You may have seen in the news that over the weekend three of the biggest model agencies in the country are being investigated for price fixing in the modelling industry.
For reasons that I will explain shortly, the demand for models is increasing and as a result the price clients are willing to pay is dropping. The accusation is that three of the top London agencies have colluded in order to fix prices across the industry and make sure that they keep their slice of the pie in the face of a changing industry.
As someone working in the industry, while I found the news interesting it didn't particularly shock me. For those who've never read my blog posts I run a boutique modelling agency called Sapphires, working primarily with the high street and commercial brands. While we certainly aren't in the same league as the likes of those being investigated, we are a well-respected agency working with some big names in British retail.
Our agency relocated to London in 2010 after operating successfully in the Midlands for several years. I'm not one to name and shame but I can tell you that since relocating to London we have been 'warned off' by several of the larger agencies. Our working with - or even in some cases just approaching - clients or models that the big guys felt were rightfully theirs have resulted in several nasty emails and phone calls essentially telling us to get out of their way or face the unquestionably bad consequences.
A major problem is that it's very easy for these larger agencies to use their clout to essentially steal models and clients from the small guys. While there are contracts in place to stop this, as many people know having a contract and enforcing a contract are two very different things. The small guys like us are constantly in a state of survival as we are always at risk from the large agencies deciding they want our models and clients and swooping in, using their sheer size to barge us out the way.
It's not just the agencies though. Many models suffer from something we call "grass is greener syndrome". We are by all accounts a strong, working modelling agency. Our models are working and are making a decent living through us, in fact many of our models are earning several times what I earn a month! But regardless of that, for some models the glamour of these big, world renowned agencies will always be too much to resists.
But in reality these big agencies really can't focus on an individual model's career unless they're making them money - they are just too big to provide a personal service to each model like we are able to. I'm not saying it's their fault - as a company grows so do financial targets and of course the low earning models are going to be a casualty of that. As the pressure to make money grows the top agencies will cast their net far and wide, scooping up as many models as possible. Some will go on to make big money but most will sit on the books of the agency doing very little until they give up or get dropped.
Of course, no big agency will tell a model this... and why would they? Their jobs are to sign the models and they'll say whatever they need to in order to get them on the books; if that means poaching them from a smaller agency like us then so be it. It's underhanded, unethical and since models are contractually signed to an agency it's often plain illegal but like many aspects of our society, might is right and for the small guys to actually confront the top agencies is very difficult, if not impossible.
As much as the large agencies have used their size to push their competitors around, what they haven't been able to do is control the direction that fashion and retail has headed. The problem they face is that the modelling industry is changing; the price of model bookings has dropped because the demand for website imagery has increased. When brands are booking models every single day they can't possibly expect to pay the same as they used to for shooting a catalogue or brochure once a season.
This change in the modelling world has given the small guys like us a break and now we're in our element. Our agency was founded on a small personal service with great customer service and friendly models, something that these clients booking models every day really appreciate. I don't imagine that the owners of these modelling behemoths at the top have taken kindly to this seismic shift in the modelling industry which has seen their former strengths turn into weaknesses as so many clients turn away from 'named' models, high prices and the prickly fashionistas working at these agencies.
So as I read these articles they didn't particularly surprise me at all - these guys have been throwing their weight around with their competitors for years, it's only natural that eventually their focus would turn on their clients.