Thursday, May 26, 2011

Photographer Shannon Fagan Answers The Question: Why China?

China stock photo of a laughing man by Shannon Fagan.
Photo©Shannon Fagan
 Shannon Fagan Reports: ”I’m an interesting character in China when I shoot. I wear gloves, I wear knee pads, and I cover myself in the white ghosting of 70 SPF sunscreen. I laugh with my models to get them to laugh.  In China, this is often met with a stare and occasionally a smirk. But for this gentleman, we had a downright belly-roll.”


Friend and fellow photographer Shannon Fagan recently relocated from New York to China. Shannon is one of those people that are referred to as "thought leaders" and has been very active in the photography world. He is a past president of the Stock Artists Alliance, and has had leadership roles in the American Photographic Artists, the American Society of Media Photographers and the Young Photographers Alliance. I could go on...but I won't. 


I recently fired off an e-mail to Shannon in Beijing asking him "Why China?".  His answer was pretty cool, so with his permission I am sharing it here.


Shannon, why China?

  • Alongside the recession and economic changes for online image licensing, my stock photography earnings declined rapidly from late 2008 to mid 2009.  I reassessed what I wanted out of my business, and out of my personal life.

  • I had burned out of managing disinterested parties on photo shoots for production outlays that were taking longer than I felt was wise to break even.  I found that I could not cut costs further and still forecast an adequate income; nor could I maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle as I squeezed the expenses whilst raising my crews’ stress to unnecessary levels. I chose to stop, take profit on my royalties, and change what I was doing.

  • I found, through a lot of personal introspection and external research, that I was no longer interested in shooting stock imagery nor assignment work within the current market conditions. I wanted a new challenge, and as I assessed that need in my life, I found that there had been indicators to that end for some time.

  • I looked analytically at the industry and at my options.  I knew commercial photography was permanently changed and knew that my interests as a person within that were quickly migrating to other areas of visual communication and business.

  • This all leads me to late 2009, when I went to China to do research on relocating.  I formulated the basis of that investigation from the continual pull that I had felt to the emerging marketplace and success that I had had working in China from 2006 – 2009.  Several very close, intelligent, and long term friends also put the bug in my ear.  By spring 2010, I returned to China again for another test trip; and by late 2010 I had closed out my operation in New York and was ready for relocation.  I knew that I was moving for the right reasons; even if not all reasons had manifested yet.

  • I did not move blindly.  During a period of 18 months, I worked on the ground in Beijing, Shanghai, and in New York to establish and refine long term contacts and relationships that would fuel me upon arrival.  I did a lot of business coursework.  When I arrived to Beijing in December last year, I hit the ground running with a multitude of projects carefully orchestrated in China and abroad.

  • The economy in the US assisted my decision. Our industry has consolidated and as you’re likely aware, there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles. In one way or another, I not only felt that prejudice, I experienced it enough to understand intelligently that there would be no easy nor efficient movement for me in the US from a role of photographer to the business side of the industry.  Instead, and quite literally, recruiters and big picture thinkers told me “...go to China, it’s where all the new action is.”

  • Moving forward to the present; I am glad that I moved. My happiness and daily fulfillment is at an all-time high recently, and I hope (fingers crossed...) that the opportunities for me here will continue to grow. It reminds me of my relocation to New York City post-graduation from college ten years ago.

  • I am acutely aware of the converging economies of the US and China; and it is clear that this market will grow robustly over the next 50 years. It is also clear that it is under-served. China is not an easy place to live; but I wasn’t looking for easy. I knew all of the back story  going into this decision, and I am daily reminded of just how difficult it is to live and work here.  For entrepreneurs in China, we tease that we “I love it and I hate it”....which is to say that we feel neutrally pragmatic about it.  I’m lucky.  If September 11th, a blackout, two economic recessions,  and a fiercely competitive market in New York didn’t chew me up and spit me out, well then, hopefully my new digs won’t do so either.

  • I can be entrepreneurial here in manners inaccessible to me in the US economy.  Being a creative business in the West was getting more and more expensive for me, but here, I can put my expertise in visual communication and entrepreneurial strategy to ready use and it is met with great interest.  I’m an outlier.  My business interests are much more readily fueled by access to key meetings with top level individuals whom would not be available to me back home.  I am absorbing immense amounts of local knowledge daily and I am getting quicker and quicker on my feet in an economy that is elusive to foreigners.

