Is The Competition REALLY The Problem?

Location Scouting for Seniors Ignite in Eldorado Canyon

Not long ago I came across a link to an article from a well-known and highly regarded photographer that talked about the demise of photography. It’s not important who it was, because really it could be anyone. These days it’s not uncommon to hear complaining and grumblings about how tough it is for photographers to compete in this market.

What struck me about this post, however, was that it came from someone who is by all measures a very successful, widely admired photographer that many look to for inspiration.

I am fortunate to be a part of two industries that collectively have a lot of similarities: the WordPress/Web industry and the Photography Industry.  However, what is surprising is that these two industries have very different mentalities.

On one hand there is the WordPress industry, which is booming. Despite the fact that every tool is available for FREE to anyone, and despite the mass availability of free (or extremely cheap) web software, WordPress web developers/designers/sellers are still VERY much in demand.

The photography industry, on the other hand, seems to be in a collective funk about the accessibility of professional-grade cameras, the low barrier to entry into the profession, and how ‘everyone is a photographer’ and ‘making money is harder than ever.’ It seems that everywhere you go you hear a “woe is me” tale of how hard it is to compete now that anyone can buy a camera.

Anyone can install WordPress FREE, setup a website with inexpensive hosting and a template, and then be off and running for less than $100. There are also free themes and free plugins to use to make your site do anything you want it to do – almost everything out there is available for free and is as easy to use as a DSLR camera or Photoshop software.  Yet WordPress professionals are in such high demand there is often a waiting list for certain services.

WordPress code is open-source and GPL licensed, which essentially means that things created for WordPress are open-source as well. In a sense, those products cannot be “copyrighted.” The code can be used anywhere. You can literally go to any site, grab the code, and use it on your own site.

What I find even more interesting is just how many free plugins are available – and that oftentimes the developers who create the free plugins end up making 10 times more than those don’t share or create as freely.

There are even novice WordPress freelancers giving their services away for next to nothing, and some that don’t make money at all. Yet it doesn’t seem to affect the ability for others to make money. In fact, this year there has been a lot of discussion within the WordPress community about the low price of plugins, themes, and services. About how support and growth are simply unsustainable at the average current market prices.

Yet so many WordPress developers are turning work down because they cannot keep up with demand. If you are looking for a good WordPress web developer, best of luck.

So how are they doing it?  How are WordPress sellers and developers in such demand, and how are they making a profit?

For these very reasons I’ve listed, WordPress sellers and developers have had to come up with different ways of generating income.

Just like the photography industry, there is a low barrier to entry for anyone wanting to get into the WordPress business. Naturally, more people have started entering the WordPress industry due to demand and growth, so there are a lot of products right now. And just like the photography industry as well, there is little regulation and no licensing requirements needed in order to call yourself a professional WordPress developer.

Established WordPress theme and plugin developers have started adding value to their businesses in other ways. Some have added additional services, support and products that added additional value to what they already offered. Even though the market became over saturated with WordPress themes they didn’t get stuck trying to sell the same exact thing they’ve been selling for years. In order to be successful they have had to continually evolve with the market.

So did these established WordPress sellers and developers cut their prices in order to compete? Nope. They raised them, some as much as 400%. And not only that, but they are also talking about it very openly everywhere within their community (and even to their customers). As you can imagine, there were some customers who didn’t like the higher prices, but many understood.

For these businesses, however, the decision was easy: if they didn’t raise prices they simply wouldn’t be in business much longer. There really was no other choice.

Yet when many photographers are faced with the same threat their reaction is to discount and give away their work. They keep trying to compete in the market by doing the same things they have always done. And many of them become secretive, and cut themselves off from the rest of the industry.

What a lot of it boils down to is perception and attitude. I’m not going to debate that the market is tougher today – because it is tougher. It’s tough for EVERY industry. But part of the problem is the fact that so many professionals want to continue operating as if things haven’t changed. Or they simply want to keep bitching about the fact that things have changed.

And what’s worse is that you have some photographers who, while very technically skilled, aren’t creating good enough work that excites their clients.

In some respects there is a sense of entitlement – there are photographers who act as if they ‘deserve’ business. There are others, still, that close themselves off and do not share openly with others for fear of being put out of business (by hanging on to ideas that were, quite frankly, not their own ideas to begin with). You can’t sign on to Facebook or Twitter, or go to an online forum, without someone complaining every day about bad or cheap photographers.

What gets lost in all of this is the fact that there are photographers (and studios) who are doing extremely well.  Who are making a very good income, and whose financials are ‘up’ this year.  Who are these photographers?  The ones who share.  The ones who challenge themselves and others.  These are the ones who succeed, and who move forward.  And that’s good for everyone in the industry.

In the WordPress community there is an expectation that there will be change. That’s the nature of the game. Because it’s an open-source community, when developers see something that has been done already, they want to make it better. Instead of complaining and hiding from others, the WordPress community has used the competition as motivation.  The are very aware that each and every year technological advances will replace some of their skills and products.  It’s what is expected, so they are motivated to change.

