8 Is the Internet for Photographers?
Rohn Engh Speaks Out
Jim Pickerell Responds
Editor's Note: In his monthly newsletter Photo Stock Notes, Rohn Engh
did an interview with himself in question and answer format about the future
of the Internet. We have reprinted this with permission and I have followed it with
comments. Rohn Engh's PhotoSource International has been supplying information to
stock photographers for more than two decades and has a wide following.
His opinions are widely accepted and respected by many stock photographers.
Q.: Why are you "down" on the Internet?
A.: I'm not "down" on the Internet. It's an excellent resource
for academicians, students, scientists, and lonely hearts. For stock photographers,
however, in its current state it's a non-effective, inefficient tool. The
Internet for stock photographers makes wasting time easier. And time is
one commodity most of us don't have a lot of.
Q.: Why are stock photographers being attracted to the Internet?
A.: Clever marketeers are making us all feel inadequate if we don't
have an Internet address on our business card. But by jumping on the bandwagon,
we lose not only time but money. The Internet continues to put revenue in
the hands of marketeers and take money out of the pockets of stock photographers
for value not received. We can't afford this.
Q.: And the marketeers, what don't you like about them?
A.: Promises, promises, promises. Vaporware. Remember when advertisers
used to tell us about the "kitchen of the future" where electronics
would eliminate the need for a cook? Or how 'bout the "imminent proliferation"
of the video phone (it was invented back in the 40's, by the way.) It's
essentially all fantasy. Let's face it, photobuyers don't want to look at
Internet photos, let alone download them. Who's kidding who?
Q.: But we've all read that the Internet is growing and growing.
A.: Yes, and so did CB's and 8-Track tapes. A study last fall shows
that while many people are coming on the
Internet, just as many people are dropping off. This reminds me of the fable
where the sheep are following the sheep in front of them, with the front
guys falling off a cliff.
Q.: You mean we are going to see the Internet go stale?
A.: Sure. People don't hang around if there's no action. For photographers,
soon it'll be called the InertiaNet.
Q.: Is there anything good about the Internet?
A.: I'm a great supporter of electronic connectivity and digital
photography, and I'm actually sweet on the Internet because it is showing
us all the errors we can make, and accelerating our knowledge of the directions
we ought to take for successful cyberspace transmission of photos.
Q.: How can the Internet improve?
A.: Security. Our photos are like credit cards - just a bunch of
digits (0's and 1's). If you put them on a bulletin board, which the Internet
is, you invite misfortune.
"It'll soon be called the InertiaNet...."
Q.: But don't banks transfer credit card numbers?
A.: Yes, in fact we use such a system here at PhotoSource International.
The transfer of credit card numbers goes through the Federal Reserve System.
The software is called Telemony.
Q.: Then why can't the Internet do the same thing?
A.: Because the Internet is a public medium and not accountable to
anyone. The Federal Reserve system is proprietary and therefore accountable.
When you transfer cash or credit cards through the Federal Reserve system,
you don't put it out into cyberspace where any amateur hacker could decipher
Q.: Are you on the Internet?
A.: Yes, as an Information Provider, not as a photographer. In fact,
we have two internet accounts. I have an advantage, in that I've been at
the electronic transfer of information a long time. In 1983, we became the
first photography service in cyberspace (NewsNet). Then we put our services
on GEnie (General Electric), CompuServe, and eventually the Internet. Our
printer spins off a half inch of E-Mail every morning. So I should be a
good barometer of stock photography activity on the Internet. New voices,
new services appear and then fade. It's a revolving door, a moving parade.
Names that I used to see and read in the "chat" columns are no
Q.: But aren't you putting yourself out of business by being negative
about the Internet?
A.: I'm not against the Internet, I'm for the success of our member
stock photographers. I encourage our members to come on-line and see what's
going on, and to see what they're missing. I find about 90% are not interested
in chatting with other photographers. Also, about the same percent are not
interested in receiving our marketletters on-line. They'd rather receive
them by FAX or mail.
Q.: But can't they receive the marketletters through the Internet
quicker than fax or U.S. Mail?
A.: And cheaper, too. But we are talking human nature here. We like
to get our information passively. "I heard on the radio...". "I
saw on TV...". How often will we hear someone say, "I read on
the Internet...?" Turning on a computer, learning new software, and
accessing information on a screen is contrary to the way (99%) people run
their lives. Most stock photographers would like to receive photo listings
on a fax or in an envelope, even though they own a computer. I've been watching
this phenomenon since 1983.
Q.: Would you advise a stock photographer to sign up for an Internet
A.: Yes, to personally check it out. Best is to find a local on-line
company that will let you test drive their service for a free month. Or,
if you are computer literate, you can access our Bulletin Board for a free
trial. (For the phone or E-Mail address, see Bill Hopkins' On-Line column
in each issue of PhotoStockNotes.)
Q.: So what will replace the Internet once it becomes the InertiaNet?
A.: The Internet will continue to be a democratic Town Hall type
of meeting place for scholars, researchers, teachers, and photographers
who want to express their opinions. It will serve the same purpose as a
soap box on Hyde Park corner, a bumper sticker in Oregon, or a T-Shirt in
Texas. Right now, credit card commerce on the Internet is out, because it's
wishful thinking to believe we can let our credit cards, private messages,
and photos be exposed to the public without inviting some mischief. Eventually,
though, the Internet will have systems to protect (by federal law) commerce
and trade for stock photographers, on private networks similar to the Federal
Q.: Once this "new Internet" is in place, will it be safe
for photobuyers and photographers to begin trade and traffic?
A.: Yes, and as we look back, we will say "Thank You" to
all the pioneers of the early Internet (if they are still in business) who
blazed the trail for us.
Rohn Engh is Director of PhotoSource International and Publisher of PhotoStockNotes.
(Pine Lake Farm, Osceola, WI 54020 (715) 248-3800; 1-800-624-0266 fax: (715)
248-7394 Internet: psi1@IX.netcom.com
Feedback: Jim Pickerell - response
I agree with Rohn Engh that the Internet can be very seductive and a time
waster if the photographer does not carefully manage his time on-line.
However, I think spending some time looking at what the Net has to offer
provides some important value NOW.
Every photographer who thinks he or she is going to be selling pictures
five or six years from now should begin the education process by getting
on the web now.