If a fly lands on your nose, right between your two eyes, it becomes invisible. You might feel it, but you do not see it. The obvious, sometimes, acts like a fly on your nose.
Several announcements in the last few weeks has made it clear that the stock licensing industry is due for final changes. It started by the biggest one, Getty Image release of most of its images in embed format for free. It made noise all right, but mostly in a “they are crazy” sort of way. Thing is, Getty has been thinking long and hard about this. It wasn’t a knee jerk reaction to some blogger stealing a Getty image for the umpteen time. It is a deliberate business decision.
Then, much more quietly – probably because no one knows what to think about them anymore, Corbis put its sole owner Bill Gates on a stage to announce the BEN, Branded Entertainment Network. In short, a division of Corbis, in association with the Producers Guild of America, in charge of product placement in media. A far cry from Image licensing. The fact that they brought out their biggest marketing tool, Bill Gates himself, is a clear sign that this is a major step for Corbis. A step away from licensing photos.
And finally, an interview in Vice Magazine of newly appointed Facebook photography community manager. Teru Kuwayama, originally war photographer with a background on community building, spoke with the online publication about his new job. When asked about what are his plan to deal with ” A lot of photographers [who] don’t trust Facebook”, he replies :
“A lot of photographers” is basically referring to professional photographers, who make up a really small percentage of the people uploading photos to Facebook. We tend to think of ourselves as the most important class of photographers, but in the hundreds of millions of photos getting uploaded each day, we’re statistically insignificant. “
In other words, pro photographers, even though they think highly of themselves, don’t matter. Statistically. Meaning, who cares what they say, they are overwhelmed by a flow of other people who take pictures and that is what we care about.
It’s not a surprise. Tech companies work with numbers and those numbers provides them the foundation for their business decisions, because data cannot be argued. But when a 20-year veteran pro photographers confirms that, it stings. Basically, if his taking this full-time job at Facebook was not already a confirmation that pro photography is not providing him enough income to live, he also confirms that, moving forward, pro photographers should not expect preferred treatment, if any at all.
These three events put together show something very clear. Big companies are moving away fast from traditional photo licensing as well as from the pro/non-pro distinction. Very soon, there will be no more of these platforms that sell you a license to use an image against a fee, besides maybe a few microstock platforms. Because the market will no longer exist. Either people will find images in the crowd – like they already do with Flickr or microstock – or they will get images from brands that have sponsored them. Or, they will produce their own, cheaply, via hardly compensated employees.
Either way, they will no longer go to Getty or Corbis to get images. At least, not in sufficient amounts to sustain their operating costs. That is over. Stock photo licensing as we know it is finished. That is what Getty, Corbis and Teru Kuwayama are telling loud and clear via their various public announcements. Because pro photography doesn’t matter anymore. Not enough for people to purchase it for a reasonable price. And it mostly doesn’t matter anymore because we consume so many images online that one image is not worth a lot. It’s gone the next day. Expensive to produce but of little value.
Getty- who intends to keep its position as the leader of the photo space- is very hard at work cutting deals with a wide array of companies who do not license image the traditional way ( think Pinterest) because they have accepted the fact that the old model is dead. They are moving on. Corbis, forever unsuccessful at licensing images, is also moving on. Facebook, who now hosts and displays the most amount of images in the history of the world without ever paying one cent in photo licenses, is just ignoring the past and moving forward.
Thing is, with flies landing so close to your eyes, you hardly even notice.