ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

The Changing World of Visual Communications

By September 24, 2012 April 5th, 2017 Strictly Business Blog

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The ASMP Guide to New Markets will launch next week at ASMP’s Symposium on September 27th where the first 100 people to arrive at the Times Center in New York will get a free copy.  Those who can’t attend live, can watch the livestream via asmp.org/symposium.  Tom Kennedyauthored the second chapter of the book: Visual Communications in the New Economy.

The digital revolution sparked by the development of the Internet as a publishing platform and vehicle for social communication has profoundly impacted all people in the world.  Those who work in the fields associated with mass communication and media have been particularly affected.

Photographers can reach global markets in seconds with their work and have the opportunity to engage with customers anywhere in the world, doing real-time transactions.  At the same time, those who are seeking to use and consume the work of professional photographers have an amazing explosion of choice.  However, the ability to find and utilize work in a “frictionless” transactional environment can be hampered by business practices once associated with non-digital marketing, distribution, and billing.

I can recall having conversations as the Internet dawned with colleagues who could never envision a day when slides wouldn’t be shipped and put in packets for delivery by mail or a courier.  Nor could they imagine doing electronic billing and engaging with clients in a world that did not involve print materials being mailed to potential buyers as a primary way of attracting attention.

In my chapter, I have tried to lay out how the Internet changed the world of communications and how it also upended the value chain that drove pricing for professionally produced photography. Scarcity has always driven the pricing model for professional photography.  Prior to the arrival of the Internet, uniqueness of image (both in terms of content and aesthetic qualities) helped determine market value.  Professional photographers could depend on their work being very separated from amateur images, and the relatively small number of outlets utilizing professional photography could help drive up market value.  Today, the digital revolution has lowered the barriers to production and distribution in such a way that individuals can compete with huge publishing empires on nearly equal terms.  At the same time, advances in technology have lowered the barriers separating professional and amateur work.  The world is awash in imagery and that gulf between supply and demand has the potential to reduce pricing of photographs significantly, rendering it a commodity.

Professional photographers must adapt.  The good news is that there is still an enormous demand for professionally produced visual communication, whether in journalism or a more commercial space.  However, I think photographers must now market themselves as “visual solutions  providers” rather than solely as purveyors of “images.”  They must position themselves to work collaboratively with visual professionals in teams so that a client can obtain full packages of visual communication designed to solve specific business problems or help cement relationships between a business and its potential customers.   While still photographs or moving images may be the fundamental building blocks of “visual solutions,” photographers will need to market themselves differently by becoming part of a “team” addressing specific communications goals.

The customers seeking services now have enormous choice, too.  Available time to frame problems, seek solutions, and execute tactics in support of overall business strategy is the new scarcity.  Working to market one’s skills fully means taking all possible friction out of working relationships with clients.  Rather than seeing relationships as “across the table” transactions, photographers need to see their clients as people with needs whom they can help by being seated on the same side of the table.

In writing my chapter, I looked at the writing of many in academia who are studying the digital revolution from perspectives of technological change to cultural adaption.  What was shocking for me was to really come to grips with the speed of transformation, and to see the amount of dislocation being created for those unwilling to change.  I believe it is essential to acknowledge that publishing, media, and perhaps even human communication are being altered with a power not unlike that unleashed by Gutenberg’s perfection of the printing press.  We are still in the opening decades of this period of epochal transformational change.  The full weight and impact on society are probably still ahead.  Adapting requires effort to understand what is happening, and a willingness to engage in collaboration to fully realize the possibilities for success afforded by the new environment.

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