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He Admits He’s Cheap. He’s Also a Commodity.

Written by Detroit People Photographer Blake J. Discher

He’s correct, he is an inexpensive photographer. But I’m not sure this is the business model that will lead to long term success.

The photographer does have a website, and from the pricing pages, for portraits the sitting fee is $50 plus $15 per edited photo. Weddings start at $500 and, “we will give you a CD with your photos downloaded and you may print as many copies as you want… You may request up to 5 CDs at no additional cost.”

Here’s the important question for him: What is his differentiation, or, how is his product unique from anyone else’s? If he cannot differentiate his product from that of his competitors, he will forever compete only on price.

From Wikipedia:

Commodity is used to describe a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. A commodity has full or partial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them.

Note especially the last few words: “…with no regard to who produced them.” In other words, it’s fairly safe to say that his customers are basing their decisions to hire him entirely on price. Sad to say, they’re likely not buying because of the product he produces. Possible, but not likely.

This photographer would be well served to develop a style, a look, anything that will differentiate him from his competitors. He needs to figure out what his value is to his potential customers. Only in doing so will he be able to raise his prices from the basement and truly develop his business into one that is sustainable. Unless his overhead is extremely low, his photo business will likely not survive.

At ASMP’s recent symposium, “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists”, Lauren Wendle, publisher of PDN Magazine, talked about a photographer who speaks each year at WPPI in Las Vegas. She says the photographer is one of the most popular photographers at the show. The photographer tells her audience, “I’m not the best photographer in my market, but I’m the one everyone wants to work with.” Incidentally, the photographer is also one of the highest priced studios in her town.

Her differentiation is the fact that she is the photographer everyone wants to hire. She’s developed a reputation for outstanding imagery, and has a personality to match. And the word is out through marketing and word of mouth.

So ask yourself, what makes you different? Why are you better? What is your value? Why should someone hire you instead of the less expensive photographer? If you can’t answer the questions, you too are a commodity.

Below are screen grabs of the photographer’s Craigslist ad and his website. I’ve redacted all identifying elements in each.

(Written by Detroit People Photographer Blake J. Discher)

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4 comments
  1. Blake J. Discher says: October 11, 20124:34 pm

    That was one of the first things I noticed in the ad. Spell check doesn’t always save us!

  2. Julie Schirmer says: October 11, 20124:15 pm

    Ick, and poor grammar and spelling throughout too (“please email me if your interested!”).

  3. Sean Gibson says: October 11, 20122:05 pm

    I’ve always loved the statement “I’ve been ‘doing’ photography since…”. What does that even mean? Anyway regarding this guy, I’m sure he will get exactly what he is looking for…couples looking for someone soley based on price. Walmart crowd anyone? Not that there’s anything wrong with that but you get my drift. The only way to survive is by showing a superior product and being a great person at the same time. Price should be an after thought. They should base their decision on all variables besides price then that issue can be a later discussion. Everyone knows that price is always negotiable so when you start off this low you might as well say its free. Pay what you like if you feel sorry for me. My thought is to cater to a range of people. Show your best and cater to ones with money but offer a lower end model that can give your services but at a lower price point.

  4. Angela Pointon says: October 11, 20121:04 pm

    Fabulous post and so absolutely correct. Competing on price (in any industry) is not a sustainable model. Besides, how is “cheap” even marketable when you’re selling services to be executed on some couple’s biggest day of their entire life? It’s actually logically not even understanding your target market’s desire. Am I looking for the cheapest salt on the grocery store shelf? Sure. Am I looking for the cheapest photographer to capture my very special day that I want to remember forever and ever? Probably not.

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