Costa Rica beach vendors have a better understanding of business and business ethics than most professional photographers.
I am sure that most people reading that statement are scratching their head wondering just what the heck I am saying, so let me explain. While rambling through beach vendors on a recent trip to Costa Rica, I realized that several people selling their wares had similar, if not identical, items available, and the prices were all same. They each had the identical price for the identical t-shirt, bowl, necklace, or whatnot. Nobody was trying to undercut his or her competition. Being curious, and having spent many years selling my wares as a commercial photographer, I asked one gentleman whether he thought he could sell more, and thus make more money if he offered a better bargain. I wish that I had captured a picture of his expression because he looked at me as though I was from another planet.
He explained that there were two reasons why he could not do that. First, if he lowered his price, then they, pointing to another vendor, would have to lower theirs; the cycle would not end. The value of the product would be lost. Second, and more important, he simply could not do that ethically to his fellow sellers who are trying to make a living. Wow; that makes sense to me!
Photographers, especially in recent years, have been too agreeable to decrease their rates to score a job without considering the consequences. What happens to the value of your photography if without a second thought you reduce your rates? Quite simply, the work is worth the lower value. I then question why you were trying to charge more. Could this be why photographer’s fees have been flat? Heck, I know photographers who give away their copyright with a blink of an eye, but that is for a future rant; I mean blog.
Okay, now onto the second point, and one that we all need to really think about. Making a living in the arts isn’t easy; it never has been and it never will be. What we need is to better support each other, and understand that we make up a community of artists. None of us are an island.
I know that I have been on the wrong side of this discussion before, but I vow to remember my conversation with the Costa Rica beach vendor when estimating future projects.
All Images: ©Joe Lavine 2014 / Playa Dominical, Costa Rica