Archive for September, 2007

Plus ça change

Monday, September 17th, 2007

There’s an old saying in French: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). This is true in our industry as much as it is anywhere. There are discussions and fears all over about new technology and its implications, especially as it relates to value. It has always been thus–especially in advertising.

When radio came about, it took a while for previously print-only advertisers to get the hang of the new technology and for companies to figure out how best to exploit it for financial gain. Same for TV. Now the same thing is happening with the ‘net and broadband services in general.

However, as the money pulls back from traditional TV, more and more is getting spent in web-based advertising. Also, newer technologies may permit a greater integration of TV and targeted advertising that we’ve hardly dreamed of–imagine watching a show and seeing a product you want to know more about–click on the product with your TV remote to be taken to that product’s site, on the fly, where you can learn more and even order it. That isn’t too far out there any more.

This presents photographers with significant opportunities, if we keep our heads about us. In the short term, yes, pricing and value are going to be difficult to quantify. However, rather than assuming the lower potentialities, try to look at the greater ones. In time, the prices and costs for these newer media uses will, I believe, rise to reflect their greater value to the advertisers and we should be ready to reflect this in photography license prices. That will be easier to do on the higher end if we push for greater prices now, rather than lowering the bar.

Of course, for those of you who are using media buys as a factor in your license prices, these new uses pose a difficult problem. Until the media is quantified (which will be done by others than us) there is little to go on for pricing. For these uses, I suggest perhaps doing a variation like determining the number of potential “eyeballs” and charging for each of them. Ask a client how much reach, in terms of people, they expect to get, then multiply that by something between tenths of a cent and a couple of cents per potential person.

After all, web banner ads, for example, are priced all over the place, but usually based on CPM (cost per thousand impressions)–like for BusinessWeek.com, 1 million impressions would cost $40K to $108K, depending on the banner size (that’s $40-$108 CPM). $40 per 1000 means the media costs 4¢ per appearance. Pricing your usage license a few tenths of a penny per view would seem a more than reasonable valuation (.5¢ would be 12.5% of media cost–a significant percentage from the advertiser’s point of view, but it is, at least, a starting point).

Of course, I’d prefer those numbers to be higher. $5000 for a million eyeballs seems pretty low to me. However, at the very least we can make a credible argument for it. As the valuation of web use shakes out for the media, it will become easier and easier to determine the relative value of imagery within those uses. In the meantime, this gives us some logical place to begin negotiations.

As I’ve said before in all my writings about pricing, I’m not married to these numbers. I want photographers to push for the highest prices their images’ values will bear. I am simply trying to find logical quantifying methods and provide credible arguments for their defense.

I lied (sort of)

Friday, September 14th, 2007

In the previous post, I lied–okay, it was more a sin of omission, but same thing basically. There is one thing you can do right now to make your business better immediately:

Make something. Make your something, your way, and don’t even begin to let anyone else tell you what that is. Not even me.

What can I do now?

Friday, September 14th, 2007

I hear that fairly often from clients or people thinking about becoming clients, “What can I do now to get more business, like, today?” This is often followed by “I was thinking about sending a postcard” or email or buying a page in a sourcebook because “they just offered me a great deal but I need to decide today.” These are great examples of reactionary thinking.

Reactionary thinking is when something happens (or fails to happen) and you react to that (non-)event. Sometimes (often?) these reactions are elevated to urgency and yet they aren’t given time or enough thought. Think knee-jerk reaction–that involuntary thing our legs do when our doctors thwap us in the kneecap with a small rubber hammer.

Involuntary. Out of our control.

Involuntary reactions are good for our bodies–we want to fight off bad bugs without thinking about it–but they’re not very good for business. When you react (without thinking, especially) you take the eye off your goals, your plan, your road. It’s easy to end up in a ditch.

So, if you’re struggling with your business, tell yourself this like a mantra: there is nothing reactionary or fast I can do to make a positive difference in the long run–I would be better off thinking and planning than doing without considering.

Now, if you don’t have your rent money for next month, you need to do something now to change that situation, of course. Get a loan, sell something, get a second job–whatever. But when it comes to your business, you need to think more before taking actions–because those actions could easily end up making it harder and harder for you to make your rent month after month.

Through planning you reduce the risk of being in that reactionary position in the future. That hard sell for a sourcebook page today? It’ll be there next year too, and if you’re planning on being in business next year and the year after, then you can consider buying a page…in the future. Right now, if it’s not already in your plan, just say “no.” Thinking of sending a mailer? Better to plan a coordinated campaign.

So what can you do now? Plan.

Me likey Prince

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

There are rumors that Prince is about to sue the hell out of a bunch of prominent websites–for piracy. The thought is that most of the stuff on the web is actually stolen property and someone has to start somewhere.

