Monday, March 1, 2010

A Revolution In The Professional Photography World

The photo world is in a revolution, and no one knows where we are going to end up. How do we keep on the road to success?

Shannon Fagan, Ellen Boughn and Yuri Arcurs
In a guest post by Shannon Fagan on Ellen Boughn’s blog , Yuri Arcurs (hey, to start off a sentence with those three names in the first fifteen words---pretty impressive), comments that his rpi has dropped from over $9.00 per image per month two years ago, to half that now, and is possibly on it’s way to $3.00 per image per month, below which he will not longer be able to produce and still earn a profit. That is, to me, a pretty stunning comment…and not a very uplifting one either.  Here is a photographer who is generally acknowledged as the premier microstock shooter in the world, and in my opinion is one of the world’s premier stock shooters of any business model, and he is anticipating his profit dipping to a point where it isn’t worth his time to produce! Yikes!

A Blog Post Worth Reading
BTW, this is a blog post worth reading. Lots of interesting stuff. David Sanger offers some extra-curricular reading that is also fascinating. I am terrible at reporting on what others say…but check out Ellen’s blog its makes for a fascinating and informative read.

We Are In A Revolution
I will say that after reading the material David suggested, it really hit home to me that we are in a revolution where the old ways are dying and the replacement ways aren’t known yet. I suspect that this revolution will continue past my age of productivity, or even my lifetime. What we “professional” photographers are faced with is a career-threatening change that is accelerating rapidly and for which there are no certain answers. On the bright side there is an accelerating need for images. On the downside, image theft is rampant, image supply is infinite, and old distribution models are crumbling.

The Low End and The High End
Popular theory has it that you can thrive both by supplying the low-end of the market, and/or by supplying the high-end. Here we have the premier low-end supplier, Yuri, indicating that he has to make 11,000 images a year to maintain his income, and that soon it might not be worth his time continuing to produce. Oops…there goes half of popular theory. At least if you are supplying the high-end you don’t have to produce 11,000 images a year!  Heck, after twenty years of producing stock imagery I have personally produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 images. I can’t compete with Yuri (but then it sounds like Yuri might not be able to compete with Yuri…). 

Where to Turn For Hope
Where do I turn to for hope? Well, a couple of areas. I have doubled the number of images I have with Getty in the last two years…and my income is only down 30%. So, if I keep producing at my newer high levels, and the market quits dropping…at least I am still earning enough to live decently. So that’s at least not the end of the world with those afore mentioned caveats. My Blend Images sales are also came down, but not quite as much, and they actually seem to be going up again…so that is hopeful. I am not giving up on agencies yet. I am still making very good money with them.  It may just be that today’s agencies will become the filters that will be required in the coming years in order to deal with and find the images a buyer needs with a reasonable amount of time and effort. I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either.

Images That Stand Out
For me the biggest hope is that I can produce images that stand out enough that there will still be people and companies that are willing to pay a reasonable amount for them…whether they find them through an agency or with internet searches, or through some yet-to-be-determined vehicle. Of course, the challenge of getting buyers to find your images is an immense one, one that I believe (though I may be wrong), can be done through SEO, patience, perseverance, and perspiration (earlier blog post). If you agree you better start implementing that right now, because I suspect it will take years of dedicated work.

The Key: Quality Photos
The key to almost everything for photographers is creating quality photos. Algorithms that reward those with the best-selling work are popping up at agencies everywhere. Quality content is a key to building traffic and attracting buyers for direct sales. And in an Internet world where comparing prices has become so easy, well, you are going to have to have the best looking work in any given price range to make the sale. Quality photography and diversity are our best options for surviving, and even thriving, in this revolution.


Josh Hodge said...

Thanks John, really down to earth observations. Enjoy the 'levelheaded'-ness at a time where a lot of my peers seem to be jumping on bandwagons.. (Video? What about nailing photos first).

John Lund said...


I agree, I would be very, very cautious about seeing video as a savior!


neillwatson said...

Just found your blog, having deliberately neglected my stock image sales over the last few years.
However, I'm seeing an upturn. The market? Direct sales via my website and SEO work, so you're right. I'm not a full time stock shooter, never have been, so my business model might not work for others, but I'm about to start using Photoshelter and a Blog front end to get my work out there, selling direct to the clients that find me via Google!
I'll be reading you with interest.