Sunday, September 27, 2009

iStock, Logos, And Deja Vu All Over Again

businessman pushing a boulder uphill

iStockphoto has announced their intention to sell logos and it is causing quite a stir in the design community. I guess a lot of designers think that the low price of logos on iStock demeans their profession and threatens their livelihood. There are warnings of infringement issues, calls for a boycott of iStockphoto and dire predictions of the demise of the design profession. While many iStock contributors are excited about the prospect, others are citing the necessity of the design community to band together to stop offering their work so cheaply, and of educating the young designers on the necessity of stopping the race to the bottom.

Commodification And Access To Cool Logos

Deja all sounds pretty familiar to any of us photographers who have been around for at least the last dozen years. Should designers be so concerned? Of course they should be. Their profession is starting to undergo the same thing ours has…commodification. They won’t be able to stop it anymore than we did. Some designers will be hurt, some will prosper, and a whole lot of small business owners will have access to cool logos, for far less money than before.

The Reality Has Changed

Just like for us photographers, the reality has changed. The photography profession is more difficult than ever before to make a living at, while making some money from photography is far easier than ever before. It isn’t good or bad, it just is. Mom and pop grocery stories now have to compete with Costco. Everyone has to compete with Walmart. If you think we have it bad, remember typesetters? Many of you may not. Typesetting was big business until the Macintosh changed everything practically overnight. Do they still even have typesetters? The question we photographers need to ask ourselves is whether we want to continue to pursue photography as a profession, and if so what is the best way for each of us to thrive.

Stock Agencies, The Web, And Thriving

I still make very good money through stock agencies. Sure, I make less per image. No, I don’t like the change. Yes, I will find ways to continue to thrive. I am making more images more efficiently and paying much more attention to whether an image is relevant to the market before I make it. I am focusing on timeless images that are, at least in my opinion, aimed at the high end of the market. I am working on both branding myself and building up my web traffic. I am keeping an eye out for expanding the ways in which my photography can earn me money. I am trying out motion footage, keeping a close eye on micro, and experimenting with retail products (i.e. coffee mugs, calendars, greeting cards etc. at I am even starting to make some print sales through

Direct Sales, Micro and Traditional Agencies

I believe that some photographers will do great with direct sales, some with micro, and some through traditional agencies. There will be fewer photographers who make great money in stock imagery, and many more photographers than ever before who will make some money. For all of us it will be more challenging in the future than it is now. But hey, it could be a lot worse…I could have been a typesetter!


Cynde said...

yeah, but you don't have to deal with crazy clients!

John Lund said...

Ahh, the joys of stock!

Todd said...

Amen to that! Coming from the corporate graphic design world, no way do I miss the high stress, the deadlines, or the proofing. In general, the fewer the clients you need to deal with directly, the more sanity you will maintain by the time you're retirement age. Haha!