Currently most parts of the world is under some form of lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19 pandemic and this obviously has taken a huge hit on all businesses, including the photography industry. I want to explore and discuss in this blog entry the impact of the Coronavirus on the camera business, how is this going to affect the professional photographers as well as the general photography community. I have also made a video of the similar topic, if you prefer to see me rant on screen, go to the video here (click).
Some disclaimers first, what I am about to discuss here reflects solely my own opinion. I do not represent anyone else or any company in writing this piece. My opinion is subjective, so feel free to disagree with me.
Let’s start with the camera makers. They are taking a serious hit, no doubt, and it is showing. Since camera retail is not considered as “essential business”, camera shops are forced to shut down in many countries practising lockdown or some sort of movement control. This has been going on for months, and even after the lockdown is gradually lifted, due to continual social distancing measures and general fear of contracting the virus, the camera retail will continue to suffer. There is also an incoming, inevitable economic crisis and everyone will be more reluctant to spend their hard earned cash on gear. A lot of things will have to change, else the camera companies will be in trouble.
Camera sales has been declining sharply year after year, even before the arrival of the pandemic. Many blamed smartphone dominance but I have argued there are other real reasons that caused the fall of camera sales, read the article here if you have not (click). The Covid-19 pandemic may not necessarily introduce any new problems that were already not there, it does however accelerates the problems at a much faster rate. The camera sales will see an even larger drop.
Any product launches that were planned for any time now or near future will most likely be postponed until further notice. There is no point releasing a product now when everyone is reluctant to spend. The cost of launching a product, and the failure to maximise the impact of the hype during the official release will damage the sales in return. Even if there is any company that is bold enough to launch a new product now, the availability of the product will be moved much further into the future, obviously. Do not read too much into rumor sites, whatever that was planned can be easily changed, it is just plain business making decisions.
Moving forward, sales and marketing strategies have to quickly change from traditional model to online platforms. While some modern countries like the US and European countries see a huge portion of camera sales dominated by online shopping, this is not the case for the vast majority of the world. Take Malaysia and Singapore for example – most people still go to physical retail stores to buy their cameras. The camera brands will have to make the quick switch to online selling now, the move is more crucial than ever to guarantee survival in the near future.
On the ground marketing activities have all been banned, since no events or large gatherings are allowed. All forms of photowalks, touch and try events, workshops are cancelled. These activities are morphed into online streaming and tutorial classes, Olympus launched their “Home with Olympus” campaign, releasing many video on tips and tricks for using Olympus specific features and photography in general. Other camera brands are doing similar activities on their online platform as well. This is the critical moment for the camera companies to engage their core audience and do whatever they can to retain their loyal customers. There is no point spending unnecessarily on efforts to reach out to new user base or switch over other brand users at this point of time, even if they want to, they may not dare to make the move just yet.
Some rumors are flying around saying that camera companies will slowly die off, and the recent “Olympus Imaging Korea Shutting Down” news fueled that even further. Some YouTubers and conspiracy theorists have too much time in their hands to spread fear-mongering half-truths and ludicrous analysis of the current situation. The doom and gloom prediction is too far stretched out. What happens in a country does not represent the global brand in general. Olympus Korea has had their long history of struggles when it comes to camera business in that particular country. The last I checked Olympus was still sitting comfortably at number one spot of mirrorless camera sales in Japan. Camera companies are resilient, they have been around for so long, some more than a hundred years. They know what they are doing, and I am sure they have been preparing and restrategizing as the pandemic hits to ensure the brand survival.
Personally I am not too concerned about what happens to the camera companies, we can only observe and speculate, there are bigger troubles in the photography world that worries me.
Professional photographers are hit the hardest in this list of discussion. Myself included. My calendar is wiped clean throughout the year. I do mostly event coverage, wedding shoots, portraits and lifestyle photography, and they all require me to travel and shoot on locations. Most of my jobs are also events and large gatherings of people, hence it was no surprise the business is completely purged due to the Covid-19. I am not alone, most of my photographer peers also report the same predicament, I am sure this is a universal issue faced by many professional working photographers everywhere. There is a need to change, quickly adapt and do things differently. I also think it is prudent not to put all eggs in one basket, and diversifying income streams is more important now than ever, and it is not too late to start. It is no surprise, and sad to say that unfortunately some photographers may run out of business as the lockdown and pandemic situation continues. The fate of photographers as a profession is looking very gloomy.
