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In response to the American Society of Media Photographer (ASMP) President, James Cavanaugh’s post in the ASMP Winter Bulletin, endorsing cutting fees, I posted a retort to the damage that can come from this type of thinking.  I felt it might be worthwhile to reprint it here so that those outside of the ASMP Architecture fold might also have the opportunity to read it. Several have asked for permission to reprint it to share with their students and others and I warmly embrace you doing so. Best regards, Brad

In the marketplace there exists vendors like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, who charge (don’t critique this on the pricing as it may not be accurate, this is for scenario purposes only) $75 for a polo shirt. There are buyers out there who will pay $75 for that shirt as there is a perceived sense of quality and stature that goes hand and hand with the brand. There is also brands like the Gap who charge $50 for a polo shirt and even Walmart who may sell them for $25. All are selling polo shirts. 

If, due to market pressures, Brooks Brothers lowers their price to $50, where does the Gap go? Brooks Brothers will likely pick up some market share as certain buyers, who bought from the Gap can now afford the Brooks Brothers polo but, Brooks Brothers will also lose some high paying customers as their brand perception has been reduced. Where does the Gap go? Closer to the Walmart as they have now lost market share to Brooks Brothers. Where does Walmart go? Nowhere, as there market is quantity not profit margin. What happened throughout this scenario? Brooks Brothers lost their perception of quality, AS WELL AS their profit margin, merely to gain some new customers. As a result, the Gap lowered their price and thus lost their profit margins, as well. Ultimately, there will also be buyers of the Gap, who don’t care about Brooks Brothers and were happy to pay the $50 price tag but are now elated that the price has gone lower. Every vendor is losing, with the buyer being the great beneficiary. What happens to Walmart? Nothing, as their profit margin is so slight that they either sell it for that price or cease to sell polo shirts.

Hypothetically, a year later, Brooks Brothers moves the price back up to $75 but finds that they not only lost their newly found $50 customers (as they have now out priced them) but now their $75 customers are now buying Armani, due to the tarnishing of their brand. Their $75 marketplace has now been lost and they must now find a happy medium selling their polos for $65. The Gap, too finds themselves in the same position. Everyone’s profitability has been reduced This is why brands like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren don’t do it and why WE cannot afford to do it either.

What do they do? Well, they will offer 3 shirts for $200 instead of the $225 they would typically charge, still maintaining their $75/polo price tag. Don’t speak of them having sales, as the whole store is never ON SALE, only last season’s goods and sales never last in perpetuity. 

How does this relate to me? One cannot compete with the Walmarts nor should one aspire to. There will always be those willing to charge almost nothing for A) it is a side gig or B) they have little to no overhead or C) they recognize what they have to provide, is of a lesser quality. If you are a newbie, enter the market as the Gap but aspire to be a Ralph Lauren. Charge a fair market value for your work because A) you deserve it, if your work is of any quality and B) because there have been the Brooks Brothers of the industry who have demanded their fees so that you can make a living in photography. Once you become a Brooks Brothers, stand by your fees so that the industry as a whole does not suffer. If you have to, find creative, outside the box thinking that will maintain your fee without diminishing your brand, like Brooks Brothers does.

Know that many of the “Brooks Brothers” of ASMP started out as the “Gaps” of ASMP and gradually, over many years, built up their fees so they could subsist and so new “Gaps” to ASMP and the marketplace could earn a decent living.

Please, do not let a poor economy bring the industry of photography to its knees by merely bending to market pressure. Let me know the last time you walked into a Brooks Brothers and demanded to buy a $75 polo shirt for $50 and the answer was, OK. If you wish to create value, you must create the perception of that which you bring to the table, not a false perception but, one of reality. We, as architectural photographers, bring great value and please do recognize that! Granted, we are not curing cancer or doing brain surgery but, we are assisting our clients to sell their wares, to generate new business, to help them win awards and sometimes, even get them published. Without architectural photography, the publications would merely be words, as would be the websites. They do need us and, believe or not, most value what we do. We need to value it too. Do not forget the value you bring and demand adequate compensation for that value. When you ultimately become a “Brooks Brothers” or a “Ralph Lauren”, you will be glad you did. Enough of the pep talk, now go out, create good work and DEMAND to be compensated accordingly.

All the Best,