Building a Photographic Community During Tough Times

Dear Fellow Photographers:

An important part of our idea in launching our live photography webinar series while sheltering in place (today is Day 50 since we’ve been locked down, by the way) is to help create photographic community. In the past, with my webinar recordings, we’ve given access to the recordings to folks who paid for the live webinar, and otherwise sold access to the recordings. In these difficult times, we decided to do it differently: In addition to charging a modest fee for some, but not all, of the live webinars ($19.95), we’d make the recordings available to all for free (with a time delay) on my YouTube channel

It’s not clear that this is the world’s best business strategy, to put it mildly. Of course, we could make more money if we charged for the recordings as well as the live webinars—and, at some point in the future, we might decide to do so again.

Both Phyllis and I feel strongly that the right thing to do right now in these incredibly difficult times, when so many people are suffering financially and otherwise, is to build a sense of photographic community so we don’t all feel so isolated. We do need to charge something to defray all the costs involved, which are considerable, while we shelter in place. We want the live webinars to build community, and we don’t want anyone ultimately denied access to at least the recordings over money. Perhaps someone is isolated, or a first responder, and our webinar recordings help add a little creativity to their lives.

In this context, I find myself beyond shocked to have recently received this email: “I feel cheated and want my money back. I have paid  59.85 Dollars for three Webinars. I do not accept that I had to pay money for webinars that are now free on YouTube.”

Of course, we refunded the money (as we always will to anyone who doesn’t feel that they have got their money’s worth). But, if you think about the complaint, this person seems upset (beyond upset, “cheated”) that others might get “for free” something they paid for. It’s not entirely a fair complaint: a live webinar is not just a recording on YouTube watched solo. Among other things, a live webinar is a living attempt to create contact and community among the participants.

I think Phyllis put this very well in her response: 

I am sorry you feel this way. This is, of course, your choice whether to attend live webinars or just watch a recording.

I have refunded your payments using PayPal which is the way you originally paid.

I know I probably won’t change your mind about this but, the pros and cons of the way we are doing webinars are as follows:

Pros:

– You get to see what Harold is doing and ask questions in real time.

– You get to support a living artist who has 4 kids and bills to pay while we shelter in place (today is day 50 for us)

– Economic times are tough here in the US: We are putting the webinars up on YouTube in a reasonably timely way (depending on our schedule) for those who cannot afford to attend a paid webinar right now. We feel we are helping these people who are alone or cannot have access to creative content.

– You get to join a live community of photographers, instead of being alone watching a YouTube video

– You get to be one of the first to see these particular webinars

– You get to email us and ask questions.

Cons:

– You see a recorded webinar (not live)

– You have to wait for us to get it up on YouTube when we can

– You don’t get to ask questions

– You are on your own. Bye bye photographic community.

Whatever. It’s your choice. You have been refunded. You could have been a bit nicer about the email you sent.

Times are tough, people are stressed. We’ll let it go.

I was perhaps a little terser:

[W]e have refunded your fee …. A polite request would have sufficed, without the idea that you are somehow being cheated.

Regarding your email, I strongly feel this is not a time to be selfish. The modest ($19.95) that we are asking per webinar helps us put them on, otherwise we would not be able to do so. Quite apart from our time, there are equipment costs, software licensing fees, and so on.

Our decision to offer the recordings for free on YouTube (rather than as in the past allowing access to paid viewers, then making some additional money by charging others for access) was based on the idea that in these times we wanted everyone to be able to have as much as access as possible without money being a barrier.

That said, there are potential benefits to paid viewers including timeliness (we get to posting recordings, which is time consuming, when we can), the ability to participate in a live event (think of it as a performance such as a concert), you can ask questions in real time, and in the webinars in the series coming up the opportunity for personal feedback and display of your work.

Your sense of feeling “cheated” is simply outrageous considering today’s world (what, because others might get to enjoy some of what you’ve had without paying a modest fee?). Please don’t bother replying, there is nothing you could say except “I’m sorry” that would interest me.

I bring this issue to your attention in detail rather than “letting sleeping dogs lie” because if one person feels this way about our posting the recordings for free, perhaps others do as well. So I wanted to clear the air, and explain why we are posting the recordings for free. As I’ve noted, this is our policy for now, it is not necessarily our policy for all times. We want to help right now as best we can, be as inclusive as we can, and build community. We truly believe that we are all in this together.

What do you think? Does our decision make sense? 

That’s all for now, thanks!

Harold & Phyllis

Bench © Harold Davis

Bench © Harold Davis

This entry was posted in Photography.

5 Comments

  1. Martin Marchyshyn May 1, 2020 at 4:57 pm #

    I guess I figured what your “business model” was going to be going in, yet I still signed up for those seminars I was interested in, and could afford to take. And I am not asking for a refund.

    Given that I am retired and on a very modest fixed income, this is one time that I am in a position to share what I have with those who are in less fortunate circumstances … I don’t have an very high income, but the good news is that apparently I can’t be laid off or fired from my career as a retiree.

    So Harold and Phyllis, please keep up the good work. I will continue to willingly share when I am able to, and not take the “me first and only, be damn if I’ll help anyone else” attitude that seems so prevalent in America today.

  2. Harold Davis May 1, 2020 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks martin for the support!

  3. Chris Ong May 2, 2020 at 3:10 am #

    I have learnt so much on photographing flowers from your videos (that I was not able to figure out from your books which I bought). I would have taken your webinars if I’m not in a time zone which requires me to wake up 3 am to join the lessons. In my opinion, both you and Phyllis have been very generous with your times and efforts. Fees charged are very modest and couldn’t be that profitable. Please keep up the great work that you’re doing to benefit those students that are interested in your techniques. Thank you.

  4. Jim Ruppel May 2, 2020 at 7:46 am #

    Harold and Phyllis
    Know that there will always be those of us who appreciate your generosity of time and spirit. I can only imagine what it take to produce those videos.
    Thanks.

  5. Harold Davis May 2, 2020 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks everyone for the wonderful outpouring of support on this issue. Phyllis and I really appreciate it, it means the world to us.

    I have been asked by several people whether they can just send us some money to help defray expenses. If this is something that might interest you, can I ask instead that you contribute what you would have sent to me to help with the Coronavirus? Can I suggest in this regard Nick Kristof’s C-19 Impact Initiative, found on the internet at https://kristofc19impactinitiative.org/

    Thanks again for all the outpouring of support and thanks, it really does mean the world to us.

    Harold & Phyllis

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