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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Pinterest Conundrum

Photographers struggle to determine whether Pinterest is a marketing savior or a copyright nightmare

It's hard to argue the reality that we're living in Facebook's world, where sharing and openness are valued above all else. Lamenting that fact won't change it, and with young photographers playing by new rules, the pressure is great for established photographers who are often more sensitive to copyright concerns. They must decide whether to stand on the sidelines or play a game in which the rules seem fundamentally unfair.

Zach Prez is a web expert who advises photographers with various online tactics to grow their businesses, and he says that sharing photos online is simply the cost of doing business in the 21st century. It's a choice: Photographers either can embrace services such as Pinterest for marketing or consider any unlicensed sharing to be a direct threat to the value of their work—and to photography, in general.

"There are a lot of people questioning the ethics of pinning," Prez says. "I'm not concerned about these issues and don't want my business to fall behind when everyone else continues to pin, pin, pin. As a web marketer, I tend to let the Internet dictate the rules as a free-market economy would. If there's a legal issue with Pinterest, then Pinterest will be brought down as a result. Until then, quality content builds reputation and trust, which will pay you back in new business later.

"Wedding and portrait photographers will see the bigger gains from Pinterest than editorial or commercial photographers because Pinterest users seek inspiration and ideas, not necessarily photos," says Prez. "Brides are active on Pinterest when planning weddings, as are mothers who are planning family activities, so boards relating to weddings and families will gain more traction than stories about general photography or news that has other outlets better suited toward delivering that content."

Allen Murabayashi, chairman of PhotoShelter and photography marketing expert, cites the commoditization of photographs as the reason why Pinterest isn't high on his list of recommended tools. Copyright issues aside, he believes there are better ways to market photography.

"I continue to be a bit skeptical about the utility of Pinterest to help photographers build their businesses, for a few reasons," Murabayashi says. "For one, the photo is the product. Retailers have found a lot of success on Pinterest because they use photos as a depiction of their product. An attractive photo of shoes might encourage a user to click through to a retail site and spur a purchase. But for photographers, the photo is the product. Does repinning the photo and increasing eyeballs generate demand? Unless you're looking for a photographer
[versus a product], I'm not convinced seeing a photo in the context of a virtual pinboard is beneficial.""

It may work for some photographers, Murabayashi says, but on the whole, he hasn't found the meaningful success stories he's looking for.

"Outlier success is a terrible barometer for the average photographer," he says. "The wedding photographers I've spoken to aren't using Pinterest for presales marketing, but rather as a mood board after a contract is signed. Other photographers are trying to establish themselves as 'taste makers' through their Pinterest curation, but I'd like to see some hard evidence that this has led to increased sales. I just haven't seen it.


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