(Significant edits. I wasn’t able to get back to your comment on my silly old iPad)
First. I agree with you fully about value. I am not proposing we allow clients to barter us down. I get the fear that as more people do things too cheaply, expectations for lower budgets emerge. This is reality. The days of million dollar music videos are over. There was a time when this was what small studios needed to survive.
I think you bring up a lot of great and painful points about self worth that our industry needs to talk about more.
In promoting undercutting I was trying to expose how everyone coming into this profession feels an urge to not undercut. Or rather, why is it considered such a dirty move? Or now, why do you feel it applies everywhere but to photography?
I believe you do have a valid upstart business. One man who decides to sell bottled water at the park has an upstart business against the convenience store on the corner. Why not us? We have clients, billings, crazy expenses, trade shows, licensing, studios, talent and more. Pricing being one of only a million other worries.
Hell. A small hotel might be an easier to run business than what we have. I’ve launched a digital agency and I can say it’s very similar to being a photographer. Where will we find clients? What type of work will we do? How will we build our portfolio? Do we need a studio?
If you want to argue that photography is different and more of a socialist movement, free from commercial pressures, then great. But for some, it is an area of craft where commerce and craft remain united.
Let’s take your hotel example. It’s not about bartering of rooms. We are the proprietors. We are the artist who opens a hotel. Speaking of which, this is a brilliant idea. To take over an old motel. Design each room differently and each can be a set when not in use. Ah, but back to the case at hand.
Most hotels/motels that open are going to be at a significantly lower rate from their similar competitors, at least until they are established, to the point of undercutting and stealing business. Going to Las Vegas? Check out the disparity in pricing. Rooms for ten dollars a night or 200 dollars a night.
In fact, when I go to LV, I always see what hotel has just opened. I stayed at a four star hotel once for only 90 a night.
I think you see where I’m going. The person running the ten dollar a night motel is not despicable. No one would argue they are hurting the industry. You get what you pay for.
I realize I am beating a dead horse. Ugh. I hate that metaphor. You raise so many valid pressures and even fears. I hear you. It’s a daunting road to set our pricing, build our credibility and establish our practice.
Here’s where we get to the crux of things. If I have one piece of advice from my life to date, it is that most everything is illusion and social construct. It is in the pursuit of craft that we can find something special, whether that craft be spreadsheets, woodworking or photography.
The people who master their craft are the people who work harder than everyone else. They spend more hours immersed in their domain, working. Often, they take every gig. They see that there is something in the doing when so many of us are lost in the becoming.
I used to worry about my rate, and I didn’t advance much. Which sucks as I am late to this profession. Now I worry about working as many days as I can. Paid. Free. That doesn’t matter. Do what you must to stay fed and housed. Put the rest of your time into working as deeply and fully in an area that makes you vibrate.