds of thousands of channels. It's got to be a nightmare. Just policing compliance with standards has to take 100X the manpower. Not to mention sending out tons of demo gear and wrangling to get it back in a timely fashion; if at all.
No. My take is that effective advertising has become much more expensive and time consuming now. And the price of new gear factors in these differences. Ouch.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

....And with influencers the camera makers are limited in how much they can control the actual messaging across the spectrum. As some influencers defile the brand I'm certain brand managers are going ballistic or just imploding emotionally. Control of the message counts for a lot.