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The Death of Stock and the rise of UGC.

Ever since the launch of the first iPhone, mobile photography has exploded, propelled by social media’s accelerating effect. Everyone, every day, everywhere is a photographer. With more than a billion photos uploaded and shared daily, the world of photography has forever changed. While barely significant in its early years, this mass production of unsolicited images is now increasingly becoming a source of competition to those in the stock photo licensing world. There are now on a collision course.

More and more, the advertising world is looking towards user-generated content ( UGC) to satisfy their needs for imagery. There are a few reasons for this:

Metrics: Along with a vast volume of content produced by peers, social media offers advertisers something the stock photo industry is lacking: analytics. On platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook, just to name a few, image buyers can quantify the results of their decisions. Art buyers can see how popular images trigger numerous “likes’, “follows”, ‘comments’ as well as clear traffic increases to targeted destinations. The emergence of these numbers has created a benchmark from which art buyers can better decide what images work for which project. They have also shown repeatedly that the images performing the best are not the ones coming from stock agencies but rather the more “natural”, UGC type.

Analytics can reveal which images have the most impact, a tool stock photo licensing companies lack.

Connections: While the stock photo industry has been busy creating perfectly composed, lit and orchestrated imagery, mobile photography has done the complete opposite, offering a highly chaotic mix of improperly exposed images, filled with quirky filters, capturing spontaneous situations. The first seeks to perfectly illustrate concepts while the latter imperfectly captures moments. Those images resonate stronger with viewers as they have a truly authentic feel. People relate stronger to photos that look closer to their own lives rather than those depicting an idealistic – read unrealistic – situations. Think of it as the difference between the professional model in all her perfect beauty or the girl next door with all her charming imperfections.

– Saturation: In the last few years, we have seen repeated poking of the institutional stock photo. Probably due to stock photographers copying each other, some standard photos have become a parody of themselves ( think the business handshake, for example). Many articles have been shared that have made fun of traditional stock photography even to the point that a company like Getty Images has participated in one of the most visible ones. More and more, buyers are frustrated by what they call the “stocky”, cookie cutter  look too commonly offered stock houses. Rare are the days now when a stock photo is not taken apart by the hordes of the kommentariat, too happy to find such an easy and weak target. After all, who will stand up and defend them? Traditional stock photography is lagging behind in reinventing itself.

Instagram now has 30 billion images in their archives. Compared to Shutterstock’s 61 million, Alamy’s 62 million or Getty Images’ 80 million, they far exceed the combined offering of all the industry combined. And with 300 million users, they show no signs of slowing down. While Instagram is not in the photo licensing business, 3rd party tech companies offer tools for brands and advertisers to tap into their extraordinary wealth of images. To date Olapic’s customers – one of the companies on our panel -have reposted more than one million consumer photos. And there are just one of many others.

Art buyers, some of which you will also hear speak on our panel, are also skipping the traditional stock houses to license or assign their content from Instagram shooters attracted not by the pricing but rather by the content. Is this just a passing fad or signs of things to come? How can the stock photo industry compete and stay relevant? Should they also offer the same content – some already do- or look for other creative paths? Will the entry of other players like Flickr make matter worse? These questions and many others will be answered on the “The Death of Stock” panel on Monday, October 25 at 10:00 AM.


Photo by JAMoutinho

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