Freebies Freebies Freebies!!!!

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In the dustup over at the Jezebel log entitled “Bloggers Are Banned From the White Moose Lodge and We Deserve It,” Elizabeth Boyce wrote, “As an author, my earning potential has been absolutely ravaged by the number of free or deeply discounted copies of my books given away to reviewers or by my publisher for promotions (not to mention book pirate sites.) One of my most pirated books is Better Available Light Digital Photography that I coauthored with Barry Staver. When Barry discovered it was available as an illegal download, we informed the publisher who could care less.

These days it seems like people expect to get everything for free, and to hell with the people who actually create something. Customers seem somehow feel affronted at being expected to actually pay for things. Boyce writes that, “I, on the other hand, feel affronted that I’m banging out my ninth novel on this shitty seven-year old laptop and sweating my grocery bills, while literally tens of thousands of people have received my books for nothing…”

There is no more powerful word in the English language than free but while everyone knows free stuff is good, photographers have to realize there’s no free lunch. If you get something for free, somebody somewhere has to pay for it.

One question I often hear from photographers competing against studios using freebies as inducements to new sales is “how can I compete with this?” You have two choices and I prefer the second:

  • First, you can cave in and offer similar or better freebies to potential clients. This is a bad, bad idea because it starts an arms race with your competition that can only end after one of you goes broke.
  • Second, you can emphasize that your rates are lower because you don’t offer “free gifts,” an oxymoron as incongruous as “congressional ethics.”

It’s a business fact of life that clients like to feel appreciated and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to say “thanks” to them from time to time so don’t confuse freebies with expressions of appreciation to existing, supportive clients during the holidays. That’s why an important part of competing is knowing the costs of doing business.

When I hear photographers moaning about profitability, I’m reminded of an encounter between photographer, Charles Lewis and someone attending one of his seminars. The gentleman tells Mr. Lewis, “I’m loosing $50 for every wedding I shoot.” Mr. Lewis looks him in the eye and replies, “You know what you need to do, don’t you?” Excitedly, the man replies, “Yes, I need to do more of them.”

Most of the time, “free” doesn’t work as part of a business plan, and using freebies to get new customers breaks the most important of Farace’s Laws: It’s hard to make money when you give stuff away.

light.bookAlong with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon $19.95 or used for $8.49 as I write this. And wouldn’t you feel better about yourself purchasing a real book rather than an illegal download?