Perhaps nothing seems more counterintuitive to running a successful business than taking a pay-what-you-wish approach. It takes a huge leap of faith to trust customers to place their own value on goods and services. Yet the model is gaining traction; Radiohead, for example, made headlines when they posted a new album for download at whatever price music fans wanted to contribute. It also worked for Panera, a bakery-café that invites customers to name their price for sandwiches. Now, a Seattle-based photographer wants to see how a pay-what-you-wish model could apply to her wedding photography business.
For Nicole, the founder of Sunshine Charlie, taking part in nuptials has always been satisfying. “Weddings are full of life and emotion. It’s a day of new beginnings and hope for a fruitful future,” she says. “I enjoy being around love, celebration, and positive energy.” Yet one question seems obvious: isn’t she’s worried about the possibility of losing time or money by letting her clients set the price? “Sure,” responds Nicole. “But I am trying to keep focused on my vision and connection with my clients. So far I have booked sixteen weddings for the year and have shot one wedding. Brides and grooms have been very gracious with my time and appreciative of my efforts.”
Having only shot one wedding, Nicole’s experiment has not yet truly begun. Whether or not this model proves successful, it begs a specific question: just what is a wedding photograph worth? Certainly, our relationship towards photographs has changed over the years; fewer households contain prized photo albums, leaving many images to languish away on hard drives. Yet if there is one memory that you want to revisit years later, a wedding is one of the most important events to document. In this light, it seems almost impossible to place a monetary value on a photograph.
Regardless of the amount of money she receives, Nicole simply wants to build her portfolio in a meaningful way. “I hope to create some fresh images, connect and share life with some interesting people, and learn some things along the way.” But as the project progresses, do you think this social experiment will prove a successful example of the innate value found in person-to-person commerce? Or will couples still seek the bottom dollar, regardless of any larger social mission?