Business note for a changing world

According to Poynter in an article dated today, Sports Illustrated has just fired all of its photographers. Story is here (click).

A sad story, but it is perhaps not quite as sad as it seems at first sight. After all, the magazine will still be illustrated. Someone is still going to be sitting there with big lenses snapping away. The magazine will just have to use freelancers instead. Meaning varying quality levels and logistics challenges, but also meaning (or so the accountants in charge hope) savings.

No more vacation time. No sick leave. No travel cost, hotels, or airfare. Now, the freelancer has to buy his or her own lenses. No cost except a fee per shoot. An accountant’s dream.

But a manager’s nightmare: it also means no loyalty, no common approach, no consistency of skills. And debatable cost savings once all that is taken into account.

Uncommoditize Yourself

What it shows very clearly is that the accountants see photography as a commodity. The perception is that photography is what you do with a camera, so if you have the camera you have what you need: just aim and shoot. “My uncle has one of those” means “my uncle is therefore a photographer as well”.

So what you need to do if you want to make a living (or continue to make a living) as a photographer is to ensure that your product or service is not seen as a commodity. From beginning to end, you need to educate your clients and potential clients. Some of the ways are photography related; many are almost trivial:

  • My product says “quality” from beginning to end.
  • I use large cameras. Uncle Fred has a smaller camera.
  • I write this blog and I write books.
  • I have a good web presence.
  • I use techniques (like dramatic flash) that ensure I am seen as different.
  • ‘I develop a personal style, a recognizable one.
  • I produce prints, with a nice margin, on pro paper.
  • I handle them with gloves on.
  • My emails have a good signature file.
  • My envelopes have printed labels, not handwritten scribbles.
  • I do professional post work in Adobe Lightroom, again with a recognizable personal style.
  • …and so on.

It’s not so difficult to make your product stand out. But it is essential. The small, almost trivial things can in fact be very important (consider the “out of the box experience” or the magnetic power supply connection when you buy an Apple product). Offer value, and once your clients see this value, they will appreciate it.

It may of course mean moving out of photojournalism and into, say, weddings, or something else. The world keeps changing and nevertheless there will always be successful photographers. Just not as many of them as there were before. Start thinking now and you can be one of them.


By all means join the comments (above, click in the bubble).


2 thoughts on “Business note for a changing world

  1. This is sad indeed and yet another blow to proper and professional photography. I’m not a sports fan and I don’t read that magazine, but I have seen the photography and it is (was) superb.

    I don’t think this is just accountant mentality. People who have never owned a camera now have one built into their phones. So now everybody is a photographer. Most everybody who I’ve encountered seems to be more than pleased with the “quality” of the pictures that comes from their cell phone.

    This even holds true at work. We have a fairly nice point-and-shoot at work, but when it is required to take a photo of something, it’s not “where’s the camera?”, it’s “where’s Gianni’s cell phone?”

    The accountants may be driving this, but the general lack of demand and/or appreciation of quality is also feeding the fire.

    • Absolutely right. The market for quality is becoming smaller.

      But the presence of a McDonald’s doesn’t men there’s no space for Michelin star restaurants. They just have to distinguish them selfs from McDonald’s, and market themselves to the quality market.

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