Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is The Stock Photo Industry A Train Wreck In Progress?

A steam locomotive speeds across a damaged train trestle in a photo of a train wreck about to happen! 
 Is the stock photo industry moving full-steam ahead, or is it a train wreck about to happen?
A Train Wreck About To Happen?
A lot of photographers see the stock photo industry as a train wreck in progress. They blame everything from the emergence of microstock to the ease of digital to the evil empires of Getty and Corbis. But is the industry really headed for disaster? Certainly the rampant change is enough to make any of jump the tracks. But there are opportunities…and I for one wouldn’t want to go back to the way it was (if it meant giving up digital capture, Photoshop and the Internet)!

Assessing Reality, Adapting To Change And Elbow Grease
Certainly a lot of barriers to entry have fallen away, an endless supply of images has brought the price points down and the competition is fierce. But from where I stand there is still ample room for images that can stand out from the crowd, though getting them seen is an ever-increasing challenge.  To compete successfully in this new arena requires a willingness to assess reality, adaptability to change, and one heck of a lot of elbow grease. It requires getting out of the caboose and into the engine…and not a steam locomotive but more of a modern bullet train (sorry about all the train references, but it is kind of fun seeing how many I can work in for SEO purposes).

Images That Are Needed And Stand Out
Right now (and this is subject to change) my approach is to create as many images as I comfortably can, that are clearly needed in the marketplace, and that stand out from their competition.  I then do my best to distribute those photos in ways that both offer me what I hope is protection from the relentless changes that are sweeping through the industry and the maximizing of revenue from that imagery. Of course, the whole undertaking gets ever more complex when trying to decide whether to shoot RF or RM, whether to pull into the microstock station, which agencies to distribute through, and whether to offer direct sales.

Blend Images, Getty, And Direct Sales
At this point I send the majority of my photography to Blend Images, an aggregator that offers great distribution including ever more penetration into the microstock audience (though at traditional pricing), gives me protection from relying on any one large stock agency, and provides much more support than I can get from other agencies. Disclaimer here…I am a part owner of Blend Images.  I can honestly say, though, that if I were not an owner I would still be distributing through Blend.  I am also continuing to submit to Getty, which is the 900-pound gorilla after all. Finally, though I have very few images that are not with agencies, I do make some direct sales, and stoke the fires of my agency sales, by getting my stock pictures up on my own site and linking them to the agencies that handle the images. I do see a significant number of people finding my images online and then following the links to the agencies…though it is very difficult to track the ultimate results.

Full Steam Ahead!
Do I think the stock photo industry is headed full-steam down the wrong track (have to keep getting those train references in…)?  No…because the reality is that the industry is headed wherever it is regardless of whether we view it as right or wrong. Our job is to keep an eye on it and switch our own track (did it again!) when appropriate. We need to use our creativity and critical thinking not just to make cool images, but also to understand and flow with the realities of our industry and continue full-steam ahead.

A Runaway Freight Train And A Successful Career
I can share this bit of positive anecdotal evidence. I do know one shooter who switched agencies from one of the “traditional” ones to Blend a little over four years ago and who is now making over $5000.00 a month in royalties from the new images submitted over those last four plus years. Her income is continuing to increase with almost each quarter…testimony that it is possible to carve out a successful career in stock photography even with the industry barreling along seemingly out of control like a runaway freight train and the economy having such trouble getting back on track.


Michael Sweet said...

always fun to read you John

mastix said...

I really think there are still a lot of opportunities, it is just that because of intense competition in number of images swallowed by the stock providers and price competition every one of us living in this turmoil has to 1) Create truly great images 2 ) have an optimized distribution channel . Any of those can make you financially succesful in this sector. You have both conditions on board so it doesn' t surprise me your always positive attitude about the stock business.