Have you ever noticed that whenever a profession is slipping out of first place, tactics get a little more desperate? Whenever something is falling out of favor, and the former experts are getting a little grey around the temples, suddenly there’s a last-ditch grab for control.
I’ve seen it in countless situations. It happened with old-school barbers. It happened with film vs digital photographers. I’m even seeing it start to happen with online marketers.
Here’s how it plays out in real life.
Old-school barbers had their heyday. For years, barbers cut simple haircuts. Then style began to change. Younger men wanted to pay more for better cuts. The hipster barbers came in and charged $35 for a cut instead of the $7 that the old guys were charging. Suddenly the old guys were left with old customers, the type that tend to die off over the course of a couple decades.
So what do the old barbers do? Most don’t learn how to cut more styles. They don’t get better in order to charge more. They start enforcing haircutting laws, and they call in anonymous tips on their competitors to the state haircut licensing board. For serious violations like trimming sideburns while only having a hairstylist license. Don’t believe me? Talk to a hipster hairstylist about this.
Old-school photographers were riding a gravy train all the way through the 90s. They had expensive cameras with expensive film and expensive processing and an expensive studio. This was a high barrier to entry, and for decades there wasn’t much competition. That’s why there used to be a portrait studio in every small-town square across America. But they’re all closed now. Why? Because once digital SLRs came around, and people taught themselves photography with a $500 camera instead of a $15,000 film portrait setup, the new vein of photographers commoditized the market. Sure, maybe the new cheapest photog isn’t producing monumental works of art. But the thing is, those old guys weren’t all that great either. And how many average families need Ansel Adams to come take graduation photos, anyway?
So what do the old photographers do? I know this, because I was getting into photojournalism right about the time they were dying out. They refused to cut rates, and started losing clients. Many hopped onto message boards and ridiculed newcomers. They dismissed digital and refused to get on board. They didn’t help the younger tribe enter the profession. It was a very cutthroat vibe for such an innocent thing as photography. They started charging licensing fees for images and sued people for reprinting family photos and destroyed the film negatives after a print run to preserve the value of their art. They held on to the mast of their sinking ship and drowned.
Now, the first wave of online marketers, the ones who had it super easy in the 90s and early 2000s, are beginning to do the same thing. Back in the 90s the barrier to entry was a little higher, a little more rarified, so once you were “in it” it was super easy to make real cash in marketing. You could charge five or six figures for a simple HTML website. You could rank a new website on Google in an afternoon. You could throw up an ad and make 100 sales in your first week.
But twenty years later, the online marketing world has changed. Instead of making the changes in strategy, knowledge, and networking needed to still make bank, they’ve fallen back to regulations and old-boy tactics. They’re trying to put together associations and certifications. They’re writing bitter diatribes on their Disqus accounts. They’re dissing successful young marketers. And meanwhile they haven’t updated their skills since 2006 and aren’t bringing actual value to their clients, so their retainers are getting dropped.
This walled-garden, enforce-playground-rules approach to success is distasteful to me. Not necessarily because I have a problem with protecting your livelihood, but because it reeks of desperation. It’s as close to monopolizing an industry as small-timers can get.
Things change, and if people can’t change with them, it seems as if the popular thing to do is make laws and associations in order to protect the Old Guard.
Shame, isn’t it?