What stage of grief is the photography industry in?

The (stock) photography industry may be only in the 2nd stage of grief in dealing with the rapid changes in client behaviour. This means there are 3 more stages to go before it can accept its faith and regain control over the future.

From the number of discussions about the state of the (stock) photography industry it’s clear that big changes is here. Like in the music industry before it, the business of licensing photography is in trouble, creators and disctributors are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. From a clients point of view things look more positive though. There is more and more content out there, it may be complicated to license but at least there is a steady stream of new material from a wide variety of sources.

For professional photographers things are looking different. The increase of user generated content (UGC), combined with other factors has  resulted in lower prices, and big areas of content being commoditized. Now people are loosing their livelihood, or at least see it declining drastically. The big question is: At what stage of this development are we? Is this industry near the end of the end of this period of rapid change or is there still a long way to go?

Perhaps the Kubler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief can shed some light on the road ahead. This model was introduced in 1969 to describe the stages of grief in dealing with fatal decease and has since been used to look at changes in business models as well. The 5 stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Looking through the definitions it appears the industry is somewhere between stage one and two. Denial is gradually giving in to Anger; anger at microstock for being cheap, amateur photographers offering their images for free, camera manufacturers for allowing amateurs to take good pictures, new photographers for not understanding value and clients for not willing to pay for quality. Rather than looking at other companies with “projected resentment and jealousy” it may be better to learn from new developments and start moving out of the grief cycle.

Poll: What stage of grief do you think the photography industry is in?

[polldaddy poll=2740268]

  1. Denial“I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.[1]
  2. Anger“Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or  energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.[1]
  3. Bargaining“Just let me live to see my children graduate.”; “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time…”[1]
  4. Depression“I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die . . . What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.[1]
  5. Acceptance“It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    This final stage comes with peace and understanding of the death that is approaching. Generally, the person in the fifth stage will want to be left alone. Additionally, feelings and physical pain may be non-existent. This stage has also been described as the end of the dying struggle.[1]

When will the industry start bargaining for more time with its clients and competitors? Some businesses and individuals have probably already reached further stages including acceptance. An industry as a whole would benefit from an accelerated acceptance combined with initiatives that make those captured in grief part of the new solutions.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

One thought on “What stage of grief is the photography industry in?

  • March 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I’m stuck between anger and acceptance.

    I still get angry when I see people who profess to love photography doing utterly insane things, like getting themselves sucked into shooting microstock, but since I rarely shoot stock and work on commission, I’m finding new ways to fight back, with some success I have to say.

    Stock, and especially microstock, may look cheap, but the T&Cs are often incredibly restrictive on the client, the images lack uniqueness and credibility (in the business arena), and often the client would get a better deal commissioning direct from a photographer.

    My model of charging the client only for the images they buy gives them the best of both worlds, while offering me a steady income.

    I’ll happily leave stock photographers to have their own fight, while I press ahead with getting on with being a photographer and serving my clients.


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