Why photographers should listen to economists

Deadly bored by business news? Toss the envelopes from the broker…if you still have enough money to have one…in the back of a drawer? Couldn’t read a financial statement if your life depended upon it? (Guess what? It does). If so, listen up. Accept: stock photography and photography in general is in a downward spiral. You can’t move ahead without facing the brink.

In the early part of the decade that NY Times Op/Ed writer and economist, Paul Krugman, calls the Big Zero perhaps as many as fifteen  percent of the photographers who had work with Getty Images were making from $12,000 up to $100,000 annually and a few were pulling in that much quarterly.

Photographers said with confidence, “This is going to be my retirement income.” Ooops. Dial ahead to now: the comment now is how much  income from licensing stock photographs has decreased. A year ago, the percentage was around 15-20%. Today  the average decrease can be over 50%. The most important thing you can do in the coming year is to accept that your life is changed for good. Krugman has sobering stats.

Economic recovery doesn’t mean recovering what was lost but a re-casting of the lives that we used to have. This means if you are in it for a six figure income, your chances of getting there quickly or at all could be the same as the odds of me dancing with the Joffrey Ballet. To succeed in the next decade determine to work hard with razor sharp focus on goals, put your ego in your back pocket and a rabbit’s foot on your keychain.  Adjust your expectations, cut your expenses and expand your repertoire. AND if you don’t already know: learn the fundamentals of running a small business.

RPI (return per image per shoot) doesn’t mean much if you are smothered by overhead. Take a look at your professional and personal costs. Do you shop as a leisure activity? Do you have to have the latest gear not because it is that much better but because it is a symbol of your ’success’ whether you can afford it or not? All that is so 2005. Only buy what you need and you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll have. Tips:

  • Review your financial statement monthly
  • Review your end of month financials every month. Even if you have an accountant, it’s your business to be able to analyze financials and budgets.
  • Review your insurance policies annually. Are you paying to ensure equipment that you no longer own? Do you have a current equipment inventory in case of theft and to use in depreciation schedules on your taxes? If you don’t have health insurance, get it. If you can’t afford it, buy a policy with a very large deduct-able. Photography is a business that involves physical risk.
  • Renegotiate fees with all the services that you use: start with the accountant. I did a little comparison shopping and will save at least $600 this year by switching.

You won’t be the only one with changed attitudes toward money/life. There is no shame in the fact that your stock income has tanked…anyone who says theirs hasn’t, is probably mistaken. Don’t wallow in thoughts of the way life used to be: You can even use these fresh attitudes to inform your photos by studying how consumer attitudes have changed. Use this information as you plan lifestyle shoots:

Finally notes on building a skating rink…err not really…by master marketer Seth Godin:

  • Join ASMP to learn/refresh about how to run a photography business
  • Twittering and FB may seem like work but watch your ROI in time in social networks
  • Comparision shop and bargain for all services

About the author

Ellen Boughn uses her decades of experience to guide photographer clients through the maze of opportunities and pitfalls in today’s marketplace for existing images, from rights managed to microstock. Her consulting approach is personalized, strategic and considers all current options in the rapidly changing stock photography industry. 

Boughn has directed the production of over 200 stock shoots over the last few years, from concepting to directing on set. A frequent speaker at PhotoExpo, UGCX and a respected industry analyst, she has qualified as an expert witness and appraiser of stock photo collections. Ellen is the author of “Microstock Money Shots—Turning Downloads into Dollars” and is a member of ASMP, ASPP, PACA and a candidate for the Appraiser’s Association of America. Twitter: @ellenboughn | Facebook ellenboughn

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