As for myself, please do not worry too much, I am doing fine here. I have enough reserves from my previous jobs and projects to keep me going for quite a bit of time, and I will continue to adjust and adapt to make the best out of what I can to move forward. Thankfully I have had some huge shoots just recently before the pandemic hits and I will survive this crisis, I am confident I will.
I have also shifted some of my focus to growing my YouTube channel since about a year ago, and I am glad I have done so. The channel is going strong and does bring in a little bit of steady income every month, that helps a lot. What people don’t see is the amount of effort and time spent on making YouTube videos – typically it takes about 2-3 hours shooting duration for a short easy tips or sharing video, and the shooting duration may stretch to 1 day or more for heavier videos like new product reviews. Add that to about another 3 hours of post-production editing for a simple video, or half a day for longer videos. Factoring in brainstorming, script writing, preparations and even taking time to respond to comments and emails after the video is posted, I have dedicated no less than 3-4 full days a week doing YouTube since I started this journey. It is no secret that I have shifted my life balance to revolve around YouTube, and it was one of the better decisions I have made recently.
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It is interesting to observe what else is happening to the rest of the photography industry. Large events are severely struck too, for example photography festivals and trade shows. Photokina, the largest photo trade show that has been running strong for decades was shut down in 2020 due to the Covid-19, the same fate followed CP+, another relatively large trade show. We cannot blame this exclusively on the pandemic alone, even before the Coronavirus outbreak began, the trade shows and festivals are shrinking year after year, and the evidence is alarming. Major camera brands, Olympus, Nikon, Leica and Fujifilm all pulled out from Photokina, and this announcement was already made public in late 2019. As I have mentioned earlier, the problems are already there, the Covid-19 crisis just pushes the severity of the symptoms a few notches further.
What is going to happen to future trade shows and photography festivals? No large gatherings are allowed, at least not for the near foreseeable future, art galleries are prohibited, exhibitions banned, traditional photography platform is making a huge shift and this has to happen now more than ever. Art sponsorship and funding are being significantly cut or withdrawn with larger donors and corporate companies restructuring their resources and re-prioritise how they spend their money. Of course, we are not saying art is not important, but when lives are at stake, when people are dying, when the virus is flying around everywhere, art is forced to take a backseat. Does that mean we just sit back and not do anything?
I observe something interesting happening locally here in Malaysia. KLPF – Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival, the annual largest photography event in Malaysia is moving the festival online this year. Yes, KLPF 2020 is happening, and it will begin in August, do check out their official FB page here (click). I don’t know how the festival will be coordinated but things will obviously be done differently, and this will be the first photography festival in Malaysia to be made 100% online.
The medium of photography has been evolving since the dawn of digital age, with online platforms and social media presence. Previously photographers need to have their work published or exhibited in galleries to be discovered and recognised as artists. That is not really the norm these days anymore, many photographers self-publish their work through powerful social media platforms – Instagram, YouTube just to name a few and have successfully made a name for themselves. If you are truly a great photographer, no matter where you go, your audience will support you. Some of the “elitist” photographers who only want to exhibit in prestigious galleries and see themselves as above other “social media photographers” or YouTubers will find themselves running out of avenues to show off their art. You can either drop the ego and see these online platforms as opportunities to grow your audience and continue to practise your craft and do what you love to do, or you can be angry and shout at the world for not appreciating what art is while photography is moving on, leaving you behind.
For hobbyists and enthusiasts, photography as a hobby is also slowing down globally. Being stuck at home is not particularly inspiring camera clicking, as you are with your family or you are working from home, the camera takes a very low priority, and that is perfectly understandable. However, this is also a good opportunity to learn and upskill your craft. There are vast resources available at your fingertips, many great photographers are contributing and sharing their knowledge and experience. Many photographers are connecting with their followers via live-streaming, this is the perfect time to engage with your favourite photographers and absorb as much as you can. When all this blows over, and I am sure it will, photography will be more exciting than ever. I can’t wait for that day to come.
What is your take on the Covid-19 vs photography situation? If you have your own thoughts, please do share in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
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