We have done a bad job. A terrible job. If picking a photograph is all about its price and not its quality than we, the photo industry, have made a terrible job at selling our work.
Every time an editor, whether from an ad agency or a magazine decides to use an image because it is cheaper than the others, that means we have all failed to advocate for the real value of photography. We have failed, all of us, Photographers, agents, photo agencies to make the new generation of image buyers see the real value in our images. Thus the current situation.
It’s not the fault of microstockers that prices have gone so low in the RF world, it is the fault of the original traditional RF sellers. They are the ones who have devaluated the work so much that consumers have no issue at purchasing from amateurs. It is the fault of a complacent industry that has not been capable of maintaining some degree of high end quality, an industry that has put on the market a lot of crap for obscene prices.
People or companies have no problem paying high prices for products they see as being of high quality and that brings added value. Ever since the adoption of digital, an overflow of redundant images has saturated people’s mind into believing that photography is a commodity. It’s not just the commercial stock photography world. Editorial has seen an explosion of quantity, to the point that some photographers will submit the same images to multiple agencies, who, in turn submit to the same outlets. What are the editors to think ? Why pay a premium for such a deluge of redundant images ?
If prices are dropping, it’s your fault, not Getty’s or microstock. It is the natural consequence of fighting competition with over production. Too much of a product on a market has always brought prices down.
If this industry wants to survive, it is going to have to recognize that it is guilty of its own demise and do something about it. It will have to recognize that like the Easter Islands, it is cutting its own trees to the point of self- extinction. It will have to do something about it.
Do What, you say ? Cut the edits to a minimum, stop distributing the same images via different distributors. Quality is scarce, and people pay for quality, eliminate the bad and the medium, stop thinking in terms of volume, throw out the bean counters and hire the artisans, the creatives, the bohemians. learn to say no : no to poor or medium quality, no to bad prices, no to redundancy, no to habits, not to quantity, no to the easy way.
Of course, that would only work if all the industry would agree to a voluntary simultaneous move to clean up the market. That is not going to happen. It’s like trying to get all the nations to clean up the environment. Not happening either. Like with any panic situation, everyone digs in, trying to grab whatever they can before it is too late. Like a city being looted by its own inhabitants. Everyone for themselves !! Throw as many images on the market of whatever quality. It’s asphyxiating.
So, instead of writing me an email about how depressing my entry is, or how its not very nice, or how I should write more optimistic thoughts, or how I am so wrong but do not even deserved to be explained why, step away from this blog and go review your images. If you are an agency and you have a photographer submitting the same images to you and to others, dump him/her. If you have more than 50 images of the same subject, dump the rest. If you are a photographer submitting to an agency that already has 150 photographers shooting the same things as you, leave. If your images don’t sell anymore or for little money, shoot something completely different. In very small precious amount.
Don’t blame the others for the mess we are in and instead of digging your nose in your smart phone and tweetering some crap no one cares about, take control and preserve the space in which you live. Limit yourself. Redo your edits, over and over. And when you are done, do it over. Eliminate, reduce, clean. Pick the 5 best images. not 500. or 5,000.
If you stop treating the marketplace like garbage, it will stop treating you like trash.
At last someone willing to identify the elephant in the room: too many average photos by too many average photographers selling for too high prices. One day the room will be cleared and only the best will be able to stay in business. I believe this. Now the question is, “How many have to leave before the industry revives?” I’m working on possible answers. Check a new post to my blog in the next week or so for one answer: http://www.ellenboughn.com/blog
The words nail, head and hit spring to mind. I see nothing negative or depressing here at all. What I do see is a clear mission statement for picture libraries who wish to not just survive but thrive into the next decade.
And I hope it will provide some encouragement that there are libraries out there doing just that. The travel library I work for only takes content which has worldwide exclusivity; our distribution consists of a network of like-minded agencies in other countries; if you want one of our pictures in the UK you can only get it from us. We edit tightly (some might say savagely). We accept pictures on the basis of quality not subject – if a photographer supplies an image of an iconic location we don’t currently have but it’s not up to our standards then we reject it rather than taking it just so we can say we have an image of that place. And we charge prices appropriate to the quality of the work. Sure these have gone down over the past couple of years – we’re not immune to market forces – but they haven’t gone below a level we consider appropriate for the work.
And it works. So far. I hope and believe it will continue to work and we will continue to grow.
In contrast I see competitors with content and ethos not so different from ours throwing their pictures at every distributor they can in a desperate attempt to increase volume of sales and/or get into markets they can’t reach themselves (if these markets even exist).
The logical conclusion of this is a specialist travel magazine landing on my desk the other day featuring 2 pictures from another travel picture library that had been purchased via 2 different ‘image factories’, traditionally more associated with low-end RF but who now take and are given everything. I don’t know what they charged for the usage but it’s less than we do. And of that fee, maybe 60% goes to the source library which they then have to split 50/50 with the photographer (i reckon at most £15 each for a quarter page use). All this from a client that would have bought these pictures from them direct if they didn’t know they could get them cheaper through another website.
We ended up with twice as many pictures used at higher rates with a simple 50/50 split between us and photographer.
What are they thinking? I can only assume it comes from a basic lack of confidence in the quality of the work; that or a loss of nerve that anyone will pay what it’s worth.
I think and hope they’re wrong.
I recently blogged myself about the quantity/quality issue although not specifically toward photography. I think photography is experiencing what happened to music when digital tools allowed anyone the ability to create and mass produce noise as well as distribute that noise widely. The parallels between the music studios and photography studios are more than coincidental. As well as the results in sales, distribution of albums and cd’s versus iTunes and dollar downloads.
I think there is a valid argument that the current generation of consumers have no other experience than the sharing of mass quantaties of poor quality. Whether photos, music, mass produced “art” from Ikea. I think that it has influenced the designers and other media buyers into accepting the mass produced stock imagery as well as they have had no other experience. They have been online, sharing more and more quantities of digital information with little to no price filters to act as quality signals in the market. It’s hard to appreciate a premium on an image created by a professional PJ who toiled for years to perfect their craft when that image is placed along side an image uploaded from a camera phone at the same event.
So I think that two forces are in play here, one the quantity of the available material and two, and more importantly perhaps, is the consumers perceptions of quality of digitally distributed goods.
And you are right with bringing in the metaphor of the Environment. The Tragedy of the Commons lays out this argument quite well from an environmental perspective.
I also agree completely with your desire that we photographers must edit and diligently minimize quantity if we are to achieve quality although I approach that more from a personal ethos toward craftsmanship as I’m not a stock photographer.
But I sadly wonder if we are trying to close the gate after the horses are gone.