Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Choosing For the Future of Stock Photography

Social Networking, Stock Agencies and a Whole Lot of Images
I have recently been conducting searches on Getty, Corbis, SuperStock, BlendImages and iStockphoto to compare their offerings. In the case of the above-mentioned “traditional” stock agencies, I chose them because they carry my work. I chose iStock because it is the first micro agency most people think of. In many cases the images offered by iStock are far greater in both numbers and in creativity than the photos I could find from the traditional stock agencies. Look up “social networking” on Getty, for example, and you get 84 results. Do the same search on Corbis and you get 92 results (interestingly SuperStock came back with 238 images and a surprising variety to choose from). Blend Images has 21 images, which considering its smaller and more-targeted collection isn’t bad. Look up social networking on iStock and you get 2,443. Yeah, there are some sketchy images there, but there are a whole lot of great pictures as well…and Corbis and Getty also have their share of junk. On iStock, however, you get a much, much greater range of photos to search from.

Hundreds of Thousands of Shooters and Greater Choices
Increasingly, at least as far as I can see, the micro sites are offering greater choices, and, at least in some cases, better choices as well. It seems logical…hundreds of thousands of shooters contributing photos to an agency as opposed to thousands. So if you are an art director, art buyer, designer or even small businesswoman (or businessman) looking for images, and you can find more and better ones (not to mention less expensive) at micro sites…wouldn’t you go there? Am I missing something here?

Traditional Stock, Micro Sites and a Strategy
One strategy for us traditional shooters might be to begin to put images up on micro sites and to start to build a presence there just in case that scenario actually happens. For me, it is really hard to pull the trigger on that. I am still doing quite well in traditional stock and as I create relatively few images, I still feel that I am better off now in the RM and RF markets. But what about two or three years from now…will I wish that I had created a body of work that could have been moving up in the search results all this time?

Room For A Higher Priced Offering
Apparently the upscale Vetta collection at iStock is doing very well, fantastically well even. The higher prices seem to be no deterrent to those licensing micro stock. I don’t find that terribly surprising…micro prices started at such low levels it makes sense that there is room for a higher priced offering. In traditional stock it has always been a given that price was not the determining factor in the licensing of an image…but rather the photograph being the right one.

Lesser Images and More Competition
If I do eventually cave in to my fears (or logic?), and overcome my ego problems with placing a low monetary value (at least per licensing) on my imagery and begin to contribute to micro sites, should I do the same kind of work I am doing for my RM and RF agencies? There is the temptation to contribute “lesser” images to micro, and yet I suspect that doing so would condemn me to failure in micro. After all, in micro there is even more competition…and the added problem of, as a beginner, not having high rankings in search returns. Too, while some of the most popular photographs and illustrations on the micro sites have some pretty phenomenal download rates, it seems (at least to me) that the number of images that return stellar and even reasonable returns falls off rather quickly. 

High Volume and Higher Price Points
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to tap into the high volume of micro with a higher price point? Micro stock agencies are leaving a lot of money on the table…money that could go a long ways towards moving stock photography back in the direction of profitability for photographers.  There are a lot of very smart and talented people in this industry, so it isn’t far fetched to think that just such a scenario might be right around the corner. 

What Do You Think?
OK, this is an off-the-cuff look at the situation. Not having any work in micro limits what I know…and I haven’t spent hours and hours searching. So I am curious…what do those of you reading this blog think? What does your experience tell you…particularly those of you with both macro and micro experience? Is it time to step into micro…is it a better idea to wait a bit longer in the hopes a better scenario does come around? I would really like to hear from you!