Charging attendance fees or those were the days

July 04, 2011

Oh for the days when attendance fees were charged. In the good old days event photographers would get a deposit, a booking fee or an attendance fee before covering an event. As time moved on and competition amongst those with the kit and skills to cover events grew then clients started shopping on price. If the product and service was the same then something had to give and the first thing was giving part or all of the deposit or attendance fee back based on upon takings at the event. It was only a short step to no attendance fee and no deposit and then a little shuffle to the no deposit and we will give you a percentage of takings.

For an industry which required a large capital outlay for start ups the money up front was a very important part of staying solvent. Equipment usage had to be maximised and a cancellation or poor event cost the event photographer dearly without the cushion of at least some payment at the time of booking.

Where do we stand today? Equipment costs are generally lower. The cost of entry to this area of the market is within reach of the average photographer (and non photographer). A large number of people have entered the sector and with the minimum of equipment are competing for jobs. Nothing else can give so now they must compete on price of product. The dream is that once they are established they will be able to increase their prices to the point that they can actually live on this income. Two problems with this: the first is that their target market is those that buy on price and the second is that as soon as they increase their prices there is someone else ready to step into their shoes and supply their cost concious clients at a cheaper price.

An attendance fee would have avoided the waste of time I had at a recent event. The job came through another photographer who gave me some attendance numbers which made it worth my while to do the job. The contact for the job was an event promoter who gave me some different (lower) numbers but I still felt the job was probably worth while. An early Sunday morning start, a hour of equipment preparation, half a hour packing the van, half a hour travelling and get there and the event owner does not know we are coming! Get this sorted and myself and an assistant start to set up and then the bombshell. Expected attendance is a tenth of the numbers I had been given. I should have packed up there and then. If every person there had bought an image I would still lose money after costs. We could also only sell to the participants once the event was over. I don't like letting anybody down (I don't believe that I ever have) so I decided to stick it out and see how we would do. I called it a day when the event had overrun by a hour and there was no sign of an end in sight.

I don't believe I would have been anywhere near this event if an attendance or booking fee had been required. No-one would have put their hand in their pocket and I would not have gone. The only problem is that I cannot lead the industry and ask for booking fees or deposits whilst no-one else is doing it. It would be commercial suicide. The other option of putting prices up to cover these situations is a non-starter as well as this would have an immediate negative effect on the current sales levels which cling to a carefully balanced pricing structure. A bit of a Catch 22.

For some events I do ask for and get a deposit. In some cases this is based upon expected takings for the event. The event must generate this minimum or part of the deposit is retained to make up the difference. These events are generally different in that the print is included in the event entry price. This being the case my sales are totally dependent upon the organiser getting the people in front of me. If he is out on his figures then he takes the majority of the financial hit and not me. There is a caveat with this though, the print margins are very tight. Actually they are tighter than a ballerinas bow on a weight lifter. What is given with one hand is taken with the other.

Ideally, we would get all event organisers to put their money where their mouths are and have them stump up a deposit based upon expected revenues. At this point you might like to construct a sentence using the words 'might', 'and', 'fly' and 'pigs'.I think we would see a far more cautious approach from the organisers if we could get this. I can dream can't I? At the moment all the risk falls on the shoulders of the event photographer with no come back if the attendance figures or demographic of those attending is significantly different from those quoted when being asked to do the job.

As they used to say on Hill Street Blues, be careful out there.

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