The Caveman Dilemma

“You want to save it, you should niche it”. From old timer’ stock gurus to young green microstock expert, they all tell the same tale of potential success: Dig yourself into a deep hole where no one else can reach you and stay there. Shoot stuff no one else shoots and bark if they approach. If you can, trademark your subject so no one else can do it.

It’s not about being successful as a photographer anymore; it’s about protecting your turf, like a suburban owner protects his patch of lawn from his neighbours. It’s the typical bourgeois mentality. In face of adversity, retreat and protect. Would you like a pair of well trained Dobermans with that?

Problem is, you do not own your subject. You do not own your clients. You do not own anything (well, besides your equipment). So there is nothing to protect.

In Microstock, more than anywhere else, clients belong exclusively to the platforms. Contributors have no clue who they are selling to, or why.  In more traditional markets, sales report still carries some information on the licensor. However that is diminishing too. So tell me, if you do not know who your clients are, what your market is, how can you niche yourself?

By trial and error? Sure. Another problem is that, mostly in Microstock, it is very easy to see what works. It makes that niche even more so attractive to others, quickly.

The commercial stock market has decided to walk on its head. It used to be that photographers would shoot what they loved and sell that. Some very, very well. This worked well, especially since no one really had any clue what the other was shooting, except by seeing what was being published. Now, everybody can see everybody else’s body of work, especially the vast quantity of what never gets sold. So, instead of shooting what they love, they shoot what has not been shot. They search for a niche, like miners search for a vein.

Let’s say you find a niche. Then what? How do you find your clients? Since you are the only one with these images, they will find you? Is that the thinking? The “field of dreams” marketing strategy?

Images don’t market themselves (at least, not yet). Those images you see going viral are the exception, not the rule. They are billion of images just on Flickr and you think your images will stand out? Because they are rare? Did you ever think, for one second, that they are rare because no one cares?

Once you start leaving the crowded marketplace you certainly find less competition but also less clients. And that is what this whole “find a niche” counsel is all about: If you can’t sell what you have it’s because of the competition thus if you eliminate the competition by going where they are not, you will be successful. It’s not by moving away miles away from Wal-Mart that you will beat them.

Here’s a niche you should try: Talent. Shoot everything that everyone else shoots, with talent. No one can copy talent. You will be on your own out there, because clients will request your images, and no one else’s, regardless of what you shoot.

Leave the niches to those who like living in caves. Your specialty should be how you approach your subject, not your subjects.

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

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