What if Stock Photography dies in 2010?

If you’re a creator or distributor of Stock Photogaphy here are some questions to ask at the beginning of 2010:



  1. What if the Stock Photography industry does not recover after the recession and publishers and traditional advertising agencies will spend even less on Stock  Photography?
  2. What if Content mills like Demand Media accelerate their activities and start taking big shares at the bottom of the market, just like Royalty Free and Micro stock did before them?
  3. What if producers of ‘high end’ Rights Managed and Royalty Free content can no longer match the quality of some of the best Microstock photographers who understand the power of scale?
  4. What if the complications of the Rights Managed pricing model keeps on driving clients away and only a few people realise simplification is needed?
  5. What if the futile misunderstandings and arguments between supporters of Rights Managed, Royalty Free, Microstock and Subscription models prevent everyone from collaborating towards a sustainable model?
  6. What if Google turns their raft of innovations into a search tool that matches or exceeds that of Stock Photography companies and immediately becomes the world’s leading source for finding Stock Photography?
  7. What if creating a direct connection between buyers and creators of images becomes so easy that Stock Photography distribution companies are simply no longer necessary?
  8. What if the historical, revenue split based, business model is challenged and replaced by paying for services directly?
  9. What if clients turn their back on complicated, unpredictable and unrealistic pricing models and turn to free images and much simpler pricing models?
  10. What if the industry is not paying attention and an outsider once again introduces a new model, just like past new models have come from the outside  to a sceptical industry?
  11. What if well meant initiatives from the industries’ organisations are rooted in the past and don’t work in a fast changing media world?
  12. What is prices continue to go down as a result of saturation and many companies selling the same content without differentation?
  13. What if companies don’t cut their costs and keep spending too much on customised technology, expensive sales teams, large offices and other remnants of a business model that is loosing traction fast?
  14. What if more, not less, Stock Photography companies go out of business in 2010?
  15. What if a whole industry loses control over its destiny by not adopting new technologies, innovations, ideas and best practice?

What if…

The rough elements for a reshaping of the Stock Photography industry are out there and an industry working together can find, combine, develop and use them to create a business model that works in this fast changing media environment?

We’ll follow up with a list of things that may help deal with some of the challenges.

For now it would be good to hear from you what other threats are out there so please comment…

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

12 thoughts on “What if Stock Photography dies in 2010?

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  • January 7, 2010 at 2:07 am

    What if photographers create quality content and make it easy to find via their websites? What if there is an increasing demand for images that differentiate? What if people realize that RM is not so hard to negotiate after all? What if photographers come together and create a new Agency and it works? All of these things are happening, but you don’t hear about the good stuff! BTW, that photographer founded agency is Blend Images…and it is thriving!


    • January 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

      I’m glad to read your positive comments, John! It gives me all the more confidence for our specialist agency PictureNature which is based on a similar model like yours.

  • January 7, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Between CNN and others soliciting FREE videos, some of which are good and getting better and publications paying less and less for material, I’m glad to be turning 70 and retired. My heart goes out to the young folks trying to make it in photography.

  • January 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

    stock photography, as it has been known up to now, is dying a slow death. I doubt it will be completely lifeless by the end of 2010. The good news: generic images…whether vid or still will continrue to be free or freely available at a low cost through established distribution channels. Many medicore photographers will leave the field as the deconstruction of the traditional distributors takes place leaving a stronger field behind. Reverse consolidation will take place and vibrant innovative photography at the high end will be rewarded as buyers and photographers alike begin to use new tools to connect to each other without a middle person. More and more photographers will come to understand that they are story tellers and that there is more to the story than pictures. They will find out what and the smart ones will develop those skills.

  • January 8, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Stock photography, as run by the big agency (agencies?), is now only about volume and crowdsourcing. Quality imagery happens in that space, but it’s almost by accident, and mostly that’s not an issue because the customers in that market do not care about quality – at least at the level that differentiates between professional-produced imagery and amateur/hobbyist/user-generated content. Within a couple years, the only truly innovative, highly-produced photography at big stock agencies will have passed its expiration date, because, starting about 18 months ago, no photographer creating with a primary focus on quality over quantity can get a return on their investment in stock. The trick, now, is to decide which kind of photography you want to produce: money-making stock (massive quantity of disposable images) sold through agencies, or super high-end, signature-unique work that will get you assignments and, if it’s stock, that you can sell for a price that you set yourself (if you can afford to turn down low bids), on your own e-commerce enabled web-site. As with any artistic craft, only photographers offering something that is both totally unique and also beautiful and profoundly communicative will achieve commercial success, or even be able to make a living, in this part of the market. The days of making a good living from decent-quality but fairly indistinguishable stock photography, without resorting to shoveling out literally hundreds of scenarios a day, are over, forever. Good-enough photography is no longer a specialized craft – it is a mass phenomenon. To rise above that you have to be superstar-great and have deep pockets money found elsewhere, not just be really good. This is not a motivational message; we do not need to respond to this by saying, well, by gosh I’m a great photographer so I will make it if I try hard enough! It is a reality-check. What percentage of people graduating with fine arts degrees from art schools actually end up becoming successful artists? Who knows, but I’d bet it’s less than 1 percent. That’s about to become the same percentage in the photography world. We’ve just lived through an extraordinary and rare period in which there was huge demand for photography but it was still a challenging, expensive craft to execute even passably well, so a big percentage of people who tried their hand at it made a decent living. No longer. There will still be demand for assignment (but at lower budgets, and only for esoteric subjects that can’t be shot good-enough by the clients themselves), and demand for commodity-stock produced by image-factories, and super-high-quality stock sold directly on photographers’ own sites, but only by photographers who are making enough from assignment so they can afford to say “no” to low-balling customers.

    • January 11, 2010 at 10:55 am

      I agree with a lot of what Resnyc says but still feel there’s a place for smaller, specialist picture libraries selling exclusive, high quality work. For all the changes in the industry, one of the underlying factors as to why picture libraries came about in the first place – that the best photographers want to be out taking pictures, not immersing themselves in credit control and keywording – remains as relevant today as it always was. Libraries who have not gone down the image-factory road can still provide a very valuable service to photographers. You just have to make sure you choose wisely.

  • January 12, 2010 at 10:46 am

    What if the whole earth exploses tomorrow ?
    What if … With WHAT IFs we can put Paris in a bottle.
    There will be a future for Getty, Corbis and some microstock players but not anymore
    for the agencies in between.

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