Too many?

Started Jan 15, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Michael Thomas Mitchell
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Too many?
Jan 15, 2012

I live in a small to medium-sized town. Five years ago, there were three photographers other than myself serving the area. Although there was overlap, we each had our own styles and clientele... and we all thrived. Not gangbusters, mind you, but enough to live on.

Recently, after observing a couple of roadside and mailbox signs popping up advertising new photographers close by, I did a quick internet search to survey the competition. There are now THIRTY-NINE photographers listed online with local area addresses! That's a number perhaps more suited to a larger metro area, but certainly not a town of 40,000. I perused the websites enough to see that the vast majority offered all the usual stuff: portraits, weddings, seniors, pets, and events. (One specialized in team and school portrait photography... just as they have for years.)

While I appreciate competition, this number just seems absurd to work in so small an area. Under such weight, getting a client it becomes a game of numbers more so than attracting clients by demonstrating high quality; realistically, no one is going to view all 39 photographers' websites to compare quality (if they even recognize it) before hiring for a family portrait or wedding.

On any given day, one can peruse the forums here for, say, portraits or studio lighting, and find total beginners asking beginner questions, and yet their profile will lead you to a site advertising professional services. And though another professional may be able to discern a qualitative difference, a glossy website often makes it difficult for the layman to distinguish between an experienced veteran and someone who just got a Rebel for Christmas. Everybody, it seems, is a pro today... even when they aren't!

It is said that the typical congressman had to spend about 50-70% of his time raising funds trying to re-elected as opposed to actually performing his legislative duties. In years past, I would spend about 15% of my time on marketing. Today, I feel more like the typical congressman, spending more time on marketing and getting less for it. At some point, the pure weight of so MANY just makes the task too great to be worthwhile. Even the very best and most savvy marketing plans can be crushed under the weight of too many photographers. And the number appears only to be growing. Meanwhile, the amount of work that is available is at least no greater and perhaps even diminishing. Every florist, for example, that I've talked with over the past six months have noted that their wedding business is about half of what it used to be.

Very likely, this is the last year I'll be doing photography for a living.

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