Susan Carr is the Education Director of ASMP, the American Society of Media Photographers. Her latest book, The Art and Business of Photography, has received critical praise from both photographers and scholars for its candid look at the changing photography industry. It’s quickly become required reading in many university photography curriculums and I consider it an essential read for both emerging and established photographers.
Susan spoke yesterday to a standing-room only crowd at B&H in New York and answered questions from the audience. If you want to purchase a copy for yourself, it’s available at Amazon. I have it on my Kindle and I refer to it frequently. Her publisher, Allworth Press, has graciously permitted me to publish an excerpt from the book. I’ve chosen a few paragraphs from chapter four, “Where Are the Clients?”
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Chris Anderson’s controversial book Free: The Future of a Radical Price created quite a buzz in the professional photographic community when it was released in 2009. The gut reaction by many photographers was negativesurmising that Anderson was pitting free against paid to the detriment of the professional in any field. Anderson actually does a masterful job of outlining a history of how businesses have used the “free economy” to build products and services people will pay for. Anderson writes, “The way to compete with Free is to move past the abundance to find the adjacent scarcity. If software is free, sell support. If phone calls are free, sell distant labor and talent that can be reached by those free calls (the Indian outsourcing model in a nutshell). If your skills are being turned into a commodity that can be done by software (hello, travel agents, stockbrokers, and realtors), then move upstream to more complicated problems that still require the human touch. Not only can you compete with free in that instance, but the people who need these custom solutions are often the ones most willing to pay highly for them.”
Like it or not, the photographs licensed every day and, in many cases, even the service of photography are now commodities. Generic photographic subject matter will no longer produce substantial financial rewards nor will it be possible to build a career taking corporate headshots. I return to [Seth] Godin who always seems to concisely hit the nail on the head. “Your organization is based on exploiting scarcity. Create and sell something scarce and you can earn a profit. But when scarce things become common, and common things become scarce, you need to alter what you do all day.” Godin further offers that spare time, trust, and attention are things that used to be abundant and are now scarce. Remember these when formulating your business strategy; potential clients do not have extra time, have trouble giving things attention, and are skeptical as a default. Turn those challenges into assets by saving clients time, being easy to do business with and building trust through quality and professionalism.
Photographs in general are definitely not scarce. We cannot compete on price when seemingly endless images are available for free or nearly free. We cannot compete with mediocre imagery when there are loads of one-click options for obtaining mediocre photographs. Photographers must define what they can bring to the table that is rare and that brings us back to creativity. A specific vision, style, or point of view directed towards a particular passion or interest is our one true unique offering. As a photographer, you need to develop a vision in your imagery, but that same creative thinking needs to be applied to how you run your business. Make it a package, so that all components speak to the same
core message of genuine quality and value.