How the stock industry ate itself

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Despite proof to the contrary, some full-time professionals still believe they are entitled to be primary image providers. It is time to stop the blame game and re-focus on the challenge – how to earn a living by making pictures. Photographers can no longer afford to hang out a shingle with the moniker “good photography at a reasonable price”. The differentiators for success are as follows: highly distinctive imagery reflecting a clear and compelling aesthetic vision, marketing savvy, sharp business skills, adaptability and persistence. Today’s professional photographer must deliver nothing less.

via British Journal of Photography.

There Are 12 Comments On This Article.

  1. Agree with you, but must ask for a differentiation between “news” type photos and their like, and “Art” photos and their like.
    Why is it that Art photos have no “stock” appeal? Most people would probably prefer to see a picture of something appealing, e.g. eye-candy, than another one of yet another street scene in some back alley in some dirty, rat infested city.
    I don’t know. Just my my 2¢.

  2. The Stock industry really is any different than the mortgage industry. the 90’s and early 2000’s saw rapid growth and lower oversight (management) to control. Sales were made that slighted the owners and eventually royalties diminished. It also doesn’t help that stock companies can surf sites to look for images they want to put in their library and are not even sourced from professionals. (nothing against a amateur making some money, actually I am lying. Earn the stripes.)

    The stock industry is driven by who can control the most images, it doesn’t even necessarily improve pricing more often drives it down to what the Photographer makes is usually a small to moderate percentage.

    But who cares about the stock industry, It will eventually be sucked into the black hole with Country Wide and wont be bailed out. Not unless Bank of America is interest in Stock.

  3. I agree that it’s time to stop blaming “the industry,” BUT I’ve heard the same “sales pitch” for the last 20 years – change and adapt. The only thing that digital imagery changed is the way photographers capture and deliver images. The simple fact that clients NEED content and NEED to compensate photographers for it – hasn’t changed – in fact, photographers are now expected to supply even more content. Why aren’t photographers charging accordingly? Because they probably read on a weblog somewhere that – “photographers should shut up and adapt.” I don’t agree and my income has tripled over the past year because of my strict business practices. In other words – I’m no “push over” and my clients know it. “We’ll hire BOB for the $100 features and hire you to shoot the $1,000 covers – how’s that sound?”

  4. Alistair Kerr

    I think the two big players have been gobbling up the industry for years, I miss the image bank, Tony stones, action images, et all that have disappeared in this corporate feasting. The big money motivation for these companies is bottomline profits, systematically cutting into the contributors remuneration is one way of passing on more profit to their investors. I look at Alama and despair, Multi millions of images but the majority of them would never sell, quantity at the cost of quality. The recent suggestion that photographers should pull out of Getty because of new terms and conditions that will undermine yet again the percentage the photographer can expect only highlights the fact these corporations really don’t think that much of the very people who’s images are are the bedrock of their business.

    Rant at an end…

  5. The use of stock photography is like a restaurant serving food that is well past its expired date and that other diners had on their plates. The best establishments use fresh ingredients prepared by a master chef.
    Stock images is most often used by lazy, cheap, untrained, uninspired, or inexperienced designers or more usually; the art directors guiding them.
    Designers and art directors who have good graphic design training (either on the job or usually via a good 4 year graphic design major at a university) will find other solutions to a design problem or hire a photographer or take the pictures themselves.
    Having said that, stock does have its uses just as canned and frozen food is useful. If used with care and when appropriate. For instance, a picture of a nuclear blast. You pretty much have to use stock or free via the U.S. national archives. Need an image of a celebrity, famous event, strange jungle animal, etc.? Stock.

    • I’ve never met a designer who liked using stock. It’s always been budget driven. Right before microstock ruined the market, stock was the biggest threat to my commercial business because it was possible to get some very good quality imagery at a slightly lower price than what custom would cost. Not hugely lower, just a bit, owing to the volume sales.

      Then microstock came in, offering 1/10th the quality but at 1/100th the price. This didn’t hurt my business one bit (custom imagery is still regarded as naturally more expensive), but it demolished the higher quality stock.

      We still occasionally lose jobs to stock (always with a grumbling director delivering the bad news), but not as much as before.

  6. While the internet has assisted photographers and other image providers such as myself, I think it has also homogenized the sourcing of what we do, since photo editors, designers and art directors can now easily browse the web for what they need. I think it is imperative to those of us who provide imagery, to SEO our respective sites as best we can. I really don’t think stock for “stock” sake has demeaned much.

  7. “The differentiators for success are as follows: highly distinctive imagery reflecting a clear and compelling aesthetic vision, marketing savvy, sharp business skills, adaptability and persistence. Today’s professional photographer must deliver nothing less.”

    Even then, most image makers in this oversupplied marketplace will still lose, possibly after investing a decade or more of time and six figures of capital. In all areas of image making, not just stock, return on investment is very poor and opportunity costs are high.

    Ms. Reid left out the name of that company: Getty Images.
    When Getty Images & Corbis went on a shopping spree and bought up 95% of the competition it left a huge vacuum in the marketplace. As digital capture developed that hole was filed with microstock distributors, which helped bury the entire industry, (not just stock) through oversupply and devaluation of imagery.

    There are countless other unscrupulous practices Getty Images used from 1999 – 2011 not mentioned here which have also hurt image makers and the industry as a whole. Photographers themselves have helped shoot each other in the foot too. SAA was born out of a particularly nasty contract Getty Images issued in 2000. 600 or so Getty Images photographers all pooled together ($250K+ ) hiring an IP attorney to fight the contract. These photographers represented an estimated 70% of Getty’s image collection at the time. Eventually the group caved in to Getty’s contract – instead of walking away. It has been uphill ever since.

    Of particular note is the actions of one of the founding members of the SAA. This person had a sizable collection of images available Royalty Free (RF) through Getty Images, as well as images in RM. Apparently his (RF) return was in the six figures. He continued offering his RF collection for sale before Getty’s heinous contract, during negotiations, and through the inception and operation of SAA. While SAA took a public stance against the RF model of image licensing, this founder continued to use the RF model for his own short term gain. The income from RF at that time was often much better than microstock today.
    There is a saying: “As long as we keep agreeing to worse terms, the terms will keep getting worse”.

  8. Working Photographers need to do more of what smart cameras can’t do. Produce ideas. Be creative. And provide real and credible visual solutions which meet the specific needs of their clients.

  9. My comment is that it’s really better to look at things in a bit more detail. Designers are not the only users of photography.
    Is there a place for stock images? Of course.
    If you want a unique, creative image for your own use, take it yourself, hire a photographer you admire, have a competition with big prizes.
    But suppose you’re a Japanese publisher and you want a picture of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria.
    You can send a photographer from Japan who might arrive in the rain.
    Or you can go to my site or even ask me.
    I live in Bulgaria. I go out most days, summer, winter, autumn.
    You’ll get a better picture from me.
    Want a concept picture? Support your local photographers, build up a good relationship with them. Pay as much, not as little as you can.
    (Almost) everyone can take a photo, write a letter, doodle but some really are better than others.

  10. Love this blog. Keep stirring the pot. I would like to see more input from actual image buyers. There are plenty of photogs agreeing that things are messed up in a major way. As for myself, I made really good money with Getty for a number of years before Microstock gutted what was left of the stock business. I didn’t love Getty but they were good at what they did for a while.
    I wish for better times for all professional photographers but I’m not holding my breath.