Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Being The President

While the studio’s income is two-thirds commercial assignment and one-third stock a few years ago I became involved in the Stock Artists Alliance (SAA). These involvements lead to me becoming SAA President this January. This highly paid ($0.00 per year) position has given me a unique glimpse of photo politics at its best.

The Stock Artist Alliance ( is an international trade organization whose mission is to be an advocate for photographers who sell stock imagery either directly or via stock libraries. The cool thing is I am now on a first name bases with many of the leaders in the stock industry. The bad thing is my early mornings and evenings are now taken up writing memos and returning emails from this same group. The funny thing is that people now think that I am an “expert”.

You can become an expert by being very knowledgeable about a subject. You can also become an expert by being able to write a good persuasive sentence. Academics are the former, politicians are usually the latter. Business owners are a bit of both but know how to monetize their knowledge. I can write an amusing argument.

The world of advertising and photography are going through huge changes. While during the 1990s and the early part of this decade intellectual property sold for a premium while producers of commodities like steel, corn and oil suffered through a price depression. Suddenly in the last two years this price relationship has flipped and our world has returned to the historically more common situation where ideas are cheap and goods are dear. When consumers are spending $4.00 a gallon for gas, they have less money for books or magazines. Plus, the Internet has made it all too easy not only to share ideas but also to steal them. Trying to understand how photographers can survive and thrive in this world is part of the mission of organizations like SAA.

I believe that for commercial photographers a few very talented people will rise to the top and earn good money. A few more photographers who have learned to produce a high volume of decent images very inexpensively will also earn their keep. The vast majority of photographers who have average talent in both image creation and business systems will find a career in photography to be very difficult way to earn a living. This paradigm currently holds true for most creative endeavors. I have always strived to be the premium producer. My business model has always been to work as high up the pyramid as my talent allows.

The world of a free lance anything can be isolating at times. Becoming active in professional organizations is one way to get yourself out of your bubble. While there are times, when your spouse is sleeping and you are still at your laptop trying to convince a corporate bigwig that changing subsection “C” of the latest contract is good for the world, that volunteer work can feel overwhelming. It is interesting how the word, “commitment” can be so motivating.

So now you know why there are a fewer posts on the blog each month. Its not that I am writing less, I am writing more. It is five in the morning; time to return another email.


Zave Smith

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