In the Sunday NYTimes there was a great article about Trent Reznor. Here’s a creative who is struggling not only with issues of feeling inadequate (who’d a-thunk!) but also how to deal with the expectation of free creative.
Among other things, I think he brings up one point that we often ignore when we look at monetizing creativity: the desire to have the work seen/heard by as many people as possible. That is, creatives make their art, in whatever form, not to hide it but rather to have it experienced by as many people as possible–money notwithstanding. There would be nothing better than for artists to be able to make their art and truly share it with the world without having to even think about making money.
Unfortunately, like the rest of us mere mortals, artists have to pay the bills too. Reznor discusses his own frustrations with this issue. He doesn’t like the fact that music is assumed to be (practically) free today, but he accepts that reality: “I don’t agree that it should be free, but it is free, and you can either accept it or you can put your head in the sand.”
This is something many of us need to learn to accept as well: in the new digital world, the general public expects many things to be free now–things that weren’t ever free before and things which, in being free, make making a living much more complicated for the makers. We need to find new ways to monetize art, especially photography.
As much as I hate to say it, I think that we need to accept that image use on websites (non-commercial sites and probably all blogs) is/is going to be free. Social media sites too, but we can’t do that until most of them change their terms & conditions so that the artwork can’t be used commercially (most social media sites have terrible rights-grabbing T&Cs). However, in doing this, making this use free, we need to figure out how to still make money. Why not offer the images on products as well? If a kid loves your image enough to put it on his blog, s/he might want to wear it too, and using sites like Spreadshirt.com you can put your work on shirts (that’s what I use for my tshirts).
Make books and sell them too. Start thinking more and more retail/consumer-oriented. These products may not be your main income line–especially if you shoot advertising–but they can fill in many of the gaps.