Do Yourself a Favor

It seems counterintuitive in our culture to pay more for something than the cheapest price we can find, but there are certain cases when doing just that is what will give you the best odds in the long run.

Discount retailers, for instance, have put many local, specialty retailers out of business.  And, while we may view this as progress on some fronts (convenient one-stop shopping?), what we lose is the expertise.  When was the last time you went into a discount retailer’s store and could get proper assistance and in-depth product knowledge?  Fortunately, we have the fancy internet machine at our disposal, so now we can sometimes find the answers to our questions online, but some of us still prefer talking to a warm blooded individual face-to-face.  Paying less, in this case, has cost us the opportunity to get quality service and knowledge.

The photo industry is facing a similar foe, except our foe is typically ignorant.  Where Wal*Mart, Target, Meijer, Best Buy, and other large retailers have had largely sustainable business models (even many of them are in trouble because of online retailers such as Amazon – imagine having to order everything you need, regardless of if you need it immediately or not), most photographers who are undercutting their peers’ rates do not.

These photographers will soon be out of business because they cannot afford to stay in business.  After they realize they have either been losing money or only breaking even (how would you feel if you went to work and your paycheck was simply covering your transportation and supplies but no salary?), they raise their rates to start making enough money to stay in business and 10 new budget photographers take their place and, suddenly, their flow of business halts and they go belly-up.

Competition can be a great thing, so I’m not advocating for a removal of competition, but it’s up to the consumers to be informed.  When photo services are purchased simply based upon the price being the lowest available, the industry becomes polarized and what will eventually happen is the extinction of the mid-level photographer.  Instead, the industry will be left with weekend hobbyists who typically cannot produce quality results (especially with any consistency!) and the upper echelon who charge for a single job more than what the average American family makes in a year.

I realize that this article can seem self-serving, but it’s my intent to be industry serving.  I cannot imagine myself doing anything other than photo/video work as my primary source of income, but I also want to ensure that when I need to hire a professional or when my as-yet-nonexistent children/grandchildren need to hire a professional, the option will remain open to them.

I’m not satisfied with the work of budget photographers and I’m not in the position of hiring a wedding photographer for $75,000+.  I’ll admit to being one of the photographers in the middle.  I’d love to be at the top, if for nothing more than to have that quality of work all the time, but the fact is that I am a mid-level photographer.  I don’t charge rates that are going to make me a millionaire any time soon, but I am charging enough to keep me in business.  Whether you hire me or someone else, be sure to pay fairly – even during the times of recession.  The way out of a hole is not down.

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2 Responses to Do Yourself a Favor

  1. Great post. Everything needs to be as cheap as possible these days, but there certainly are things where you actually do pay for quality!

    • JR says:

      I would say things need to be as inexpensive as possible, but only to a point. Supporting local farmers, for instance is better for the local economy, as it keeps more of the money local, provides more local jobs, etc. Paying more, not just for the immediate gain in quality, but for the sake of longevity of the market is a wise practice. Doing what may seem to be best in the short term is not often what’s best in the long term. When we are more long-range oriented, we think in terms of, to borrow from Dr. John Nash, doing what’s best for the group as a way to seek the best for ourselves. Doing what seems like the best for ourselves right off the bat often destroys the possibility of the best for the group and, by extension, destroys our future chances for success.

      I think it’s wise to be competitive in pricing, but only going so far as to still sustain quality standards AND promote longevity in the industry. If everyone were charging $200,000 for a single day’s shoot, as is the case with a photographer my friend worked for, the market wouldn’t last. But, at the same time, if all photographers were charging only enough to cover costs plus a little extra, that’s not building any sort of life for the future, can’t support a family, provides nothing for retirement, etc. Photography is a skilled trade and an artistic career, and there are individuals at every level, leaving the possibility of everyone being able to get and sustain work at their own level. We just have to be careful to not charge less than the value of our work or more than the value of our work. When people of great skill who are doing the work only as a hobby charge well below fair market rates, it creates the expectation that full-time photographers should match those prices, for example.

      These principles apply not only to photography, but to all of business. Overvaluing goods and services leads to things like the housing bubble. Undervaluing leads to the elimination of the availability of certain goods and services.

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