The next big thing will be a photo agency that distributes all other photo agencies. And independent photographers. Think about it. When Getty Images entered this market, it was with the simple idea to aggregate the content of multiple photo agencies that they viewed as too disperse. To regroup into one location the content of many small agencies. To consolidate. At the time, the technology would not allow for any other model than to place this content into one giant server and index it. So Getty went about to acquire and combine.
With the advent of Google, we now know that this is no longer necessary. One can do a search over millions of websites from one location without hosting any of the content. Google Images shows us a glimpse of what could be done with photography. Instead of spending millions of dollars into content creation and hosting, a carefully crafted company would index the millions of licensable images worldwide and make them available for purchase from one location.
No need for hosting, acquisition, database management and everything else that is very costly. No editors, indexers, no imaging, none of all these costly human beings that complain a lot. Already Getty and Corbis have taken baby steps into this formidable market. Using the old model of a central server, they license material from agencies they have no control over. Mostly in Royalty free, but also in niche sectors. Science Faction or Minden Pictures are good examples. Corbis does same with EPA and others.
But on the horizon are coming very strong alternatives. Spffy from stockphotfinder.com creator Randy Taylor is one candidate while in Europe, Picturemaxx has already cornered the German market. Spffy is still very young and incomplete but is on the right track, while PictureMaxx only needs to be internationally adopted to dominate the market. Both have understood that you leave the content where it is but you make it simple and easy to find.
They are consolidating the industry without spending one penny on acquisition. The key, obviously, remains to build the appropriate search engine that will retrieve the right images from millions of potential candidates. Too many irrelevant results and the image buyers will leave. That is a huge challenge when you do not have control over the metadata who, furthermore, is in no way standardize.
There are ways to solve this which I will not discuss here. Acquisition will soon be an event of the past while distribution partnership will become more of the norm. Getty and Corbis will continue to try to position themselves as those unavoidable distributors, cutting as many exclusive deals as they can. Because the only way to beat such a system is to have an exclusive compelling content and refuse to be indexed.
Why is this a good thing? Well for once, smaller agencies ( in size and volume of images) will be able to compete at the same level. No longer will the pricing or heavy marketing be a decisive factor but rather the image quality. Since everyones image will be comparable to every one else’s, the competition will be more on image relevancy. If that is the exact image needed, then it will sell, regardless of its price or source.
It should makes the price war less relevant. It might destroy branding, which would become quite obsolete after a while, thus easing on the cost of marketing.
Finally, and depending on the politics and ethics of the winning company, create a mega photo agency that could reign as a despot over the industry or a coop that would share sales data and keyword entries in order to increase the content relevancy.
At the end, as always, the customer, the image buyers will decide.