I have been spending too much time reading the iStockphoto forums, but it is fascinating to see all the reactions to the changes announced a few days ago. I am learning a few things as well. For example, I found out I am a "trad". That is what microstockers call us traditional stock shooters. There does seem to be an undercurrent of "us versus them", and of pride in the fact that microstock is the "new" paradigm taking over from traditional stock. I can totally understand where they are coming from…it is human nature after all. I am also finding out that iStockphoto feels it's current system of royalty payouts is "unsustainable".
Venomous Comments, Corporate Greed and Bitterness
On the forums there are pretty venomous comments about the management, and or Getty, destroying a good thing, of corporate greed killing the goose that laid the golden egg. There is a lot of bitterness about lack of loyalty from iStockphoto management and what is certainly perceived by most of those posting as disingenuous (what does that word mean anyway?) communications from the powers that be. OK…some are even referring to the communications from management as outright lies. I suspect that it is probably more a poor job of explaining things…and maybe a lack of transparency. But it is harsh waking up to the realization that you are working in a business the primary purpose of which is profit, rather than a co-op in which the rewards are shared equally.
From a Legacy Advantage to a Level Playing Field
In contrast, the small handful of iStockphoto shooters that I have communicated with, on an individual basis, actually believe that the changes are going to be good, that it will level the playing field. That switching from a legacy advantage for long-term contributors, to a yearly calculation for everyone, will allow the cream to rise to the top. One thing seems to be for certain, that to succeed, or continuing to succeed at iStock, is going to be more of a challenge for most of the contributors moving forward. Hey, just like everywhere else!
A New Collection and a Whole New Frenzy
Then, from what I can tell, iStock started uploading their new collection complete with rejected images included…a rather glaring snafu! That sent the forums into a whole new frenzy that, frankly, was hard to argue with. A lot of the images had logos showing and various other aspects that would have meant rejection for the typical submission from an iStocker (or any agency for that matter). The question that immediately came to my mind was how could serious stock shooters, "trad" or "micro", be including some of those rejects that went up (I say this with full awareness that all of us occasionally miss some problem in our uploads...)?
Another thing that really surprised me was the fear expressed by the iStockers that the new higher prices (one of the changes is higher prices on the Vetta collection) would drive customers away. It is a long established tradition for us "trads" to clamor for higher prices, and the idea of so much opposition to price increases is hard for me to wrap my head around. I guess it makes sense in a way. We "trads" have a history of success with high prices, and micro shooters have a history of success with low prices. And yet, in my mind, along with the problems of visibility, the problem of getting adequate compensation for images that truly add value for those licensing them, is perhaps the biggest challenge facing all stock photographers!
A Glut of Images and Pricing For Value
Good or bad, the changes at iStockphoto are just the inevitable march of the stock photo industry into the modern world where there is a glut of imagery and a desperate need to find a way to get appropriate value for images. The market does not seem to differentiate the good or great images from the mediocre ones. The downward price pressure from a billion ordinary images (or maybe 4 billion ordinary images) drags down the prices for the few great images as well. Photographers and agencies alike are frantically seeking answers to that problem.
An Overriding Question
The overriding question in my mind is, "How can we get pricing in line with the value of our images?" Reading the iStock forums just reinforces that question. As the excess images, good, bad and great, pile ever higher, and the majority of photographers respond by producing more images, and even questioning the wisdom of any price increases, well, even I can get a little nervous. Unfortunately, every time I come up with an answer I also come up with three reasons why it won't work!