‘A picture’s worth a thousand words’, or so the saying goes. It’s a phrase that is rumoured to have come from an ancient Chinese proverb and which became more prevalent in the 20th Century. Whilst we’ve grown up used to seeing illustrated books, it’s a concept that has become even more powerful in the digital age that we live in. We expect articles to be accompanied and led by appropriate imagery.
In parallel with the growth of the internet we have see the growth of the ‘stock photography’ industry, where rather than paying a photographer to produce a bespoke image for your requirements you can search a massive online library to find appropriate imagery and then for a fee licence it, usually on a royalty free basis. In this first article we’re going to look at the evolution of the stock photography market along with some of the challenges it finds itself working with at the moment. In the second article we’ll look at some of the approaches that the stock photography agencies are taking.
The stock photography industry which, whilst it existed in the pre-digital age, were able to use the connectivity that the internet provided to: initially move their catalogues online; then distribute images electronically; with the advent of digital cameras source digital images; and then more recently leverage the explosion in camera enabled devices such as smartphones. Stock photography’s been a relatively rapidly changing business over the past 20-30 years.
At each step the internet has allowed the stock photography market to expand in parallel with an increasing market demand for imagery. For much of the growth there was balance between supply and demand that meant that there was relative harmony in the business model, however, there have been some recent changes which have destabilised it and are causing many of the players to reposition.
With the growth of the internet, the balance of the market has changed. Whereas photography buyers in the past often wanted high quality imagery capable of being blown up and printed on posters for billboards, or in high quality magazines, with the advent of the internet and internet advertising the requirements changed. For internet, the measure of quality moves away from the size of the image in terms of dpi and megapixels, to how eye catching and relevant the image is. This move has in effect reduced the barriers to entry and with it shifted the balance of power to the buyers, which in turn has commoditised much of the market. On the supply side, however, the cost of producing imagery hasn’t reduced by the same margin, especially for high quality imagery that involves people.
The buyers therefore expect high quality images for less, while the photographers are increasingly squeezed with many reducing and sometimes withdrawing their images from the stock photography market. This leaves the traditional ‘gate guardians’ in the middle increasingly struggling to justify their position in the market, with many of them looking to business model transition to retain their position.
In the second part of this article, ‘Adjusting the Settings in the Stock Photography Market‘, we look at what are we seeing the ‘gate guardian’ stock photography agencies do to try and regain balance in the market. We also look at how their adjusting the settings on the business model to match changes in the market.