The Stock Photography Ecosystem

Having burnt my hand badly as a little girl, it was never for me the concept of “Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire”. So when people talk to me again and again about is it time to get out of Stock, my first thoughts are what is there to get out of – why would one want to leave a fabulous industry that has the rare advantages of combining Creativity, Technology and Internationalism with Commerce?

The frying pan that I live in seems to be not a place where I have got burnt but rather a warm melting of the highest quality of sweet beurre moulé, fresh home grown garlic and a hint of wonderful fragrant basil. The frying pan of Stock (both in Food and Photography terms) may have got a bit overcrowded at times over the last few years (throwing in too many different ingredients until they wastefully brim over the top is only ever going to ruin the subtle taste of the rare and specially cultivated ingredients). So unless you are a rogue ingredient and should not have been in there in the first place, getting out is not the answer – better to let the dish simmer and all the rogue invaders evaporate away, as you the perfect dish continue to enjoy the true pleasure of being in a warm, loved, exciting dish that when truly perfected and cooked with love can only deliver pleasure and comfort to a hungry art director or editor looking for that perfect stock that makes the bigger creative dish jump out with pride.

But that maybe is where the food analogy ends because although every quality ingredient needs to be properly cultivated, nurtured, fed and encouraged to flower and flourish; our world of Stock requires a little bit more. It requires Reinvention, Self Assessment and a willingness to reinvent. And with reinvention comes reinvestment. I recently heard a scholar say “Every Age gets the Culture it pays for and deserves” and this stuck in my mind as I cycled back to our Soho offices, thinking about a world in which “Free” had become synonymous with the Knowledge Economy – a world that anyone born into after 1989, the year I graduated University, came to expect that they could find most things for free – whether that be music, learning, sexual thrills or reality TV. And a world in which many people in our industry have come to think of getting images for free or for a fairly minimal fee.

This has subsequently led to Photographers thinking that they can create imagery for Free or Minimal Investment. By this, I am not only talking about a financial payment but one that has required little thought, concept or planning. In short, a lack of Craftmanship and Creativity. The Internet and Technology has brought immense benefits to Content Creators – lower costs of camera equipment and digitisation; lower costs of distribution; expanded access to information and new technologies that empower consumers to become creators and a wider “shop window” but equally, the Internet and Technology has presented enormous challenges including an oversaturation of imagery, a lack of quality editors, online piracy and copyright theft.

The result is that Creators now question the validity of the model and where Intellectual Property has become a flashpoint for some of the most important debates over the future of the Internet. IP, in its various forms, is in many ways one of the core assets of the Internet. Many of the characteristics that make the Internet such a powerful medium for IP also make it a potent weapon for misappropriation and misuse of IP .

As businesses, we all have a duty to find our raison d’être – what it is that defines our company’s brand, what is the equity we carry that we wish to convey through our Photography? In Life as in Commerce, it is important to know who we are and once we know who we are, how we define ourselves. I believe that once a Photographer knows who he is, where he sits and which agency he belongs with, then it becomes so much easier to commit creatively and the moment one understands the value of committing, is when all the magic starts and it becomes easier to invest financially and emotionally. It also then becomes easier to evolve and adapt and as our dear friend Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Once a business has defined who it is, it is important that they are part of a larger eco-system that they can work within to help brave new battles and this is where trade bodies like CEPIC and PACA become essential. It is the collective voice of many agencies united and aligned that allow us to start having a voice at the table of our new universe – the Internet. It is bodies like CEPIC that will help contribute to a debate that affects every one of us. It is critical to everyone of us that we collectively manage the online threats to IP that have undermined some of what makes the Internet a vibrant tool for commerce. It is critical that we as content creators figure out how to safeguard and promote the IP-positive aspects of the Internet.

Whilst trade bodies like CEPIC have, in my mind, no place telling us how to run our businesses, how to create great imagery and how to negotiate with our partners; they do have a fundamental role to play in contributing to the debate over a competitive online marketplace; the importance and value of Copyright to both our legislators and to the masters of our online universe and helping to stamp out piracy and copyright theft both on and offline.

So, we have touched on a few subjects here but like a first class Biryani; it is not just the stock that makes the dish, but the rice and how you cook it; a world in which we will all flourish in this next decade will contain several factors – for us, we as stock agencies are part of that – but we need to also understand our new eco-system, we need to have symbiotic relationships with those that can help us including our competitors, peers and trade bodies so we can all thrive together in a very exciting new world.

About the author

Christina Vaughan  is Chief Executive Officer of Image Source ,  President of  CEPIC  and Vice-President of PACA … And a Cook!

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses