Digital Railroad in trouble?

Apparently Digital Railroad, another storage provider of the digital photography market is in trouble. No surprise again, because the company never supported a free-market model for photographers and buyers. We blogged about that topic many times, and recently Dan Heller adds to that fundamental thinking (even though I remain in disagreement with the artificial classification of stock photography).

Since its founding, Digital Railroad primarily supported supply side photographic capabilities, which if not seamlessly connected to the buy-side provides really nothing more than storage space and website make-up for photographers. A nice service, but similar services from Smugmug or Photobucket already exist to do just that. All these technologies fail to solve the most pressing issue for every commercial photographer: sell, sell, sell.

Photographers are not empowered by a storage service or nice looking web pages, they are empowered when they sell. Photography is an expensive job and if it does not yield $70,000 in yearly revenues (based on 2006 PDA numbers), you will not be able to make a living from it. We have yet to find a true marketplace that connects any seller with any buyer, using free-market principles that truly empowers photographers.

Free-markets are more than a fashion statement or a label you suddenly slap on the website. The implications of free-market principles (as listed in this blog) change a company, its execution and its funding strategy to the core. The devil is in the detail.

Digital Railroad’s and Photoshelter’s demise are examples of why investing in technology, without macro-economic impact – no longer works. The 150-year old photography marketplace, with the introduction of digital photography and the internet, has moved from a premium market model (with many walled gardens) to a free-market model.

Akin to Ratatouille (the movie), where a five-star chef, Anton Gusteau,declares that “Anyone Can Cook”, the photography market and its technology providers need to get used to the fact that in this new age, “rats” will take and purchase great photographs ($22B of them).

The irate response to my recent blog about Photoshelter from a Vice President of the American Society of Media Photographers reminded me of the angry cook in Ratatouille who hires Linguini, a clumsy youth hired as a garbage boy, who can still not accept that great taste in food is like the beauty of photography – in the eye of the buyer.

We should embrace all photography that move people to buy, regardless of who shot it and build a real marketplace to facilitate that exchange.


The sign of an intelligent nation is its willingness and ability to reinvent itself, upstream. Let’s inspire the world with new rigors of excellence we first and successfully apply to ourselves.

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