The Dangers of Digital Sharecropping for Photographers

There’s a seldom discussed threat to any business owner or self-employed person. That threat can drastically affect photographers if they aren’t aware of it, and it has been seen many times over already.Running any kind of business at the moment is tough — very tough. Many of us have seen our income significantly reduced or our revenue streams depleting (hopefully temporarily), forcing us to pivot to stay afloat. These are not normal times, however, and it was difficult to have been properly prepared for them. That said, there are ordinary risks that we all must prepare for in photography, whether you’re an enthusiast who enjoys building a following, somebody using it as a means of a supplementary income, or you’re a full-time photographer using the craft to live. One of those ordinary risks I believe is discussed far less than others and many are not even aware the problem exists. This article will walk you through what it is and how to secure yourself from pitfalls out of your control.What Is Sharecropping?Sharecropping has a difficult and dark past that is not relevant to this article. While I’m sensitive to that and have read up on the history of sharecropping, I don’t want this article and any consequent discussion to get derailed by it. This is even more so given the current climate surrounding race. My definition will omit applications of sharecropping with specific ties to slavery (indeed, it is in many ways intrinsically linked to it), as it isn’t relevant to digital sharecropping, and has no other reason or agenda.Sharecropping in its simplest form is this: somebody who owns land allows somebody else to grow crops on their land in exchange for a share of the yield produced. This is a way for people who cannot afford to buy land to produce crops, as well as for landowners who aren’t farming to get some extra income or crops without having to farm it themselves. While the benefits of this symbiotic relationship are obvious, the benefits lean heavily towards the landowner who can do anything from increase their share through to suddenly canceling the agreement.What Is Digital Sharecropping?In modern society, a huge portion of the planet’s population engages in digital sharecropping to some degree or another. In most instances, it’s not at the slightest risk to the user. Digital sharecropping is where a person creates content on someone else’s digital platform. For example, I am digitally sharecropping right now, as Lee and Patrick own Fstoppers, and I produce content on their platform. But the concept is far more pervasive than that. Every Twitter user, every Facebook page, every YouTuber, every podcaster on Audible or iTunes — the list is endless. Almost every one of us is digitally sharecropping these days, and that’s fine. It’s better than fine — it’s valuable. So, what’s the danger?

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