So, it seems that most people would consider that we have reach a turning point in our industry. Which one, no one is really sure. Let’s see if we can fix that.
What happens when people are asked to perform the same task for less compensation they are used to receiving ? Well, they use the same skills they have always used but in less time, as they try to augment the number of jobs they can perform, in order to increase their revenue ( or at least keep them flat). Thus, they come out with more or less the same product or service, but just less worked upon. It caries less quality, less commitment, less attention to details.
When amateurs entered the commercial stock market via microstock, they where very lucky. No one was looking for high end quality images, just images that did the trick. Art Directors and Graphic designers, using microstock, were looking for images that fit their needs, but no more. And that was fine because their was no masterpiece in there. As the market grew, contributors quickly realized that this was number games. The more images you could upload in the least amount of time could render selling via microstock a profitable proposition. And so they did.
Today the market, both from amateur and pro offering , is filled with these images. They are ok; they are Good Enough. Because the image buyers are also under the same budget/time constrain, they are quite satisfied with that offering since they also will not spend the time to research more.
And so, here we are, in 2010 in the “Good Enough” market. This middle place between perfect and not so good. It’s a comfort zone that satisfies all the available element : Time, Budget and Expectation. Those who handle the budget, those God-like figure that stand omnipotent behind any photography job , have unleashed a new powerful attribute to our everyday lives. And we all have followed. Photo agencies have also lowered their standards and have accepted images they would have never accepted 10 years ago. There is nothing wrong with that : 10 years ago, there was no market for “goodenough” images. Today, there is.
Of course, the snake eats its own tail. This widening of the market allows more contributors to enter their offering, because that is the only thing they can do : Good enough images.
Who suffers ? Well quality suffers, obviously. Since it is not rewarding anymore to spend a lot of time on images, no one really does. If someone is happy with a half done job then that is great. Perfectionist suffer as their market is diminishing.
Who else ? Well, image consumers, obviously. They don’t get to see great images anymore. Just illustrations that didn’t cost too much to purchase and fit the need. No more, no less.
And don’t think for a second that this is a microstock only issue. Photojournalism, celebrity, sports, portraits, wedding, every aspect of the photography world has been affected by the “Good Enough” mentality. Publications are quite satisfied in publishing good enough images and nothing more. Look at Time and Newsweek, for example. They are now full of wire service images which are the supreme masters in providing good enough images.
Even websites, supposedly on the cutting edge of media publishing, use images by the pound, regardless of their quality. They are not looking to secure rights to superb images : Just those that fit the need. Who cares if their are not great, they didn’t cost much.
It seems to be fine with everyone : They pay less, they expect less. Readers, especially online since it’s free, also know they cannot be demanding.
Maybe at the tail end of this recession we will see the resurgence of the exceptional, the high quality, the amazing. For now, however, it seems we will continue to fill our lives with good enough and dream of a better future.
A timely post. I was in a meeting with a big UK book publisher only last week and they actually used the phrase ‘this’ll do’ images. And this was a publisher that used to be renowned for the strength of its photography.
It will turn round. It just needs one person, one client with the bravery to break the mould and pay a bit extra for quality. It will shine so bright in a field of mediocrity that their competitors will have to think seriously about following suit.
Paul, your dreams about the re-emergence of client demand for exceptional imagery are fervently shared! We in the illustration community are as deeply effected by the “good enough” syndrome.
Thanks for being a voice for excellence & here’s to the rebirth of an invigorated visual landscape.