Welcome To The Demand Economy

- - The Future

I read an interesting excerpt from a book called “How Companies Win” where the authors (Rick Kash and David Calhoun) argue that we are in a state of oversupply and the companies that win are those who seek demand. They go on to say that “constant innovation–the ability to find and fulfill new demand opportunities–is essential.” We’ve gone from a supply and demand economy to a demand then supply economy. The old way of thinking was you supplied a product and built demand around it.

I’ve gotten a barrage of comments lately from people saying “nobody pays for photography anymore” and “photography is all but dead” and “technology killed photography.” And, I have to agree. “Photography” is in oversupply. If your job is simply delivering a photograph then all you are doing is adding to the oversupply. You don’t have to look further than the discussion boards on Sports Shooter where it was revealed in a deal for Gannett to buy US Presswire that photographers were happily shooting games for $100 (or on spec). How’s that for oversupply.

So, how does this new demand economy work: “the damand-and-supply world requires innovation, adaptation and flexibility.” The easiest examples of photographers innovating and reacting to demand are the those who shoot video and stills together and those who are using social media to reach their clients or their clients customers. Photographers who are creative problem solvers have always been in demand. The top tier of photography is mostly comprised of people who can solve problems.

I believe the job of photographer has always evolved (from chemist to technical guru to creative problem solver) and while this may be the most radical evolution we’ve seen, it doesn’t mean there are not opportunities for those willing to innovate. I met someone recently who started an advertising agency so he could give himself photography jobs. Sounds crazy, but really he’s just filling a demand he discovered.

There Are 13 Comments On This Article.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. When I was laid off from my newspaper job I became a marketer. The product of that marketing just happens to be my ability to convey visual information.

  2. I haven’t shot a wire image in years, but I have been doing multimedia that’s evolved into a scalable production I can provide to clients. Learning audio, learning Final Cut, learning video, having the gear–those are tools. What I’ve found most beneficial is understanding how the cross-platform nature of multimedia can benefit clients, especially with social media. It’s the “producer’s” hat that makes one the problem solver you mention.

    I’d never thought of it in this way, but you’re right; it really is a “demand-then-supply” market. When I was doing multimedia before (stills and audio), many editors/clients often didn’t have the platform on which to publish or, more frequently, lacked the interest in it because “print” was the medium of choice. Now, there is a demand and fortunately I’ve developed the tool set to provide the supply. While I can do a lot of the multimedia/video on my own, I know it’s better with a team–and clients are starting to get that too. It’s scalable to fit the budget.

    As for “photojournalism”…or maybe I should say “non-fiction storytelling,” I’m finding that the projects I really want to work on will continue to be long term and self/grant-funded, just as a lot of traditional photojournalism has been. But finding clients (NGO and Corporate) with ethos that fit mine and stories I would want to tell anyway has helped me feel satisfied that what I’m doing can help make a positive difference…which is one of the reasons I became a photojournalist in the first place.

  3. Without having the name for it, I switched in the 1980’s from supplying photographs to agencies and became an agency working directly with clients producing marketing materials. That way I was able to assign myself as a photographer and add on the design, printing and other services that solved the marketing problems for several small businesses. About ten years ago, I began to see that that model was no longer going to work because digital cameras and desktop publishing made it easier for companies to produce their own materials. So I decided to follow my passion for landscape and nature photography and created a new business promoting travel on America’s most scenic highway, US Route 89. I admit that it has been tough over the last few years to get recognition and sponsorship, but I see the demand growing and I’m there to supply it. If you don’t what to get caught up in the race to the bottom of photographs as commodities, then you have to be creative and offer solutions even when people don’t yet recognize the problem.

  4. Or how about street fashion photographers who take pictures for their own blogs. Are they fashion photographers? Bloggers who take pictures? Fashion insiders who blog and photograph? Who knows, but they’re creating a pretty strong niche–a niche that is about a whole lot more than taking a good photograph ( ie, you have to know a whole lot about fashion trends in order to take photos that will drive traffic to the site in order to monetize it).

    • excellent example!

      you are describing a digital content producer…so you’re right…they’re not really photographers even though still photography might be a part of their production….it is not the sole part of the production so they are not photographers

  5. I became a photographer three years ago and commenced a funeral photography business – my reasoning was that Sydney didn’t need yet another wedding photographer and I wanted to avoid having an office.

