Can an agency survive by itself anymore ? Can one create, nurture and maintain a client base of its own, like it used to be, without any fear of competition ripping through your front door and luring your precious income away ?
One of the least understood evolution generated by the digital age is that your competition can see your images too. Not only that, it can copy and replicate your images and offer the same, or even better, at a lesser price. When this business was just fed with slides and prints, it was easy to remain original as no one but your clients could see the production you offered. One of the breakthrough of royalty free was not only the simple pricing structure, but image quality, through a careful analysis of what was already being offered in the RM world. And that was done by just surfing from one site to the other. The same is actually being done today by microstock contributors as you read this.
So, the premise that you can create and maintain a niche market is a false one. As soon as you become successful, or as soon as you launch and send out that press release, you will be noticed and a competitor will try and grab a piece of the pie, if not the whole pie itself. They are no fences around your customers. There are no more fences around your production.
So you might as well go for the whole thing. Be the aggressor and not the victim. As the market is wide open, make your production wide open. Create partnerships and you too can have a global offering.
What image buyers are looking for is simplicity. The one both the internet and big companies like Getty have offered.To have a niche market made sense when real estate was part of the operating cost. The more photographers an agency represented, the more space they needed. It is not the case anymore. You can offer millions of images without ever having to pay rent.
Furthermore, since it has become so easy, cheap and, at least, in appearance, so simple to launch a photo agency, everyone does it. Well, no one has the time, nor the will to go through 15, 20, or even 30 different websites anymore to find the right image. The more the niche agencies, the more Getty will be successful. How many website do you go to before you purchase a book through Amazon.com? Do you ever go to “hardtofindbooks.com” ?
Resellers and distributors of royalty free offer 100+ different production of images coming from arch-enemy agencies while you, in your own country, you only represent yourself. Your sub-agent (what a horrible term !) represent you and 100+ of your fiercest competitors in the RM world, but you, in your country, protect and preserve your precious little niche market.
It doesn’t make any sense. No man is an island they say, nor should any photo agency be one, I add. Connect the dots for your customers because it is very doubtful that the beautiful Prince will ever come and deliver you from your endless dreams. Be part of a portal, a huge global offering. If you are, no one can copy you anymore because you are too visible and they would look too dumb. Combine your forces with that of others and share your clients with theirs. Everyone will win, except mediocrity. Fight a giant by being part of a giant.
It is better to be a cell in a giant living, healthy, thriving organism than a lonely, unhealthy dying creature with no food. Break away from what you know and how you have been doing business and put a spin to it. Stop spending your days reading and writing pompous little e mails or reading copy cat blogs with no original ideas written by some semi fired half retired executive from some obsolete photographers trade association (no, i am not referring to myself here), and look out the window. Breath in some fresh thinking.
The future resides not in opening yet another “cutting edge, top of the line” niche photo agency, be it royalty free, Microstock or RM.The future is in consolidation, in reunion, in combining forces and in simplicity. It is in breaking the chains…