Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Future of Stock Photography - Again!

Someday there will be an ‘e-bay” of photography where consumers and businesses, designers and art directors, agencies and photo buyers will all go to find and license image for their disparate needs. A student will look for images to complete a homework assignment…and an Art Director for a major ad agency will find an image for a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal. The student might pay twenty-five cents while the Art Director might pay $10,000.00. The popularity of an image, in conjunction with the use, will determine the price that will be paid. The best photographers will make more money than they ever have before…and photographers who are sound business people will find a way to make good money too. Those of us who are less creative, less diligent and less motivated will fall further and further behind. I guess that is one thing that won’t really change in the business of stock photography! Those who “get it” will thrive…as they always have while those who remain stuck in the past will slowly (or quickly) fade away.
As professional photographers who sell their images to the advertising, design and editorial communities, many of us have lost sight, or perhaps have never seen the tremendous buying power of the “consumer”. My eyes were opened to that when I began to sell my Animal Antics images…pictures of funny animals in anthropomorphic poses and situations, as greeting cards. Sure, I only make a few cents per card…but when the public is buying over a hundred thousand cards a month those pennies can really add up!
Even with sales like that most people who I talk to about my greeting cards have never seen the cards for sale! So I conclude that sales of a hundred thousand cards-a-month represents only a small fraction of the total possible number of sales. The potential income from selling images to the public, to the consumer, is staggering. Especially if you consider that images, for the most part, are a universal language.
So how do we, the photographers, tap into that market? Well, obviously greeting cards portraying funny animal pictures is one way to do that. But that really isn’t a very efficient way to do it. The internet is the way to do it…but perhaps not yet. That above mentioned “e-bay” for photographs…or some similar mechanism to marry the elements of consumer, photographs and transactions, needs to come in to place. The need is there…I bet the technology is too…the rest is simply a matter of time…and preparation.
For me that means having a website that is reasonably functional in getting my images in front of the public…and having content that the public wants. That content can be anything from pictures that consumers can download and print (and that they WANT to download and print), to images they can license for their small business or images they can use to spice up their social networking site. I am attempting to offer such content to the consumer by linking up with Café Press for products such as coffee mugs, calendars, handbags, T-shirts and the like…to ImageKind for fine art prints, to the various stock photo agencies that license my photographs for more traditional advertising and promotional uses. Currently I use Blend Images for ethnic lifestyle and conceptual imagery, Getty Images for most of my conceptual and business images, Corbis also for concept images, and Kimball Stock for the licensing of my anthropomorphic animal pictures. I also continue to sell greeting cards through the Portal brand that is published and distributed by the Marian Heath greeting card company.
Any investment counselor will tell you that the first thing to do in investing is to diversify. That is of particular importance in time of uncertainty…and I think these times qualify for that label. As photographers we need to follow that same advice. How do we diversify? For me that means a multi-pronged approach. I diversify in my content, in my target market, and in my distribution.
I create images for the traditional advertising, design, corporate and editorial markets. Within those markets I create lifestyle images, business images, and conceptual images. Here I am diversifying the content within the category of traditional stock photography. Next, I create images for the consumer…that is images that in them selves are or can be product. That means everything from photo imprinted coffee mugs to photos for checks, photos for screensavers…you get the picture. I also, once a year, take a trip specifically to shoot travel images. Again…further diversification of my content.
To diversify my distribution I utilize both those traditional “powerhouse” stock photo agencies like Getty and Corbis, and niche agencies like Blend Images (for ethnically diverse lifestyle and business imagery) and Kimball Stock (for funny animal pictures). Further diversification of my distribution is achieved by selling greeting cards through Marian Heath greeting cards and hiring a licensing agent to sell and distribute other “consumer” images for such wide-ranging applications as vet reminder cards, gift books and even figurines and picture frames!
And finally, I have my website which I am fine-tuning as a vehicle to make my photographs available to anyone who might be interested in them, and in guiding them to the appropriate distributor for their needs. I believe that those of us who establish such websites now and learn from that process, will have a huge head-start when that new paradigm lands on us…as it surely will! When that wave hits I want to be experiencing the thrill of riding it rather than the pain of being crushed beneath it.

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