Cultural differences between countries are not just limited to the content of the image. Sure, in commercial stock, an image buyer from a certain country will look for people of the same race/origin as the country the image will be published in. We just do not look like each other and our looks do not export very well.
In the editorial world, the parameters are quite different. It is not so much the content that matters, it is how it is presented. Photography, in the mighty US of A, has always been used as an illustration of a text. First, an article is written and then an image or two are published to illustrate it. This has led US editorial photo agencies to offer as much choice as possible as to hopefully match the needs of all publications. The art director has more power in a magazine than a photo editor who is more a bona fide photo researcher than anything else.
In Europe, it has traditionally been the opposite . Photo stories, or otherwise called magazine stories, have and always are prevalent. Magazines publish a series of image and then add some text to accompany them. Photo editor have a status of editor in chief and are extremely influential in the decision process. This has led to European photo agencies to only supply very tightly edited stories.
The US agencies have brought their “size matters” model to Europe with little success while European agencies have tried to enter the US market with their “quality matters” with as much hardship. What becomes interesting, is that instead of trying to adapt to local mentalities, they both have spend a lot of time and energy to change the market instead of their content presentation.
Right now, Getty still doesn’t understand or has a clear vision of what a magazine story is. Selling text along with photographs is just not understandable, for them, right now. On the other hand, no European editorial photo agency has been successful in the US since the dawn of the digital age.
What is quite frightening is that this trend does not seem to change. More and more images are being offered on European markets thanks to a very lax editing, ( The “let our search engine do the editing” mentality ). Worst yet, photographers rejected by photo agencies for obvious reasons can now add their visual voice thanks to photo sharing sites and other unregulated and unedited marketplaces. Are we going to come to a point where a $2billion market has 4 billion images to offer ?
On the European side, thanks to long standing tradition of legendary heroic cultural stubbornness, things are not looking quite as green either. 6 to 10 images along with a text creates a lot of friction with art directors and editor in chief who see this as a direct attack of their journalistic capabilities.
Will the photo agencies find a middle point or will local mentalities adapt ? Are we heading for an average point with average images or moving towards extreme opposite ? I believe the photo universe is expending and that the poles are going further apart from each other forcing agencies to offer both in order to stay competitive. Some will stretch so far, however, they might break.