Adapt to Customers or Perish

It doesn’t matter what your business model is as a photographer. It matters what the customer’s buying model is.

The above bit of wisdom is by Guy Kawasaki, who is quoted in an interesting article on rethinking photography business models.

These days, just about the only way photographers can make a living is by shooting weddings. But brides are creatures of our modern age too and are balking at some of the more old-fashioned elements of the business. Scott Bourne writes:

Gone are the days when we can just send some negatives to the lab, order some cheap 8×10 prints, put them in a black folder, mark them up 400 percent and call it a day.

Instead, brides want everything done digitally. They want all the pictures taken during the ceremony burned onto a CD. They even want the unprocessed files so that they can Photoshop them on their own.

Photographers must adapt to what customers want in order to survive.

I see the same thing in the book publishing business. Customers have e-readers, wonderful devices that allow them to buy books instantly. They don’t believe that e-books should be as expensive as print. While publishers may resist, customers believe that e-books should be priced somewhere between free and $9.99.

Readers also don’t care who the publisher is. They talk about the new Stephen King not “Have you seen the St. Martin’s Press catalog?”

But publishers are sticking to their business model, of bringing out books slowly and pricing e-books sometimes even more expensively than their print equivalents. They won’t survive.

Instead, the publisher as middleman will dissipate as authors and readers find each other on Amazon and other e-bookstores.

Social Media Week has been going on this week in DC. One of the sessions was on open source culture. Derrick Ashong is on a mission to give away a million downloads of his music tracks.

How can you make money at that? You can’t. But the sad truth is that most musicians never see a dime from album sales. If you’re a new artist, it’s better to give your stuff away and make money from concerts. (Or, if you’re a rapper, from your clothing line.) But first you need an audience. Giving away music is a way to develop that audience, a model that is explained in Free by Chris Anderson.

In his talk, Derrick explained that the hardest thing to get was people’s attention. “I’ve never heard of you – why would I listen to your music?” Giving away music is a way to start the conversation, to hopefully turn the disinterested into fans.

Can you give away music and make a living? How do photographers adapt to a world of photos everywhere all the time? What does a writer have to do to connect with an online audience?

Nobody knows the answers to these questions yet because the traditional business models are changing, driven by advances in connectivity and consumer demands. But hanging onto the old will lead to irrelevance. Those that adapt to the wishes of consumers will succeed.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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