Good Afternoon Everybody,
Wow! Last week's Business day Thursday post created quite a bit of buzz. Between the emails I received all the comments left by our loyal readers, I think we got a good cross section of what people are thinking. A lot of you thought it was simple market conditions and even with the Wall Street chaos over these last several days, I still don't buy that reason as the MAJOR contributor to the situation.
Sure, mortgages are being foreclosed upon, but folks, that's because of the greed-mongers set those unfortunate people up to fail with their predatory lending practices. I feel these were not really our clients anyway. Am I missing something here? A person who can't really afford to buy a home, but can afford a $10,000 - $20,000 wedding where photography is about 10% of the budget historically - I don't think so.
Let me be also be clear here - I was not putting down any "part timers" or "emerging pros". I continue to have the highest respect for all those working hard to improve their photography and their business success. That's the purpose of DigitalProTalk.com for all pros, semi-pros, and emerging pros alike. DigitalProTalk.com's purpose is to also raise the level of professionalism in photography. That includes how we conduct our businesses and interact and service our clients.
The bottom line for me is this; Digital has brought a lot more enthusiasts into the market where the "PIE" is only so big, but now there are many more slices taken out of that pie. Consider that the number of photographers offering services has grown exponentially over the last 5 years. You can verify that with the exponential growth of digital cameras being sold in that same 5 year period. The greatest growth has been - surprising in the DSLR department - up over 75% for the second half of 2007 over the first half of the year! From January to July 2008 there have been nearly 11,000,000 DSLRs shipped to North America - 120% more than last year for the same period.
Folks, for me the "writing is on the wall" - digital photography is fun, it's easy to learn, it's a kick to play and experiment, and many new digital adopters see it as a way to make some extra money. Oh, and speaking of the economy, it seems to me that those buying these new digital SLR wonders are unaware of the downturn.
Here is the bottom line as I see it - there are a lot more pieces coming out of that pie and the pieces are a lot smaller, but all those small pieces add up quickly. But it's even more than that. What many of these new photogs are charging for the pieces of the pie is only "beer money" - my term for a little extra cash many photographers make selling cheap prints. Look at so many Craig's List listings - "Will do your wedding photography for free for the experience". Yep, that's the guy/gal I want shooting my special day. But, as Anonymous said in the second comment - "good enough" has replaced quality on the part of the buying public's mentality these days.
So is cheap and "good enough" the direction professional photography is trending these days? Unfortunately, I think to a large part - YES. Why, because if we have experienced a 10 fold increase in photographers offering their services and the level of experience is tentative at best. Add to that - the buying public's perception of professional photography is seriously downgraded. Basically, they can't see the forest (good photography) from the trees (so much mediocre stuff being presented as professional photography) by a huge percentage of new practitioners of the craft.
Yes, I do believe the photographic sea is awash with mediocrity, witch is to be expected especially when I hear comments like, "I need to get a better camera because this one just does not do a good enough job." In a huge advertising campaign by Nikon last year stated, "Anyone can take great pictures with a Nikon D40 in their hands." In fact the poll they published with the ad verified that 33% of the respondents agreed!
I agree that the market is changing and that the buying public is looking for something different, and yes, in many cases, cheaper too. But the reality is this. If you want to sell it cheap, don't expect to give up your day job anytime soon. Because once you've gone down that road it's hard to change the course later.
I was just visiting with our upcoming president of the state association. She shared a story with me about a photographer she met at a class she was presenting. That photographer said she was as busy as she wanted to be but was making no many! She had just shoot 90 pregnancy sittings and there was not much left in the kitty at the end of the day. When my friend asked her for specifics on her costs, overhead, etc..... it was determined that she was going to lose $10,000 for the year! After hearing that fact, the photographer confided that her accountant told he she made $4.00 profit from the year before!
This is the mentality of way too many new photographers penetrating the market. "I sure am busy, it sure is fun, and I don't have a clue as to how much money I'm making or losing on each job." Remember, these are the people taking pieces out of that pie as well.
If this is the new competition, then what's the solution? For starters, the "forest" (good photography) needs to be more visible to the buying public. Marketing is absolutely key here. We need to be marketing more than ever before. I talked with my friend Tim Walden who owns Walden's House Of Photography in Lexington, Kentucky. He reported that his business is up for the year, but he has never worked harder at marketing his business. My friends, Kent and Sara Smith said exactly the same thing. They will crack a million dollars this year, and have been busting their behinds harder than ever to keep getting the word out. I think, therein lies the secret, as Clayton said in his comments, "... to be viable to our clients... to be relevant..." Yes, we need to constantly re-evaluate our photographic style and product offerings. We need to keep our websites fresh and slick - our website is the window dressing for our business. We need to blog - today's clients want to feel they know the person they are hiring.
And, finally, we need to run scared, constantly evaluating the market, the competition, and the economics and working pro-actively to fine tune all aspects of our business both photographically and financially! I love this African proverb - it says it all.
"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed...every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle...when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
Hey gang, that's it for me today. Thanks you to everyone who offered their comments, suggestions, and insights to this discussion - it was much appreciated. I'll see everyone tomorrow for Inspiration Friday: What Inspired Me The Most This Week. See ya' then, -David
Links related to this post:
The Complete Photographer - My Guest Blog for Scott Kelby
Is Wedding Photography Dead?
What It Takes To Be Great