    I have no competition, I am number one in Google without paying, I get free advertising from as the media perceives me as being newsworthy, my clients are incredibly supportive and the work itself is extraordinary in part because I am having to establish photographic conventions and procedures.

    I am also ‘protected’ from amateur photographers because the work requires high end cameras that work in low end light and also because most people feel uncomfortable photographing a funeral.

    As for demand, I couldn’t have anticipated the many reasons for clients wanting my photography. Recent funerals include a 27 year old son (his parents wanted his relatives in Italy to see that he didn’t die alone in a foreign land) and a 59 year old man (his widow wanted her 3 year old son to have a record of how respected his father was).

    In short, identify a niche, make sure there are barriers to entry, believe in your product and clients will come.

  6. The role of the photographer as a specialist only had a place in a mechanized economy. A digital economy blurs the role of the specialist and makes no distinction between the amateur and the expert.

    Folks are finally starting to realize that digital technology did not give them greater access to a profession. On the contrary, the profession of a photographer doesn’t really exist anymore. Greater access and democratization destroyed it. But this is the nature of the digital medium and it was inevitable

    There is no way to make a living in a purely digital economy as a photographer. But there is a way to do it as a content producer where something other than the photography is generating income. An example of a modern content producer might bet the Sartorialist. He self finances his own projects and then places the photographs on the web. Then the viewers generate traffic and he generates income off of the viewers. The photos are the reason that people visit the site. But, the photos are not actually generating income. The income is coming from other places. Of course, it only takes a glance to notice that he is not exactly an expert when it comes to photography. But that’s the point, digital content producers don’t have to be experts in photography as long as they are good at something else. The photography doesn’t matter too much as long as the “fashion” displayed in the photograph does.

    This means that the best content producers are probably going to come from areas of interest that lie outside of photography.

    It’s important to remember that there will be a backlash against digital and specialist will become necessary. Photography was a profession in a mechanized economy so the key to making it a profession again is to go back to film. Film photography fits a single specialized role in a sequence that works with other experts (art directors, graphic designers etc) Film brings back the role of the photographer as an expert.

    Of course, everybody is going to say that film is dead and there is no need for it anymore. Don’t bet on it! Digital technology is now commonplace and digital photography is essentially worthless. People have little respect for it. However, film photography is starting to be viewed as an art form and folks working in that medium will be able to maintain status above digital shooters. This status can lead to a demand for high fees and a reformation of the photography profession.

    It’s important to understand that 2 things are happening at the same time. First, digital is wiping out the role of the photography and creating the content producer. Second, digital is becoming common and unimpressive which will turn film into an art-form and lead to a reformation of the film photography profession. In the end, both digital content producers and also film photographers will exist side by side but they will essentially operate in different economies. The film photographer will be the specialist and the digital content producer will be the multi-tasker.

  7. What stands out of those who have commented, it seems there has been a lot of foresight and working in the niche that best suits the individual. A lot of newbies don’t do that, nor do they have a sustainable business model/plan to work from. They are for the most part not going to survive.

    Mike I think you are right on the mark.

  8. The though of video makes me fell like I will have to reinvent the wheel…bu like otherss said, this is what we have to do anyway, and as for those comments above about film photography….man I hope so…I still like my view cameras, and I like to point them at people.

  9. @Mike
    Film has never stopped being an art form. Like other art forms most never make money from it. As for it coming back in a commercial role, don’t bet on it. Re-introducing the high cost food chain that film used to support is sheer fantasy.

    The vast bulk of commercial photographs are now either produced or purchased by in-house “marketing departments” that are driven by the DIY mentality that has seized all aspects of business these days. Film brings nothing to this market.

  10. Definitely agree with every bit of your commentary on this. In fact I was in the process of setting up an advertising adjunct to address the needs of some of my corporate clients, who often lack art departments and want layouts to go with images. Ideas are not limited by technology.

  11. Stephen Dickson

    Well said, and looking around it’s surprising just how many people do need photos still.
    Just cause you’ve got a flash digital camera doesn’t mean much at shutter time, as I’m finding out by the quality of images I’m being supplied by businesses for a website currently being built…..