A little while back, a bunch of Englishmen ( and women) sat down around a table to discuss the state of the photo licensing industry. Organized by Alamy, recently under heavy attacks from its contributors for embarking in heavily discounted Getty-like pricing, it ended up as a white paper. A white paper is something that companies write and that nobody reads.

We did.

The few pages long sheet doesn’t really come up with anything new. It speaks about how photographers are frustrated by low pricing and how image buyers like low-priced image that are easy to license. The paper doesn’t really offer any solutions, besides saying that no technological solution is going to help ( funny coming from a company that has heavily invested itself in technology) and that the industry, as a whole, has to set new licensing protocol because no one will survive alone. The only vague solution timidly offered smells very much like the now defunct Rights Ready from Getty.

Alamy seems here to be trying to engage in a massive public relation effort in an attempt to make itself look like the good guy facing insurmountable external odds. Forced to compete on large buyers market against Getty it has, albeit apparently unwillingly, adopted the heavily discounted subscription-base model. The result might have shown increase revenue for Alamy but painfully low royalties for the photographers involved. Thus this campaign to show, and explain,”hey, not our fault, the market is like that. And hey look, we are trying to do something about it”.

Except that getting 5 English dudes around a table is not going to cut it. Nor is asking for an industry wide restructuration of licensing practices because, unlike advances in technology, it will just not happen.

The Alamy white paper sets up the ground for failure. By shifting the control of the issue to a global crisis that can only be resolved by organizing even bigger roundtables, it clearly declares that the problem is out of their hands. Or rather the solution.

Alamy had for a long time believed that having the fastest path to the right image was their competitive edge. Thus they heavily invested in building internally what they claim is the fastest, and best search engine in the industry. And for a while, it seemed to work. They have experienced one of the most aggressive growth of the last decade alongside Getty. And, unlike Getty, they did so with no acquisitions. But now, they are forced to face the fact that pricing is what now drives sales, not content. And they are apparently ill prepared to face it.

Be the change that you would like to see, Gandhi famously said. This is what Alamy should follow. Be ready to lose market share now to better be adapted to the market in 5 years. While others cling to old business model in paralyzing fear, innovate aggressively. Show the way. If it works, they will follow, even Getty. In other words, set the standard.

Alamy is in a great place to do this. It has built a strong community of photographers that sees them as the last hope for a successful licensing platform that still cares about their providers. They have the market penetration to reach out to new consumers willing to experience with them instead of against them. In other words, they should avoid the pitfalls of big corporations ( lots of talking) and start doing.

You can read the white paper here ( if you really want to)

Author: pmelcher

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