“But one of the — Google — I mean, the harsh way of just defining it, Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google, but it’s terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.” _Robert Thomson (managing editor of The Wall Street Journal)_
I find this quote right on the spot, for two reasons. Google, by becoming the number one search engine on the web has become a standard that everyone follows and copies. Most photo agencies these days boast the size of their archives and the speed of their search result rather than the quality of their content. It used to be that photo agencies would only represent top talent regardless of the quantity. What you would find would never be available elsewhere and clients where guarantied a certain level of quality.
These days, everyone is representing just about everyone else and most of the content can be found elsewhere. Furthermore, a search on any of these mega sites just return a hefty volume of images, hoping that the right one will be in the pack. No effort is made to separate the quality images from the pack. Creativity is trumped by productivity. A photographer producing more has more change of being sold than one that has great talent. Nothing new here.
But the second part of this quote is much more revealing. “And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.”
The more you have content, the more you say that each and every unit of that content is worthless. If you have thousands of pair of shoes, what do you care if the one you are wearing got scratched. You will probably throw them out, regardless of who the designer is. It is in human nature to associate rarity with quality. Same goes with photography : These mega sites, offering millions, if not 10 millions of images, are really just saying that their content is really not that good, but they have a lot of it. Since their search result do not even offer a quality option filter, every image is treated like the next one: The quality is based on the lowest common denominator.
Works great for Microstock who brand themselves as cheap discounters. No one expects to find a Cartier-Bresson in there. Not so good for the rest of the industry, yet it is where everyone is headed, if not already there.
If you want your customers to pay, they have to feel that their are purchasing something special, if not unique. It also has to be package so that it looks unique. Photography does not escape this rule.