Monday, August 16, 2010

The Evolution of Stock Photography: The Merging Of Traditional and Micro

Money flies through an office window in front of office workers; is this flying money (Euros) coming or going?
The Stock Photography Market is in transition; Will the future see our stock photo revenue be coming or going?

The Merging of  "Traditional" and "Microstock"
It is not only inevitable that traditional stock (RM and RF) will soon be sold side-by-side with "Microstock", it is already happening with a vengeance. I believe it is a good thing as well. As traditional and micro stock images are increasingly sold alongside each other the market will be better able to mature, become more efficient, and reach it's equilibrium. Stock shooters and the industry will be able to better understand what price points really work for both the producers and consumers of stock imagery.  The industry is truly a mess, and this is a natural step to help straighten things out.

Lee Torrens, Microstockdiaries and the merging of RM, RF, and Micro

To find out where things stand today I checked with Lee Torrens, who among other things, has a site called microstockdiaries...a good place to check on the pulse of the microstock world.  Lee put together the following summation of the current state of the merging of micro and traditional stock photography when I asked him where traditional stock and micro stock are being licensed together:

The simple answer is: Thinkstock, Pixmac, Moodboard, Glow, Reflex and quite a few other distributors and resellers.

But, as the definitions of 'micro' and 'traditional' blur and the prices cross over, it becomes more complex:

- Some traditional agencies have 'downgraded' certain collections to micro level pricing (Getty-Thinkstock)
- Some of those have also introduced micro-priced small sizes (Getty, Corbis, Blend, everyone)
- Some microstock agencies have 'upgraded' collections to near-traditional pricing (iStockphoto with Vetta,          Fotolia with Infinite)
- plenty of traditional agencies have added a "microstock" tab to their website and are reselling microstock via Fotolia, Dreamstime or 123rf reseller programs (Glow, Reflex, etc)
- others are resellers of content from many different sources both micro and traditional (Pixmac)
- others just launched with both (Moodboard)
- a few traditional agencies have just purchased microstock agencies and are cross-promoting (Getty with iStock, Jupiter with StockXpert, Masterfile with Crestock)
- some are trying to build it themselves (Inmagine with 123rf, Corbis with SnapVillage and then Veer Marketplace)
- there's some new agency collections coming which will be available on both microstock and traditional platforms
- and there's a few companies starting to distribute microstock content through the traditional channel
- then there's the whole Getty-Flickr thing

The Democratization of Stock Photography
These are all steps towards the true democratization of stock photography. They are steps towards a marketplace in which everyone can, and most likely will, participate in all price levels of stock photography. Microstock prices are in many cases absurdly low.  In other cases the prices are appropriate given the reality that it is easier and cheaper than ever to produce certain kinds of photos, and that more people than ever are doing exactly that. Harsh for many of us traditonal shooters, but a reality nonetheless.

iStockphoto, Vetta, and a Step In the Right Direction for Microstock
Hopefully with the merging of the different business models of stock (traditional and micro), images that are more valuable will find their prices rising to more appropriate levels. Traditional shooters may benefit from having their work seen by more eyeballs as the majority of all those seeking stock images are actually going to microstock sites. I have heard that half of all stock images licensed last year were licensed through iStockphoto! It is also interesting to note that the higher priced Vetta collection on iStockphoto has been enormously successful.  That is a step in the right direction for Microstock shooters to be more aware of the money they are leaving on the table. The ones who produce higher value images need to have access to collections that can and will charge appropriately for such images and pass enough of those commissions on to make the production of higher-end and needed imagery worth doing.

Images The Market Needs, Wants and Values
We are in a transition phase from the past where the gate keepers made the rules and determined who got to play, to the future where the value of an image will truly be determined by the market place. The sooner we get out of the transition phase and into the future the better! I base that on my belief that there will always be substantial rewards for those who make images that the market truly needs, wants and values.


Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images said...

Great words, John. Still, I had a hard time reconciling the ads at the top of the page for Getty, Istock, and Dreamstime, who was offering Free Photos.

John Lund said...


Geez, I don't even notice those anymore. It is kinda scary...and yet I make hundreds of sales every month and the last couple of months things seem to by improving...crazy world!


Rahul said...

Nice post as always, John. I'd written a short piece on convergence as well which may be of interest. Link below in case:

John Lund said...


I guess we are both optimists...but hey, isn't it a lot more fun to be an optimist?

I liked your post will be very interesting to see just what actually does happen with pricing!