Photography Experience Economy

Dear friend,

Let me share some ideas on this brave new world of the “Photography Experience Economy.”

Basic concept:

In today’s world, we are investing a lot of money to have memorable memories and experiences.

Teenagers no longer care to buy a car anymore. They want interesting and novel experiences– like trying out a new coffee shop, camping in Portland or braving the ice in Greenland.

When I go into an Apple store, I’m actually not interested in the products. I’m interested in the experience– how friendly the staff are, how the aesthetic sensibilities of the Apple store architecture will affect my emotions, and how being in an Apple store makes me feel.

Let me give you another example: most artists and musicians make a bulk of their money from touring, doing concerts, and live shows.

For example, I went to the YEEZUS concert, to see Kanye West in person, and have the experience of being at a concert. I’d rather have the experience of seeing Kanye live, instead of just watching YouTube videos at home, or listening to his music on my headphones in private.

I was impressed with the Kanye concert: he made the music a listening experience— he made a mountain erupt with crimson-red LCD lava, the bass hit you heavy in the heart, and at one point, he put on a disco ball mask, where the green lasers would refract into the crowd.

In other words, it was a fucking cool experience, that I still remember.

Photography workshops.

So the reason I think my photography workshops are so successful is because people want an experience. We know how to make the photos, and we can download the free ebooks, read the articles, or watch the YouTube videos.

Yet, we want the experience of shooting with ERIC KIM on the streets. To see how ERIC KIM shoots in real life. To get practical 1:1 help, advice and encouragement. We want to feel the passion of ERIC KIM in person.

Experiences are everything; everything is an experience.

For example, reading a book is often an experience. I love the experience of reading a paper back book, sitting on my couch. I love the texture and the haptic response of the crimson pages against my fingers. I love the smell of the book. And best of all, I love the solid “flap” sound when closing a book, when you finish the book experience, then put it back on the shelf in triumph. No ebook or kindle can give you that experience.

Cindy publishes HAPTIC books, which are compact, and live with you. You open them when you need inspiration. You write in the books, you interact with the book. The book is your friend, guide, and mentor. But you are also the book. You can fold the pages, highlight pages, and make it your own.

Even with leather products or raw denim, you have an experience with them. For example, my HAPTIC bag has lasted me 3 years. Her cognac leather has worn to my body over the years. The more I use it, the more I like it. The same with the patina and “brassing” of my film black paint Leica MP. The more rolls of film I put through my Leica, the more she shows her character. Her edges turn a bronze gold, and I feel proud. There is a sense of progress.

Consider this: when you go to a fancy restaurant, you’re not paying for the food. You’re paying for the experience.

This is what struck me when Cindy and I went to a $$$ Yelp restaurant in San Francisco. It was fucking expensive, like $200 USD between both of us. Yet, we sat, chatted, and ruminated on life for around 4 hours. Therefore, if you think about it, we just rented the seats to have the privilege of experiencing the vibe of the place.

So to make myself feel better, we each spent $100 for a 4-hour experience. That is around $25 an hour. Which isn’t horrible.

A movie at a theater: around $10 a ticket for a 1.5 hour movie. Add popcorn or a drink, let’s say another $5. So $15 a person for a 1.5 hour movie. That’s around $10 an hour for your movie watching experience.

If you spend $500 a night at a hotel, you’re not really paying for the room or the bed. You’re paying for the hotel experience— the courtesy of the staff, the experience of the nice architecture, and aesthetics. The experience of being treated like royalty.

For myself, when I start to think about reality and the economy in terms of experiences, things make a lot more sense.

Why spend $1,000 on a Gucci jacket? Not to own a $1,000 piece of cow skin that was made in a factory in Italy by an immigrant. No, you’re paying for the experience of hanging out in a Gucci store, feeling fancy, and the experience of feeling fancy, and showing off to your friends or other social acquaintances.

So let’s take this to photography:

1. Sell experiences

I realized: my workshops aren’t workshops– they’re experiences.

