Money changing hands at Nizwa market, Oman

Nobody Cares How Much Your Bills Cost

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The other day I saw a photographer post the following rant online (paraphrasing): 

For a single shoot, professional photographers spend on average:

  • 1+ hours talking with customers and preparing a session,
  • 1 to 3 hours for the session,
  • 10 to 30 minutes on post-processing and retouching each photo,
  • 5 or more hours on travel, printing, binding, and delivery

They will spend thousands of dollars on equipment, maintenance, and software; countless hours studying how to create beautiful images.

They have no paid vacations, sick leave, bonuses, benefits, or company provided insurance.

50% of what they make, they pay in taxes.

They love photography, but love doesn’t pay bills.

RESPECT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER!

This seems to have been written from the perspective of an event photographer, but it applies across the board. I’ve even seen landscape photographers point out how much it costs for them to travel to a remote location and to buy a lens or a tripod.

I’ve also seen similar sentiments expressed by other artists, not only by photographers. Regardless of who is expressing it, I cannot help banging my head against the wall (figuratively) every time I read something like that and occasionally expressing my disagreement.

I’ve done this often enough that I think it is more efficient, at this point, to write down my thoughts once and for all. Next time, instead of repeating all of this as a comment on a social media post or blog, I can just share a link to this article. If you agree with me, feel free to share this post too.

Why do I disagree with the above rant?

Because I think this is a symptom of desperation and of the inability to understand one’s own market. What the people who write these kinds of things don’t understand is that, to customers, the only thing that matters is that they look great in the photos, that they have great memories, and that they have a great time during the session, or at least they don’t get too bored.

Customers will never justify the price they have to pay with the cost of the photographer’s camera or lens or how much was the electricity needed to keep the lights in the studio on.

Most of them will of course appreciate the fact that a 100-page leather-bound album is more costly than a 50-page softcover album and that they have to pay more for that. Likewise, we all understand why a 5-star hotel has to cost more than a stay in a room rented via AirBnB, but again we don’t really care about the costs: we choose to pay more for a room at the Ritz-Carlton because we think we will have an awesome experience. That’s all.

What I’ve never seen is hotel managers post a bill asking customers to respect them because it costs a lot of money to run a hospitality business.

It’s all about the value

Generally, people accept to pay a certain amount for a good or for a service if they believe the value they get from it is larger than the value of still having that money in their pockets. The costs of producing such goods or services are almost never considered and rightly so.

Production costs are not the customers’ problem and trying to move them to compassion by listing them means not understanding how customers think and, what is more damning, not being able to convey the value of what we are selling.

What I saw posted is what happens when service providers are not able to make customers appreciate the value of what they provide, so they resort to talking about costs.

Let me make this very clear: if customers don’t respect a provider’s value, it is not the customers’ fault. It is only due to the service provider’s inability to make customers understand and appreciate the value of their offering.

Why are there photographers who command $10,000 for a shoot and others who have trouble getting paid $1,000, even when the former’s costs are not 10 times as high?

To be honest, their costs will actually be higher: they might use a $2,000 lens instead of a $500 lens, but this is only because they get paid more and their margins are higher. They are not paid more because their costs are higher. They can afford to have higher costs because they are paid more. They are paid more because they can persuade the customers that what they sell has a higher value.

Appeals to compassion won’t earn anyone more respect. If anything, playing this card smells of desperation and nobody likes to buy from someone who is desperate.

Be confident when you state your prices and be ready to justify them with the value you are going to provide. This is the only way to get respect and sales.

As always, I appreciate your comments and, if you liked this episode, please leave me a review on Apple Podcasts. Thank you very much.

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