Just like the music industry, with which it shares many similarities, the photo licensing world is ripe to be iTuned.

The industry landscape is dispersed and confused. None of the photo licensing companies know what to do. From the Getty images to the small mom and pops that have been around for 5,000 years ( it seems) , everyone is playing the wait and see game. Some try various solutions in the hopes it will lead to a new golden age but none innovate.

Furthermore, even with the Getty/ Corbis consolidations, it is still a very disparate world with deep resentments and personal conflicts. From one company to the other, there is suspicion, continuous poaching, and overall despise.

  • Illegal copying is rampant. Copyright images are being stolen at a rate never experienced before. As much as 85% of images used on the internet are done so without permission. While bigger companies have seen this as an opportunity for new revenue by throwing crowds of lawyers on the issue, most are just bleeding files like the worst days of Napster. It is not going away. Even as the marketplace gets more educated, there is little or no incentives, or risks, not to continue. While some technology have tried to alleviate the issue, it is getting worse, not better.
  • People are lazy. They like simple because it is easy, not because it is simple. They want to be able to find images quickly and use them immediately. While Royalty Free and more recently microstock have greatly facilitated the image purchasing process, their content is too generic to satisfy the increasing demanding need for personalization.
  • RM is too complicated. And obsolete. With its complicated rules, it is a deterrent. For users to find the price of an image based on at least 6 different variables ( territory, circulation, placement, length, language and type of publication) is a nightmarish headache. Furthermore, it doesn’t make sense to an uneducated market. It makes those who can afford more, pay more. For the same image, a successful publication will pay more than the poor, just because they have been successful in bringing in traffic. Not specially fair. Furthermore, a fee based on final usage doesn’t make sense: It is a bit as if at the check out of a supermarket, they would ask you what you plan to do with those raw potatoes before charging you accordingly. Finally, It is also out of tune with the current market conditions that demand the possibility of using the same image for the same purpose on different support.
  • Exclusivity is dead. Well, almost. Withe the huge amount of images available, the risk of using the same image as your competitor is nullified. Still, if absolute exclusivity is a requirement, assignment photography is now cheap enough, especially with all the unemployed photographers on the market. Furthermore, unless if you are a huge brand, in which case you will not use stock photography, having the same exact image does not seem to matter much.
  • The market is expending. While some companies have done a great job at controlling the traditional sales channel, they cannot control the incessant increase of new customers, especially online. New blogs, brands, businesses appear everyday with photography needs and with no idea where to purchase images.
  • Trained Photo editors are disappearing. While purchasing photography was the responsibility of a few very well educated professionals, it is no longer the case. As the old timers are being laid off, they are being replaced by younger, uneducated people who purchase images among many other duties. They don’t know, nor do they care and are asked to purchase based on price.
  • Photography is begging to be free. Just like news on the internet is begging to be free. Taking photograph has become such an easy process that no one believes they should pay to use one. With billions of easily available images online, it has all the aspect of an endless commodity. Barriers between professionals and amateurs have been blown away and even high end commercial sites like CNN.com are more and more relying on free crowd sourced images. If CNN doesn’t pay for images, why should anyone else ?

In other words, professionally licensed photography is breaking from all direction. A bit like the music industry was before a tech company ( Apple) took over the distribution.

Since photography and the internet is a marriage made in heaven, there no shortage of very smart, tech savvy entrepreneur ready to spend the funds of a smart VC . The challenge ?


Replace the antiquated, print based licensing model by an effective, flexible process. A platform a la iTune.

Not that replicating iTune for photography would work. Countless of RF or Microstock aggregators have come and gone leaving no trace of success behind them.

The iTune for photography will come from somewhere else, from a tech company that will approach the photo licensing industry from a consumer end. Not from what licensors want but from what consumers need. They will make it simple, easy and cost effective to purchase images and use them, wether it comes from Getty Images or your cousin Fred. The solution, using technology wisely, will be so obvious that it will sweep the photo industry of it’s already febrile grounds and make impossible to live outside of it.

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