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Author Topic: Response to Essay on Micro Payment Stock Photos  (Read 30941 times)
quietjim
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« on: July 11, 2006, 09:22:35 PM »
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I read with interest the essay on micro payment stock photography. It makes in a short, articulare way the same argument professional photographer friends of mine make.

I come to this issue from a different perspective. I'm not a professional photographer, for one thing, I'm an amateur. Perhaps as importantly, I edit a small national magazine. Finally, I use lots of photographs from iStockPhoto.

The essay argues that iStockPhoto and similar micro payment sites damage  the future of photography by destroying the market for highly priced photos that in turn support the high cost of making those photos. The author suggests at the end that this may ultimately damage photography.

One effect of the internet has been to level some economic playing fields and lower the threshold for entrepeneurs to create businesses. Ebay is a good example. Twenty years ago, it took significant capital to start a resale shop; now it takes nothing but an online connection. In fact, thousands of people have created whole businesses around Ebay and become retail merchants.

Photography clearly does have a high threshold. There are all the costs the essay author points out. But equally clearly, today amateurs are paying those costs and making pictures. By amateur, I mean someone who does not make their main income from photography. The micro payment agencies are really an effect of these amateurs and a way for them to begin to make money off what they would do anyway.

Will this destroy photography? I think instead it may have the opposite effect. Think of all those people in the past who had the soul and eyes of a photographer but whose pictures were never seen because they could not get over the threshold set by "professional" photographers. The writer cites Ansel Adams but my sense of Adams was that he was in the service of his own esthetic vision, not the economic value of increasing the income from stock photos.

As an editor of a small magazine, the micro payment agencies are a godsend. There is no way we could afford to join high priced agencies let alone buy their pictures. These agencies allow us to find pictures to illustrate articles and often give new photographers their first showing in a national magazine.

I'm sure that stable boys, grooms and carriage drivers viewed with alarm the arrival of the automobile. But the auto gave the many the same opportunity to travel only a few previously enjoyed. The new economics of micro payment will certainly harm the fortunes of some. But they will also certainly let us see photographs we would never have seen otherwise. Isn't it possible that the next [fill in your favorite great photographer] is now selling through istockphoto?

[Just a disclosure note: I have no connection with istockphoto at all except that I buy from them. I use them here really as an emblem of the micro payment agencies]

Jim Eaton
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2006, 10:37:04 PM »
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*chomp*
Photography clearly does have a high threshold. There are all the costs the essay author points out. But equally clearly, today amateurs are paying those costs and making pictures. By amateur, I mean someone who does not make their main income from photography. The micro payment agencies are really an effect of these amateurs and a way for them to begin to make money off what they would do anyway.
*chomp*

The infinite monkeys idea is the driving force behind micro payment agencies.  If you think getting a $20 check each year is doing anything other than taking $20 from a professional photographer, you're nuts.

There are people who make a living at this but they have to approach it as a business, not as a side thing.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2006, 10:39:53 PM by DarkPenguin » Logged
dmf
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« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2006, 11:59:37 PM »
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While I can certainly understand why professional photographers are afraid of micro-payment, I think George Munday (along with others) is making a flawed assumption that's lies at the root of the fear.

The fear is that the price will drop by 100x, but the volume of sales will stay the same, resulting in a 100x drop in revenue.  George himself states this when he says "Since then it has sold 42 times making approximately $10.000 of which about 40% came to me. If it had been sold through a Micro Payment Agency it would probably have made a shade under $100.00"

How many people owned digital cameras when they cost $10k each?  How many own a digital camera now that you can get them for $100?  Think it's the same number of people?  No, the market generates orders of magnitude more revenue than it did when cameras were $10k "professional tools".  They reached a price point where, not just the dedicated professional, but even "the common man" could afford to buy one -- even if they didn't really need it in the first place.

I believe the same will happen with stock photos, thanks to the micro-payment agencies.  Let me give you my example:  I'm not with an advertising agency.  I'm not a designer.  I don't make my living selecting photographs for magazine spreads.  But, as part of my job I do a lot of PowerPoint presentations.  I like to illustrate these with photos instead of the ugly overused clip art that's available, and spending $10 to $20 doesn't bother me.  Would I do the same if a single photo cost me $1000 (or even $100)?  Absolutely not. Would I do it if I had to negotiate rights to use a photo, and guess at what I was going to do with the PowerPoint in future?  Absolutely not.

