The “sharing economy” and the business models behind it are becoming an increasingly popular way for people everywhere to access services – and has also been a way for the average citizen to monetise their own time and assets – allowing them to become suppliers within this ever expanding economy. Technology platforms that connect people directly with others who offer a service, or who own an asset they wish to monetise have now become a part of many major industries. Some of these are accommodation, transport and delivery services, food and freelancers offering specialised tasks.
One of those specialised tasks that now has several platforms within the sharing economy model is the photography industry. There are now platforms in both the service side (eg Airtasker) and more recently in the equipment side of the photography industry (eg Kyōyū by Canon Australia) offering to connect potential clients with photographers, as well as those who own gear with potential content developers and renters of that gear in a way like never before.
There are advantages and disadvantages to these types of platforms entering into and potentially disrupting the entire photography industry. Let’s take a look at these from both the service side, and the equipment side of the industry.
Photography services and the sharing economy
The photography industry is a very competitive market. In recent years the availability of high quality camera equipment has meant more and more people have access to gear that is capable of producing very high quality imagery, in a very intuitive way. And as more people get access to these cameras, the competition within the photography industry for work has also increased. The amount of content that is now available has driven prices down. As with just about any industry, supply and demand will be reflective in the pricing of the end product or service. The more people who are offering a product or service there are, the more likely it is that pricing will drop. And this is very much reflective in some of the industry specific sharing economy platforms within the photography sector.
Some of these platforms are Snappr, Scoopshot and Flytographer. There are also very large non-photography specific platforms such as Airtasker that have photography categories. In each and every one of these platforms the pricing of the services being offered is far below what many would have considered reasonable industry rates several years ago. The competitive nature of these platforms has driven prices down. On Airtasker which is one of the biggest service based sharing economy websites the average price for a photographer is between $70 – $220 for varying jobs.
In recent reviews as of writing this article there are mentions of jobs on Airtasker for a 21st birthday party for a total of $100. For a full day shoot for a tradesman business for $150. Those offering the services on these websites are generally able to quote independently in a system that is basically an auction for the work. This competition for the work may be great for the potential client who pays less, but for those within the professional photography industry these platforms are creating a pricing structure that is just not sustainable. When these types of prices become an industry standard, photographers and the greater photography industry lose. The cost of the equipment we purchase, insurance, travel costs, taxes and other expenses far outweighs the value of many of these jobs.
All of the above mentioned websites have a review system in place just like AirBNB and other popular sharing economy websites. The photographers using these websites are able to be reviewed by clients based on the quality of their work and the service level they are offering. Those offering sub-standard quality content and service levels will soon be filtered out. The pressure to provide a very high level of service in marketplaces that have also reduced pricing would be very high.
The short term benefits of these platforms to full time photography professionals may be to connect them with what may end up becoming long term clients who offer ongoing work. For those starting out in the industry these platforms may also be a way to build up a portfolio and body of work that can showcase their skills. For semi-professionals it may be a way to earn a bit of money on the side. The long lasting impact of any platform reducing the pricing in an industry that has already been severely impacted on in recent years will filter outside of these platforms though. This type of pricing structure will be very hard to compete with long term.
Photography equipment and the sharing economy
The photography gear rental industry is quite a large market, particularly for those in the commercial photography industry. Renting gear means getting access to specific pieces of photography equipment for short periods of time, or to be able to try and test gear before making the decision to purchase it. Camera gear is expensive, especially so if it is required for specialised purposes.
Just as the sharing economy has the potential to disrupt the photography service industry, it also has the potential to do so on the photography equipment side as well. While traditional photography rental services have made it convenient for photographers to get access to gear, it can still be quite expensive to do so when compared to the purchase price of some gear. For short term rentals of a day or possibly a weekend, you will find some equipment such as a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III lens (retail price between $2799 and $3199 depending on where it is purchased from) available for around AU$90 / single day or AU$130 for a weekend. For longer periods of time such as a week this lens is available for around AU$240 / week from several renters in the Australian market. Something to remember is this does not include freight or insurance costs in most cases. Freight is extra. And insurance will need to either be purchased separately, or added to an existing gear insurance policy. This can become quite expensive very quickly.
A new “sharing economy” marketplace which has recently been launched by Canon Australia is Kyōyū. To the best of my knowledge and research there has never been an equivalent platform launched allowing owners of photography gear to make their equipment available for rent to other photographers / content developers. Canon have essentially created a new marketplace, and potentially a whole new economy in the photography industry by allowing people who own Canon camera gear to monetise their equipment. Pricing within the Kyōyū marketplace is on average around 33% cheaper for the exact same gear than if you were to go to a traditional gear rental business. And for those that own the gear, Canon have also partnered with ShareCover who offer an insurance policy protecting equipment against damage and loss in some situations. Pricing is set by the individual who owns the gear, just as it is within the above mentioned service platforms.
For those that own photography gear this could be a great way to monetise it while it is sitting idle. For those looking to invest in gear, this could be a great way to pay it off over a period of time and see a return on their investment. It could also lead to a whole new type of photography gear owner – someone who treats it entirely as an asset in the same way they would a real estate investment. For those who want to get access to the best gear to use either for a specific commercial job, for travel or just to try it before they leap into an expensive purchase, Kyōyū could be a cost efficient and very convenient way to do so.
To see a major camera manufacturer in Canon compete directly within the gear rental market and offer a platform within the “sharing economy” model is a very interesting move. Canon have effectively laid down the gauntlet to the rental market and could potentially disrupt the entire sector – effectively owning it for Canon branded gear and controlling a marketplace that could be extremely beneficial to the entire photography industry. Gear owners can create a new revenue model around their equipment. And content developers can get access to that equipment at prices that are cheaper than the traditional rental market.
Advantages and disadvantages of the sharing economy in the photography industry
The sharing economy is not going anywhere, and just about every industry that has been impacted on in some way by it has had to adjust to the disruptive effects. For the service side of the photography industry, to have pricing impacted on in a way that has driven prices down while also increasing the level of competition for work, the long term impacts of this will be felt by photographers everywhere. The industry has already become more competitive without the sharing economy driving prices down. The availability of content and amount of imagery being produced by the ever growing number of photographers offering professional or semi professional services has already severely impacted the value of the industry.
The potential impact by a sharing economy platform such as Kyōyū on the equipment side of the photography industry is something which could be very beneficial. Having access to the best gear at far more affordable prices than the traditional rental market currently offers can only be a positive thing for the photographers themselves. For gear owners this means a potential new revenue stream and way to monetise their equipment. This doesn’t have to be for just professional photographers either – anyone who either owns or is willing to invest into gear could be earning good money from it. Obviously though this means the traditional rental market and existing businesses offering their gear for rent may suffer unless they adapt their business models. Or even use these platforms to their advantage and make their gear available at more affordable prices than they currently do.