I say, good for him. Let’s back Prince in his efforts. This isn’t some recording industry money-grab–this is an artist trying to reclaim his rights, bust like most of you.

Competition sucks

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

I’m a very competitive person. You do not want to play Trivial Pursuit against me because I’m full of odd info and I like to win. However, I’m not a jerk about it. I know how to lose gracefully and if someone can beat me at Trivial Pursuit, then I have huge respect for that person. I also have lots of respect for people who will even try to beat me at that game, because they have courage and spirit. Trivial Pursuit, however, is a game–I think competition is great in games and sports.

Competition sucks, however, in business…from the businessperson’s perspective, I mean (for the consumer, it can be a very good thing).

Okay, competition doesn’t always suck in business, but more often than not it does. Why? Because most people can’t balance respect and competition very well. It’s difficult to keep respecting your competitor when money is on the line–somehow money warps perspective and before you know it, you’re hating your competition.

If you look at the people who share your industry as competitors, you’re going to have a harder time being an effective business person. It puts you into a generally reactionary position rather than an active one. You start worrying about what your competition is doing and stop focusing on what you are doing. Your choices become framed in response rather than innovation. All not good.

Instead, I think it is better to look at others in your industry as colleagues. No one is going to get all the business, no matter what, and if your business is unique, then it will have its own space in the market–you won’t have any real competition.

I run my business this way. This is why I’ve had long conversations with people like Suzanne Sease and Selina Maitreya and others–we’re colleagues. We each have our own way of working and our own thoughts and we respect each other.

I sometimes see it in photographers too. I just had someone today thank me for working with another photographer from his city. How great is that?! How open! Instead of seeing this other photographer improving his business as a threat, he was honestly excited for his colleague.

Take some time today to see if you’re doing more reacting or more acting/innovating. If you’re more on the reaction side, take some time to refocus your business on itself (and off others).

Get Some Good Advice

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Selina Maitreya is coming here to San Diego next week to give a presentation. The talk, I Know This Much Is True, is being offered by both APA and ASMP–a joint effort of which I am very excited. The more pro groups do together, the more they build the concept of camaraderie and break down the concept of competition.

Also, in that spirit, I will be a special guest in the second half of the event, as Selina and I (and many others) believe that we are not so much competition as colleagues. Our goals are similar–to help our clients as best we can and make our livings doing what we love. We know that working with one of us is an intimate thing and that no one consultant is the right consultant for every client out there. You may be a better “fit” with my skills and personality, or hers, or Suzanne Sease, or someone else; and how can we best serve the photo community as consultants if part of our advice is not “work with the right consultant for you, even if that is not me”?

With that in mind, I would like to encourage any of you who are looking for good advice to book an individual consultation with Selina while she is here in San Diego. You’re sure to gain knowledge that will enhance your business (and easily pay for the cost of the meeting). For locals, I’m usually here and accessible, but Selina is traveling from the other side of the country–doesn’t make sense to take advantage of her knowledge while she’s here?

The Joy (not) of Spam

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Today I sent out the latest Free Manual in Your Email…and promptly had about 5% of them bounce because my server (the hosting company, that is) has been placed on some obscure spam list. Yarg.

This is particularly frustrating because the company I use is, if anything, pitbull-like in its anti-spam policies. In fact, I can’t do things I would like to do marketing-wise, because it would violate their rules–which are considerably more strict than the law requires. And yet, their machines are popping on spam lists and, as a consequence, my emails get blocked.

This is not the hosting company’s fault, nor is it mine. It is, however, a result of the hyper-vigilance of some people. I think some of these people are the same people who dress their kids like the Michelin Man before they go play anything active outside and/or who won’t take crap images off their sites because there may be some potential buyer who won’t hire ‘em because of what they are not showing.

This is all fear.

Yes, spam is a pain in the butt. I get loads too and even with all the blockers, etc., it seems the worst of the worst always find a way through. The legitimate marketers, like me, get blocked. This just proves you can’t protect against everything.

In fact, protecting often has worse effects than the original problem. Look at antibiotics–we started using them like aspirin and now there are formerly simple bacteria that we can’t kill because they are now resistant.

What does this have to do with you and your business? Well, besides possibly not getting your Manual when I send ‘em, over-protection is bad in business. Minimizing risk is touted by some as a positive, but when it goes from buying insurance (good) to not trying something new, it goes too far.

For example, the stock industry is changing rapidly these days. Companies like Getty and Corbis are falling all over themselves to lower prices to compete with microstock which is resulting in unhappy photographers and buyers who are getting crappy service because the stock houses don’t care about anything but their price-points. We have technology today that makes managing and selling your own stock a viable option to these huge companies. I think taking the risk of pulling your images from Getty (etc.) and marketing/licensing them yourself is better than staying with those same companies.

