Justifiable confidence in your skill set means you have nothing to be scared of

Why are professionals with years of experience and talented work to show off nervous that amateurs and hobbyists will steal work from them? 

If they truly have the skill and experience that they are claiming justifies their price, then they shouldn't be worried about this at all. As I wrote in my last post, there has been an uproar lately among the professional photography community that up and coming amateurs and hobbyist photographers are undercutting them on price, stealing their work, and bringing the industry down as a whole. This is an especially sensitive topic to me obviously, as Snapm, aims to connect amateur photographers with paying jobs. However I argue that they are serving different customers, different needs, and that the price being charged for a job is determined by the market and not by an artificial point agreed to by the old guard.

Additionally, if you are truly talented, have years of work under your built, and have a portfolio of work and clients to show off in support of this, then the last thing you need to be worried about are amateurs stealing work from you. I liken this to the scare in the IT world that IT professionals are losing their jobs to outsourced workers overseas. Unknowing outsiders started advising against studying computer science in college because all programming jobs would soon be snatched up by overseas workers who could charge a fraction of the price. This thinking is wrong for two reasons.

First of all, the statement comes from a lack of understanding of what computer science really is. It is, contrary to common belief, not the study of computer programming. It is a rigorous background in abstract and analytical problem solving. It gives you the basis to solve problems that deal with system architecture, scaling, network administration issues, data model design, security, as well as the ability to implement solutions in all of these areas. The notion that someone with a strong computer science education is a replaceable programmer is most definitely false. This is supported by the fact that smart, experienced computer science minded folks are in high demand throughout industry as well as in the early stage startup world. You may be able to outsource some of the repeatable programming tasks, but when it comes to architecting your system, you need someone who knows what they're doing.

The second reason that I believe this thinking is wrong in the area of computer science, is that as companies take advantage of cheaper overseas programming for basic tasks, they become more efficient in the technology arena – and this leads to more technology. The more cutting edge technology or new initiatives they are taking, the more talented, intelligent people they'll need locally to architect and oversee the efforts. This creates "smarter" jobs. Sure the IT certified Java programmer may lose his coding job to an outsourced agency, but the jobs that are created will reward smarter more well rounded candidates, allow the companies to grow more intelligently, and the result will be even more jobs created in the future.

So how is this similar to photography? Any talented experienced photographer is ideally like someone with the strong computer science background. They've been studying their art form their entire life in an effort to get better, and there will always be work for them on the high end of the spectrum. Up and coming amateurs and hobbyists can serve the low end of the market, because they're happy to get some experience and fulfill roles where a professional wasn't affordable anyway. The amateurs are like the outsourced talent. They'll allow companies and individuals to accomplish their goals (of getting photos taken) more efficiently, but when it comes time for a bigger project or something incredibly important, the established pros should have nothing to worry about.

If a strong professional photographer is competing with an amateur, then they may want to question whether that particular job is something that is up to their standards anyway. Or if they have trouble convincing the client that their price is worth it, then perhaps their price is too high. Snapm aims to make photography accessible to those who wouldn't be able to afford it otherwise, and at the same time allow amateurs to gain experience and make a little bit of money. Magazines, corporations, and upscale wedding participants will still be in need to A-level talent, so spend your time learning what you need to in order to capture those jobs instead of competing with amateurs for work you don't want anyway.

Startup Marketplaces Keeping The Markets Honest

There’s been a bunch of buzz among internet photography communities lately about the hypothetical “$500 wedding photographer.” Does he have the right to undercut the competition so dramatically in order to make a living for himself? Or is he doing a disservice to the entire photography profession by offering his work at such a low price? There are of course, views on both sides, but many longtime professionals are adamant the undercutter is ruining their industry. 

But shouldn’t the price be determined by the market, and not by an artificial point agreed to by the industry brass?

My new startup, Snapm.com, is a marketplace that connects amateur photographers with paying jobs. Not unexpectedly, the reaction from amateurs and up-and-coming photographers has been positive, but the reaction from professionals has been incredibly negative, bordering on angry. The amateurs on the site are happy to charge $50/hour for jobs, whereas many pros are accustomed to making over $1000 per shoot and upwards of $5000 for a wedding.

These professionals are worried that the young up-and-comers will take work from them. But should they be? If they are providing a superior product (much higher quality photography), at a price that the market can bear, then they should have nothing to worry about.  Believe it or not, I’m the first to recommend to people that for a once-in-a-lifetime event like a wedding, they should hire a proven professional. It will be worth it, and you’ll notice a clear difference. But there are plenty of other events where no matter how important it is, there’s no way to afford or justify a $300/hour photographer. It’s these occasions where hiring an amateur at a much lower price isn’t taking any work away from a professional at all, and instead is creating a new opportunity to use a service that wasn’t affordable before.

Long Tail Marketplaces As A Growing Trend in Startups

I have seen these lower end markets as a growing trend in startups over the past few years, and it’s a trend that serves the consumer well and keeps markets honest on the whole.

In the case of Etsy, longtime professional jewelry designers can’t be excited that people are buying homemade craft-jewelry from do-it-yourselfers over the internet. And hotel managers definitely can’t be thrilled by the prospects of travelers opting to rent people’s extra bedrooms through Airbnb when traveling to a new city. Much like pro photographers aren’t jazzed about people booking hobbyists through Snapm to shoot portraits of their families.

But what the high end jewelers, proprietors, and photographers don’t seem to get is that in these cases the option isn’t between paying for a professional or paying for an amateur, the option is between paying for an amateur, or not paying at all. There will always be customers who will buy the fancy jewelry, will spring to stay at the Four Seasons, and will book the experienced wedding photographer. But there will also be people who wouldn’t buy jewelry that cost over $30, wouldn’t travel to New York City if they didn’t have an apartment to crash in for under $100/night, and wouldn’t hire a photographer to shoot their Christmas party if they couldn’t find one for $40/hour.

If professionals are looking to compete in these lower end spaces, then they need to get honest with themselves and appreciate what the market is willing to pay, instead of artificially trying to manipulate prices through pressuring their less-experienced colleagues.  Provide a great service, and you’ll succeed, and make plenty of money in the process. But if you’re worried that people will opt for amateur level service over what you’re offering, then maybe you better take a good look at the work your producing and make sure that you’re really charging people what it’s actually worth.

Trying to keep prices artificially high is a remnant of the pre-information age. It’s fighting an uphill battle that will inevitably be lost. With Craigslist, and startups like Etsy, Airbnb, and Snapm, consumers now have access to true price points that work for both the buyer and the seller. And what was once never an option, is now as easy as point, click, pay.