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Photo by trainjason

For most of the 80’s and throughout the early 2000’s, the recurring motto in the stock photo industry was “It’s the content, idiot”. Key to any growth of photo agencies and successful career of any photographer was the ability to offer great content. Rule number one was to appeal to clients and crush the competition by creating upscale, high quality, creative and exclusive images. Frequently, the terms “Cutting Edge” or “High End” were associated with photography, even if most didn’t really know what it meant. In other words, content was king. Everything else didn’t matter. It practically sold itself.

And for a very long time, it was true. In a world dominated by print and rights managed licenses, it made sense.  Confine to be consumed within a restricted space like a magazine or billboard, within a limited time, photos could “pop out”. Customers were seeking the most compelling images to drive their message and willing to pay up for the exclusive right to do so. But digital, as many other things, changed all that.

Photos today are consumed everywhere, all the time and on a variety of supports. They are seen on social media, website, blogs, apps either on mobile or desktop. An image that would work well on Facebook viewed on mobile will be a flop on the home page of a website seen on a desktop. Customers no longer need the image that pops, but rather a variety of images that might work. In advertising, as well as editorial, getting a customer’s attention is no longer the sniper kill shot but rather the machine gun approach. And for that purpose, they need access to a large amount of fresh content, fast.

Today, whoever best delivers the content controls the market. Companies like Istock or Shutterstock grew not because if the quality of their content, but by their highly efficient platforms. They allow to simply connect buyers and sellers via quick, simple credit card transaction and easy downloads. It doesn’t matter if the content is ‘high end” or “cutting edge”.  It’s fresh, current and easily accessible. What matters here is the platform.

Instagram is nothing else than a very simple photo creation and distribution platform. It’s growth it’s entirely propelled by its ease of use, not by the quality of the content. While some marvel as some of the images, the vast majority is of boring selfies, millions of sunsets, billions of flowers and close up of food plates. Yet, 600 million users cannot resist using it. Because it is simple, fast and efficient: Lots of fresh content delivered seamlessly.

Untimely, as they grow,  platforms start owning their marketplace, forcing their competition to join, attracting in the process the high-quality content that once was thought to be a force of its own. We have seen it with Getty, and are now experiencing with the likes of Shutterstock and ultimately Adobe. Under the double pressure of budget constraints and increase image needs, photo buyers seek the path of least resistance, embracing affordable seamless experiences.

While it is still possible for some companies to exist by prioritizing content quality over user experience, they are just merely surviving rather than thriving, often thanks to their distribution partnership with a successful platform. Alone, did would probably die.  “High End” and “Cutting Edge” just doesn’t cut it anymore. The content king is dead, hail to the new platform king!



Photo by trainjason

Author: pmelcher

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