  • Lastly, to seal the deal, was a terrific full-time Chinese Operations and Project Manager here; Gan Chao. She and I are not only great friends, we also work extremely well together. She is my eyes and ears to China. She is in every way the bridge link that many foreigners have and need to access the Chinese daily personal and work life.  Her can-do-it and aggressive attitude is rare in this marketplace. I believe we’re on to something in this market.

  • I’m now China’s Top Selling Stock Photographer, the only industry consultant with a core expertise for China, Director of the Young Photographer Alliance’s China Mentoring Program, an ASMP liaison to Asia, and more to come!
Glad I asked...thanks Shannon! http://www.shannonfagan.com

16 comments:

Ellen Boughn said...

Aatta boy, Shannon ! Keep pushing so in a few years we can all come and work for you there! I have no doubts that you'll succeed.

Jon Feingersh said...

Shannon-- You're so fortunate to have the personal and logistical freedom to explore, the open mind to wish to do so, and the cajones to actually do it. Too many people get stuck, and never consider the possibilties this great world has to offer. This is especially true of us artists who are supposed to be widening our horizons. All the best in your continuing search for your own future.

Jonathan Ross said...

Shannon you have always been on the front edge of not just the photography world but the world itself. I am lucky to call you a friend and as Ellen said we are all ready to come work for you. Congratulations! Thank you John for another great read.

Jonathan Ross said...

Shannon you have always been on the front edge of not just the photography world but the world itself. I am lucky to call you a friend and as Ellen said we are all ready to come work for you. Congratulations! Thank you John for another great read.

Tanya Constantine said...

Fantastic, Shannon! I am so inspired by your courage to just pick up and change your whole life. That takes courage and I admire that you were able to do that. It encourages me to take risks like that. Go, Shannon, go!

Sean Locke said...

Gutsy move and interesting story - congrats on the success! You said "I was no longer interested in shooting stock imagery nor assignment work within the current market conditions". So, are doing something besides photo work there? Or are the "market conditions" the definer, in that China is different enough from NY? You lost me a bit, especially with the part about "I’m now China’s Top Selling Stock Photographer"...

Anonymous said...

How does he know he is the top selling stock photographer in China?

Shannon Fagan said...

Jon, Sean, and Anonymous,

You're correct, there was an element of "ability" to make the move that facilitated it. The logistical was not easy, but since I happened to be able to pickup and leave the US relatively unattached financially and emotionally, it certainly made my relocation easier.

We're shooting, we're teaching, and I'm doing consulting work for agencies and others seeking research and information regarding this specific market and the Asian market in general. While this consultation is not for everyone, certain very large and tech savvy companies are well funded, and well positioned to undertake the steps necessary to enter this market and revolutionize the business model here.

As part of my extensive research, it was presented to me that no other individual commercial artist holding their own intellectual property rights with a residence permit for Mainland China is generating more net residuals for sales globally in stock photography.

We are holding a workshop this summer : http://www.shannonfagan.com/workshop_en together in-conjunction with the Young Photographer's Alliance global mentoring program. This will be the first program of its kind in China. Perhaps some of you on this blog forum would like to join in for a short presentation of what you do as a professional in the West? I know that our protégés would be greatly appreciative.

Thank you all. - Shannon

Sean Locke said...

Shannon -
"certain very large and tech savvy companies are well funded, and well positioned to undertake the steps necessary to enter this market and revolutionize the business model here"

Sorry, which market and what business model? Stock? Assignment? Editorial? None of the above?

Does the government there know how much everyone makes at their work and make that publicly available? Wow!

Glen Allison said...

Shannon, congratulations on your bold move. Such insight! Many might fear what to them could seem to be an extreme action . . . at least one that would require massive amounts of courage. But as Eben Pagan said, "Courage is moving forward even when fear exists."

Scott Lightner said...

Shannon, John -

I'm getting crossed signals here, and not finding enough information to form reasonable conclusions.


"take profit on my royalties"

What does this mean in stock photography?
-Are you selling the copyright to your images?
-Converting RP to RF?
-Not reinvesting your stock income back into more image productions?
-???


"Our industry has consolidated and as you’re likely aware, there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles. In one way or another, I not only felt that prejudice, I experienced it enough to understand intelligently that there would be no easy nor efficient movement for me in the US from a role of photographer to the business side of the industry."


