I’m going to propose something shocking: stop putting your work online.
I know, that sounds crazy now, doesn’t it? But I’m not kidding. I think that your best work should not be published anywhere online, at least not full frame or for long.
Allow me to explain.
Scarcity increases value. That is a simple truth. If everyone can get something, it simply is not worth as much as something that is truly exclusive.
Years ago, as a little girl, I used to dream about getting something Chanel–a suit, a pair of shoes, something. Then Chanel, like many other (at the time) exclusive, high-end brands, started putting out a ton of products. Suddenly, the value of Chanel wasn’t what it was. Almost anyone could get a Chanel-branded something. The whole aura was destroyed… poof.
Recently, Pierre Bergé expressed similar thoughts in a New York Times interview where he said that Haute Couture was dead. When everyone can get it, it isn’t anything special. He’s right.
On the same day, the New York Times also published an article on the collectability of fashion photography. These are mostly, but not only, older works, but currently active photographers have work that is also quite valuable. The thing is, this work is in the form of prints, gorgeous hand-made prints. They are limited in number, crafted in their execution, and simply aren’t available to all. They are rare–the more rare, the more valuable.
Add on top of that the simple but often ignored fact that making prints is a great way to archive your best work. Keeping your best work in a tangible medium is a way to ensure that it will be around long after the drive you have it on now becomes unreadable.
So, putting that all together, I thought about how photographers, the truly gutsy of you, can turn the tide of falling value for your work: make great work, make great prints of it, and make it very, very exclusive.
Why put all your work everywhere where anyone can share it and reproduce it willy-nilly? Where is the perceived value in that? It disappears…poof.
I’m not talking about your commercial work, the things you do for clients, but rather the photographs you make for you. Make your own art and make it rare and exclusive. Don’t show it all. Don’t share it or let others do so. Keep it something elusive, desired, rare. Like the great burlesque queens of the past, show a little leg but keep the goods hidden, enticing. Leave folks wanting.
If you are going to show work to get people to buy it, do so only for a brief period, and tease the sale. Tease your targets, your potential buyers. Want to use it to get the attention of commercial clients? Maybe give one to a creative director you’d love to work with and let her/him know that, if anyone asks, you’re going to have a flash sale of similars.
Which of you will be the artists you really are and create your own amazing work, memorialize it in gorgeous prints, then offer only in a limited number, and priced accordingly?