It is such an interesting time to be around the business of photography. A once very established , entrenched community of image sellers ruled the landscape of the licensing world by applying rules and regulations on term and pricing. They were doing so in their egg shell and tottally oblivious to the rest of the market. A little like photography warlords.

They somewhat ruled in their territory, whether it would be lifestyle, animal, sports, or celebrity. Sometimes they would encounter competition that would try to steal their territory, understand market share, by price cutting. Shields where raised, whistle would be blown, terms like “not fair” or even”crook” were heard. But, pretty much, everyone had enough of a piece of the pie, thanks to customer service, that it did not matter too much.

A little bit like a popular street would have its restaurants, each with their specialties and kind waiters. Some faithfuls would not go anywhere but to their favorite place, regardless of others’ promotion, while others would try a new one everyday.

and then came the chains. Not only acquiring one restaurant after the other, but mixing kitchens so they could combine customers into one big location. The size grew bigger and the menus longer, but some understood that customers service was key to keeping the customers. Cooks, attracted by  a percentage on each dish they would sell, would obviously be looking for the places with most customers.

But then, something happened in the kitchens. It use to take a long time to cook a dish and involved a lot of helpers. Suddenly, all cooks could do everything alone, like they had a portable, self containing kitchen. And much faster too. The restaurants owners, even the small ones, were happy because now they could offer more on their menus, much faster. Furthermore, they could get rid of all the equipment they did need anymore and gain some space. And save money.

The customers were, at first, taken aback by this unorthodox way of cooking, saying it wasn’t real food, it didn’t taste the same and for a while some stayed with those restaurants that refused to use the new cooking system.  But like any major trend, it did last long before these old restaurants either had to close or adapt.

The really cool part of this kitchen revolution that no one really noticed at first, is that you could ship your  cooking anywhere in the world. Your customers were not just from your neighborhood anymore. It look great at first, as promises of healthy and wealthy customers from foreign lands interested in your cooking would poor in. But, as indeed new customers came in, so did competing retsaurants and your customers were attracted by those menu coming from far away.

And the photography warlords lost complete control over their territory. Even the cooks didn’t know where to go and what to do. Pricing followed and was all over the place, trying to match an incompletely unknown landscape of clients. There was no map. The technology to help the cooks was so new that it would evolve every week. Some where welcome additions, some were poorly made scams. Restaurant owners, caught into a whirlwind of pricing, technology, space, customer care, foreign words, competition, data, marketing, tipping points, long tails, and other webs, were loosing their mind.

None  had been trained for this and most were ex cooks.  In came the wizards. The experts, or self proclaimed experts. They visited every single restaurant owner and said, let me take care of your kitchen for you, that is the technology of your kitchen ,while you concentrate on your customers and your cooks. Most restaurants owners were thrilled by the offer. One major worry off their heads. They could fly again.

The big chains had been beating them like eggs in an omelette by introducing new tools in their kitchen, some very expensive. How would they compete, let alone survive? Let us do the work for you, said the wizards, with deep voices and long smiles. We are kitchen technology experts, they continued, we will take care of this microwave thingy bingy for you while you concentrate on what you know best, selling your meals.

Some owners were thrilled and jumped on the offer. Someone else was going to help them have the same technology as the big chains and that will , finally , make all the difference. And at least they could keep up. What they hadn’t realized, and still don’t, is that these tech wizard were taking over their business. They are now the ones who decide for them what tools should be used in their kitchens, thus impacting dramatically on how their dishes are sold. And how well. If something goes wrong, the wizards will blame the cooks, who, by the way, have seen their revenue plummet while they work harder then before.

We are now at a stage where most restaurants owners have decided to battle the intrusion of other restaurants on their street by doing the same and invading other neighborhoods. Problem is, not everyone has the same taste. In order to make their menu more attractive they have asked the wizards to also replace their beloved waiters with new technology. It hasn’t worked too well. Customers love to ask questions and robots do not speak. They therefore added long descriptions to their menu, hoping the customers would find the right dish based on these long lists of keywords. It is hard to describe a taste. So they played with pricing, hoping lower would be better. But even that doesn’t seem to help much, besides making the whole staff miserable.

In the mean time, the wizard, with complete control of the kitchen have now the next step in their hands. All powerful, as they sit at the heart of the restaurant’s business, they control the input of innovation. And their decision are not made for the good of the restaurant, but for their own good.

It is time for Photo agency owners to regain control of their technology. Getty and Istock tremendous success is a living proof that technology well implemented can reap incredible growth . Istock didn’t even do it with a lot of money, certainly much less than most photo agencies have spend in the last  5 years. It is time to shake the wizards out of the kitchen and innovate. technology should not control the business but the opposite. It is supposed to be a solution, not an end.

Unfortunately, a lot  photo agency owners could not be bothered by computers and what they have to offer. They find it demeaning to try and understand. They are above that. And they will not understand why, in a few years, their business will fail. Other embrace every opportunities, as long as they make business sense and they are cheap. They are making a very good living because of these pertinent decisions. But then again, they make these decision, not their wizards.

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