Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stock Photography: The Road Ahead

 About The Photo: The above photograph was shot on a trip to Mongolia. In this case "The road ahead" is a rough one filled with pot holes! While the roads ranged from rough to non existent, I used Photoshop to add twice as many potholes to this section of road as actually existed, to emphasize the concept of a "rough road ahead".

2009, The Year When Everything Changed
At the recent UGCX conference in New York Jack Hollingsworth commented that when we look back at 2009 we will see that it was the year everything changed. That may well be the case. I am hearing that the relentless growth of earnings for top micro stock shooters is abating. I have heard from several top photographers, and at least one industry pundit, that they are considering leaving the field of photography altogether. I have spoken with a number of my fellow stock shooters who report that their revenues are down fifty to seventy-five percent over what they were a year ago!

DSLRs, Video And The Stock Business
Yet there are also many who are excited at the prospect of what lies ahead. Video is generating a lot of excitement with the advent of DSLRs that can shoot superb quality video and the beginnings of a proliferation of accessories and developments that can make those cameras at least the rough equal of what has been previously the domain of pro level video cameras. And while there are numerous reports of trouble with the micro stock model, I personally know at least two photographers who have expanded their traditional stock picture business into micro and are doing well.

Getty, Flickr, And New Opportunities
Getty has apparently abandoned their efforts at producing wholly owned content and seems to be fixated on mining flickr for their new imagery. At Veer we are seeing the search for traditional stock and micro merging. There is, indeed, a lot going on in the stock photo industry! But this isn’t just indicative of stock photography…it is true of pretty much everything. Change continues at a blistering pace destroying old models and offering new opportunities. Some of us are going to suffer and some of us prosper. I am both hopeful and determined to be of the latter type. That requires doing my best to keep track of all these changes, figuring out what they mean, and then adjusting my own efforts accordingly.

More Photographs At More Price Points
One thing that cannot be argued is the over supply of images. That over supply is being fed at a tremendous pace…and I don’t believe that will end. An over supply of imagery is part of the new landscape. I believe that there will continue to be a demand for the highest-end photography and some degree of exclusivity, but that the need for such imagery will diminish somewhat as more advertising turns to internet, to motion, and to segmented marketing (targeting fewer but more specific prospects). I believe that micro prices will include more and more of what some call “mid-stock” such as with iStock’s “Vetta” collection. The lowest of micro prices simply will not support a full range of the kind and quality of images needed. That being said, I fore see more and more free images designed to pull in more market share by various agencies. Ultimately there will be more photographs at more price points.

A More Targeted Selection And A Better Search Experience
The challenge for image buyers and sellers alike will be in efficient searching. Can buyers find the right images for their needs without spending too much time sorting through the chaff? Can sellers provide an optimum experience for the buyers by providing relevant images quickly and efficiently? Twenty years ago Tony Stone revolutionized the stock photo business by offering a smaller number of higher quality images and making a hundred dupes of each image so that he could get the images in front of buyers more efficiently. We may well be coming right back to that premise. Collections that offer a more targeted selection and a better search experience will be able to charge a premium for that service.

The Road Ahead
I do believe that the road ahead for photography does offer some of us increased opportunities, but that overall, making a living from stock photography will never be as easy as it once was. The first step to future success in this new paradigm is letting go of the concept of whether these changes are right or wrong. The next step is to see the market objectively, determine where your own strengths coincide with the changes in the market, and to move in the direction of those strengths.

More Quality And Less Quantity
For me, the path is one towards less quantity and more quality and towards getting my images in front of as many potential buyers as possible. To increase my quality I am doing more careful research, increasing my communication with the editors I do have, and being more discriminating in which images I undertake. To get my pictures in front of more buyers I am expanding the number of stock agencies I work with, developing my web site and SEO, and beginning to utilize social media. Whatever the outcome of my efforts, at least one thing is for certain…this is an exciting time to be in the photography business!

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