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Where are we heading?

The pic below (thanks to John Swainston) was taken at what by default would probably count, as one of the attendees noted, as the largest gatherings of the photo trade community since the funeral of Tim Jones over two years ago.
It was an event organised by Richard Robertson (formerly MD of Ted’s) and saw people travel from WA, SA, NSW, Tasmania and Victorian country towns. Robbo organised a golf outing the following day. It was a great opportunity to get together with friends and colleagues and there was much warmth, plenty of jokes – and a lingering sense of nostalgia for a time when people valued that sense of community which seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Where are the Richard Robertsons and John Swainstons, etc, of the 21st century photographic industry? What are our current industry leaders doing to bring us together? There’s a whole range of thirty- and forty-something executives out there who have basically abandoned any sense of responsibility to the industry which pays their salaries. They don’t lead, they simply manage, and that diminishes the entire community. It’s been over two years since PMA Australia closed its doors and we are no closer to pulling together an industry group than we were when we farewelled Peter Rose and Barbara Bryan. But over in New Zealand, they have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and started a new industry association. So what’s wrong with us Australians? Where’s the leadership? IDEA? With Canon having taken its bat and ball and gone home, it was always going to struggle.

Look at our story this week on the photo conference being organised for Darling Harbour. If it’s successful – and my sense is that it will be – it’s liable to gross maybe $600K or more. Now why couldn’t we – and by ‘we’ I mean the industry as a whole – have put something like that together, along with a potentially even more profitable and promotional trade exhibition? This is the kind of thing PMA was working at before the Americans cleaned out the local bank account.

As you may be able to discern from all the grey, white and absent hair, the group who jumped at the chance to get together with their industry mates last week have a great shared past – but not a lot of future in the industry. (Speaking of which, does anyone want to buy a photo specialist online publishing business? Give me a call.) It’s up to younger people, who have a vested interest in making the photo industry as strong as it possibly can be. As the old saying goes, there is strength in unity. The people pictured above know that. They have benefitted from it throughout their careers. Unfortunately it seems that they may be the last generation to hold that knowledge.

Anyways – we all had a great time. So thank you, Richard!
– Keith Shipton


  1. Generation X Generation X February 10, 2018

    The next generation of managers are having to work much harder than the last and in a very different environment. They don’t live in a very protected pre-internet age. Margins are tighter, there is far more competition and inventory becomes dated much more quickly.

    Photo stores have to compete with many more retailers including the CE channel and distributors now have to work on tighter margins to ensure their products can compete with their own products in other countries, not just other brands locally.
    Now retailers are importing their own brands and wholesalers are selling directly, so they are even competing with each other.

    The reason the photo trade shows collapsed is was because they were ridiculously expensive and there was no way for anyone participating to recoup the costs. It became the overpriced monstrosity it was while in the hands of the generation in that room.

    Lastly lets not forget that the generation in that picture is the generation that sold out to the CE channel and internet dealers with no physical presence and you can’t wind the clock back on those kinds of decisions.

    This generation is peddling as hard as it can, there’s no need for condescending baby boomers to be critical especially when they didn’t even put a session plan in place to create a next generation of ‘industry leaders’.

    • Generation Y Generation Y February 12, 2018


      And those at the coalface are having to work longer and harder to meet often unrealistic sales targets — all while fighting to retain existing pay and conditions as retailing rent-seekers appeal to the government to cut them year after year.

      With all due respect to the Robbos of the world (like many, I’ve worked at Ted’s), 1970s and 1980s retailing identities are the last things the 21st photographics retailing world needs.

      • Robbo Robbo February 25, 2018

        It was a drinks get together not a frigging workshop on where the industry is going or been. I dont get it

        • Baby Boomer Baby Boomer February 26, 2018

          Robbo it’s all your fault he didn’t know what hard work was working at Ted’s and now it’s all too hard. GenY is from the me generation it is all about him, doing something, anything, FOC doesn’t happen. If we got paid for those 1000’s of hours we put in for the good of the industry in the 70’s/80’s,90’s, 2000’s we all would of all retired early. Coalface, coalface GenY isn’t self employed he has no idea about putting his arse on the line… Robbo you organised a great event, it wasn’t you that produced the digital disruption that poor GenY are left with today.

          • GenX GenX February 28, 2018

            Hey Babyboomer, the article took a shot at
            GenXers not GenY.
            I guess GenY chipped in because they also have a better understanding of what the industry requires today than you do.
            As for working in the decades you mention, GenXers actually worked in most of them and know what it was like pretty well. I miss the days of being able to switch off at night rather than be staring at a screen to all hours.
            Thanks for assuming my gender but FYI many women work in this industry these days too. pretty crazy huh?

  2. John Atkins John Atkins February 11, 2018

    I think it is unfair to ask where are the Robbo’s etc today. The massive frequent changes in the industry, and consumer paradigm shift takes all their time reorganising their businesses.
    Today our world is entirely different to do business in. Price seems to be the only marketing ploy. Low margins mean leaner businesses, and less staff to help the CEO out, so we need to have some empathy for todays leaders.

    • Robbo Robbo February 25, 2018

      John im at how wondering how a drink with friends stirs up so much venom

      • GenX GenX February 28, 2018

        Robbo no one took any issue with the actual drinks night, it was about the article. Hope you had fun.

  3. John Laidlaw John Laidlaw February 13, 2018

    It is interesting to see all these “old farts” in one place
    It brought a tear to my eye, and I wondered why Robbo did not invite me? Was it because of the good life in Auckland I look a lot younger and would not fit in? It was good that so many took the time to be there and continue to tell lies to each other? Cheers

    • Robbo Robbo February 25, 2018

      Thanks john you were left of the list because of your good looks. So there.
      But it was a great time to catch up with freinds some of whom i may never see again

  4. Robbo Robbo February 25, 2018

    I did not think that a reunion of industry participants would generate such venom from people who dont have the guts to use their name.
    It was an old fashiond get together with people who value their past friendships. I was overwhelmed by the turnup and the real friendship on display. I like so many others started at a young age and spent our entire working life giving oppurtuntiteis to others .as well as making a great life. We got together to share good times NOT to tell gen y how to suck eggs. In fact you werent even mentioned. Cheers

  5. John Atkins John Atkins February 28, 2018

    Looks like fake news is at it again. There was no venom in any comments on a wonderful night (would have like to go but holidaying)
    You want comments from your readers and we made comments, not directed at any of us old farts, or the event.
    Please don’t do a Barnaby Joyce on this event.

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