Over the last couple years, more and more photographers are turning towards a new business model of sharing the digital files with their clients rather than requiring them to place print orders to generate revenue. The traditional business model photographers who rely on sales of prints to make money are furious with the growing popularity of "shoot and share photographers" even going as far as "declaring war" against it. Here's what photographers need to know.
What is a "Shoot and Share" photographer?
It is a photographer who has chosen to turn over the edited digital files to their client so that they can share the images as they would like and print them wherever they wish.
Why are so many photographers upset with this business model?
They feel it cheapens the industry and cuts into revenue sources that photographers have been relying on for years. Traditionally wedding or portrait photographers set up meetings with clients after the photos have been edited and use the time to sell prints of many sizes to them. An average sales meeting for traditional photographers will yield them anywhere from $500 to $3,000 extra income from the sale of prints, canvases, albums and other photo related items. Photographers relying on this extra income to maintain their business are growing upset at the number of photographers offering the "shoot and share" model making it too easy for clients to receive the digital files and print them on their own.
Are they ruining the industry?
Over the last few years as the "Shoot and Share" model of photography has continued to grow a number of outspoken photographers have taken to the blogging, email newsletters or Facebook to pronounce their disgust with the model. Often they will say that photographers who follow the "Shoot and Share" model will be out of business in just a matter of years or that they care less about the clients because they don't want to sell them beautiful prints and canvases for their homes and instead just push them to Walmart to have products made. "Shoot and Share" photographers are told they are ruining the photography industry and that if they keep it up soon we will all be out of business. John Mireles, who calls himself "The Photographer's Business Coach" even went as far to say in a blog article published on August 10th that he was "declaring war" on one product and its innovator. In the article the author says those who follow the "Shoot and Share" business model are, "not making money...it's a hobby at best and recipe for failure at worst." He goes on to say, "Now if you're a photographer who just likes to shoot the wedding and then wash your hands of it, that's your prerogative and I respect that. It's just important to know that you're leaving a significant amount of money on the table." He goes on to explain in the article that he has yet to meet a photographer who is rolling in the cash because he sold a bunch of prints and that the reason photographers following the traditional model charge as much as they do is because it is necessary to "operate sustainably."
Can't we all just get along?
Now before I go any further, this article is not about trying to sway photographers to choose one model of business versus another. I say pick whichever you feel works best for you. My reason for writing this blog post is because over the last year I have seen a number of contentious battles between the two sides. In fact, I was once a member of a great group of photographers on Facebook but, because they constantly battled over this idea that photographers cannot be profitable as a "Shoot and Share" business model I decided to leave the group and in turn have lost daily contact with a number of friends there. I was just tired of photographers slinging mud at each other and being disrespectful in the way they handled different attitudes towards running their photography business. Ultimately we all want to do the same thing, which is bring happiness to our clients while making money to continue operating our business successfully.
Here's a business term worth knowing.
What I hope all photographers reading this article learn is the business term that was coined by a professor at the Harvard Business School Clayton Christensen called "disruptive innovation." According to Wikipedia, "A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market."
Examples of companies that shook up their industry.
When IKEA entered the furniture retail business it shook the industry up and had other furniture stores reevaluating how they manufacture and sell their product to compete or differentiate themselves. When Southwest entered the airline market with its low cost, no frills, pick your seat way of doing business, other airlines took notice and some even tried to compete, some went out of business while some re-innovated their own marketing strategy to continue operating their business in a more traditional sense of the way. There are a number of examples of companies that have used disruptive innovation to shake up an industry.
One visionary who was incredible at doing this was Steve Jobs. For those old enough to remember, he took Apple from a struggling computer company that was competing with the behemoth Microsoft and turned it into a consumer device company. The iPod and later the iPad were disruptive innovations that turned personal computing on its side and revolutionized the technology industry. Then came iTunes with the ability to buy individual songs from artists rather than having to purchase the whole disc of music, then apps (disruptive innovation to the software industry) then came their new line of laptops that didn't even offer a CD/DVD drive thereby pushing users to do their file saving using cloud services.
How about Netflix? or RedBox? Look what those two companies are doing to the video rental industry. Are they not making money because they are doing it differently (which happens to be the argument of the traditionalists)? Not at all. Both of these companies have found ways of getting a product consumers want into their hands without the need to build one of the more traditional brick and mortar retail stores stocked with product and employees.
Is it really worth going to war over.
The way I see it is that the "Shoot and Share" business model is a disruptive innovation and for that reason has caused such a visceral reaction by some who might be susceptible to losing business because of it. Sadly, some who feel threatened think it's best to go on the attack, "declare war" and try to sway as many photographers as possible to their side of the battle field. Often they will ask you to sign up for their email newsletter, "Like" their Facebook page, or buy their coaching so they can show you the "correct" way to operate your business. Does fighting with one another do anyone any good? Does it really help to sling mud, call each other names, and waste our time writing or reading blog posts that are full of hate? It's sad to see our industry is filled with so much hate. I understand why bloggers/coaches write this kind of stuff, it gets a reaction. It gets shared and liked, they get applauded, they feel good for the week as they see the number of site visitors climb. In the blogging world we call it "click bait."
Why waste time fighting when you could be growing your business instead?
So, do photographers really need to waste time kicking, clawing and screaming at one another? Absolutely not. Find a model that works best for you and OWN IT. Let me give you an example of a business that has stuck to its traditional ways and is thriving by marketing this difference. The financial company Edward Jones has been around for a long time. Their business has always been to hire a representative for an area, build a small office for them right in the heart of town and then make that representative available to locals for help with their financial services, 401k rollovers, savings accounts and more. Many financial companies started out the same way but as the internet made it possible for people to trade stocks online most financial service companies followed suit and began offering the same service. Edward Jones however held steady. They did not change their business model. Instead they decided to do what in the business terms we call "disrupt the disrupter." They began marketing themselves as some place different. Edward Jones knew their business model, who their customer is, and what that customer considers valuable. Rather than trying to publicly fight other financial companies telling them how they are doing business all wrong, Edward Jones has separated themselves by showing people they are simply different and if you like that business model that revolves around a face to face interaction and a handshake versus a mouse click than you are a perfect fit.
If you believe that selling prints to your clients is the best way to serve them then by all means stick to your beliefs and do what you love! Find a way to market yourself so that those who value those services find you and together you'll make a perfect match one for another. Stop wasting time drawing battle lines and instead focus your energy on your business. The same goes for those who enjoy the "Shoot and Share" business model. Sure you can highlight your differences but don't try to tell traditional photographers that they don't know what they are doing. Many of them feel comfortable with their structure of doing business and have been doing it for sometime. If someone tries to waste your time with hateful speech about one business model or another, move on, hell, run as fast as you can away from them. Instead look for those who will help you understand the benefits of each model and then choose the one that works best for you. Lastly, don't sit comfortably thinking your business model will stay the same forever - remember disruptive innovation is always changing things - and in order to be successful you need to be on top-of-your-game knowing what is new and how to adopt it into your business, differentiate yourself from it, or die.
Here are some links to articles I have referenced in the article.
Harvard Business Professor - Clayton Christensen
Responses to Disruptive Strategic Innovation
The Photographer's Business Coach
Reinventing Your Business Model
Disruptive Innovation Explained - Video