It was always so, jas,
if anybodies interested I'll give you a potted life story in the Oz retail trade from 1970.
John Border, one of the first Sydney discount camera shops sponsored me to migrate from UK. I spent 2 years in city stores trying to reconcile my knowledge of photography with the necessity to flog boxes. It mattered not a jot if the product was right for the user but a stranger in a strange land with 2 kids and a mortgage can't afford to much of a conscience. We opened up in the now booming suburban shopping complex. Now the focus shifted but only slightly, I got a little more time to talk with the customers, I could explain the ins and outs of various choices. Very quickly though I discover the "beback" the beback was going to talk to his (usually his) wife, going to the bank (pre credit cards) but in reality there was another establisher retailer in the complex and thats where they were. Most weren't that subtle the only question would be X product whats your price, one very soon learn't that the one and only thing that mattered was that. Why, because we trained the consumers to thing that way. Local paper City paper, radio and TV all proclaimed were the cheapest we'll beet any price. So it was always a struggle, minimal profit max turnover and stuff it if any one wanted service as well. The only side of the business that held up was the professional Government and educational markets. So what did we do as other retailers woke up to the fact the market was shifting, we all rushed in to screw up that market as well. One side held up to some extent and that was film in bulk. Pro's and back yarders alike would expect and get discounted bulk film and manufacturers were prepared to give the retailes the benefit of discounts on the greater volumes. But then they decided that they could flog most of their import or local production to the K marts, the Price lines etc... and of we went again I could walk down to Priceline and buy every roll of film they had in the place, and take the pressure of for a week. Thank god for the grey market in film. Its all healthy competition w were told by the lend leases etc of this brave world. They didn't care they could jck up the rents, insist on 7 days a week trading. As we went into the recession we had to have, nobody was making any money and the only thing that was keeping us afloat was the mini lab but now any mug with a few dollars to invest could install a mini-lab and as they got more and more automated the expert staff we had trained were poached by the importers of the machines as tech support. We least one of the first Fuji glorified photo copiers a brilliant machine anybody could get professional print quality from their proof prints and all the small time pro's squealed because their orders suddenly stopped. Were we in the wrong of course we were but these were the same pros that were screwing us down to a cents margin on a roll of film and $50 dollars profit on a Nikon or H/blad outfit when the banks was taking that and then some in interest charges. When the interest rates started going into double figures my boss took his own life, and I was out of a job. A day later, I flatter myself it was because of my industry knowledge and photographic practical knowledge I was back, employed by one of the few pro/am retailers making money. The reality was that I had all the client data from the old business which I had been trying to digitize as a way of improving efficiency. I started with an office in outer Sydney not far from home and worked the phones for 3 months, chased around Western Sydney in my own car and by Christmas that year we'd made a profit, in fact the Company as a whole made a record profit and we were celebrating. The next year was tuffer, the office overheads could not be justified in accountancy terms, we were still profitable but it was decided we'd be even more profitable if I went on the road as a rep. That year was another record but that was the time we sold our first Nikon Digital SLR to a Gov't dept in Canberra it cost the $50000.00 and replace a wet darkroom a film budget of about the same price, and we saw the writing on the wall. Our film Sales next year dropped From 1.5Million to 1/2Million. Successful City Studios were sill going through buckets of E6 and Polaroid but many of them were struggling themselves. Only the most high profile and professionally were profitable and a lot of those weren't either. Most were run by enthusiasts, artists, creative folk and slowly went under or became cameramen for Corporates and Catalog studios. And of course these were being digitized as fast as the technology hit the dock.
Me, I was out of a job again and had my first ever experience of the social security system. By the time I got home that evening I told my wife, "this is not for me" and as chance would have it the following day one of my old clients/friends rang and needed help sourcing something. Three days later I'd registered a business name and was back on the phones again. By this time I had a substantial client database and the same digital industry that brought about the downfall of the old one made it possible for a one man band to succeed. I had always prided myself on an ethical approach to life and this stood me well. Virtually all the major and minor suppliers gave me support. Why wouldn't they I paid up front for most things. I sourced stuff here and if I couldn't get something on Oz I'd import it from OS. What was the photographic industry doing, well most of them shrank to a mini lab and picture frame sellers with untrained kids selling boxes. Want advice, don't bother or try and separate fact from bull**** I was lucky my regulars were almost all friends, not in the personal sense though some were that. They new I'd tell them the truth even if it cost me, and you know what, it mostly didn't. As always, good things come to an end and I discovered Bermagui and the brain went into overdrive, how could I retire and move house and still feed ourselves. I had already put my business catalog on the web and that paved the way and in 2001 We made the move and actually retired 5 years later.
The photographic trade is in my opinion dead as it was known. There are small beacons of light. When I went back to an SLR after flogging all my film gear, I discovered a discount warehouse in Western Sydney (Don't red line me at this point its not and adv) This place had a shop front, only sold Local imports with Oz Guarantees was priced as competitively as OS or the shonks by the time you'd payed freight. I bought my Sony Alfa Kit over the counter as I was visiting Sydney. I didn't know how lucky I was until the following year when I wanted some more equipment, back in Sydney they'e moved into bigger premises, They had more staff than I'd seen in a photo outlet in 20 years and I had to Que to be served never once feeling ignored. When I did get served it was by a charming young lady who answered my questions intelligently and patently new her products.
So It can be done. Why can't the chain stores do it - they are not in the service industry, the very concept is alien to them. They'd rather buy influence from Governments to protect their profits and deservedly for once they been stymied for now.
That's my little story, call it a rant if you like but now I take pictures, if I see a pretty girl, I ask her to model. If I'm asked to do commercial jobs I smile and say, "can you afford me" I suspect that most of them think arrogant P**k
hang goodness I don't have to pay the bills with the odd picture I sell, but for the first time in 50 years I enjoy my photography and I hope you do too.
If you've read this far, thanks for your patience. Remember photography will never again be what it was but boys and girls it will be better.