More on the Photo Biz

I’ve been thinking a lot about how digital is changing the professional photo business and how I can nuzzle into some comfortable place in the photo world.

I hold no illusions about my abilities as a photographer. For the most part I don’t consider what I do to be “fine art” and lack the pretensions that seem necessary to modern pro photography. The whole art scene mostly feels tedious on the arty side of things, and just shitty on the mass-marketed side of things. I guess I want to end up somewhere in the middle where “teh suck” is kept to a minimum. I like to take shots of stuff that I find interesting, and offer those shots to people who also find them interesting. I know my niche is not making the most technically amazing photos, or hiking 30 miles into the back country to get a shot no one has ever got before. At least it’s not right now. It’s also not shooting tons of crap for stock, or setting up a portrait studio for soccer moms and graduates.

Being a child of the digital age, filled with the cynicism softly nurtured by television and video games, I find myself wanting to challenge modern media distribution structures. I want to contribute to our culture in a transparent and accessible way. Watching the film and recording industries curl up in apoplectic fits over their antiquated distribution chains and business models fascinates me. I want to be part of a new form of collective culture. Professional photography has a huge artificial edifice much like the MPAA or RIAA that cheap technology and young punks with cameras are just begging to pull down.

Photographers are a lot like rock stars. A very small number make a lot of money, a relatively larger number than that make a successful living, a lot of them make pretty much nothing, and I’d say most of them maintain another job while trying to scratch their way up to rockstar status. This is the burden of all artistic types I suppose. But technology has introduced the long tail and made it possible for small time creative types to reach out to audiences they would never have appealed to before.

How do we apply the long tail to Photography? Well in the case of a landscape photographer like me, it requires some thought. In thinking about how I can make it as a photographer, the internet has played a central role. Online presentation, purchasing and distribution. Yep. Granted. But how do I make money? Well here are some of my ideas.

Sell prints This one is pretty straight forward, and offered by a lot of people at the moment. You can undercut them by not charging “art collector” prices for your work, but run the risk of never being taken seriously as a photographer and never having the chance to sell prints for $500 each. Also, when people are interested for the purpose of collecting, low prices often equate to low value in their minds. But hey, this is what the long tail is for right? Sell that one print for $500 or 50 prints at $10. 50 prints is a lot more work and probably 75% of the profit of the larger print, but it’s also your work in 50 places, sitting there, advertising itself to others. The other side of that equation is finding 50 people who like your stuff enough to buy it. Finding one person who will pay $500 might actually be easier. I plan to offer my prints at reasonable prices. I may have something spectacular that I will offer for more, but the bulk I’m going to keep affordable. I want to get people who wouldn’t normally buy photography into the game.

Sell RAW Have your own printer? Don’t want to wait for shipping on your print? Don’t want to pay for the printing, matting or shipping? Why should you? I can offer a baseline price on the RAW file, dramatically lower my cost and effort and let my customers print on the paper they want, at the size they want, cropping and editing as they wish. The cost on this will probably be a little higher than an 11×14 print, but I plan to include the RAW file on a CD for people who buy prints larger than that.

Bundling For people who buy 8×10 or 11×14 prints, they get a Mini CD with jpeg versions of the file suitable for use as a desktop image, or for making smaller prints, which they can do for personal use under the Creative Commons license. For people buying 16×20 images, they get the desktop pictures and the RAW file under the same license. If anything happens to the print, they will have a backup on CD and can have it reprinted.

Just Give Shit Away I’m already doing this on LearningPhoto. I let anyone download the RAW file from my camera and do pretty much whatever they want with it as long as they aren’t making money from it and they attribute the original work to me. Uptake on this has been relatively slow, but that’s mostly have having pretty much zero exposure. Once my dedicated print site is ready, I’ll start the pimping on the intarweb and start making the rounds on the photo boards. This alone won’t make me money, but it will raise my profile and serve as a marketing platform. Really I’d like to do this for all of my photos, but I’d like to take photos for a living, and I seriously doubt asking for donations would provide a living.

What do you guys think?

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