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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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DiscountA question was asked on one of the photographer forums I read regularly:

“I recently convinced a magazine client to commission assignment photography as opposed to buying rights managed. Thus far, we have come to an understanding of fees for the assignment but they have come back asking for the rights to run the story in two other publications that they operate. These are major international publications — UK, China, Asia Pacific markets. I would very much like to keep this client and to increase my relationship with them. What would be the best approach to negotiating for the additional rights? Any insights are much appreciated.”

All sorts of suggestions were being tossed into the conversation, most of them suggesting offering a discount in the form of a percentage of the original fee, for example 25-percent of the original fee.

Creative/marketing consultant and attorney Leslie Burns, offered this excellent advice:

“First, think about it… if the original publication would be seen by (hypothetically) 10,000 people and is worth $X license fee (that is, ONLY the license fee, and not your creative fee for making the image), then a second publication which reaches 10,000 people would also be worth $X license fee. Same reach/effect = same value. Then, because they are being good clients and/or wanting multiple licenses, you can cut them a deal. Give am a discount for multiple licenses. This could be whatever you want it to be — hypothetically, you could say ‘one additional pub with 10,000 circulation = 15% discount; two additional pubs, each with 10,000 circulation = 25% discount per pub.’ Really, it’s what you can negotiate. But a low number like 25% of the original fee for such significant additional use is de-valuing your work. Always look to the actual value of the work as if it were an entirely new license first, then decide if you want to discount that fee as a bulk license or good client kind of benefit.”

I think Leslie makes a good point. I consider a 20-percent discount from any of my favorite places to shop a great deal. Think in terms of discount from the original fee instead of a percentage of the original fee. A subtle semantics change, but an important one.

Have a look at Leslie’s blog, Burns Auto Parts Super Premium Blog. She also has a brand new iPhone app: “Burns Auto Parts Consultants To Go” which is pretty slick. (She’s not in the auto parts business, honest!)

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