Monday, March 29, 2010

For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path

New York Times article "For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path" (March 30th, 2010) offers two quotes without rebuttal that deserve economic and statistical comment, and perhaps correction. The article describes how professional photographers have been hurt by declining demand due to the decline of printed material and an increase in supply from amateur photographers. It suggests first that amateur photographers have prices that are "too low," and second offers a comment that is true of any specific amateur but not of the aggregate.

“People that don’t have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don’t feel the need to charge a reasonable rate,” Mr. Eich said.

Corrections would suggest that most people are willing to pay to take pictures--pay in both their time and the money they spend on inputs (from the camera to developing film or other camera accessories. It is not beyond reason that some people would be willing to pay to have their pictures used. Were this the case, Corrections doesn't see why this is not a reasonable rate. For example, when the price of aluminium is very low, then one has to pay people (garbage men) to take one's aluminium cans away. When the price of aluminium is very high, individuals (recyclers) are willing to pay to take one's cans away. Corrections conjectures that there is no "reasonable price" for disposal of one's cans, just as there is no "reasonable price" for a picture.

Second, the Times offers a quote that concerns an individual photographer compared to a professional that is a fallacious argument.

“Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?”

This may be true. However, if we have, at any given event, 1000 amateur photographers for one professional, then we might see the professional photographer beating the vast majority of those individuals. It is difficult for an amateur to beat the photographer once out of every hundred. However, because we sample from 1000 amateurs each time, even though any one is beaten by a professional, we expect ten total to have their pictures purchased over the professional's. It is wrong to compare one amateur to one professional--it would be more proper to compare the full alternatives--buy the best professional or the best amateur, and recognize we sample from the "amateur" bin more often.

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