I have to say that I'm the low man on this totem. Of course, I'm not ready to compete with the pro-labs for every-day services yet. Right now, I'm infatuated with my own process and I don't have any orders on my desk for any printing. I will say, though, that I want my own work to be just the starting point. There is another lab in town (a great one, to be frank) that does custom black and white optical printing. I'm a big fan of their work, but they are the only game in town. I'm not yet on the level in which I can compete with them, but I want to be.
I have mixed feelings about some of what I'm reading, but I mean no disrespect (far from it!). Yes, cost is everything, but what about value? I've read thread after thread about the longevity of silver-gelatin prints outlasting almost everything else, save glass plates, and the labor-intensive craft that is a pure analogue process from vision to print. More than half of the struggle in this art seems to be educating the public, the consumer, the client, about why your product has value that will last.
I'm not a printing expert, yet, but I will be - and no one can convince me otherwise. Yes, there will be difficulties and failures along the way, but I'm not afraid of that. I'm not afraid of practicing the art. I am a little nervous about the business side, which is why I'm asking a lot of questions, reading a lot of books, and practicing as much as I can. I don't care if I'm working on small scales for a long time. I believe that there is a place in our society for custom optical printing done by a real hand with real light.
Other than the one pro-lab, no one else is offering that kind of service. Remember, I'm starting with my own work to build a reputation and planning to move up when I'm ready.
Again, thank you all for contributing to this discussion - your honest and justifiably blunt comments are exactly what I had hoped for.
All the best,