Indian e-commerce is on a roll. 2014 especially was a year of milestones for Indian e-Commerce as sales hit a record high of $16.4 billion (Indian Express, 9/8/2015). They are predicted to reach $70 billion by 2020 as e-commerce blazes past its brick and mortar counterpart. There is a continuous frenzy to sign up thousands of small & medium businesses as e-commerce portals look to aggressively expand their seller base. Flipkart, for example, already has 30,000 sellers and aims at enrolling 100,000 this year.
This phenomenal growth of the e-commerce sector is fuelling a huge demand for catalogue photography. Crisp, uniform and professionally-shot product photographs allow buyers to intimately engage with the website and motivate them to purchase a product. According to an article in Economic Times, in 2012, Snapdeal.com, a multi category online retailer uploaded more than 2,000 pictures on its website every day using a 30-member production team of photographers, stylists and make-up artists. Rival Indian apparel retailer, Yebhi.com, shot about 4,500 pictures a day in eight studios to showcase the company’s wares with 25 in-house lens men.
Catalogue photography has now opened up a new avenue for business and scores of freelancing product photographers are now rushing to meet the ever increasing demand. However this has created a buyers’ market for photography.
Entry barrier to catalogue photography is virtually negligible, except for the cost of buying a simple DSLR & inexpensive equipment. None of the e-commerce portals demand a certain standard of quality or maintain a respectable & fair fee structure with catalogue partners in general and photographers in particular. There are no empanelment fees for photographers. As a result many freelancing novice photographers, mostly without much formal training or proper understanding of professional photographic lighting, get enlisted and agree to do product photo shoots at meager rates, thereby setting unsustainable commercial & service delivery benchmarks across the industry. Sellers are at ease to ignore genuine professional photographers who have spent time, effort, and money acquiring the technical skills and right equipment.
According to one product photographer I spoke to, “A seller pays INR 50-70 for 7 images of a product and still asks for bulk discounts. Plus they expect overheads like hair and make- up to be inclusive of the pricing that we quote.” A professional photographer often has several heads of costs like rent, electricity, repair & maintenance, family expenses, taxes etc. and thus fails to match the prices of a camera-wielding rookie.
E-Commerce sales is predominantly driven by visually appealing product imagery and thus this forms a key factor in converting a visitor on the website to a buyer. This simple fact is often lost on sellers. They see catalogue photography as just a procedural step in completing their listing on the portal. As a matter of fact this mindset is the root cause of the unrealistic pricing expectations of most sellers when they approach photographers.
The way ahead lies in ceasing the intense price war amongst fellow photographers and them coming together to form a fraternity of professional photographers much like some renowned professional bodies like The Royal Photographic Society, The Association of Photographers & The British Photographic Council. The larger goal would be to serve collective interests of photographers, set best practices for contracts, service delivery etc., grade members based on their quality and offer a platform to promote good photographic work. This will also serve to educate the buyers of photography and provide much-needed respect to this profession- After all it’s a specialized field and not a photocopy shop.
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Photography Credit: Rohan Potdar