What exactly does this quote mean?
The stock industry consolidated a decade ago when Getty & Corbis monopolized the industry. This created a vacuum which along with the oversupply of digital images lead to microstock companies, and the glut of cheap to free digital imagery. The quote above seems to contradict the quotes below:

"I looked analytically at the industry and at my options. I knew commercial photography was permanently changed and knew that my interests as a person within that were quickly migrating to other areas of visual communication and business."

If you are "migrating to other areas of visual communication and business" isn'that another way of saying: "there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles"? Are you suggesting you didn't feel you could compete in these markets in the U.S. but do feel you can in China?


"I’m now China’s Top Selling Stock Photographer"
Based on what? Is this according to GettyImages figures? Is this photographers selling to the Chinese market, or located in China? What is the ratio of images sold in China to images sold by Shannon Fagan to the Chinese markets?

Images, business, and stock are not new to Asia or China. 15 years ago Asia was the #1 region winning international advertising awards. All the top ad agencies have been in Asia for decades. HK and S'pore in particular have excellent photographers and stock companies. I was in S'pore in the late 90's, until the Asian economic crash made it impossible to continue.

"certain very large and tech savvy companies are well funded, and well positioned to undertake the steps necessary to enter this market and revolutionize the business model here."

What market, the stock imaging market (in China)?
Why wouldn't GettyImages with offices in China seek to exploit this market? What business model are these "very large, well funded and tech savvy companies" going to revolutionize? Are they going to compete with "free"? Low ticket-high volume... micro,micro sales?


From this article:
http://www.ellenboughn.com/shannon-fagan-asks-whats-your-position-on-global-positioning

"And now I’ll argue, why purchase exclusive RM rights for your client, when the licensing crowd at large is perfectly fine with RF non-exclusivity? Why license premium royalty free when your client can obtain it for low cost or no cost in micro payment? Ask yourself these questions. Your stock agencies are."

(btw - GPS apps work when a network is available. In the backcountry or deep rural areas where they are most needed, Garmin may still be the go to).

In conclusion, I'm seeing a lot of talk (and I wish you well), but the words don't seem to add up to reasonable market action. What information am I missing for a rational understanding? It seems to me you are taking whatever accolades you can to China and trying to start workshops there and pick up whatever consulting you can for a stock imaging market that will still have to contend with oversupply - the fatal blow in ROI to the career of image creation.

Tim McGuire said...

Shannon,

What are your thoughts on the copyright laws of China, enforcement of those laws, and / or lack thereof? How does that factor into your move and your future prospects as well as for IP creators business prospects in general in China / Asia?

Good luck to you. It must be exhilarating to make such a big move to a foreign land and culture.

Cheers,

Tim

Scott lightner said...

Shannon, John -

I'm getting crossed signals here, and not finding enough information to form reasonable conclusions.


"take profit on my royalties"

What does this mean in stock photography?
-Are you selling the copyright to your images?
-Converting RP to RF?
-Not reinvesting your stock income back into more image productions?
-???


"Our industry has consolidated and as you’re likely aware, there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles. In one way or another, I not only felt that prejudice, I experienced it enough to understand intelligently that there would be no easy nor efficient movement for me in the US from a role of photographer to the business side of the industry."


What exactly does this quote mean?
The stock industry consolidated a decade ago when Getty & Corbis monopolized the industry. This created a vacuum which along with the oversupply of digital images lead to microstock companies, and the glut of cheap to free digital imagery. The quote above seems to contradict the quotes below:

"I looked analytically at the industry and at my options. I knew commercial photography was permanently changed and knew that my interests as a person within that were quickly migrating to other areas of visual communication and business."

If you are "migrating to other areas of visual communication and business" isn'that another way of saying: "there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles"? Are you suggesting you didn't feel you could compete in these markets in the U.S. but do feel you can in China?


"I’m now China’s Top Selling Stock Photographer"
Based on what? Is this according to GettyImages figures? Is this photographers selling to the Chinese market, or located in China? What is the ratio of images sold in China to images sold by Shannon Fagan to the Chinese markets?

Images, business, and stock are not new to Asia or China. 15 years ago Asia was the #1 region winning international advertising awards. All the top ad agencies have been in Asia for decades. HK and S'pore in particular have excellent photographers and stock companies. I was in S'pore in the late 90's, until the Asian economic crash made it impossible to continue.

"certain very large and tech savvy companies are well funded, and well positioned to undertake the steps necessary to enter this market and revolutionize the business model here."

