One big difference between Editorial and Commercial photography, is that in the Editorial world you have to go find the images. and then you have to go out and sell it.
In the case of the terrorist attack on the Scottish airport, for example, agencies were on the phones locating anyone that was there and might have taken a photograph. In some cases, agencies will send people on the ground to secure the rights. If you sit there in the hopes that someone will send you exclusive images, you are making a big mistake. Someone else will have called them before to secure the distribution rights. Virginia Tech or the Minneapolis bridge were the same. And once the images are secured, the sales process starts. You have the inform the clients you have these images. They will not come by themselves. They are too busy trying to secure rights themselves and they are way too many sources of images these days.
Commercial is completely different. Either using creative research to create a batch of images, or relying on contributing photographers talent, commercial stock photo agencies have more of a “sit and wait” approach. They rely heavily on marketing to sell their overall style and service but can hardly go out and sell one image to a client. Some others will rely on carpet bombing, a la Microstock, having a little bit of everything. At least that is what they are aiming for.
With the rise of community based distribution platform who solely rely on content provided by their members, the fetching of images is thus impossible. Its like running a photo agency with your hands tied behind your back. News happen and all you can do is hope and pray that someone, somewhere will send you the right images. It is a bit like playing the lottery with the added disadvantage that someone might steal your winning ticket. The selling becomes very problematic as you do not know what you have, if you will have anything and if more will be coming. Not something an editor on deadline likes to hear.
Volume does not replace quality. A website, as sophisticated as it can be, does not replace experience and savvy sales people. Automation of the fetch and sale process is so far off. We will be all dead and buried before it happens. Only the work flow can be automated.
Editorial photography is an extremely human experience. Photographers have such a love of life and people that I cannot see how they could ever interact with a machine. And whether they like it or not, photographers always interact with their subjects. In literature, paradoxically enough, it is called a “point of view”. It is a natural human being habit. This is passed on to other human beings who also use their human experience to judge and edit the images. It’s above all an emotional decision that separates the good images from the bad. Finally, there is a bond between an editor and sales executives at a photo agency. A relationship of trust and confidence. Very often it is a real friendship.
The quality of a search engine can never replace the relevance of content. A timely link has to be made between an image and the need for this image. A week before, no one will need the image. A week later, it will be obsolete.
All this to say that companies that invest too much in their technology in the hopes of replacing people are bound to fail.