Revolutionary Measures

The end of the creative professions?

The industrial revolution mechanised previously craft-based activities, and since then machines have become more and more involved in creating the world around us. But until a few years ago, this mechanisation didn’t affect those of us in the creative industries – after all, our imagination and skills couldn’t be replicated by a machine.

Best Wedding Photography Picture about Profess...

The internet has changed all of that. In some cases it has allowed computers to take on tasks that were previously only done by humans, by applying artificial intelligence and machine learning and breaking them into discrete tasks. You can now get computer-written journalism, which use algorithms to bring together data and organise it into a rudimentary article. In the US, stories about minor earthquake reports are now routinely created and published, based on information supplied by the US Geological Survey. It isn’t much of a stretch to see short sports reports written based on player data and profiles, avoiding the need to send a reporter out to lower league matches.

However the biggest threat or opportunity to the creative industries is that the internet and digital technology has broken down the barriers around previously specialist occupations. Take photography. In the past only professional photographers could afford the equipment needed to create (and manually develop) arresting images. Now, similar levels of performance are available in a smartphone, and PhotoShop can do the rest. News stories frequently use amateur shots from bystanders who happened to be in the right place at the right time, adding extra depth to articles. Design and PR are both equally affected. Anyone can set up as a web designer or copywriter, without necessarily needing to undergo lengthy training.

In many ways this is a good thing – the internet has democratised creative industries that were previously off limits to most of us and enables more people to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. It uncovers real talents who never previously would have been spotted, whether that is musicians on YouTube or specialist bloggers with a passion for their subject. But what it also does is amateurise previously professional occupations. How can a portrait photographer compete on cost with a bloke and an iPhone? Again, a copywriter on eLance charges much less than a professional. And the overall effect is that there is more stuff out there (words, pictures, videos of cute cats), but quality is far more hit or miss.

Before people start complaining, as someone that makes a living through PR and copywriting I obviously do have a vested interest here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t welcome more competition and the chance for more people to be creative. Far from it. However businesses need to understand that you get what you pay for – in the same way that fixing your car yourself is inherently riskier than going to a garage (unless you are a mechanic), working with amateurs opens you up to potential issues. Do they have insurance if something goes wrong, do they understand copyright, are they using legal images on your new website? There are 101 questions that you need to be sure of, before handing over your money. And it can be pretty obvious when a website has been put together by the managing director’s teenage son or daughter. Businesses therefore need to strike a balance between democratisation and working with amateurs if they are to stand out in an increasingly crowded global market.

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April 16, 2014 - Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Good insights there Chris. I just read an article about the Daily Mirror that used a photo, taken by the excellent Lauren Rosenbaum in November 2009, shared on a US website (Flickr), sold by an American photo agency (Getty Images), used to illustrate poverty in Britain in 2014. That’s a different kind of creativity but shows what a confused world we live in.
    I’m sure most people have experienced the situation where a fully qualified and experienced person has delivered disappointing or uninspired results (thinking of those awful family portrait high street photographers, wedding photographers and bland copywriters) so I think, on balance, although we have to trawl through more mediocrity, the opportunity to discover real talent – with or without training and qualifications – is a benefit.
    As ever, it is the “getting know” that makes the difference and the willingness of a creative to embrace the dirty world of self promotion and marketing (and dare I say it? PR).
    One of my oldest Twitter friends, the talented but irascible @IanTalbot, a fine art photographer with a 30 year history of shooting for Vogue and other high end publications has very publicly come to terms with his wife’s iPhone photography and her rise to fame in her own right @DesTalbot. What they have both done is embrace social networks to promote their work.
    Similarly, the work of cartoonist Hugh MacLeod @GapingVoidArt is promoted by big names in the social media goldfish bowl and he has created a niche in the business world and now has his designs on business cards at Moo.com
    Do too many creatives see this as selling out and prefer obscurity and what they regard as integrity?

    Comment by AnnHawkins | April 16, 2014 | Reply

    • Thanks Ann – yes, I saw the Mirror story, which shows how easy it is for content to spread/be used. At least the Mirror paid for the image, which isn’t always the case when newspapers reproduce photos they find on the web!

      I agree that opening up the creative industries to talent is a wake-up call to the dull and self-obsessed and social media is a very levelling place. You are judged on what you can do, rather than past reputation. My only concern is that those buying design/PR/copywriting will be suckered into paying for poor results from amateurs as they see it as cheaper than going to a professional. It isn’t that you necessarily get what you pay for, but sometimes things are too cheap for a reason!

      Comment by Chris Measures | April 16, 2014 | Reply

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