The experience of shooting and hanging out with Eric. The experience of learning from Eric. The experience of being in a cool foreign city, and making new friends. The experience of drinking espresso, drinking beers at a loud pub, or partying in a Japanese Izakaya with smoked beef skewers with Eric.

What I realized was this:

If I’m selling an experience, not just a workshop, I can charge more money. Because I’m offering a greater service.

For example, in my workshops, I hang out with the students after the workshop is over. I eat dinner with them, enjoy beers with them, and share my life with them. I’m sharing my soul with them.

And to be honest I fucking love my students. I see them as my peers, my fellow friends, and also my teachers. I learn as much from my students, as much as they learn from me.

I always loved and believed this saying on teaching:

When one teaches, two learn.

So when you’re teaching a workshop– rephrase it. Consider,

I’m curating an experience for the student.

What kind of experience are you creating? What I try to create:

  • Openness: a non-pretentious learning experience and environment.
  • Sharing: students share their experiences with others.
  • Improvement: seeking to improve confidence, courage, and composition.
  • Laughter: lots of laughing, joking, fist-bumping, and hugs.
  • Food: good food, good experiences and relaxed dinner experiences.
  • Coffee: good coffee, single origin espressos, almond milk cappuccinos, and good coffee shop aesthetics.
  • Humility: Eric Kim as a humble teacher and guide, or facilitator. Not teacher who tries to fill the students head with his knowledge. Rather, to facilitate the students to self-learn, and to empower themselves.

In essence, a workshop is a tool to self-empower the students. To teach the students to help themselves. Before the time after the workshop is the most valuable.

You don’t want your students to be dependent on you.

Kill the teacher.

I asked myself,

How can I make myself redundant?

The best teacher: a teacher who doesn’t want the student to become dependent on them.

For example, ideally, a student would attend my workshop, and never need to attend another workshop again– unless it is to share experiences, and to share our lives together.

50% of the students at my workshops are returning students. Which means, they love me and the experience enough to pay money, transportation, and accommodation to have another memorable experience together.

Don’t be a Nespresso or Keurig machine: making you buy those stupid fucking pods to just enjoy a cup of coffee.

Rather, be a tool of empowerment for the students.

Be the shot of espresso.

When I listen to Kanye West’s music, it is like having a shot of espresso.

A lot of people read this blog everyday with their cup of coffee. Ideally, nobody would read this blog. Rather, they would go out everyday, and make photos which excites and inspires them.

But unfortunately many of us lack daily inspiration. So I wanna be that morning shot of espresso to get you going creatively as an artist and photographer.

How can you create experiences to inspire, and empower your viewer?

Ways to consider this:

  • How to inspire your viewers to make more photos.
  • How to inspire your viewers to consider themselves not just photographers, but artists?
  • How to inspire your followers to become the best artists they can?

For me, that means not being negative. I fucking hate negative people and negative energy. That is why I cut my dad out of my life, and that is why I no longer involve myself in petty online social media politics, commentary, or drama.

If you have something to say that isn’t positive don’t say it.

There is enough negative bullshit in the world. Do you want to add negative black energy, to this dump of online hate? Or do you want to spread a ultralight beam of positivity, positive vibes and energy, to encourage and uplift others?

Be positive.

When curating experiences for your clients, students, viewers, family, friend, partner, kids, whoever– be positive.

Offer solutions rather than offering problems (what consultants should do).

Offer simple solutions, instead of trying to over-complicate things to justify your job. This is why I hate wine commentators or coffee “experts” who make things too complicated, to make you feel small and stupid.

Simplicity is the ultimate badge of confidence, knowledge, and self-assurance.

If you’re offering complicated solutions, get another job, or simplify your solutions.

Sorry friend, this got a bit random and ranty.

But the one thing I want you to take away:

To make money in photography, sell experiences, not photos or information.

Photography Entrepreneurship 101

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP // Portrait by Benjamin Thompson

Learn how to make a living from your passion:

How to Make Money with Photography

Photography Marketing 101

How to Hustle.

Entrepreneurial Principles

How to be a Full-time Photographer

Photography Blogging

How to Teach Photography

Social Media

How to Save Money


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