A common topic of discussion by semi-professional and professional photographers is how to deal with the changing market dynamic of photo sales. Smaller photo agencies exist in smaller numbers and many older agencies have been acquired by the like of Getty and Corbis. Stock appears to be the primary means of selling photography these days. Major stock agencies have been putting the squeeze on photographers as the years have passed cutting back on shared revenue from sales. Microstock photo sites have been eating away at traditional stock market share and now photo sharing sites are throwing their hat into the ring as well.
To answer my own question and title of this post it’s not only clear that the photo market has been irreversibly altered, but consumer expectations have as well. I’ve been looking at this from the photographers perspective for sometime as I work to commercialize my photography and develop my business. A quick and dirty window into the customer mindset on photo sales opened for me to today as I read a post on Digg about a site boasting 7000 free stock images. The responses alarmed me! Not only were people mentioning microstock sites beyond the free stock photo sites, they were expressing a complete and utter disregard for the profession of photography. To me the latter is the most alarming of all the comments. See the replies to my comment here.
Is it just me or does this upset anyone else?
[tags]photography, stock, sales, microstock, agency, agencies, digg, photographer, Getty, Corbis, photo market[/tags]
I find the attitudes of a lot of people towards the profession of photography, particularly on sites like Digg, is what bothers me more than repositories of free images.
We’re lumped in with the music industry, but we have no draconian RIAA suing the hell out of everyone like a petulant child.
Part of this Web 2.0 revolution and the way our society is trending is a massive shift in the things people consider ‘basics’ that should be free. They expect business models to be sustained on the backs of other, possibly richer, people.
It’s still very confusing to me.
I did write an article about a respectful, legitimate way to go about finding great free photos using Flickr’s search functionality and the Creative Commons license. You can read it at:
I have stopped listening to people long ago. Imagery is very subjective. I know what it takes to get great photos that I like.
When it comes to marketing and stock, people can go with royalty free and have images like everyone else, or go with quality stock images and stand out from the crowd. It is a matter of taste.
I find many people don’t really care about imagery when they are marketing. They feel that any ole image will do. They often have this same mentality when it comes to websites…they “can do it themselves for far less money”. Invariably, they end up going back to the professional.
I hold nothing against those that give away their photos, they have that right. And the Internet allows one to spread information, even if it is against our best interest (like listing free photo sites). I support that.
As far as a disregard for our profession? Never really thought about it, or have the time to care. I love to be outdoors, I love creating images, could care less what others think about what I do. I know what it takes to create a good photo. If someone else can do it without the blood, sweat and tears, all the more power to them.
I often have to sell myself to clients, show them work, and convince them that I am worth the money. Not really all that different than any other profession. If I am worth the cost, the work will come. If my stock images are worth the money, they will sell as long as people know they are there.
Enjoy your blog Jim.
Thanks for the link Andrew and excellent points Tony. I’m not out to convince the world, but I was taken aback by the comment about how photography is just a hobby.
My reaction was surely taken to heart because for me photography on one level can be a business, but in my eyes is always an art.
I think microstock eats away at the royalty free market more than the RM market since those who buy from those types of sources are probably not traditionally serious photo buyers, but certainly it has to have an effect on overall prices. But the overall attitude towards photography is disturbing to me.
Like Nikon makes commercials that tout how easily a whole town can make great images with their digital cameras. It makes people think it is easy. Maybe collectively they can come up with a few great images, but on an individual basis, unskilled people will always have very inconsistent results. Much less know how to produce a quality file out of their images. Anybody can get lucky w/ a camera now and then no matter the format, but can you build a serious body of work w/o putting in a serious amount of effort? No. We know that, and professional art buyers know that.
Another great piece that got me thinking Jim! I started to write a response, but that turned into a letter which quickly turned into my own thoughts and analysis of the photography world today. (you can read that at http://latogaphoto.blogspot.com/2007/05/photography-timesthey-are-changing.html)
Every day that goes by, I’m more of a believer in “doing what you love and the money will follow”. It’s just the pain between figuring out what you love and when the money arrives…but without that pain it wouldn’t be worth it.
Still picking up my camera every day…even if the photos are only for me…
I think to understand the general attitude you find on places like Digg, you need to understand the free software culture that has become so popular. Most people code for free software projects in their spare time; their main jobs also being computer programming, usually for other companies, sometimes for themselves. These people love what they do, and realise that the average Joe cannot afford the normal price of software. Photoshop too expensive, use Gimp; Microsoft Office out of your budget, get open office.
Now in the photography world, it seems that anyone who produces RM work is not willing to ever drop their prices for anything. It is rare to see a professional photographer that thinks micro stock (and free stock) shouldnâ€™t be stopped, and that it is somehow destroying the business. Do you own a small blog that makes no money? Tough, you should still pay $50 for a web-sized image you’ll use once!
This cultural difference causes issues. A programmer who spends a large amount of his time doing work for free, isnâ€™t going to understand or support the photographer that says all photography should be expensive. The programmer sees that Microsoft is still making a ton of cash despite free software and wonders how it is that micro stock could destroy the photography business. While this doesnâ€™t justify some of the more boneheaded comments (which happen on any forum on any subject), I think one needs to take it into account when reading most of the comments.
I hope that makes sense, not much time to write this out.
Personally, I would like to see more professional photographers releasing some of their work with Creative Commons licenses. Not all of it, or even full resolution versions of it, but something that the average Joe can use for free in his non commercial blog/web site.
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I’ve been dealing with a certain very well known microstock agency. They just paid me $1.50 for a full-size image, and a pretty unique one at that. I don’t care what the debate is, but I’m not licensing my images at this price, period. I’d do better printing my own postcards and posters and selling them, or even going through Cafepress and retaining my rights. This agency also has extended licenses, which by checking one little box, you are basically agreeing for your image to be used to an UNLIMITED extent. So your great Monument Valley photo that you drove to, paid for, and got up early to catch, can be sold to some Chinese factory, apt out across the world and you don’t get a mechanical royalty? Oh yeah, you get more, maybe $100? Uh, sorry, BITE ME.
There are plenty of high-paid jobs doing photoshop or other graphics work without having to hand my vision out for nothing to cretins. I’d make more money getting a job at the agency itself.
Assignment work doesn’t go for this kind of price.
The fact that a top company would sell quality work for $8 per full-size image (thereby undercutting their own legacy photogs) makes me angry. The fact that photogs will waltz into this by the masses makes me incredulous.