‘Vampiric’ service trashes photography

Minted, a US-based online marketplace for graphic artists, has launched Photo-Op – a cheap, on-demand portrait photography service, which (yet again) claims to offer an affordable alternative to the traditional photo studio.
Photo-Op will send a vetted independent photographer to a client’s home, or specified location, with prices starting at US$100 for a 30-minute shoot.

The service is similar to Snappr, an Sydney-based start-up calling itself the ‘AirBnb of photography’, which successfully raised millions of investment dollars and has launched an aggressive marketing campaign. (Snappr appears as the top ad in a Google search of ‘portrait photographer’ and comes in at #4 – with a five star rating – in the organic search listings!)

Both recruit amateur or semi-pro photographers, match them with clients, and split the fee.

The Photo-Op photographer receives a 50 percent cut – US$50 per 30-minute shoot.

A client then receives 10 ‘expertly retouched photos’ within three days of the shoot.

The service is available in three American cities – Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

Minted claims the comparatively cheap prices on offer will not disrupt or devalue professional photography. Rather, it’s aiming to ‘enable a broader range of photographers to connect with convenience-driven consumers who might not otherwise pay for professional portraits’.

Minted clarified to TechCrunch that it’s not geared toward ‘being better than current professionals’, after the tech industry publication promoted Photo-Op by writing: ‘It’s all part of getting freelance photographers who might have a real set of skills and are even better than those that are already paid professionals an opportunity to turn that habit into a real business’. Oops!

Minted was founded 10 years ago by Mariam Naficy. It produces stationery, wall art, and décor, with custom designs crowd-sourced from independent artists.

Photo-Op’s profit margin (for Minted) hinges on selling additional products to clients – they can have the photos printed on products such as greeting cards and stationery. The actual photography makes a slim profit margin.

‘I think, the price point in general though is one where we can fairly pay the photographer and attract enough people,’ Minted CEO Mariam Naficy told TechCrunch. ‘This is an independent group of photographers – these are not Minted employees – and we’re transforming people who have free time into staff photographers. So we have to set a price where we can fairly compensate people to attract the workforce and make some margin for us. It’s really hard to test price. If you ask consumers in a focus group about price, they’re often not very accurate.’

The TechCrunch article states that the ‘vetting process’ photographer undertake ‘may involve taking test photos’.

San Francisco family portrait photographer, Natalie diGiorgio, described Photo-Op as a ‘vampiric program sipping from the lifeblood of small businesses’. She discovered Photo-Op promoted through a rate-carded US$206,400 full-page ad in lifestyle magazine, Martha Stewart Living.
The portrait photographer is not alone – many others view cheap on-demand photography services as a threat to the prices and quality of work in the established industry.

One of her issues with Photo-Op is she doesn’t believe an entry-level photographer paid US$50 per shoot can produce work that will meet the client’s expectations.

Another issue is simply that the photographer is paid so poorly.

Related: Kodakit cheapens photography

She wrote in a blog post that being paid US$100 an hour may appear to be an attractive rate. But after expenses – travel time, parking fees, lunch breaks, and income tax – a photographer with five clients per day would earn roughly US$16.25 per hour, or US$130 per day.

This assumes there’s five clients per day, and doesn’t take into account the cost of gear, liability insurance, and other business expenses.

Natalie diGiorgio is concerned Minted will potentially lower the perceived value of photography – her 30-minute in-house portrait sessions cost three times as much.

‘Listen, Minted. I know this sounds great to you. I know that you are justifying this as a service to Minted customers. But you are doing a disservice to them. With your pretty in-magazine ad you are selling them on a quick, painless, convenient experience;  in your words “easy, beautiful in-home photography for the holidays”. Do you have realistic expectations about how that’s achieved? Do you understand that a pro can’t actually afford to work this business model and that you’re setting your customer up for disappointment, because a pro is required to meet the expectation of “easy” and “beautiful” given the limitations of in-home photography? Your message to customers regarding a custom in-home session’s worth is that it should only be $100, when a good session is worth so much more. Inviting a stranger into a customer’s home for $100 may sound like a great option but it just may be a waste of their time and money. There is a disconnect between what you’re promising and what is possible. If the customer is someone who is new to personal photography they may also decide that it’s not for them based on this experience.’

Click here to read her blog post.

Let us know what you think about the seemingly inevitable rise of cheap on-demand photography services!

2 thoughts on “‘Vampiric’ service trashes photography

  1. Turning quality photography into a mass market commodity works for the originator of the idea, not so much for everyone else in this business model. If quality of service and technical skills are watered down to the level of “good enough” then the market won’t understand the difference between professional and DYI photography. The shame of it is, this is where the market is headed for most creative fields. A curse upon the
    “lower prices are just the beginning (of the end)” message that has changed the value of business for creatives.

  2. Choosing a service by price alone – just like online shopping (eg Amazon arriving in Australia) – just leads to devaluation of service and the things that used to be important like :

    Personal style
    Quality/Technical Skills
    Customer Service

    Unless you engage (in some shape or form) before locking in a price all these attributes cease to count….

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