If you’re an emerging photographer looking for steady work and a means through which you can market yourself and manage an array of administrative tasks, then you may want to look into a monthly subscription service that caters to both the established and emerging photographer looking for a better way to streamline their art business.
Founded by a photographer for the photographer community at large, Wonderful Machine caters to the emerging photographer in creating a network of contacts that makes finding new clients a fairly effortless process. Twenty-year photography veteran Bill Cramer started the Pennsylvania-based company as a small collective of photographers who could share equipment and contacts.
“I kept photographing doctors in medical practices and lawyers in law firms and thought, why can’t photographers come together and share facilities and equipment and insurance and supplies and staff, and keep their overhead low, and collaborate on marketing and share clients? So that’s how Wonderful Machine was ultimately born,” Cramer says.
Matching photographers with available photo work, Wonderful Machine essentially functions as a lower-cost agency for the emerging photographer. For a monthly subscription fee, photographers obtain a Wonderful Machine profile, which is managed and updated constantly by Wonderful Machine staff. The company’s client database – which amounts to almost 15,000 companies and individuals looking for photo work – then log on to Wonderful Machine, where they can browse photographer profiles and reach out to those that meet their desired needs. The company can additionally provide administrative support by negotiating rates and managing production costs and schedules, or assist the emerging photographer with marketing and public relations efforts to get their work distributed.
While membership at Wonderful Machine is voluntary, Cramer says that not everyone who applies is offered membership. Currently, the company manages about 700 photographer profiles across 50 countries but has a network of about 20,000 photographers. “The main criteria for membership at Wonderful Machine is quality of photographs and presentation,” he says.
Because of its fairly low financial footprint, Wonderful Machine is a great partner for an emerging photographer that doesn’t quite need a full-blown agent. Here, Cramer talks to Artrepreneur about the benefits and costs associated with working with Wonderful Machine for landing consistent photo work.
Wonderful Machine Attracts Clients Looking to Book Photo Work
NM: How does Wonderful Machine work?
Bill Cramer: We are essentially a marketing company that helps connect photographers with clients. We also offer consulting services for photographers – in addition to the marketing that we provide for our member photographers, we provide all sorts of services for member and non-member photographers alike. That includes counseling the emerging photographer with any aspect of their branding, marketing, estimating rates or shoot production.
NM: How does working with Wonderful Machine differ from working with a more traditional agent?
Bill Cramer: Interestingly, many of our photographers have agents. So, in most cases, I don’t really see it as sort of an either-or situation. If you’re not generating enough revenue, very few established agents are going to want to work with you. So, you have to be sort of a certain level of success in order to attract an agent. Once you are that level of success, an agent can take a good photographer to the next level.
For photographers who have agents, no matter who your agent is, they’re going to tell you that they want you to do your own promotion. Even if you have an agent, you’re still going to need promotional materials. You’re still going to need to send out email blasts, do sourcebook adds, and do promotions of different kinds. And so, Wonderful Machine is just one of those promotional tools that make any photographer visible to a wide audience. Because even if you have an agent, that agent can only do so much promotion for you. So, for photographers who have agents, I think Wonderful Machine can be an excellent way to augment and supplement the marketing that the agent does.
NM: Why do commercial clients come to Wonderful Machine when they need to book photo work?
Bill Cramer: We make it our business to become experts in all things related to commercial photography and then share that expertise in lots of different ways. I think that the typical photo agent for advertising photographers might have a dozen or 20 photographers, but those relationships are pretty intense. Wonderful Machine’s relationship with our photographers is as involved as they want us to be. We feel like the value is that we are assembling a group of photographers that are going to be really valuable for the average commercial client in the world.
NM: How do commercial clients use your service? What kind of support do you provide?
Bill Cramer: A lot of clients come to our site because we offer basic curation. We are providing a filter to the photography world and making ourselves ‘aware’ of those 20,000 photographers that we have in our Wonderful Machine database, and pare it down from there. We do our best to pick out an established or emerging photographer that produces high-quality photo work in all sorts of specialties, and in all sorts of places around the world, so that a client can come to Wonderful Machine and feel like they’ve got a lot of good choices, but not too many. We try to find a balance of quantity and quality.
We have 32 different specialties on our site to help clients separate and select photographers, whether they need a food photographer or a fashion photographer or an architecture photographer.