Micro payment sites have made photos accessible to me, the "common man", not a "professional".  Are there others like me?  Yes, and there will be more and more as the market matures -- orders of magnitude more than the buyers in design houses and national magazines.

But, step back and ask yourself, "today, without micro-payment sites, what would someone like this yahoo do?"  They'd do what any god fearing American would do: they'd do a google image search and steal, for their own use, the image they find.  But, they'd turn a blind eye to it, because there was no accessible, reasonable option.

Would easily accessible and easy to use micro-payment sites change this?  Ever heard of something called iTunes?  Before iTunes, people copied (illegally) most digital music, because it was the only way to gain access to the content.  iTunes changed all that by providing an accessible and reasonable option -- because people like to do the right thing... if it's easy.  It's increased overall industry revenue, not decreased it.

Will the much larger market created by micro-payment sites change the types of photographs people buy?  Probably.  And, that will be a windfall for some photographers and a terminal blow for others.

If I were in the shoes of a professional photographer, I wouldn't fear micro-payment sites.  I'd fear that they aren't easy enough to use, easy enough to find, easy enough to subscribe to, easy enough to search; I'd fear they didn't have gift certificates and other simple/novel forms of payment.  I'd fear everything which could marginalize their ability to grow the overall market.

What else would I do?  I'd be yelling at Google to buy/team-up with a micro-payment agency and integrate it into google image search ("If you liked this copyrighted image, here's 15 similar ones you can legally use for only $5").  And, if I really had my way, I'd give the micro-payment stock photo site an extra 50% of my potential revenue if they shared with me the frequency of all the search terms used on their site, so I could optimize the types of photos I produced to maximize my revenue.

In the end, change is hard.  Change is fearsome.  But, if you're open, thoughtful, and adaptable, change can be very good.  Oh, and one more thing I almost forgot: you can't stop change no matter how hard you try.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2006, 12:05:03 AM by dmf » Logged
DiaAzul
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« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2006, 03:58:32 AM »
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It's a very simple equation:

If you market yourself effectively, have good quality work that people want to buy and can differentiate yourself in the market then you can charge what you like.

If you are just providing the same undifferentiated images as everyone else then competition will drive the price to the lowest level possible.
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David Plummer    http://photo.tanzo.org/
ballin_marlin
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« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2006, 04:23:03 AM »
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how do i set a darn avatar on this board? ...i'll keep on traveling as always
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jbarkway
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« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2006, 06:28:03 AM »
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It's a very simple equation:

If you market yourself effectively, have good quality work that people want to buy and can differentiate yourself in the market then you can charge what you like.

If you are just providing the same undifferentiated images as everyone else then competition will drive the price to the lowest level possible.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=70437\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

I think that what's generally missed in all the fear that's put about is that, since the advent of the Internet, the market for images is now significantly larger than it was, say, ten years ago. For most people who wish to create an attractive and professional-looking website, the imagery sold through traditional agencies is overkill. What's the point of paying big bucks for the rights to to use a 50Mb image-file when that same beautifully lit and carefully-composed picture will need to be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and then compressed until the pips squeak so that it loads quickly? Surely, if all you need is a postage-stamp image then you should pay postage-stamp prices?

On the other side of the coin, there is a need for glossy, professionally-shot imagery to fill corporate brochures and other publications where a good impression needs to be made. This sort of imagery will, in the main, still be the preserve of the traditional stock agency - especially as pros can get permission to set up a shoot in locations an amateur couldn't hope to reach: inside an industrial facility, for example.

My own feeling, writing as somone who has a tiny selection of (admitedly rather mediocre) images with iStockPhoto which nevertheless bring in a constant dribble of income, is that there is room in the marketplace for both models. I cannot believe that Getty would have bought iStock if it felt that it's core business was under threat. The microstock sites have, in my view, largely created a market where none existed before. How is that taking sales away from professional photographers?
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Robert Roaldi
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« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2006, 07:26:12 AM »
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There's another point that may have been missed in the article. Like most other unregulated commodities, the price of images will find their own level. And photographers will have to decide at what price point they want to play. When they started selling Yugo's, the price of a Porsche did not drop.

