In France, and maybe in other European countries, there is a new marketing initiative, that mostly seem to affect food and other imported goods, called “equitable commerce”. Having been “Green” and “Eco friendly” for a long time, probably before Al Gore was born, the French companies, most certainly as a reaction to the Big Bad Greedy US corporations, have launch an initiative to properly compensate their suppliers.

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As an alternative to the mass produced, worker exploited products, where labor is crushed to accept unfair low wages, especially if they live in third world countries, “equitable commerce” products divide the proceeds of sales equally and thus help in the development and growth of small local industries. Socially correct and morally responsible consumers pay a bit more ( think health food in the US) while knowing their money will help a lonely local farmer somewhere in the forest in Sri Lanka to make better tea. A happy worker makes for a better product. A concerned consumer makes for a happier customer. The company, suddenly becoming a social conduit between the have and have-nots, is regarded as powerful agent of positive change.

You want to change the world, buy an “equitable commerce” labeled product. You will no longer help a greedy corporation get filthy rich but your money will go directly to the supplier, who will finally make enough money to avoid destroying the environment or use cheap but highly toxic ingredients. What the company looses in commissions, it gains in higher prices and hopefully, volume of sales.

The corporations of the photo industry (Corbis, Getty) seems to have taken the opposite approach in trying to squeeze out the most out of their suplliers. After all, there seems to be an unlimited amount of photographers out there, only confirmed by the recent explosion of week-end hobbyists brought forth by file sharing sites and other microstocks. Reducing their supply force to an under compensated, unhappy, debt ridden army is very Wal Marty of them, but also maybe very past century. History has shown that the business model of the Robber Baron is bound to failure ( see 1929). Socially responsible companies creating a generous working environment (think Google) generate the most creativity, thus the most profit.

Just think : A photo agency that would return a higher commission under the condition that some of the money has to be reinvested in the photographers business, thus forcing greater creativity ? Higher licensing prices to help create better content ?

Getty Images is cutting the wood off its foundation to build the higher levels. It is feeding on itself to aliment its growth. By squeezing revenues from the same photographers that were responsible for it phenomenal growth, it is choking its roots.

Istockphoto expansion might be more internal to Getty existing client base than we know, ripping away juicy profits from its mother company from within, like a nasty virus. The last great acquisition, Mediavast, has suddenly overcrowded its celebrity offering from within, internally deevaluating it. It has created an unfair balance of commission rate that sit at 70/30 on the high end (see Contour) to the 30/70 at the bottom ( see Already, valuable staff photographers are quitting, to escape the unbearable and unfair working conditions. Soon, we should see the same with contributors, if Getty keeps its pricing schemes.

There is profit in fairness. There is something to be said about “equitable commerce“.

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