A Marketing Tool For the Emerging Photographer
NM: How much do you charge photographers for membership?
Bill Cramer: We don’t charge a commission to our photographers, our photographers simply pay us a flat monthly fee. The most expensive rate is $240 a month, which would be for U.S. based photographers. We charge a discounted rate if you live outside the United States because our sphere of influence is not as great outside the country. So, we simply charge an upfront fee and then any assignments that the photographer gets, they don’t owe us any commission on that, they’re free to connect with those clients directly. By the same token, there’s no fee at all for clients. When a client comes to our site they don’t have to sign up or sign in, they simply can browse through the website and search through any combination of specialty or location.
NM: How does Wonderful Machine source photographers for membership? How do you support photographers who choose to become members?
Bill Cramer: We have three assistant photo editors, who are in charge of managing emerging photographer inquiries and updating our photographer profiles, along with basic photographer research. We make it our business to know about every photographer on the planet. Each week, our assistant photo editor receives those inquiries and our team meets and reviews each of them. We find that a photographer’s website is a really excellent way to evaluate that photographer, we can tell a lot about the character of a photographer and certainly the skill of a photographer, through their website. Then, we consider where the photographer is located and which of our 32 specialties they would fit into if we were to list them on our site.
As we stated, the main criteria is quality. Secondarily, we’re looking at the presentation. We’ll never reject a photographer for poor presentation, as long as the photographs are excellent, but it’s our preference to have not only excellent photographs but an excellent presentation. So sometimes a photographer might have either a less than great edit, or a less than great functionality of their website template, but that wouldn’t necessarily exclude them.
Finally, we basically decide based on the mechanics. For example, if we have a food photographer in Chicago send in their website, we’re going to look at how many other food photographers we have in Chicago and compare how this photographer measures up quality wise and personality wise. If this food photographer is merely duplicating what we already have, we might be less inclined to invite them to join us. But if they bring something in terms of either just sheer quality of photographer or a distinct personality that we don’t currently have, they’re going to be a lot more attractive.
So, in general, it sort of comes down to intuition. Is this photographer going to make our site more useful for clients, is it going to make our website as a whole more attractive to clients? In the end, what we want to do is make this website something that every client who uses high-quality photography on a regular basis wants to go to when looking for photo work.
NM: How many new inquiries for membership do you receive each week? How does the emerging photographer find you?
Bill Cramer: We get about 20 inquiries a week from photographers who are interested in joining Wonderful Machine. Photographers find out about us in lots of different ways. We’ve been around for ten years, and we’re fairly active in the photo community in general.
NM: What about those photographers that don’t make the cut?
Bill Cramer: The photographers that we feel like aren’t quite ready for us, we don’t outright reject them, and they remain in our network of contacts. The way we look at it is that we want to help them on their path, no matter what stage of their career they’re in. We have 24 people in our company who know quite a bit about every aspect of branding and marketing and estimating and production. So, wherever that established or emerging photographer is in their career, I think we’ve got the expertise to help that photographer progress and find continuous photo work.
NM: How does Wonderful Machine assist in marketing those photographers that are accepted to your database? Do you set up a profile for them, or are they responsible for doing so?
Bill Cramer: We go to the photographer’s website and we pull pictures off of their website that are representative of their skills, and we build a profile of them on our website. Our philosophy is we want to have our profile be a teaser, so that clients come to Wonderful Machine and then go to the photographer’s website. There are some directories that build portfolios on their site, with the intent of keeping the client on their site. Our intent is to actually get the client to go to the photographer’s website. So, our profile is intended to be a teaser, it’s not intended to be a full portfolio. The other aspect of the decision to do it ourselves is that if we were to leave it up to the photographer to choose their specialties and their pictures and even their location, photographers might be inclined to pick more specialties than they’re really adept at and they might be inclined to list more locations than they actually live in.
NM: Do you offer any additional marketing services?
Bill Cramer: We offer supplemental marketing for photographers. So, we do charge extra for consulting services if a photographer wants to hire us to build a list of clients or to set up meetings for them or to create a marketing plan for them, we’re available to do that and we charge a consulting fee for that.
Are you an emerging photographer? How do you find new photo work?
Nicole is the Managing Editor of Publications at Orangenius. A veteran arts and culture journalist, her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.