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The price of subscription

It not really a novel idea. Ap, Reuters and AFP have done it for years. The idea is quite simple. On one side, a big company with a lot of staff photographer producing lots of images, on the other, newspapers, gobbling images by the pound on a daily business. It is not really photography that is being licensed, but information.

Comes in Getty who pushes the concept to non wire service media: Magazines, monthlies and so on. The idea is then to sell images as a service. We will create such a volume of images that you will undoubtedly find your match many times over. And the more you use us, the less it actually cost per image. On paper. For Getty, it is a great deal. Since they do not pay commissions to staffer,  they just need to match the number of subscribers to meet their photographer payroll expenses. Salvation is in the number of subscriptions sold. For the photographers, who cares. They get a salary so who cares who and where their images are being sold. For photo editors, its good and bad. Good to have cheap and alsmost endless ressource of images for cheap, not so good if they like to have a freedom of choice. Thus, the ones that are really consonscious about doing their job perfectly are not the ones who push for such scheme. But they have to deal with bean counters above them that do not care.

In most countries, magazines are run not by Editor and chief or CEO but by CFO’s. These CFO have no journalistic training, hardly open the magazine and only care about the bottom line : saving money. Unfortunately they have the power.

What happens ? Well, for one thing, the quality of the images publish drop. Because they have to edit within a pre-edited pool of images, photo editor have to rely on the best of the worst. Not that Getty have bad images, quite the opposite, but they do not always get the best. Its the nature of the beast. Regardless, readers will get to see not the best image, but something close. Not good. Take Big Picture blog, for example. It is only wire service images they publish, thus giving the false impression that these are the best images. They are not. Its not journalism, it is deception, it’s a lie. Just to save a few bucks. This is not helping photography at all.

The competition, other photo agency, thinking it is a good idea, start jumping in the subscription scheme. Except that they forget that it is only profitable if you have a huge amount of clients. making subscription deals with 10 clients is a waste of time and money. Worse, they will do it with commissioned photographers,  forcing them to spend hours calculating who gets what at the end of the month. Ridiculous.

Getty is clearly trying to asphyxiate its competition, that is the lesser sized photo agencies, with this strategy. It doesn’t care about readership and its clients so much. Once on contract, they are stuck with their production and that is it. How many times have I heard photo editors claiming and admitting that your image is better but not being able to use it because of a Getty subscription deal made without their approval.

It is a sad situation that this industry is going through currently because the right image does not always win.And its all to the photographers lost. Because even if he/she belongs to Getty, it is sold at the same price as the next image. It never gets the value recognition it deserves, unless if it wins a prize. By averaging the pricing of all images, Getty is even hurting itself by sending a clear message that a photograph is the same as the one before and the next one to come. Well it makes sense for a big corporation trying to streamline cost and revenue, its very cheap thinking, that will, in the end, hurt the very core of our business, the photographers themselves.

The ones that really respect their work do not sign up with Getty. They go with VII, Aurora, Magnum, Cosmos, Contact and do very well. They are also treated as individuals and not “pool feeders “. Subscription deals are extremely counter productive for photographers and photo editors. They do not even benefit the readers. So why do they continue to flourish in a economy where image distribution is not even an issue anymore ? Because some MBA guy thinks that making money=saving money ? Can we all be better than that ?

PS : has posted a rumor that makes no sense : Getty to purchase Flickr. You can read it here.

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