Historically, ( we are talking pre internet here) the only two places one could find images was either at a photo agency or via a photographer. You could, of course, always check if your neighbor had any photographs you could use but chances that there would a match was very, very slim.
During that time, both photo agencies and independent photographers controlled production, as they decided what to shoot as well as where and how. There was no alternatives to the images produced by professionals. It is not longer the case. It hasn?t been, actually, for a long time.
Take Flickr for example. It has, and for a long time, offered a new channel of distribution to anyone looking for images, whether free or paying. Sure, Getty Images has tried to put the lid on that massive leak but with little success. The majority of images on Flickr are used without ever passing through a Getty representative. Why ? Because they use Creative Commons, a licensing tool that exists outside of the photo industry, invented and used simply because existing ones were inadequate.
The vast majority of photographs today are now used without any contact with the traditional photo industry, whether via CC, direct arrangements or just plainly borrowed ( shared is the proper word). Often, even if the image comes from a photo agency or a pro photographer. Spend some time on Facebook, for example and ask yourself if any of the image you see have been licensed ( or even asked for permission). In fact , a recent study by PACA has shown that 8 out of 10 image on the web is stolen ( used without permission).
Production? it has also been a long time since pro photographers and photo agencies no longer have any control. They have massively been overtaken by the decisions of the masses who now dictate to the photo industry the type of images that are successful.
This Infographic should give you a clearer picture :
The traditional photo industry has attempted to react in numerous ways. First by accepting this new source of production in their tradition distribution channel : microstock. Thus Most stock photo agencies have now lowered their bar of entry and are accepting submission by non professional photographers, forever changing the production landscape.
In order to compete with the widening of distribution channel, they have also increased dramatically their offering. When a traditional photo agency used to keep a few ten of thousands photographs maximum, they are now in the tens of millions, if not hundreds of million.Still a speck of sand in the overall universe of available images.
They have also, repeating the mistakes of its peers ( RIAA), try to engage image thieves into hopeless lawsuits. While some have anecdotal success here and there, the vast majority, here again, simply do not have the manpower and resources to fight back. It is anyhow, a self defeating process, as it will never be an effective solution against sharing. Piracy, you see, is not about stealing but accessibility. People do not steal images because they are evil, they steal because they are no practical alternatives if they want to use an image they like.
The industry continues stubbornly to apply old rules to a new landscape. For example, It still hopes to enforce the antiquated rights managed model on a space that obviously is not adapted to negotiate every usage, every fee, every image and where everyone is a publisher. It has failed to understand that in a world of Tweeter, Tumblr, WordPress, Pinterest, Facebook, their client universe has changed from a few publishers to almost everyone in the world. We have switch form the ?one to many? ( one magazine, millions of readers) model to the many to many (Millions of users sharing with millions of users). Everyone is a publisher.
Royalty Free might seem a little better adapted, but most images end up being used hundreds, if not thousands of time without the owner ever knowing it.
In other words, the stock industry is horribly in-adapted to the current market. And, instead of adapting, it is fighting it. Sounds very much like the dinosaur scenario to me.
The absurdity, for example, on trying to sue every copyright infringement borderlines with complete insanity. If people steal your images it is because they like them. For some reason, they either can?t pay for them (too expensive) or cannot find who to pay ( poor accessibility). Rather than find a way to accommodate this huge opportunity with a creative licensing solution, the industry reacts with lawsuits or despair. Thus pushing these opportunities to seek out other friendlier ways to use images. In other words, they are forcing their potential clients to find alternatives that fit their needs.
If the photo industry wants to survive, it has to quickly understand that it is not the amateurs that are taking their bread and butter away from them but their own infantile stubbornness. They do not seem, or purposely want to ignore, that their model does not fit the current needs and thus are chasing their customers away.
It is clear now, that the photo industry has completely lost control of production and distribution. It has now to face the challenge of becoming relevant in an economy that has no patience for inadequate business models.