What market, the stock imaging market (in China)?
Why wouldn't GettyImages with offices in China seek to exploit this market? What business model are these "very large, well funded and tech savvy companies" going to revolutionize? Are they going to compete with "free"? Low ticket-high volume... micro,micro sales?


From this article:
http://www.ellenboughn.com/shannon-fagan-asks-whats-your-position-on-global-positioning

"And now I’ll argue, why purchase exclusive RM rights for your client, when the licensing crowd at large is perfectly fine with RF non-exclusivity? Why license premium royalty free when your client can obtain it for low cost or no cost in micro payment? Ask yourself these questions. Your stock agencies are."

(btw - GPS apps work when a network is available. In the backcountry or deep rural areas where they are most needed, Garmin may still be the go to).

In conclusion, I'm seeing a lot of talk (and I wish you well), but the words don't seem to add up to reasonable market action. What information am I missing for a rational understanding? It seems to me you are taking whatever accolades you can to China and trying to start workshops there and pick up whatever consulting you can for a stock imaging market that will still have to contend with oversupply - the fatal blow in ROI to the career of image creation.

Scott Lightner said...

Note from John-I had to split Scott’s Comment into two separate sections…here is the first:

Shannon, John -

I'm getting crossed signals here, and not finding enough information to form reasonable conclusions.


"take profit on my royalties"

What does this mean in stock photography?
-Are you selling the copyright to your images?
-Converting RP to RF?
-Not reinvesting your stock income back into more image productions?
-???


"Our industry has consolidated and as you’re likely aware, there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles. In one way or another, I not only felt that prejudice, I experienced it enough to understand intelligently that there would be no easy nor efficient movement for me in the US from a role of photographer to the business side of the industry."


What exactly does this quote mean?
The stock industry consolidated a decade ago when Getty & Corbis monopolized the industry. This created a vacuum which along with the oversupply of digital images lead to microstock companies, and the glut of cheap to free digital imagery. The quote above seems to contradict the quotes below:

"I looked analytically at the industry and at my options. I knew commercial photography was permanently changed and knew that my interests as a person within that were quickly migrating to other areas of visual communication and business."

If you are "migrating to other areas of visual communication and business" isn'that another way of saying: "there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles"? Are you suggesting you didn't feel you could compete in these markets in the U.S. but do feel you can in China?

Scott Lightner said...

This is part 2 of Scott Lightner’s Comment:

"I’m now China’s Top Selling Stock Photographer"
Based on what? Is this according to GettyImages figures? Is this photographers selling to the Chinese market, or located in China? What is the ratio of images sold in China to images sold by Shannon Fagan to the Chinese markets?

Images, business, and stock are not new to Asia or China. 15 years ago Asia was the #1 region winning international advertising awards. All the top ad agencies have been in Asia for decades. HK and S'pore in particular have excellent photographers and stock companies. I was in S'pore in the late 90's, until the Asian economic crash made it impossible to continue.

"certain very large and tech savvy companies are well funded, and well positioned to undertake the steps necessary to enter this market and revolutionize the business model here."

What market, the stock imaging market (in China)?
Why wouldn't GettyImages with offices in China seek to exploit this market? What business model are these "very large, well funded and tech savvy companies" going to revolutionize? Are they going to compete with "free"? Low ticket-high volume... micro,micro sales?


From this article:
http://www.ellenboughn.com/shannon-fagan-asks-whats-your-position-on-global-positioning

"And now I’ll argue, why purchase exclusive RM rights for your client, when the licensing crowd at large is perfectly fine with RF non-exclusivity? Why license premium royalty free when your client can obtain it for low cost or no cost in micro payment? Ask yourself these questions. Your stock agencies are."

(btw - GPS apps work when a network is available. In the backcountry or deep rural areas where they are most needed, Garmin may still be the go to).

In conclusion, I'm seeing a lot of talk (and I wish you well), but the words don't seem to add up to reasonable market action. What information am I missing for a rational understanding? It seems to me you are taking whatever accolades you can to China and trying to start workshops there and pick up whatever consulting you can for a stock imaging market that will still have to contend with oversupply - the fatal blow in ROI to the career of image creation.

JeffGreenberg said...

Am also foggy on whether or not most time is spent taking new photos, what kind, what conditions.

Economically, it makes sense to go from busting bubbles to bubbles if one times it right...

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