You get what you pay for… at least I think so
I really have no schedule of topics for this blog. Whatever happens to occupy my mind that is photography related ends up being posted here. Some days it’s a rant, on others it’s just rambling about my favorite pastime.
Today’s topic is about the business of photography. I have a website, where I have a small selection of photos that I’ve taken over the last couple of years. It’s a place on the internet that I can kind of call home although my Flickr address receives most of my recent work and is updated almost daily. My personal website serves a couple of purposes. First, it gets my name out there. Selling your photographs is to a great degree, about having name recognition. Get known for a certain kind of work and slowly a path will get beaten to your door.
Web hosting is very cheap these days. The web design was free. I did it myself. Since going up in December, 2008, traffic has grown slowly but surely. I get the occasional stock sale, ie, if the image isn’t hosted by Masterfile, Firstlight or Getty/Flickr and once in a while a direct sale even though I don’t advertise the work as being for sale.
A few weeks ago, I was asked about using a photo that wasn’t with any of the three agencies that represent my work. When I have the rights to the photo, I am not set by any pricing guideline that the agencies use. I use an online stock photo price calculator which has a broad range of uses and price ranges.
The client was interested in a photo to be used worldwide for both point of purchase, promotional material and album cover art. I gave them a high and low price, depending upon usage, the low end being $700 US the high being $1900 US. At this point I often never hear back as some people are fine with giving me a photo credit, (yeah, they’re serious) or the price is more than they budgeted for.
That’s fine. I understand a customers reluctance to part with their money, especially if they see someone else selling similar work for half or even less than my price. Or often just a photo credit. For as long as I have been in the business of photography and that goes back to 1981, that is how it has been. There will always be photographers willing to give their valuable work away for nothing or close to nothing.
Photography isn’t a business where we get licensed like doctors or lawyers and we have a professional organization that sets fees. Anyone with a camera and a website can sell their photography for whatever they please.
Back to the story, the customer’s business manager sends me an email letting me know their budget is only $500 US and like most bands they are struggling for funds. An analogy works well here. I go to Walmart and see a microwave for $200. At the checkout, I tell the clerk that business for photographers is kinda rough right now, how about you let me have it for $160. What does she do? Exactly, I leave Walmart without a microwave.
The exact same thing happened last summer, a band too. The artist was having a new album produced and saw one of my photos on Flickr. For a difference of $200 he went with someone else. Out of curiousity, I looked up his new album when it was released. My opinion, the art was awful. It looked like it was shot by someone who had just bought a camera from London Drugs and never taken a picture before. Nothing artistic. Nothing to make the photo different from any of hundreds of millions that are on the net and you would never look twice at. But that is just my opinion.
My point is that when you are browsing music albums of artists you don’t know, what do you see first? The album art of course.
The album art is what makes you pick it up and look further or ignore it and continue looking for other artists.
A $200 price difference. That is the price of dinner for your family for one evening. Once dinner is eaten, it’s gone. Forgotten. The album cover? It’s there for years and years. In my mind I have no doubt where I would spend the money. Some fellow artists don’t see it that way. And so goes the business of photography.
I can’t get upset with someone who doesn’t want to spend what I think is a fair price for my work. We both put different values on the same thing. This isn’t a business where you can say with any great certainty that this is what an image is worth. I do know that I will never knowingly undervalue my work. This is both a buyers and sellers market. Sometimes you make the sale, sometimes you don’t.
I do know for sure that if I give my work away for less than market value, I dilute the market further. That shouldn’t be my concern and it isn’t but I can’t make a living either if I do favors for a photo credit or a clients lowball price.
Is there a lesson here or a moral? No. This is just a small part of photography that I don’t like. This is why I really prefer my work to be handled by agencies. I send work to them. I get cheques. Simple and easy. Negotiating prices is not something I really care to do. I am happy to keep shooting.
Keep this in mind, if you give your work away for nothing or below market value you aren’t helping anyone out. You’re educating clients that your work really isn’t worth much. They aren’t likely to come back to you to pay for your photos because you’ve taught them that if they look hard enough that they’ll find the next “you” willing to give their photos away for next to nothing.