The argument that is presented in the article points out the difference in the cost of production of a 50 mpix photo vs. its sale at $1-$2. This may turn out to be a false calculation. I sell 3-5 mpix photos on a couple of micro-payment sites. I shoot them mainly with inexpensive 2nd hand digicams but I also downsize some scanned slides as well. I would not offer a high resolution pic for a measly buck or two. Makes no sense. If others choose to do that, that is their business but I can't see them doing it for long. It's a lousy way to spend the day, turning out high resolution high cost photos for little return.

Every market finds its own suppliers and the micro-payment photo market will do the same. High-end photographers will not sell their high-rez photos in that market. Why would they? But the existence of that market will not take away business from them, imo.

As an example, a low budget tourist bureau or chamber of commerce that wants to print and distribute a travel folder/brochure in local venues, may need a 2 inch square photo of a rural barn. It's folly to think that they will spend $500 on a rights-managed high rez image. My guess is that they would never even consider that. (I know several similar low budget organizations.) The choice, for them, is either micro-stock, or to send the secretary's nephew out with a digicam.

I find it difficult to believe that this market will cut into high-end photographers' income, based on the selling prices of the images. They would never have made those sales in the first place, it seems to me.
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« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2006, 07:59:14 AM »
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how do i set a darn avatar on this board? ...i'll keep on traveling as always
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Top menu bar -> my controls

Left menu bar -> Personal Prefs -> Edit Avatar
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David Plummer    http://photo.tanzo.org/
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« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2006, 08:53:51 AM »
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What an interesting idea! Price a picture based on how many pixels it contains!! It is really silly to pay for the cost or skill to make an image. Thank god for digital. Now everyone can make pictures and for no more than the cost of a camera - most folks already have a computer and a copy of Photoshop Elements. Hell, the internet and a right click will get you all the images you need. Photographers are a dime a dozen.
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Robert Roaldi
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« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2006, 09:24:21 AM »
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What an interesting idea! Price a picture based on how many pixels it contains!! It is really silly to pay for the cost or skill to make an image. Thank god for digital. Now everyone can make pictures and for no more than the cost of a camera - most folks already have a computer and a copy of Photoshop Elements. Hell, the internet and a right click will get you all the images you need. Photographers are a dime a dozen.

Well, I see your point, but don't people do this already? 11x14's cost more than 8x10's, which cost more than 4x6's. The cost of acquiring/developing the skill, experience and vision is amortized over the sales of all one's work.

From a purchaser's point of view, there is no reason why the price of a photograph should have any relation to the cost of the equipment or the training that the photographer had to bear. The buyer doesn't care about the business costs of the photographer. It's not the buyer's responsibility to ensure that the photographer makes a profit.

Besides, not all photos are works of art. Some photos are just run-of-the-mill 2 inch square pics of rural barns that simply aren't worth more than a buck or two to anyone.
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« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2006, 10:26:40 AM »
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It is impossible to see the changes in the photo stock business isolated from business in general. The current changes are sadly caused by politics and the religion known as "the free market". We live in a world infected with the Global Commerce virus, where the big fish eat the smaller fish and make no apologies for it. The Economic climate of today is all about growth, super profits and satisfying shareholders. Gone are the days of the Mom and Pop stores where building long lasting customer relationships and giving service were important. Gone are the days when corporations were founded to take on large projects for the good of society. Maybe I paint a historic picture with to many bright flowers, but there used to be a time when moral and ethics meant something, and young people gave their seats to the elders on the bus. To quote Martin Sheen (representing the older generation) in the movie Wall Street: "What you see is a guy who never measured a man's success by the size of his WALLET!". The film, for those who haven’t seen it, must be one of the most accurate prophecies ever made.

