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So, as it reaches $200 million dollars a year in revenue, Istockphoto is pushing the production of stock photography to its rim. The traditionally strong categories for stock imagery, like Lifestyle, Health, Parenthood, Teens, Green, Business are all being more than very well covered by the astute production of 100,000’s very smart microstock producers. For traditional photo agencies, especially Royalty Free, continuing to produce images in these categories is pure suicide.

But there is not much space at the edges of the stock photography demand. If you are specialized in photographing snails, that is great, but lets face it, the market, even worldwide, cannot be  very big. Sure, you will still be able to command your prices but probably with clients that have little or no budget. So what is the point ?

Even almighty Getty is suffering losses within its traditional stock offering and is probably thinking to shift the whole thing to its new subscription based Jupiter Unlimited model. At least, for a business representing thousands of photographers, that would make sense. What you loose on per image sales, you win on the volume. For individual photogrpahers, it’s a complete loss.

Interestingly enough, the internet has not leveled the playing field. It is as difficult as it was 10 years ago for an image buyer to find the proper images outside of the 3 or 4 top stock photo agencies.  Volume and SEO are  two principal tools for worldwide marketing, both completely unrelated to image quality. Google Image, still being seen as the primary destination to find images is  completely counter productive for professionals as it doesn’t index IPTC ( Some still think it is  a standard) while it it privileges popularity over quality. Some tools, like the new Picscout IRC, are even helping Google Image to enhance its sad dominance over stock image licensing.

If the stock photo industry had any intelligence, it would create it own replacement for Google Image based on its  clients needs. A global image search that would read IPTC and classify images according to relevancy. That would privilege quality over popularity and volume. Sure, it would be a huge project and demand a lot of cooperation from competing businesses. Sure, it would demand cooperation rather than isolation, but the results would benefit everyone. It is probably the only solution the commercial stock industry has left until it disappears under the huge weight of  mass production.

Author: pmelcher

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