Monday, February 18, 2008

Evolution of professional photo business

I have a strange feeling when I read comments of long-time photo professionals about non-professional photographers that harm photo business.

There is so obvious controversity in what they say that it makes me wonder how blind some people are.

What I've heard/read from well-known successful pro photographers is that you should treat your photography as a real business enterprise, and run it as a business company. Diversify; explore opportunities; build and maintain customer base; make conscious business decisions; book keeping; costs; equipment depreciation are all the terms that even self-employed individuals should use.

The same time the same people react purely emotionally to non-professional competition stepping in their area of interest. Of course it's painful. Of course it does hurt the business. But why reacting emotionally and not with facts and proper actions?

Digital photography is the fact of today's life, together with personal computers and internet. These things made photography available to anybody more than ever before. Making decent quality shots is much easier now than in the past; and distributing pictures is extremely easy with the help of modern digital communication.

This is reality of life, and any business decisions in any industry are made based on reality. Yes indeed the grass was greener, the sugar was sweeter, the music was better and the kids were polite 20 or 30 years ago... But this is just emotions, while business operates on facts.

You have a successful business model that used to bring you good and stable money; and you are top-level professional in your area; and common public recognizes you as such as well as the customers.... and then the day comes when you start seeing the amateur mass starting doing the things you are used to do. And they are doing that cheap/free. It is obviously an unpleasant situation. But is it uncommon? No it isn't. There are many examples in history when some activity that was only done by a small group of professionals eventually became a commodity.

Take computer programming. Back in 60x there were few thousand people worldwide who could do that. It was science and magic. They were paid top premium indeed. Today any student can do programming. There are probably more people today who can do programming than car mechanics. Did programmers complain that they aren't highly valued anymore? However today there is still a difference between real good programming and just programming. The profession has changed, but it isn't dead and is not going to be any time soon.

Take writing as a different example. Internet has made virtual publishing accessible to everyone. Many amateur writers started publishing their books in internet; and services like appeared that allow self-publishing of paper books. Plus journalists, plus bloggers - huge flow of text went to internet. What impact does it have on writers and on book publishing business? Does it change their business? Of course it does. Did it kill their business? No it didn't and will not.

So, the only thing I am trying to say is the following:
Professional photographers teaching beginners to treat their photography activities as business, need to re-apply their own words to themselves in the new context of changing business environment. Don't complain - it will not help. Don't boycott - it will not help. If something harms your business - act on it. Take it in your business model if you can. Or adapt your business model. Or build a new business model.

Real good photography requires talent, hard work, education and lots of practice. Professional photographers are used to earn money not only from great pictures, but also from some generic ones. The latter piece is now starting getting taken by amateurs. What I see myself is a) professionals can successfully compete with amateurs b) there will always be demand for real great pictures where professionals will never get a competition other than other professionals.


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