I work as a banker (to pay for my cameras) in the World's 400 and something largest corporation. I know from the inside how the business world works, and have seen it change dramatically over the last 10 years. I also know for a fact that most people, even stockholders and the CEOs, would have loved things to be different, but it's a matter of being predator or prey. This is a development caused by blind market thinking which has taken the power away from the people and given it to the big players in the business world. So how can this go on? Simple, we are intoxicated by our own wealth. With the help of legalized slavery in third world countries we can afford a material wealth, never before experienced by so many people at once. Just think about all that can be acquired by an average individual these days, compared to just fifty years ago. Houses, cabins, cars, clothes, electronics, travels… The only thing we're missing is more time, to spend even more!

So how does this relate to stock photography? It should be obvious! There is some poetic justice in all of this. Just as most of us can afford high-end cameras and digital darkrooms to make professional grade images, the market seems to be disappearing before our very own eyes. We can't have the cake and eat it too. Does this cheapen the status of photography and possibly threaten it as "Art"? Yes, just as fast food is an insult to real food, samplers and synthesizers are and insult to real musicians, and IKEA is an insult to every furnituremaker that ever lived. Mass production equals less art and more consumption.

If there is to be any hope in saving the Art and craft of photography we need to see the bigger picture. What comes around goes around. One can't enjoy the cheap and abundant availability of merchandise in a supermarket and at the same time cry over the rise of micro-payment stock agencies. To save the Art and craft of photography we must change as individuals, parents, neighbors, members of society and the human race. If less truly is more, then we must support and value only what matters.
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« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2006, 10:33:55 AM »
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(moved over from About This Site)

Micropayment Agencies - A Force for Good or Evil ? Well it depends on your perspective.

I'm tempted to say "so what" about the decline of photography as a business. Why does photography have any particular right to survive as an independent business area ? When photography was far more specialist, and far harder to come by, then it simply had more inherent commercial value. Now, the world+dog has a digital camera, and even avoiding the infinite number of monkeys hypothesis, it cannot be avoided that quite a fair number of people produce pretty good photos. There's nothing wrong with George's 2 photos included in the article, for example, but I've certainly got similar ones, which just for once I'm going to be immodest enough to claim are certainly in the same league. The only difference is that I have not attempted (much) to market them, mainly because I'm not an entrepreneur. Both of these photos appear to have been taken ad-hoc, whilst doing something else (spending time with his family, on vacation). The overheads associated with them, apart from the camera, are essentially irrelevant as they were going to be incurred anyway. So one could argue that these are hobbyist photos too.

It is simply a case of supply & demand, and frustrating as it might be, there is no more point whingeing about this than there is moaning that the market for Zeppelin pilots has dried up.

As for the "art of photography" being a loser, well, frankly, that is rubbish. There is no reason why the artistic value of photography depends on the strength of the stock photography market. For a start, much (most) stock photography has no artistic motive. It is skillfull, sure, but artistic ? I would wager that Adams, Steigletz and Weston (especially Weston) would have carried on photographing even if they'd sold nothing. They were driven by art, not commerce, although there is no denying that Adams made a succesful business out of it - eventually. Personally, I don't give a damn about the "the status of photography in the eyes of the picture buying public" - for me, photography is a means of creative expression, and what the public thinks of this matters not a jot. Just because stock photography is dropping in price does not make me feel that the medium is becoming "cheap, something trashy, something disposable and something without value".

I'm sorry if professional photographers are going out of business, but no more so than I am, say, for film processing lab workers. There are an awful lot of average pro photographers around. Perhaps the market wil simply operate as markets do, and cut out the dross. At the stock end, the world+dog will provide a healthy supply of "good enough" photos, and will be happy to get a bit of money back to support their hobby. At the top end, truly talented photographers will still find a market, provided they are or know good businessmen. I don't think we have to look very far for a good example.
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« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2006, 10:37:01 AM »
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The infinite monkeys idea is the driving force behind micro payment agencies.  If you think getting a $20 check each year is doing anything other than taking $20 from a professional photographer, you're nuts.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=70426\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

So what ? Sorry, but so what ?  Would you write a letter in MS Word and print it out, or take it to a pro typist to type it and print it for you ?

Embarking on a business where there is no good business model is also nuts. Pro Photographers have no God-given right to be Pro Photographers.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2006, 10:46:49 AM by drm » Logged

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« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2006, 11:02:38 AM »
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The infinite monkeys idea is the driving force behind micro payment agencies. If you think getting a $20 check each year is doing anything other than taking $20 from a professional photographer, you're nuts.


