Trackside Tuesday: The Content Economy

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A question I pose to my photographer friends: why should I go to your site on a regular basis? For most of the photographers I work with, their websites are more like digital portfolios — selections of their best work, maybe a couple lines of prose to art things up, and a contact button. If they’re really savvy, maybe there are password-protected customer galleries available too…probably being hosted on SmugMug or some other prosumer service.

I get why that is the case, this is the online version of the physical portfolios that photographers used to carry around (some still do) to peddle their wares to editors and fans on race day. Maybe a few years ago, that is the kind of website I would have made as well. Show off my work, get my name out there, I’m starving damn it, buy my prints! Ah, but alas that’s not the kind of website that thrives in the cutthroat digital landscape — we want more, and for free.

As a publisher, I’m constantly juggling the interests of the photographers I work with with the needs and expectations of my readers. I want 10,000-pixel-wide shots that anyone can download without a watermark; that is after all what I would want if I was a reader of Asphalt & Rubber, and that is standard I use when trying to make decisions about this site. “Would I want to read this?” is a common question I ask myself.

For photographers, the game has traditionally been the opposite online. In a world of right-click-save-as, the opportunity for someone to snatch a high-resolution photo for just about any purpose is an easy one. There’s not much that can be done to stop it — for every trick, there’s a workaround. A for every click, money is being taken off the table. They only way to make sure your photo isn’t stolen when publishing online, is not to publish it, and even then…scanners.

I feel the plight for my photographer friends, and perhaps if my own shots were any good, I’d feel just as defensive about my hard work swirling around the interwebs with nary a check coming to my inbox. The game is brutal, and by the time you’ve finally “made it” as a bona fide pro-shooter, you’re on the backs of your feet trying to protect what you’ve worked so hard to earn.

Over the course of our many adventures, I’ve had the fortunate ability to debate these ideas with my good friend and colleague Scott Jones — maybe you’ve heard of him.

I absolutely love Scott’s work, he might be one of the most technically gifted photographers in the MotoGP paddock, and he has an amazing ability to pick-up on the subtleties of situations that are happening in a fraction of a second. I love the fact that I can look his work a dozen times, and each time come away seeing something I didn’t pickup on before. For as much of a bromance that we have brewing, I have however never been much of a fan of his website.

I think we were in Austin last year when I finally asked him, “why should I go to your website on a regular basis?” For the thousands of superb photos that Scott has in his archives, for all the great content that he is creating each race weekend, there is little incentive for me as a MotoGP enthusiast to make Photo.GP (his motorsport portfolio site) a daily destination, and that’s because it does nothing for me as a consumer in the content economy.

There is this idea that the internet is content-driven, a theory which is perhaps why professional photographers bang their head against the wall every work day. The traditional philosophy that photographers can run their business online like they used to do in the brick-and-mortar days is just not a sustainable one —  the proof is in the paychecks.

But what if sites like Photo.GP were more like Asphalt & Rubber, a source for daily moto-escapism? I know that most of our diehard readers are visiting A&R while at work, sneaking a story or two each day. Others come to our site more causally, usually by links found on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or on various motorcycle forums. Our business model is simple, we try and provide the most relevant motorcycle industry stories in a digestible and sharable format. Heck, that’s pretty much the internet business model in a nutshell, right?

Well since our conversation last year, that’s the same idea that Scott has been working on for the past I-don’t-know-how-many months for Photo.GP – a daily stop for motorcycle racing enthusiasts who want a daily dose of Scott’s excellent work. It’s a pretty bold move (and probably all my fault if it doesn’t work out), and I don’t think anyone who sells photos for a living comes to this point lightly.

The benefit is a simple one though. Instead of fighting enthusiasts who “borrow” Scott’s work and share it on social media, Photo.GP has taken on a form that embraces sharing — “For the Love of God Share This Photo!” is the new battle cry, as it finally allows Scott to benefit financially from what readers were already doing, and in fact makes it easier for them to do so.

In the same way that iTunes gave the music industry a new revenue stream, while simultaneously fending off music piracy with an easier legal option, we too hope that Photo.GP will represent a new model for photographers in motorsport to not only promote their work, but make also line their pockets with ad-driven revenue, which means it’s easier for them to afford showing up on race day.

The general concept here is nothing new (another inspiration for Scott’s new site), I will be the first to admit that, yet it’s surprisingly unheard of in the two-wheeled space. I don’t know why that is, but I hope for the sake of everyone who enjoys the magnificent work that so many of these lens-swinging artists create, that it becomes the norm. I’d love to see my RSS feed full fantastic two-wheeled photography.

Since Scott is too modest to plug his relaunched website (today is its grand re-opening), I’ll do it for him instead. If you haven’t done so already, head on over to Photo.GP and check things out. Let Scott know what you think of his hard work, and how to make it better. Follow him on RSS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ too — we need all the moto-distractions we can get, right?

Photo: © 2014 Scott Jones / Photo.GP – All Rights Reserved