Photo Darwinism: Things your mother never told you (Pt 3)

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Continuing my 2011 article on the business of photography:

No matter how hard we professional photographers fought, when the clock ticked into the 21st Century, our old business models started to fall apart. We fought against, and were unprepared for, the onslaught of micro-stock, pro-am digital cameras operated by talented amateurs and the resulting commoditization of photography. It’s not that the value of the image is reduced. In fact photography is valued more now than ever. It’s just that the majority of people needing photos now don’t want to pay what we pros once charged for them. The “download it free” mentality spilled over from music to photos. The music industry’s business models eventually evolved, but new, profitable e-commerce solutions never developed for photographers.

This had a minimal effect on high-end advertising and editorial work. And if you are in the top 15% of the industry, you probably can continue to get premium pricing for your work.

But 85% of us seem to be dealing with new pricing models that we are unprepared for. Formerly we were able to license images by asking the client to prepay a fee based on the difficulty of the shot and the circulation of a printed page, whether or not anyone actually saw the page.

When paper started to disappear and electronic communication took over, that pricing model met resistance.

Now clients are asking to pay a percentage of what we previously asked for, because there are no current royalty guidelines for online use of imagery. Actually there were pricing guidelines for stock imagery, before iStockPhoto changed that world. There are new royalty arrangements being developed in the music, movie and video businesses, but none for the photography business.

The middle-of-the-curve photographers have new issues that we haven’t had to deal with before. An over abundance of people trying to get their photography published, easier ways to publish photos, photo buyers inundated with imagery, and reduced income per picture, just to name just a few.

So how should photographers market themselves now? The same as before: with unique images of high quality.  But how do they get those images seen through the clutter? And what type of client will pay a premium for quality, and which are paying for just “good enough?”

That’s in my next post: Photo Darwinism: Things your mother never told you (Pt 4).

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