Slightly OT: Apple, Inc. amazes the financial world with strong quarterly profit report and record setting market capitalization of over one trillion dollars.

Ben with his first Apple Computer. A Blueberry iBook. At his own desk in my studio.
Ben with his current Apple Computer. A MacBook Pro. At the dining room table.

I was reading the financial news this morning, over coffee, and this was the story that jumped off the screen. Apple hit ultimate financial unicorn territory and hurdled over the one trillion dollar mark for valuation to make market history. I'm thinking that Michael Dell's advice, given in the late 1990's, that they (Apple) just shut the company down and give the shareholders their money back, is one of the few utterances that Mr. Dell has come to regret...

Why am I writing about financial stuff? I'm just a photographer... but I've always followed a good piece of advice I got from a financial heavyweight back in the early 1980's. He told me that the mantra "invest in your own business" was misguided and that one should direct as much of one's independent business profit as possible into investments outside one's own company. 

Over the years we've had many opportunities to invest in photography stuff that would have probably bankrupted the business instead of helping it gain momentum. I'm thinking of the first few generations of digital backs for medium format and large format cameras that hit the market in the 1990's. Or giant, multi-page sourcebook ads.  Giant, fancy vehicles. Esoteric optics that I might actually use only once or twice a year. An army of office managers and assistants that I'd need to pay whether business rose or fell. Or the early, professional Apple
Macintosh Computers with deadly expensive RAM......

$50,000 video cameras that depreciated at near the speed of light. Big leases for charming studio space that became mostly unnecessary once PhotoShop got "undo" and "selection." Etc. Etc. 

My financial advisors always pushed me to put as much money as I could in equities, bonds and other financial instruments. When I'm ready to retire my  financial security will not have come from how much I could bill in a day or how many stock image sales I was able to negotiate, rather it will come from the money we scrimped and saved and put away over the years; keeping it out of the "hands" of the business. And, no matter what the external investment (given enough diversification) we've generally seen our investments grow about seven to ten percent per year. 

Occasionally you get lucky, make a smart buy and hold it for the long term. (I guarantee that I'm not talking about camera bodies or lenses right now). Using Apple, Inc. as a hypothetical example, an investment of about $10,000 in the mid-1990's would be worth about 1.5 million dollars, as of today. That would beat the hell out of trying to keep piecing together more weddings or headshots or product shots as you head toward retirement....

We might not all be lucky enough to have made investments that pay off as well as Apple, Inc. stock but even money placed each month in a stock index account, over time will add up to real $$$$$$$. That new Nikon D6 will probably depreciate at a rate precisely the inverse of your retirement account's appreciation. And that's before you factor in the opportunity cost of tossing hard to find money into yet another depreciating asset. 

Something to think about for all three of you younger, commercial photographers who come by and read the blog...

tomorrow maybe we should talk about the cost of accessory creep....


  1. I had a chance to buy apple stock at $10.00 a share. Did I ????? I'm retired now, and the first time at 29, the second time at 42, the last time at 67. The first two times there was no one to play with so went back to work. All my friends were married with kids. Same at 42 so went back to work. Now at 67 everyone has died, but I'm not going back to work. There was a small company called Microsoft that offered cheap shares when they were doing work for IBM/DOS. Nope, just me and my cameras now. I put my son through med school and he's on his own now, but decided he likes being a plant supervisor for a recycling glass plant 1 hour from me more than the hospital, at least for now. He still keeps his license up so he can return a any time. Hard to believe he makes almost as much working in the glass plant as a hospital, but without the pressure of life and death decision.
    Enough money talk, I was just as happy with less and being a care free photographer as I was working in a hospital. One must understand that I did both, photography and hospital work. I worked 10, 24 hour shifts a month at the hospital and did 17 days a month shooting or trying to, if I had work, plus raised my son.
    Time went by to fast.

    Have fun

  2. In the mid-1990s I would have agreed with Michael Dell. On the other hand, if I’d purchased Apple stock with what I spent on that abomination called a PowerMac computer there would be a bonus half-million dollars in our retirement savings. I wonder if you or your friend and financial whiz Lou Lofton saw that one coming?

  3. The first computer that I ever bought was a Mac Classic, back in 1991. By today’s standards it was a complete joke, with a tiny 9” B&W screen. But it had the best, most-mature GUI at the time - and there was a wonderful clean simplicity to Apple’s products even back then. (PCs in those days tended to look dreadful.) And the Mac Classic just worked. I became a big fan of the system, especially after I bought some top-notch illustration and desktop-publishing software that was only available for the Mac.

    Back in the early 1990s I was convinced that Apple was going to become THE computer company due to adoption of the then-new PowerPC processors. I mentioned to my father (who invested in a variety of companies) that he should purchase shares in Apple. He scoffed at the idea - and with good reason. Apples fortunes waned significantly throughout the 1990s. As I recall things, at around the time that Steve Jobs was rehired by Apple in 1997, the company was literally weeks away from declaring bankruptcy. Apple was anything but the most highly-valued company in the world. Even Microsoft, its arch-nemesis, poured a few hundred million into the company. How Jobs’ leadership turned the company into what it is today will likely be studied in business schools for decades.

    I purchased Windows computers from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, returning to the Apple fold in 2006, when I become interested in video and purchased one of the new Intel iMacs. I now use a 15” MacBook Pro for that purpose. Today I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Apple. I usually love their computers and software. But I hate paying the stiff price for Apple computers that have the specs I really want. I also dislike Apple’s tendency to drop perfectly good features (SD card slots, USB-A ports, Mag-safe power adapters) and advanced software (Aperture) without warning and for questionable reasons. And don't get me started on what they charge for Apple Care. If I didn’t like Final Cut Pro X so much I would probably look at Windows machines more seriously the next time I need to buy a new computer. FCPX is really the only reason I stay with Apple.

  4. MM, Lou Ann is pretty amazingly bright. I'm betting she had an idea of the long term trajectory for quite a while...

    Her book, "Warren Buffett Invests like a Girl, and why You Should Too...." is a great resource for people who want to invest smarter.

  5. I wonder if that Apple 1984 type commercial still applies? Or is it in reverse now?

  6. Interesting, slightly OT read. But wait, is it? You talk extensively about the business of photography and indeed the business of being an adult in general. So an interesting topic, and thanks for the book recommendation to MM, I'll be sure to check that out too.

  7. When Apple hit bottom, $9 a share IIRC, I argued to my friends that it was a buy even just for the IP. I was broke at the time but did buy some later at $50 and sold at 150 and thought I was pretty clever.
    It stumbled around that price for a while but I thought everyone was crazy if they thought it would go higher. So I stayed away. Fortunately I still saved and invested but I am like so many who dream of what could have been.

  8. My current laptop is a 2015 MacBook Pro. Like the MacBook Air before it, I do wonder if it will be my last Mac. Microsoft is catching up fast, at least in terms of desktop operating systems. My Thinkpad Carbon (bought second hand as a development machine to kick around) runs Lightroom, Capture One and Photoshop perfectly well, though the screen is not as good for photography. That’s the one thing Apple gets right, out of the box.

    Long term? The cloud. I’d place a side bet on Google and Chrome OS. Once Adobe makes a viable, cloudy Photoshop, all I’ll need is a thin client and a good connection. My documents are already in the cloud, and my software development will soon be joining them.

    That said, it’s hard to recommend a bet against Apple. But looking at Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Adobe, I can see the cloud has been huge for them. One British publication recently described Amazon as a public cloud with an online gift shop tacked onto its side.


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