The next generation of photo agencies, once the scene clears and mediocrity finally disappears, will be two fold. The fast, simple, lean self service agencies (think microstock and RF) and the full service companies that will extend their offering to much more than just licensing images. Already we see the trend emerging, as Corbis offers rights clearance and Getty media management.
But it will go much further. To sustain a sizable growth while creating an obvious demarcation with the self serve agencies, some will elect to go deeper in customer care. Like offering creative support. Instead of just licensing an image, the agency will also offer creative and placement services. For example, helping a client not only to pick the right image but also work on his campaign, including final placement. As the “credit cards agencies” meld together with whatever will be left of the photo sharing community and offer a cheap and fast way to purchase images, other agencies will be holding the hands of their customers before and after the licensing of the image as an added service. Image buyers will decide which agency to work with, not so much based on the content but more on the quality and depth of the service.
It will become inevitable for content service providers to offer direct to end-users services. Currently ad buyers license images on behalf of companies and create the ads. Soon, and especially having in mind small businesses, one will be able to call a Getty or Corbis and ask them for help to create a campaign. In residence art directors’ will design, with the use of local imagery, a series of proposal while an Media buyer will come up with a few different offers for placement. At the end, the client will be offered a full package. The same could be done for book publishing and other segments of the industry. Obviously Microstock, RF and photo sharing sites will not be able to compete.
Direct to end user licensing, while already in progress in the editorial world, will hit the commercial stock hard and clear. While properly used technology will take care of the most important repetitive tasks, smart business owners will relocate internal resources to be more client facing. After all they are in a precarious position right now as they only interact with intermediate brokers acting on behalf of final users. The ironic part is that agencies themselves are also brokers, acting on behalf of photographers. So between me, the image eater, and the image creator, or otherwise called photographer, there is at least 2 people making decisions for us that might or might not be in my best interest. I would be curious to know, on average, how many people “touch” an image before it gets to me, the consumer. From the photographer who first takes it, to the art director who decides the size and position of the selected image, passing by editors, keyworders, commentators, IT staff, and so on. But I am digressing..