Stock photography agencies have always been the symbol of opulent and refined visual content. However, a fascinating and innovative evolution has just emerged with the advent of AI. Driven by a strategy that, at first glance, seems to defy all reason, stemming more from a rushed and panicked reaction than a clear understanding of the AI landscape, some of them have decided to add synthetic image generation to their historic offerings.
To date, at least three of these agencies have boldly entered the AI universe, offering their customers the ability to generate their own image through a text-to-image prompt, thus challenging titans such as Stability AI, Open AI, and Midjourney. The paradox? These photo agencies use the very same technology designed by these giants to challenge them, but with significantly fewer financial means and resources. And in a sector where research and innovation move rapidly, without substantial means, one is quickly overtaken, and the quality of the results is a clear testimony.
As a result, two things can happen: On the one hand, by some miracle, they manage to overtake the AI companies, thereby destroying the very source of their technology and suffocating themselves. On the other, more likely, they continue to provide inferior results as they are dependent on their supplier who is reluctant to help them surpass themselves. Neither of these scenarios is a winning one.
Moreover, by offering the “generate your own image” option, they implicitly state that their database of authentic photos does not meet expectations. And they clearly signal to their contributing photographers that their days are numbered.
Text-to-image synthetic generation is not a fleeting phenomenon. It is destined to become firmly established everywhere and directly as an element of our operating systems, similar to automatic spell correction. It will be integrated, omnipresent, wherever we are. It’s already embedded in creative platforms such as Canva, Photoshop, Google Adwords, and will soon be featured on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Even WordPress is considering embracing this revolution in an upcoming version. Fundamentally, the need for a platform dedicated solely to image creation will soon be a thing of the past. So, what relevance do these agencies have in continuing to develop more text-to-image generators?
If these photography agencies aspire to compete with generative AI, they must exhibit heightened strategic intelligence. Their primary asset lies in the abundance of content they have already accumulated. Instead of producing new generated images, wouldn’t it be wise to offer tools that allow users to easily customize this existing content?
Users are looking for inspiration, not a blank slate. They don’t want to engage in a battle of attrition with a machine struggling to precisely understand their instructions. Conversely, the idea of conducting a simple keyword search, selecting a captivating image, and effortlessly adjusting the background, mood, or time of day to their desires? This is a deeply seductive proposition. Offering their clients enhanced creativity tools powered by artificial intelligence not only allows customization of an existing image but also gives rise to unique and exclusive creations tailored to each client’s specific needs. All this while continuing to work with human photographers.
Faced with the rapid evolution of AI and the challenges that arise from it, stock photography agencies find themselves at a strategic crossroads. As technology changes the game, the real value may well lie in these agencies’ ability to capitalize on the richness of their existing content while skillfully navigating this changing environment. In a landscape dominated by AI, their next move will undoubtedly determine their relevance and position in the industry.