Dear Justin Bieber,
I read your post on Instagram, the free photo sharing network and thought I would share with you my thoughts on your recent Bieber fan photo ban. Before I start I want to sincerely sympathize with your plight. I don’t have millions of beliebers hounding me for photos everywhere I go and I’m not sure how I would react if I did, but I thought you and others suffering from your particular affliction might benefit from the perspective of a photographer. Let’s start with the message in your post so we have common ground to build on:
“If you happen to see me out somewhere know that I’m not gonna take a picture I’m done taking pictures. It has gotten to the point that people won’t even say hi to me or recognize me as a human, I feel like a zoo animal, and I wanna be able to keep my sanity. I realize people will be disappointed but I don’t owe anybody a picture. And people who say “but I bought ur album” know that you got my album and you got what you paid for AN ALBUM! It doesn’t say in fine print whenever you see me you also get a photo. Justin Bieber”
A Failure to Communicate
In your statement, the first thing that bears mentioning is that even (or especially!) in social media posts, you can’t forget simple rules of communication. The first claim you make is that you won’t be taking any more pictures. This isn’t true and no one believes it. So you lose a fair amount of credibility when you make a statement like that. I hope you don’t take that personally, it wouldn’t be true regardless of who said it. There isn’t a person in the world today that could or would want to honor that pledge. That’s what’s great about photography, everyone is into it and it makes everything better.
When you say that you feel like a zoo animal, that is a sentiment that most people will sympathize with. Although I think that zoo animals might take exception with you minimalizing their plight. After all, the only reprieve zoo animals have is when the zoo doors close, which they have no control over. You can close your doors whenever you please both literally and figuratively. There is a valid point to be made about boundaries, but that is your responsibility. You have to decide where the line is and how you will handle any overstepping. I would humbly submit that making blanket statements cutting all your fans/customers off cold turkey is the least effective way I can think of to accomplish that. Just sayin’.
The final thought that stood out to me in your epic rant was the disgust that you had towards those Bieber enthusiasts which felt entitled to a photo with you after having bought your album. In their defense, I doubt they really felt entitled to it, they most likely thought that if they said they bought your album you would be flattered and WANT to take a picture with them — YOUR MOST DEVOTED FANS. This is really the reason I wanted to write this open letter (that you will never read).
It struck me as odd that someone as clearly talented and successful as you has such little understanding of your product and brand. I read a story once about Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. He was having drinks with some MBA students after a lecture and he asked them what his business was. The students immediately said that he was in the hamburger business. Ray then laughed and said “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not in the hamburger business. My business is real estate.” I mention this story because I think you may be in a state of denial as to what your business actually is. Spoiler… it’s not music.
Let’s do this mental exercise. Say that you put a #customeradvisory in fine print on all your product material. By purchasing the music you create there will explicitly be no possibility of any personal interaction between yourself and your fans. No selfies, no public appearances, no interviews, etc. I wonder (I really don’t) what would happen to your revenue if you did that.
You see, even someone as little known as myself knows that your business isn’t music. Your business is Justin Beiber that is what people want to be a part of and have access to. Their purchase of your music is a byproduct of that bigger idea, so without all those selfies on social media showing the fans tasting a moment of your life, you would quickly become irrelevant. That is what photography does, it gives folks an insight into something they want and is the most powerful and pervasive marketing tool in existence.
Find Your Happy Place
All of this isn’t to say that you must succumb to every whim of your fans, but I think you would be well served to have a little maturity and come up with a better solution to your woes. Just off the top of my head you could give some of your fans hugs in lieu of the selfie. That would give your female beliebers a thrill and make you feel less like a zoo animal. You could even ask them their name and where they are from “like you recognized them as a human”. At the very least realize that the photography you so despise is the life blood of your brand. Photography carries you into every household and at least gives the appearance that you’re engaged with your audience. Every entrepreneur should know that their customers are always buying more than just a product.
a concerned photographer
photo credit: Adam King