The death/demise of stock photo agencies?
I think that anyone who has had their photos with stock photo agencies over the past twenty or thirty years has seen how the business has changed. With every good thing that happens there sometimes seems to be two bad things that go with it.
My memory with dates might be off by a few years but it seems to me that when I started designing websites for a national newspaper chain here in Canada, around 1993, the internet was very much in it’s infancy. Not many people had computers let alone ones that were connected to the internet. I don’t think many people using it at the time could have predicted how important a role it would play in our daily lives.
Shortly after I left print for digital, I remember seeing a website devoted to selling stock images online. I think and am probably wrong, that it was something like iStock. I had a bunch of large format transparencies with a traditional stock agency here in Canada and didn’t see the practicality of buying an, at the time, extremely expensive drum scanner to sell stock to what was at the time, a very small audience.
Fast forward almost twenty years and it’s incredible to see how far we have come. Not only is traditional, film photography almost non-existent, stock photo agencies are almost universally digital.
During that time, the way that we purchase music and movies has also changed. The last few Blockbusters in our part of the city have closed forever. I can order my movies online through my cable provider. I no longer have to make the trek down to the local music store to buy a DVD to purchase my music. It can all be done online.
The business model because of the internet has changed the way a lot of businesses operate. It has also meant the demise of some. Look at newspapers. Who today has a subscription to one? If you do you are in an ever shrinking minority. If you can get the same product quicker and cheaper than the traditional way, you probably will.
A few years ago, something very significant happened to stock photography that I think will make most stock agencies become the newspapers of the publishing business. They started offering subscription based models to larger clients and Rights Free images. Rights Free is something that I would never in a million years consider. Perception is everything. Give cheap, unlimited use once and they forever expect it. It’s short sighted thinking that I think has the larger stock agencies in the crosshairs of change.
The bottom line for the agencies is growing. With digital photography becoming cheap and accessible to a greater audience, there has been a flooding of the market of high quality, digital images. With a greater supply than demand, prices have dropped through the floor and Getty Images has led the charge with this marketing. I think that in a few years large stock agencies like Getty will long for the good old days. Why? The internet.
I have submitted images for the past few years and have made a decent amount of money from something that I do ONLY for my own personal enjoyment. Once a year, give or take a few months, I resize, label, retouch, etc., the images that I have shot and submit them to various places. Once the images have been accepted, I cannot sell them, except for prints or if I happen to produce a book that showcases my works.
With increasing frequency, I have been contacted directly by client wanting to bypass agencies like Getty. They see something they like on the internet for a project, like an annual report or an international advertising campaign and want exclusive rights. One agency told a client that for exclusive rights to use a photo of mine that it would cost them $25,000 to $35,000 to buy it outright. From that sale, the agencies commission can be from 50-80%. If the artist is lucky, they might get half of the sale although most contracts are of a 60/40 split in favor of the agency.
I’ve had few REALLY large sales recently where given the choice of picking photos that I had with an agency or picking a different image that I had not yet submitted, I got the sale. Given the choice of many smaller sales throughout the year where an agency is practically giving photos away for ridiculously low prices or keeping them on my website for a few LARGE sales annually, what would you do?
The stock photo business is going the way of the music business, where the artist controls their sales. Major record labels are becoming like newspapers, large clumsy dinosaurs with far too much overhead to survive the new digital economy and I think stock photo agencies have pegged themselves in the same unfortunate position by alienating their talent by selling photos either by subscription or on a Rights Free model.
I have a few hundred new images sitting on my hard drive from the last fifteen months. What do I do?