What's that saying? It's better to be the right hand of the devil than in his path. I believe I first heard that in the 1999 Mummy movie, but never has it seemed more relevant to me than for photographers who work for companies like Soona and the many others who try to mass produce creative services with an undercutting price to push out the individual freelance photographer.
Lately I've been seeing tons of these ads for a new company called Soona. They obviously have been targeting e-commerce photographers accidentally instead of e-commerce sellers because I've seen dozens and dozens of fellow freelance photographers rallying to the comment section to scold this company for its rock bottom prices and the damaging effects that will ripple out from them if they are successful.
After many days of commenting along with my fellow photographers Soona finally decided to give a response. I did indeed read the blog post they hurriedly created to dampen the blow of the resistance they were getting from our industry. In it they explain how their photographers have a salary of $50-$90k a year. Sounds totally awesome and fair right? It's not, and let me explain. I was also working for a similar company and while I was getting paid $60k a year, I was really being valued at about $10k a year. I'll delve into that in just a bit. So $50-$90k may be very good compensation for the individual, but given the quantity they will be producing it will devalue the work in the long run and severely damage the pricing structure of the industry for the rest of us individual providers.
How? Well, a large company like this (with more than $10.2 million in investments) can afford to create very effective funnels and purchase a ton of ads so that their name is the one people think of and therefor their cost of customer acquisition is much much lower than what a freelance photographer's would be. In short they're trying to be the McDonald's that puts mom and pop restaurants out of business. A McDonald's doesn't have to put forth much money or time to be an option in your head, but Nate's Italian Restaurant in Tucson (which is literally some of the best Italian I've ever had) has to put a lot of his hours and money into getting his name out there so you know his restaurant is an option and a great quality one at that.
So, a company like Soona or my previous employer has a huge amount of incoming customers. A photographer like me when I was employed at that company would be producing far more work than I would on my own, because just like Nate's Italian, I couldn't afford to get my name out there wide enough to have such an insane influx of new customers constantly flowing. At my previous employer I was producing enough work for them that within the first 2 months or less of the year my salary was totally paid off and the rest of the months were just pure profit for that company. Stop and think about that. I was very grateful and happy for that job and the income (my family and friends can attest to that) and there were still valuable things I got from that position for the 2.5 years I was there. However, while I was getting paid $60k a year, the amount of work I was producing meant that I was actually being valued at about $10k a year. And THAT is how companies like Soona and others hurt the photography industry while also taking good care of their photographer employees.
They have set up a pricing structure and business model that is nearly impossible to replicate for individual freelance photographers if you don't have the funds to be constantly pushing your own ads and business name out there to nationwide masses. So for the photographers who feel comfortable and grateful like I did working for a company like Soona, just be aware that if the company collapses or you're suddenly out on your own in the freelance world, you won't be able to put food on the table and pay the bills with the pricing that a large company like that put in place. So, you'd better just hope that if that time comes that company hasn't shifted the industry enough to make it nearly impossible for you to charge higher prices as an individual provider. When you undercut industry standard prices you just are creating a race to the bottom. Raising prices raises us all together. Let's push each other to the top, not the bottom. What was that saying again? It's better to be the right hand of the devil than in his path. I prefer to stay directly in his path with my fellow freelance photographers who work their butt off with a proper pricing structure to pay for their living and expenses.