Only a few years ago, the innovations in the people photography business were created by professional photographers or companies and migrated to the consumer segment. Today, with the involvement of an unprecedented number of consumers in digital photography, this cycle has reversed: Most innovations are introduced in the consumer segment and later adopted by the professional segment.
At the same time, a new group of part-time digital professionals is emerging. Whereas the part-timer in the film era was predominantly male and quite involved in the technology – hence the oft-used nickname Weekend Warrior – the new part-timer is primarily female – more interested in the emotional connection to the subjects and her sense of creative expression than in the technical details of the camera. Estimates of the number of these “Debbie Digitals” range from 30,000 to as high as 100,000, and she can be characterized as a mom who often gets business by referrals through her own children’s relationship with classmates and other children in addition to her reputation in the community and word-of-mouth. She will apply artistic touches to her images on a computer and definitely has no existing relationship with a professional imaging provider. She does not operate from a Main Street studio with a camera room, but works from home and shoots on location.
Admittedly, she only shoots a small number of weddings, seniors or families in any year, so that she, by herself, represents a negligible threat to the traditional professional studio. However, as a group the Debbie Digitals are changing the professional photography landscape. The biggest impact they are having on the market comes from their business models. Not only do they have little “business” overhead, so are willing to quote prices substantially lower than traditional studios, they are also willing to sell the original copyrighted images. They will record all of their often-digitally-retouched images onto a DVD and maybe sell a few loose prints or storybook albums.
Debbie Digital is not interested in chasing clients for added sales at a later date, although she may see them under social circumstances. She, being a mother and the family “memory keeper”, wants them to have the digital images so that they can put them on their home PCs, share them with others, design their own greeting cards, calendars and picture storybooks, create slideshows with music for viewing on the home entertainment system, and reuse them in other ways. This is in stark contrast from the traditional studio business model which controls the images, precluding any “personal” use by the customer while offering many of the same “re-purposing” opportunities at a much higher price.
This issue of selling the copyrighted images has been discussed in professional “circles” for several years: At what point does the potential additional sales from these images drop to nothing? Six weeks? Three months? Six months? And with consumers taking so many digital images themselves and having sophisticated home printers and access to a wide variety of Internet-based fulfillment options, they are able to obtain a greater range of personalized photo products than any one professional photographer or image provider can supply.
The emergence of this rapidly growing segment of the professional social/portrait industry raises many questions: Are they joining associations or even reading industry publications? Where do they process their images? What products are they offering to their customers? How can they be reached?
Answers to the above questions are emerging, just as this relatively new market continues to as well. Digital imaging technology has been dramatically changing the landscape of photography for the last ten years and this is just one more example of that fact. yy