Being open and collaborative makes everyone better – and it’s what makes the WordPress industry thrive.

Photographers (and other businesses) skip using a professional and put up their own websites all the time for the same reason people have their friend take their senior pictures. It’s cheap. Or maybe they don’t know any better. Or they can’t tell the difference. Or sometimes it even ‘looks cool’ or at least looks ‘decent.’ It doesn’t matter.

Most industries are like this now. And just like the professional photographers, web professionals often make fun of businesses who use their nephew or uncle or cousin to create a website for them.

It’s never hard to pick out the amateurs in ANY industry.

If I handed a camera to someone (anyone), could they shoot senior portraits like the leaders in our industry?  No.  Hell, I have professional cameras and 13 years of experience owning my own successful photography business and I do not shoot nearly as well as any of the Seniors Ignite photographers.  And I know all of their secrets.  Literally.  Day in and day out I have full access to what they do and how they do it – I have been to their studios and worked alongside them – and I still could not do what they do.

So what, then, is the difference? Why are photographers struggling to get business – discounting, slashing prices, and even shutting their doors – while web developers and WordPress products and services are thriving (even with the cheap availability and ease of setting up a website)?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  It’s time for change.

8 thoughts on “Is The Competition REALLY The Problem?”

  1. Hi,

    I linked over to your blog post from a Seniors ignite email and recognized your name as another local photographer.

    I reflect every day on the industry and the influx of entry-level photographers. For me, finding the positive is always the best route to go. I feel that the amateur photographers who flood the market help me to stand out as NOT one of them. They more clearly define the “good, better, best” service and quality concept for the consumer and that is a huge help. There are enough of us who do not sell digital files to peak the awareness and investigative nature of consumers. They wonder why – “its a good better best thing – amateurs give negs away, pros don’t”. Then I just need to work and focus on being the best.

    1. Heidi, so true – amateur photographers and those that aren’t as skilled definitely help the top pros look better – in all aspects, not just shooting.

      There is still a demand for print products and those that can create more value have an easier time selling those types of products.

  2. Hi Nancy,
    Wonderful and informative article and I loved your comparison of the two industries. I can relate to a lot of things you mention about the Photography industry, and sometimes I think our pricing boils down to confidence, and our attitude towards our work. Though we are selling “emotion” we are a “business,” and it has to be profitable for us to continue to do what we love doing. Look forward to reading more articles from you…
    Warm Regards,
    Shriti

    1. Shriti, thanks 🙂 It does come down to confidence and how we feel about our work.

      So many photographers feel they are a commodity and often times discredit the value they bring to the table. Unless they view their own work as a valuable service nobody else will either.

  3. i LOVED this article and forwarded it to my team to read. What a great and important question to ask.

    I think the answer isn’t simple, more hopeful and wishful thinking I believe. The world is changing, our country is changing – we have to change – and offer new services and products that stand above the amateurs.

    SLashing our prices is NOT for the faint at heart when we are in need and it definitely undercuts all of our fellow photographers and ends up putting us all so close to that “guy who got a nikon for xmas” that people without an eye don’t see the difference.

    I believe in an ideal world, people would really look at their markets closely and start to produce incredibly higher quality work and charge a little more than makes them comfortable and see where that lands them! Sometimes patience pays off!

  4. I think too many people get into the business with a rather rose tinted view of being a photographer, and not realizing that it’s 10% photography and 90% business. Running a business is nothing to sneeze at. It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance, passion, time, skill, dedication, patience, and love. You have to really want to be an artist AND a business person to make it happen… I think, anyway.

    So, with that being said, best get back to editing and emailing back new leads!

  5. Hi, I’ m from Greece, Olympia, and I ‘ m a professional photographer since 1988. The “problem” with our work is that, the whole society is treating the professional photographer like amateur. The reason is clear: the one to blame is the professional himself. Very few of our colleagues are trying the way you describe in your article. The majority are just “amateures” in mind and work. Thus, all estimate that “photography” and “photographers” are like that. The spirit of the true pro, is among very few of us. There are some very well known pro photographers, their work is magnificent, but the majority is lower than average. And that’ s because – as you wrote – is generally accepted that pro photographers are just making money from their work (although that’ s the terrible truth). Nothing more, nothing less.
    The last 5 years, or so, there are real changes in our profession, thanks to you, the foreign pros. Some started to view things differently and started to do “new” things, but even now the situation is pretty much the same.
    Photography is art but if you do it for living, must be “business”. Everywhere in the world is acceptable that way but not here in Greece. Here “business” is: “discounting and slashing prices” as you wrote, for many many “professionals” who they have a small shop where they sell anything you can find in the super markets!
    Pretty much difficult, don’ you think, for someone who respect his work in any way and try to “act” as a real photographer?
    Thank you for your article, It was very helpfull to me. Looking forward for the next one soon!
    (I hope my english are correct 😀 )

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