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This is not a press release

A young man reads a burning newspaper

The stock photo industry has been devastated. From various newsletters and blogs, some very insightful, it is down to almost zero, if only for a few survivors. Even bulletin boards, populated mainly by microstock shooters, seem to have lost all steam. Is it that all has been said and written or that there is just nothing to report anymore?

Type in stock photography in a Google search, and it will return over 2 billion results. A similar search on Google trend and the result is more indicative:

Google trend result of a “stock photography ” search shows interest is now 1/4 of what used to be in 2004

So what happened?

More contributors to microstock sites, all experts in their own right, created a tsunami of opinions, views, and commentaries: It exploded. And while exploding, it became spread out and separated into thousands of tiny parcels. Everyone became stock photo experts and started writing and/or vlogging about the topic. “How to make money with stock photos” yielded 610 million results on a recent search. Information is diluted, questionable, and unreliable. Industry veterans have been overwhelmed by snake oil salesmen, misanthropic trolls, and Adword profiters. Like stock photography itself, volume overtook quality. It is now a cacophonic desert of self-proclaimed masters desperately extracting the last drops of an expired clickbait. Gone are the pearls of wisdom, except those sporadically emerging from unsuspected bulletin board postings. In-depth thoughtful analysis of industry trends has been replaced by individuals publicly scrutinizing their diminishing monthly sales reports.

In parallel, the market has continued its consolidation. Partly from mergers and acquisitions, partly from bankruptcy, foreclosures, and retirements. What was once a dynamic industry of thousands of small to mid-size companies is now mostly 3 corporate giants and a handful of localized distributors and specialized producers. In turn, industry news is entirely made of Wall Street titillating press releases, full of puff and pomposity, signifying very little. For the others, it’s a monotonous series of excessively enthusiastic website updates announcements, whose only interested parties are ….well, no one. Finally, there are the quintessential new collection representation announcements…yawn.

Some very early stock photography…Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

The pandemic didn’t help, obviously. Almost 2 years of confinements and virtual-only conferences have made networking – and thus information gathering – non-existent. No more secrets shared at the corner of a bar after a long day of sessions. No more rumors quietly confirmed via a confident smirk and approving eyes. No more ‘real stories’ revealed out of desperate irritation. Just endless sterile online presentations in front of a distracted audience.

With the audience, means of communication have also evolved. Tweets and Facebook posts have replaced blogs. Everything needs to fit on a mobile screen and be consumable in a minute or less. Visions of the industry couldn’t or shouldn’t fit in these formats. But then again, neither does the stock photo industry itself.

Finally, there is a general sense of boredom. Since the industry is no longer supporting independent photographers, the stakeholders have switched to a bunch of institutional investors, corporate climbers, and emotionless lawyers. None of which care about the industry beyond quarterly earnings reports. Photographers have gone made their living elsewhere, taking their passion with them.

So if you did write about the industry, who is your audience?

Not photo editors. They have all but disappeared only to be replaced by budget managers. Their role is no longer to find the best images but rather the cheapest one. With flows becoming more important than individual images, their task is identifying what feed subscription is the best ( read most affordable). They don’t care about industry news beyond the yearly contract renewal proposal they have to submit ( hopefully cheaper than last year).

Gone are the industry-breaking news and exclusives, those that would interrupt your workday and make you revisit your strategy. Gone are the “Stockphototalk,” “About the image,” “Microstock Diaries,” and “Selling Stock.” All with their very particular dose of insight, analysis, vision, and criticism.

These blogs were the surveyors of a constantly evolving industry, mapping and recording its every change. They were its historians. As the stock photo industry inexorably heads into a near future where anyone will be able to order a built on-demand image via a simple Siri command, there is no history to record. It’s not the news that is dying; it’s the industry.


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