Friday, October 1, 2010

A Designer's Blog, Responsibility and Value

Funny lol picture of a lion scowling down at a bulldog in a stock photo about risk, intimidation and inequities.
The Lion costs $5,000.00 to rent, and the bulldog $125.00, and if no one is willing to pay for value in stock photos, images like this "intimidation" photo will not be available when they are needed.

A Designer’s Blog
I was reading a designer’s blog today. She was advocating that fellow designers stop using iStockphoto for their photography needs because iStockphoto’s prices had risen too high. She pointed out that an image that costs $12.00 to $15.00 at iStockphoto could be licensed from other agencies for $5.00 to $10.00. She went on to point out that iStock’s new commission structure was also unfair to its artists. I think she was missing something very important…and it has nothing to do with royalties paid to artists or photographers.

Photographers, Designers, Art Directors and Responsibility
As I was reading this call to boycott iStockphoto I kept thinking that her whole premise is skewed. I believe that as a professional stock photographer I have a responsibility to provide great images that solve communication problems and challenges. I owe it to my industry and fellow photographers to produce the best and most creative work I can…not the cheapest images. I would propose that a designer, or art director, or art buyer, has the responsibility to get the best value for their client…not the cheapest picture. You can license the cheapest picture…or heck, shoot it yourself, but that might not be…I would guess probably won’t be…the best image for helping the client’s communication needs get filled. Sure, price plays a role, but that role should be secondary to the client’s best interest. The client’s best interest is in having effective communications!

Limited Possibilities and Compelling Visuals
If $12.00 is too high for this designer to even consider, then she is certainly going to limit the possibilities for having visuals that are actually compelling…that can really help move a prospect towards a favorable action. Designers and art directors (and yes account people and so forth) with this mentality are depriving their clients of getting the best value, and of having advertising and design that truly works. Designers (and art directors, art buyers and so forth) that have such a mind-set are also helping to move the entire industry towards mediocrity and malaise. If photographers can't earn enough to shoot images with high production value...and potentially limited uses...then when a designer, art director or client needs such an image it won't be there.

A Photo’s Value Is More Important Than Price
I created an image for a friend of mine to help advertise his house painting business. We put a lot of effort into the image…one of my silly animal photos. Even as a friend I asked for, and got, a thousand dollars for my effort. But the image was worth it. Later, while sharing the success of the mailing with me, he also told me it was the first mailing he had ever done that no one had replied asking to be taken off his mailing list! Now I am not saying that everyone has to spend a thousand dollars or more on their images (though even $50,000.00 for the right image can be a great value), but I am suggesting that the value a client receives is more important than the price paid for an image. I am also suggesting that it is the designer or art director’s responsibility to find an image that offers the best value to a client…even if it costs a staggering…say…$16.00!


Pablo said...

Totally agree with this.

If prices get driven down so far that paying for models, props, locations, etc no longer makes financial sense then contributors will stop creating them.

The new fresh stuff will be simple low cost snapshots and the high production value stuff will be stale leftovers from years ago.

Anonymous said...

Great points, John, and well said. I hope these insights, regarding the value of creative imagery moves outward, to every corner of our industry, and spreads like a virtuous virus. Without this awareness, it's a bargain-bin free-for-all. With this awareness, art buyers and art directors will be able to educate their clients about the importance of paying for quality imagery with aesthetic integrity, which has significant production value, adequate rights-protection, reliable model releases, and a unique creative vision.

DaveB. said...

Couldn't agree more with what you are saying.
Unfortunately there are too many 'designers' and 'art buyers' that are now happy to supply stock images to their customers fundamentally at the lowest price, and sadly it seems this is now the norm in lots of cases.

Last year I (photographer for several moons) was at a meeting with a customer who had just moved to his new purpose built $1.8 million dollar factory. At the meeting was a 'web designer' recommended by the local chamber of commerce, who proudly announced her average stock budget for images for a whole site was on average $54.00 (yes fifty four dollars!!!) and to clarify that was the total budget for ALL the stock images. I asked her why she didn't usually spend more than this and the answer was "my customers don't want to pay any more, and I can get really great images of say smiling people so easily and so cheaply, why pay more?"

The customer now has a fantastic $1.8 million factory and a mess of a website.

As far as I know, and I would be hugely surprised, if one of his builders/contractors had sold themselves so desperately short for any of their services, neither did the customer even indicate that he didn't have a decent budget for the images!

But now it gets worse, stock agencies are seemingly all too happy to give away even the best work at low prices! The more this becomes the long term standard, the more designers etc expect, now they have the best for next to nothing too and people like me certainly wont be able to afford to shoot for the agencies in the future.

Perhaps designers and customers won't actually need new images with high production values, all the other qualities and creativity until the trough is empty, but that may be a while, and will they then ever want to pay more!!!

Its a downward spiral unless we can educate like John is trying to do here, but I don't hear any such recent noises even from our stock associations. At times like this I wish I was a builder!

John Lund said...


Great illustrates the point well! What to do as an individual photographer is really a question. The only answer I can think of is to seek out those clients who appreciate the value of great images...and to keep pointing out that value to others....