I see a lot of hate online for NFT photography. Many people in the photography community see it as a fad, a waste of time, and a cult. The NFT market skyrocketed into the mainstream in the past year, and photography is one section that has led to people having great success. It’s not perfect, but it does seem to be a new avenue for photographers to earn money. So, why all the hate?
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Why Do People Dislike NFT Photography?
From what I have seen online, the reasons for being against NFT photography differ from person to person, although there are some trends.
First, there are the diehard print purists: those who think you can only properly consume photography through a physical print. They don’t see a good reason to invest in something that only exists on the internet and can never be held and felt. I get that. I would always prefer a print over digital code. But the issue here isn’t with the photographer; it’s the consumer. And if we’re to live in a (relatively) free market, then why should we complain if the demand is there? This brings us to the next point: demand.
When people see headlines where photographers have made $200,000 from their NFT photography collection, they instantly think, “I want a slice of that pie.” The same is true when it becomes more and more trendy, and the community starts to build. So, what happens? The supply of photography NFT’s in the space begins to outweigh the demand.
In an interview with Business Insider, Ethereum co-founder (the cryptocurrency commonly used to buy NFTs) said the market had become saturated due to its mainstream spotlight. There are millions of NFTs on the marketplace; many of them just sit there, waiting to be collected. Very few photographers actually see the astronomical money made by the privileged few. But that doesn’t mean they earn nothing at all.
I would argue this is no different than print photography. From experience and constant conversations with members of the photography community, I know very few photographers make a decent income from selling prints. Many offer the product, they advertise it on their website, but seldom get huge sales. Instead, it tends to be a nice side income.
One of the best things to happen to photographers was “print on demand” services. This removed the upfront costs of printing your work with the hope of spinning a profit on sales. Regarding a business perspective, this is one area where prints outdo NFTs. It costs money to create (mint is the official term) an NFT, and with no guarantee of selling it, it means photographers risk a decent chunk of cash (NFTs can usually cost a few hundred dollars to mint). Should NFT photography continue, it would certainly benefit from a “mint on demand” model similar to the print model.
Is NFT Photography a Scam?
Another problem some have is that they feel NFT photography is a scam. Photographers are selling nothing but numbers on a screen. While I disagree that it’s a scam, there’s some truth to what people are saying. Depending on the agreement, most people who buy NFT photographs don’t own the art, but rather a unique token on the blockchain. This is vastly different than owning a print (or a photo book).
Why would someone buy a unique token? There are a couple of core reasons. Firstly, some consumers genuinely find the NFT marketplace cool and enjoy owning something that reflects our current times. Secondly, people see themselves more as collectors than consumers. They buy an NFT with the hope it will appreciate in value. Many variables contribute to an NFT growing in value, but that’s the reality with any collectible item. The cynical group feels people investing in NFT photography are being sold a pipe dream and wasting their money. Again, that doesn’t make it a scam, even if some blind hope contributes to a sale.
NFT Photography and the Environment
The last concern I read about is the impact NFTs are having on the environment. I’ll make it clear that I’m far from an expert on this topic, so I’m open to listen to anyone who feels humanity is doing something that negatively impacts our planet.
The general concern tends to be related to the amount of energy required to mint an NFT. An article in Wired read that the minting of NFTs and the Etherium used “uses energy on the scale of a small country.” Green folks are arguing NFTs are burning our planet and contributing to the disruption of its ecosystem. Apparently, the next generation of Etherum (eth 2.0) will come with better energy efficiency. Overall, the data seems pretty raw in this section, and it’s unclear what the facts are; we’ll have to monitor it over the long term if NFT photography is here to stay. But I do think it’s a valid concern and something we should continue to discuss.
I have been in the photo industry long enough to grasp the complaints people make. The most common one is the lack of money photographers can earn compared to 10 to 15 years ago. Brands are paying less, photographers give away their photos for free, and the market is full of photographers willing to work for less. With that in mind, if there’s ever an opportunity for photographers to expand their income, we should welcome it with open arms. Saying you “hate NFT photography” is essentially saying you hate photographers potentially getting paid. You can’t complain about the lack of money in the industry and, when a new revenue stream arrives, only spew hate. It’s contradicting, and it also feels like gatekeeping – “We want more money but only via the way we see fit.”
More so, you can’t complain about digital art when, for over a decade now, all of us have put our images online for digital consumption. All that’s happening now is photographers are finding new ways to monetize the way we predominately consume photography. What’s the problem with that?
Times are changing, and there’s nothing we can do about that. While we should aim to uphold the value of the physical print, we shouldn’t stamp on an idea that’s different from what we like. Are NFTs the fast-track to riches? No. But they’re still their infancy and, in time, NFTs could easily be a way for photographers to add consistent revenue to their business. So, don’t hate; come with an open mind. Get on the NFT train or risk being left behind.