Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Traffic and The Future of Photography

A shopping mall is full of traffic in a metaphor for everything from web traffic to business success.

Building traffic is a long term endeavor that may hold the key for continued success in the photography market.

An Unpleasant Truth For Photographers
The recent sale of The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million dollars underscores an unpleasant truth for us photographers, for us “content producers”. That unpleasant truth is that traffic is valued more than content; that the distribution of our images is, in a significant way, more important than the images themselves. After all, the greatest photo in the world, unseen, will return less revenue, and have less impact, than a mediocre or poor image that is seen by everyone.

Great Content Is A Building Block of Traffic and Distribution
Of course, it isn’t quite as simple as I just indicated above. After all, distribution requires content and great content is a building block of great distribution. But as we have all witnessed, great photography content is significantly easier to produce than ever before, and mediocre and poor content is, well, shall we say abundant?  But the question remains: With the knowledge of how important distribution, and traffic is, how do we photographers proceed?

Where We Want To Go, And Reality
In order to understand where we go from here it is essential that we understand where we want to go. It is also imperative that we have a relatively firm grasp on reality as well. One reality is that the price of photography has been and is continuing to drop.  Another reality is that the competition continues to explode both in the form of stock images and in the form of newcomers to the industry.

Making A Living With Stock Photography, And Building Traffic
In my own case, I want to continue to make a good living creating stock photography. Right now, as far as I can determine, the fastest route to earning money in stock photography is by creating exceptional images and getting them in to distribution through top agencies.  But taking a longer view I think it is important to utilize my content to create my own traffic. And for that endeavor you really do need a long view. After two years of diligent work towards that end, and getting 4,600 well key worded images up on my site, I am generating around a thousand visitors a day. I want at least ten times that number, and I will get it. It will probably take me three to five more years.  One day I will wake up and say to myself, “Man, I am glad I did that!”

Traffic And Success With Photography
The traffic I build will include visitors that will license stock (primarily by being routed to one of my agencies), generate revenue by clicking on ads, purchase photo imprinted merchandise, buy prints and provide me with a market for whatever else I might dream up. Hopefully I can build enough traffic to insure success with my photography over the long term. It used to be that photographers looked at stock photos as a source of retirement income. That view seems to have evaporated. Perhaps traffic will be the new replacement for that strategy. It seems to have worked for Arianna Huffington!

Traffic and A Base For The Future
I believe it will behoove all of us photographers to understand how to build traffic that will help us achieve our goals, and traffic that will provide a base for all the unknown twists and turns in the photography business that no doubt await us in the years ahead.


basti said...

Very nice post! Building traffic is a long run and quality content is a must but it is worth it. It requires good marketing skills and smart SEO. I think this is even more important for tight niche pictures, where agencies simply do not work.

But with your own traffic, you are not dependent on anyone and there are many more ways to monetize traffic then just pictures :)

Alex Hinds said...

Hi John,

Interesting post. There is no doubt a good volume of targeted traffic is a valuable asset. Just as with good stock images it takes investment to build it. With the trend in falling prices I'd wonder if any photographer taking this approach should also take control of the licensing of their images. Otherwise hard won traffic simply redirected to agencies may yield prices that don't justify the effort?

John Lund said...


Someday my traffic might be enough, but for now I can't compete with the agencies...but I can supplement them. And I do believe it is worth the effort.



Dan Padavona, DanPadavona.com said...

Good for you John.

I think you are correct that increasing your traffic enough to get 5 to 10 thousand visitors per day will get you what you want. Always remember that you will be generating 100% royalty commissions, and your images will always be at the top of the search.

You never know when even the best agency might go bankrupt, or get bought out by an entity which cannot manage it. I'm sure you will have a much better insurance on your long term earnings if you sell on your own.