“You’re so screwed,” I thought to myself as I shifted my weight and rocked back on the heels of my polka dot pumps.
There I was, reluctantly standing at the front of an ultra-mod conference room leading a marketing and branding brainstorming session for a chain of traditional copy and print shops. I worked for the marketing agency hosting the meeting as chief operating officer at the time, and the client had paid us a five-figure fee for some marketing help.
Moderate the conversation and facilitate the creativity in a room full of young, brilliant marketers, copywriters and creative directors, along with the client’s executive team, which consisted of the owner and CEO (about 85), his son (I’d guess 55) and the son’s new wife (30, possibly younger).
They wanted to continue making copies, direct mail postcards and brochures, only for more people. In their words, they so desperately needed our help “cracking the code” to branding their business the right way so they could “capture the local markets and retire happily.”
The world began changing around that business model years ago, and they were too obsessed with the details inside their business to notice. Rather than brainstorming ways to adapt to change and fulfill new needs, they clung onto the existing model by their fingernails and spent hefty dollars copying (pun intended) bigger guys also clinging onto the same exact model. A model that was dying.
If you’ve been in denial that the photography industry is changing and that the role of a professional photographer may never again exist in the forms we’re all familiar with, it’s time for a wake up call.
Now, normally I’m a glass half full kinda girl who hugs people upon introduction, but this is serious, people.
Dramatic Changes To Come:
1. Stock Photography Income Dissolves
Joe McNally’s post at the start of the new year talks about the ridiculous decline of stock. While he comes at it from the angle of an artist, one that photographs for the art first, money second, one can’t help but read the underlying tone of defeat and insult from the lessening dollars that art seems to be earning photographers in the world of stock photography, in particular.
2. Editorial Is Drying
With news networks accepting photographs taken by consumers (how exciting!), it’s no wonder that stock earnings are deflating. Newer stock entities like Stocksy are trying to better represent photographers and keep things fair. From all of us photographers to the dwindling companies out there like you, thanks for the effort, Stocksy.
3. Consumers Get Pro Access
Just last week, a product was beta-released to make it easier for consumers to plan their wall gallery layouts. Via Simply Galleries, a mom can doodle around with print sizes over a photo of her own living room wall and order professional quality canvases right from the same app–the same canvases that portrait and wedding photographers normally sell for 3-4 times markup in order to put food on the table for their families.
4.The Shift Of A Pro Photographer’s Model
I’m not here to merely suggest that the photography industry is being flooded by new photographers. That’s been said a million ways in a million places, already.
The photography business model is changing, and we (myself included) have to adapt and be one step ahead of that change. Complaining about access to digital cameras, online photography training classes and, now, professional quality print products getting into the hands of consumers is not elevating and progressing the industry of people – people like you and me – who earn their living with a camera.
While it can be fun to comment on blogs written by people who complain about the negative photo industry changes or have a chuckle when we poke fun of consumers with cameras, we’ll be the last laugh if we can’t respond quickly. In fact, things are beginning to change and move so rapidly that we’ll likely find the act of trying to catch up exhausting if we don’t start getting one step ahead of what’s going on.
5. Technology Acceleration
One shouldn’t assume that the continuation of technological advancement will follow the same pace as our past. Rather, technology is predicted to accelerate over the next 100 years at a frequency that will feel more like 20,000 years. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, observed this in his 2001 essay, “The Law Of Accelerating Returns.” In this piece, he displayed how technology changes exponentially the further along in time we get. He demonstrates this with this graph illustrating the growth of computing power over the course of time seen here:
I told you I’m a glass half-full girl, so I’m not going to leave things in such a wrist-slitting state. Instead, let’s consider two things you can do to keep one step ahead of future changes.
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Two Ways To Keep Ahead:
1) Don’t Toss This Aside
There are thousands of photographers who are not reading this blog post. They’re going about their day, worrying about adjusting their white balance or tinkering with their new lens.
They’re focused on the details of their work while you, my friend, are beginning to think about your business in a holistic sense. Yes, white balance and lens functionality are both important and critical, but obtaining a macro-level view at the world that the photography business lives within is necessary, as well.
You may decide to be among the photographers reading this who’ll cast it aside and continue going about their day.
Or, perhaps, you’ll be the rare kind of photographer that gets this article stuck in a space within your brain.
You’ll think about it frequently and constantly search for what might make a more innovative, responsive model for a future photography business. Your microenvironment will remain important every day, but the macro environment will mean much more than ever before.
2) Repeatedly Touch the Train Tracks
Ever seen Stand By Me?
There’s a scene where Will Wheaton’s character places his hand on the rails of a train track to feel whether or not a train is coming. Feeling no sensation of a looming train, he’s confident that he and his friends are safe to cross a dangerously long bridge over a cavernous body of water. They begin to slowly cross it.
Wheaton’s character touches the rails again about halfway over the bridge after quite some time has passed. To his shock and disbelief, he feels the gentle vibration of a train approaching and then confirms that by seeing puffs of smoke rising above the distant trees. Before he knows it, the train is close enough to create human pancakes out of him and his three other friends.
Had he checked the rails more frequently, they could have made a plan to safely get across or, worst case, just had a few more moments to book it in the opposite direction of the oncoming locomotive.
Check the tracks frequently (figuratively, of course!). Know what’s going on inside the industry and make a habit of peeking outside of it. Talk to consumers, listen to what they’re saying and take the time to connect and speak with business thought-leaders.
How Will You Get Ahead?
If you’re up for the challenge and want to remain a viable business in the future, what things will you do to try to be on the forefront?