Time for new thinking. Blow your own horn!

Blowing own trumpet. The Gorgeous Chans

The advent of digital photography on top of the earlier birth of the Internet created an epoch, it heralded a new era. It will be both liberating and challenging at the same time; once we come to accept that the world of freelance photography has changed, and understand what those changes mean.

 It is a potentially more egalitarian world but there is a danger, indeed it is probable, that the obvious and large scale opportunities will be hijacked by big business (see Crisis of proliferation). But there will always be niches for the creative and fleet of thought. Photographers are lumped together as part of the "creative" community along with artists, writers, musicians and the like. Yet most of us (mea culpa) appear anything but creative when it comes to our business plans.

The constant change that digitisation of business has brought about are still not understood by most and especially by politicians; as a body they are always seem to be a generation behind technology, business and social change. Business, especially small businesses in traditional, rather than the more entrepreneurial, fields also tend to be slow to adapt to the changes in society and technology. Unfortunately it will have changed again by the time most of us catch up with today's reality. So, we cannot rely on a lead or guidance from others.

The big, and obvious,  market categories such as youth, baby boomers, women or the retired that served marketing departments well in the second half of the 20th century are becoming increasingly fragmented as we build new dynamic personalised groupings around our particular interests. As a management consultant in the 1980s and 90s I saw signs of this move into smaller special-interest groups who wanted customised products and services, groups which did not want to be lumped into simplistic, for example age-related, markets. People want to be treated as individuals with their own portfolio of lifestyle choices and that thinking has continued to march on as digital technologies enable and drive that market fragmentation.

So we photographers must think completely differently about how we can earn from our work. Fortunately, digital channels have opened up new opportunities for building an audience for our pictures: self-publishing—both online and in print, our own online stores (ecommerce), ability to reach global markets, growth of online publishing and even the demise of traditional print seems to have been overstated.  There are certainly pressures on individual fees but that may be compensated to some degree by the increased demand, the bigger market for images. But the downward pressure does not look like abating, especially in the traditional, volume markets.

If we look at even the big name musicians, and writers, they increasingly make their money from performance in some form apparently,  rather than from recordings. A consequence it seems of the crisis of proliferation. Even the big name bands play concerts, most always have of course, but they used to make much of their money from records and merchandise. That of course is not an option open to photographers and writers. But many writers top up their income from performance of some form, speaking engagements at book festivals or on tv, teaching and running writers' workshops. Some photographers have been doing much the same, perhaps replacing speaking engagements with exhibitions. Now, the Internet provides an opportunity for online equivalents that an individual or a group can create and run themselves.

As photographers we worry about these changes but we should also recognise what they mean for traditional middle-men. They are being squeezed  even harder at both ends, by both customers and suppliers, with declining fees and the ability for us 'content providers' to manage without them, to do it ourselves. They too need to be creative, they perhaps need to start with realising that their business model is probably approaching the end of its life, that tinkering will do little to stem continued decline. It explains much of what we see happening with photo libraries and the like.

The big opportunity is that most photographers including professional, enthusiast photographers and even the those crowd sourcing snappers will continue to aim for the traditional, familiar, market even though it is declining as a means of making a proper living. That will continue to drive the market for such generic stock down whilst, in my view, it will create a need for images that are more than pretty and technically competent. Success will come to those who can break out of the mainstream and offer something different; despite the promises of libraries and their like there is no easy way to get rich, for serious money to be made.

What is that? Now that is the big  question. It will almost certainly be different for each of us and we have to find it for ourselves. No one is going to tell us, after all any niche is probably going to be rather small and probably short-lived. Perhaps most importantly such niches will be dependent on our own  specialist knowledge and skills, what access we can achieve, and all driven by the needs of our own portfolio of potential clients. As with music and writing there will continue to be a few people who make it huge, a bigger but still small group who will make a very comfortable living and the majority who will struggle to even cover their costs. Just doing more of what we have always done will confine us to that latter group. As photographers we need to cast off that old thinking and rethink how we work, do something different that sets us apart from the vast majority who will never break the mould. This will probably be the 'Never ending story' for our lives as photographers.

Easy as that! But we will indeed need to blow our own horn!

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