In the first part of this article ‘A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words – stock photography & the shifting market‘ we looked at the challenges facing the stock photography market. In this second instalment we’ll take a quick look at the approaches that some of the stock photography agencies are taking to adjust the settings on their business models.
So what are we seeing them do to try and regain balance in the market?
Firstly, we’re seeing a segmentation of the market into distinct libraries focused on different price points. Recently, we’ve seen Getty Images, one of the big players, make available some 50m+ images for non-commercial use in return for attribution. They’ve then also made changes to their iStock brand which attempts to move it into a more premium space. Getty isn’t alone in performing some quite drastic portfolio management.
Secondly, we’re seeing some of the players, such as Alamy, really embracing smartphones and deploying apps to allow people to upload photos directly from their mobiles. This gives them access to often quite contemporary images, and images where people just happen to find themselves in the right place at the right time, both of which are differentiators in the current market.
Linked to this, is a reducing ‘shelf life’ for imagery. In the digital age many buyers want ‘todays’ image, they don’t just expect an image of Autumn leaves, they want this Autumn’s leaves. They don’t just want a picture of a teacher in a class, they want an authentic image of a real teacher in a real class. Where as in the past photographers could produce a portfolio that would pay out over many years, increasingly the pay out tail has a much shorter tail.
With the increasingly visually cluttered world that we inhabit, a still image is often no longer enough to attract attention. There has been a growth in rich media such as video and audio, however, it’s only time before this becomes equally commoditised as photographs.
Finally, there has been a drive by the stock agencies to try and create loyalty by encouraging the adoption of subscription based models where for a fixed fee the buyer can download a number of images over a period of time. The subscription model is often sweetened by a mixture of simplification and exclusivity, whereby the buyer can download images in any size and where they have access to a library of images that are exclusive to the particular agency.
These are some of the adjustments that we’re seeing the agencies take to try and resist the rapid ‘drift to free’ that will happen in this space. It’s a mix of technical innovation and commercial innovation, and there’s only one thing for sure, which is that, the pace of innovation and change will need to continue if they are to maintain their place in the ecosystem.
They are of course only one element of the ecosystem, and there will need to be a continuing evolution other areas. Buyers and the market will of course continue to evolve with the rapid pace of digital change, however, it’s on the supply side that there will also need to be continued evolution. There will have to be an acceptance by many providers that their portfolio’s have a shorter pay out tail and that they will require refreshing and topping up at a greater pace and in ways that keep the style and content fresh. Increasingly, many buyers are happy with a small image that’s been captured on a mobile phone, post-processed with an Instagram-like effect, after all it’s what their audience is increasingly used to.
There will continue to be a market for imagery that has been planned and executed with the skill of a professional photographer, however, it won’t be the sole market. While, like the agencies, many of the traditional suppliers of stock photography suppliers are struggling to adapt to the changing environment, it is still a vibrant and growing market and there is money to be made in it for those that are able to read, and keep up with the evolving market.