You might take a hit in the short term. It might not even work in the long–but I think the chances are good enough and the potential payoff is big enough that it’s worth taking that risk.

To be successful in business, you need to be willing to take some risks. No one got rich sitting on their hands. Like all things in life, you have to look at the chances something won’t work, the potential rewards if it does, figure the “pot odds,” and then make a decision to check, bet, or fold.

Ready, set, sign up!

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Two things you need to sign up for:

1) The next Free Manual in Your Email will go out on Monday. If you’re not on my list yet, sign up now by clicking here. Please make sure to include a web address or some info in your email so that I know you’re a real person and not some ‘bot/evil phisher-spammer.

2) ASMP’s Strictly Business 2 events! The site is now live, so you can get full info, pricing, etc., straight from the fine ASMP folks themselves. Click the link above for info, and sign up for a great program. Don’t forget the short consultations available (at a very small extra charge) with each of us main speakers.

I consider it like a Photo-MBA in a weekend. On top of everything you’ll learn (especially the negotiation role-playing and practice!), the opportunity to meet all the teachers, the keynote in each city, sponsors, and your colleagues is too fantastic to be missed.

Also, I will be available for longer-format individual consultations in each SB2 city, after the events. You can get more info about those by contacting me directly either via email or calling 619.961.5882 (during Pacific Time biz hours).

Stock in the media

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Business Week has a major article on the current situation in stock photography, focused on Getty. It’s worth a read.

There are a few errors–referring to photos that are “non-copyrighted” (pg. 3) is the most blatant. For the record, ALL [new, US] photos are copyrighted there Bucko–but they may be (ick) royalty-free. And they don’t talk about Getty’s new pricing for web usage–$49 for any image (yes, any, for wide-ranging web-based use).

More importantly, this article brings to the mainstream the ideas of stock, payments, usage, and how photographers are getting screwed by companies like Getty. People will understand our industry better, and that builds compassion for our struggles.

The article also mentions how Getty has lost any concept of personal service for its clients, and there, I think, is its most easily exploitable flaw. Rather than rail at Getty for it’s $49 new pricing–saying something like “drop this program or will stop providing images”–just stop working with companies like this that exploit your talents.

You don’t need them.

In today’s techno-groovy world, self-marketing and selling of stock can be much more doable either completely in-house or via Digital Railroad (as mentioned in the article). If you offer great images AND you give fantastic, personal service to your clients, you don’t need stock houses like Getty or Corbis to create a good stock-based income stream. Clients will appreciate you taking into account the details of their projects when you price, working with them to make a fair deal for you both, and they will come back for more (and share your info with their colleagues).

I think the time is right for photographers to take back control of their images. Dump companies like Getty who, as the article states, is essentially the Wal*Mart of photography–abusing its suppliers and using fear to get photographers to provide the images it needs to make its money. Set up your own stock companies. Market the hell out of your work and your service.

And keep more of YOUR money, rather than letting uncaring corporations get 60+% of your sales.

Fate

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Stewart Cohen is quoted in the most recent edition of ASMP Bulletin (the Best of issue) saying something I think every creative should internalize. When asked what he considers his most important business decision, he replied:

[…] my career shouldn’t be left in the hands of my clients. If I was going to be a great photographer, it couldn’t depend on the jobs I had or did not have. My fate would be totally up to me.

I think that is fantastic. Cohen recognized early on that he had the power to control only himself (not his potential clients) and, as an artist, it was incumbent on him to make his art. If he didn’t make his art, it wouldn’t be the fault of any client or lack of client.

In fact, throughout his mini-interview Cohen talks about control. Control is an issue I see often in our industry and it is usually misunderstood and/or misapplied. Photographers seek to control their market, buyers, the media, and even each other. However, they can do none of those things. No one can.

You can only control yourself–your own actions.

But that is all you need. When you shift the locus of control to yourself, you stop being a victim of the world around you. It’s no longer “people underbid me so I don’t get jobs” or “I can’t afford to shoot the places I want” and the like; instead it’s “I’ve done all I can–I will get this project or I won’t” and “I can find new ways to reach out to potential clients” and “I will find a way to make those images in Nepal that I have always dreamed of making.”

You stop wasting time being frustrated you don’t get a project or can’t do X or Y. You might follow up to learn from a “no” from outside, but it’s no longer “Why not me?”–at most it’s “What can I do next time to improve my chances of getting a project with you?” You find ways to make things happen instead of waiting on someone else to make it happen for you. You figure out that by saving $20 a week you can make that Nepal trip in two years so you drop the Starbucks from your ritual.

More importantly, focusing on yourself and what you can control encourages you to be more confident, more accepting, and more likely to make your own art anyway–all of which will help you get projects down the pike.