You should not assume that people who contribute to micro-stock agencies are talentless or without skills. Everybody started somewhere. There may be many reasons why they choose that alternative.

Also, you should not assume that the existing professional has any greater right to earn that $20 than anyone else.
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« Reply #14 on: July 12, 2006, 11:03:04 AM »
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So what ? Sorry, but so what ?  Would you write a letter in MS Word and print it out, or take it to a pro typist to type it and print it for you ?

Embarking on a business where there is no good business model is also nuts. Pro Photographers have no God-given right to be Pro Photographers.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=70469\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

And I said that they had such a God-given right?

The op indicated that microstock agencies might actually help amatures get better.  I disagree.  The fact that you might be able to get 10 people to buy one of your vacation shots is likely to do little more for you than fund a Fresca.
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« Reply #15 on: July 12, 2006, 11:08:42 AM »
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And I said that they had such a God-given right?

Well you certainly implied as much, when you talked about "taking $20 from a professional photographer".

What's a Fresca ?
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« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2006, 11:09:33 AM »
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You should not assume that people who contribute to micro-stock agencies are talentless or without skills. Everybody started somewhere. There may be many reasons why they choose that alternative.

I think the ones that are successful at it are treating it like a business.  That kind of defines them as pros right there.

And I'm trying like crazy to see where I said anyone was talentless or without skills.

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Also, you should not assume that the existing professional has any greater right to earn that $20 than anyone else.

Where the &#$% did I say they had a greater right to earn it?  The only thing I see happening is money goes from a smaller group A to a much larger group B.  Make of that what you will.
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« Reply #17 on: July 12, 2006, 11:11:37 AM »
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Well you certainly implied as much, when you talked about "taking $20 from a professional photographer".

What's a Fresca ?
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=70473\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Read the words.

Fresca is a type of soda.
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Quentin
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« Reply #18 on: July 12, 2006, 11:27:42 AM »
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I have an interest in the microstock / micropayment stock sites for three reasons;  I contribute work to four of them, I run (under my Douglas Freer pen name) the leading forum where these sites are discussed at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/micropayment/ and I have been comissioned by a leading publisher to write a book about them.

Many, like the author of the article, dislike the micropayment model because they believe (in my view, wrongly) that it debases the value of photography.  But there is no moral dimension.   The micros are the inevitable outcome of a confluence of events: the internet and movement of image libraries on-line, broadband always-on internet access, digital cameras with no per image costs to the photographer, the royalty free sales model, and an explosion in image use for websites, DTP, community journals etc.  

Why should a routine image sell for $50, $100 or more set against this background?  You can download a top artist's music for a few cents a track, so why not the same for images?

There will always remain a demand for exceptional images at a high price, and for rights managed photpgraphy.  But a huge market exists for high quality, low cost photography that is better served by the microstocks than by traditional agencies who, in my personal opinion, are in some cases selling images inferior to, or no better than, those available from the micros.  Many of the images on the better micros are of very high quality.  Quite a few Jaguars among the Yugos  

Is it possible to make money from the micros?  Well my portfolio of around 450 images spead over 4 micros earns about $300 per month in total.  Not a fortune, but a decent per-image return compared to the average RF library.

The micros are part of a digital revolution that is unavoidable and whose effects have probably only just begun to be felt - for better or for worse.

Quentin
« Last Edit: July 12, 2006, 11:32:53 AM by Quentin » Logged

Quentin Bargate, ARPS, Author, photographer entrepreneur and senior partner of Bargate Murray, Law Firm of the Year 2013
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« Reply #19 on: July 12, 2006, 11:38:12 AM »
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And I'm trying like crazy to see where I said anyone was talentless or without skills.

It was your use of the term "monkeys". It implies a low opinion. Sorry if you didn't mean it that way, but that's the way it came across to me. Unfortunate choice of words.

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Where the &#$% did I say they had a greater right to earn it? The only thing I see happening is money goes from a smaller group A to a much larger group B. Make of that what you will.

Again, the choice of words implied it. When you write that someone conrtibuting to micro-stock is taking $20 away from the pros, it implies that you think it "belongs" to the pros in the first place. Sorry if I misinterpreted.
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