What happens when your job becomes a commodity?

As a would be photographer I follow a lot of photography blogs and web sites and recently came across this post, What Happens When Photography Becomes A Commodity? in which the author says:

“Commodification is a scary thought. It means you are competing on price and racing to the bottom.”

Two thoughts immediately struck me on reading this:

  1. Racing to the bottom is dangerous, you might win and then where do you go?
  2. This does not just apply to photography, insert pretty much any profession (software development, web site design, law, accountancy and even surgery) in place of photography and the same question applies.

This sort of question tends to polarize people to two extremes. There is the group that moans and whinges blaming their colleagues for “bringing it on themselves” by accepting cheaper prices for their services, their employer, the government or low cost economies like China, India etc. Then there is the other group that recognises commodification is an inevitable marketplace process so simply changes gear and carries on regardless.

Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind – Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, discusses this issue further and points out that any job that depends on left-brained, logical thinking can ultimately be written down or described in someway and hence either automated or passed to someone who can do it cheaper. In photography, or anything else for that matter, it is no longer sufficient just to understand the tools of your trade and produce work that is good enough. As well you need to:

  • Know your business.
  • Understand your clients wants and needs and build relationships with them (and not just perform a sales transaction).
  • Know what your unique selling proposition  is and how it differentiates you from the competition.

This list could probably go on, however the real point, at least as far as this blog is concerned, is that traditional left-brained thinking only gets you so far today. To really excel (and “rule the future”) you need to combine this with the right-brained, creativity that not only produces great design but, above all else, great products that differentiate themselves from all the others and mean you don’t have to even enter the race to the bottom. That’s the versatilist way.

Or, to put it another way, as Hugh MacLeod says in his book Evil Plans – Having Fun on the Road to World Domination (are you beginning to recognise a future world domination theme here?):

The creative life is no longer one of the many economic options ; it’s now the only option we’ve got.”



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