In search of good enough

So, it seems that most people would agree that we have reached a turning point in our industry. Which one? No one is really sure. Let’s see if we can fix that.

What happens when people are asked to perform the same task for less compensation they are used to receiving? Well, they use the same skills they have always used but in less time, as they try to augment the number of jobs they can perform in order to increase their revenue (or at least keep them flat). Thus, they come out with more or less the same product or service, but just less worked upon. It carries less quality, less commitment, less attention to details.

When amateurs entered the commercial stock market via Microstock, they were very lucky. No one was looking for high end quality images, just images that did the trick. Art Directors and Graphic designers, using Microstock, were looking for images that fit their needs, but no more. And that was fine because there was no masterpiece in there. As the market grew, contributors quickly realized that this was number games. The more images you could upload in the least amount of time could render selling via Microstock a profitable proposition. And so they did.

Today the market, both from amateur and pro offering, is filled with these images. They are ok; they are good enough. Because the image buyers are also under the same budget/time constrain, they are quite satisfied with that offering since they also will not spend the time to research more.

And so, here we are, in 2010 in the “Good Enough” market.  This middle place between perfect and not so good. It’s a comfort zone that satisfies all the available element: Time, Budget and Expectation. Those who handle the budget, those God-like figures that stand omnipotent behind any photography job, have unleashed a new powerful attribute to our everyday lives. And we all have followed. Photo agencies have also lowered their standards and have accepted images they would have never accepted 10 years ago. There is nothing wrong with that: 10 years ago, there was no market for “good enough” images. Today, there is.

Of course, the snake eats its own tail. This widening of the market allows more contributors to enter their offering, because that is the only thing they can do: Good enough images.

Who suffers? Well quality suffers, obviously. Since it is not rewarding anymore to spend a lot of time on images, no one really does. If someone is happy with a half done job then that is great. Perfectionist suffer as their market is diminishing.

Who else? Well, image consumers, obviously. They don’t get to see great images anymore. Just illustrations that didn’t cost too much to purchase and fit the need. No more, no less.

And don’t think for a second that this is a Microstock only issue. Photojournalism, celebrity, sports, portraits,  wedding, every aspect of the photography world has been affected by the “Good Enough” mentality. Publications are quite satisfied in publishing good enough images and nothing more. Look at Time and Newsweek, for example. They are now full of wire service images which are the supreme masters in providing good enough images.

Even websites, supposedly on the cutting edge of  media publishing, use images by the pound, regardless of their quality. They are not looking to secure rights to superb images: Just those that fit the need. Who cares if there are not great, they didn’t cost much.

It seems to be fine with everyone: They pay less, they expect less.  Readers, especially online since it’s free, also know they cannot be demanding.

Maybe at the tail end of this recession we will see the resurgence of the exceptional, the high quality, the amazing.  For now, however, it seems we will continue to fill our lives with good enough and dream of a better future.

About the author

This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians”  Roger Therond , legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.

Paul Melcher  has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses