Taking stock of the industry

According to the stock photography survey PDN published in their June 2007 issue, 52% of stock photographers surveyed said their stock incomes have stayed the same or decreased over the last five years.

The decline’s beginning can be traced to the internet boom of ’99 when agencies increasingly used royalty-free images due to budget and time constraints. Also the emerging banner ad placed a lower priority on original, high-quality images. The face of Madison avenue also changed, increasingly supplanted by small, upstart design firms which place even more downward pressure on agencies to cut spending.

And what about the stock photography companies, the middlemen between photographers and the agencies that use stock? According to a conference call for Getty Images 2nd Quarter 2007 earnings, they also face a tight and competitive market:

“…declines have been most pronounced in two usage areas in
particular, print brochures and print advertising…the shift of advertising to the Web, more companies spending more dollars on paid search, where there is, clearly, at this moment no opportunity for us to license pictures into a text ad. Also, the increase in content and this is due to the proliferation of digital equipment, and of course, the related increase in content providers.”

As a countermeasure, Getty purchased iStockphoto about a year and half ago, which targets hobbyist photographers who earn a second income by selling images and typically earn around $1.00 per image download. Microstock agencies can cut into stock photographers profits, making it even more imperative for their work to stand out from the clutter.

Recently, modernpostcard, the postcard printing and direct mail service used by many photographers to send their printed promos, came under fire for sending out an email announcing a partnership with istockphoto, telling customers to “skip the expensive photoshoot” (read more about it at Photo Business News & Forum ). A terrible blunder considering many of modernpostcard’s customers are the photographers who rely on those photoshoots for their bread-and-butter.

So what’s a photographer to do about the changes in the industry? Do what they’ve always done – adapt. This month’s Digital Photo Pro magazine features the stunning photography of Stephen Frink commissioned by Rolex and their interactive marketing agency, Critical Mass, for the redesign of their website. The declines in print advertising don’t have to negatively impact photographers – just one look at Rolex’s site, and many of the new branding websites being launched today, reveal how increasing broadband speeds, rich interactive media, and other technologies will continue to drive demand for high quality images that only professional photographers can deliver. After all the goal of all search ads is still to drive visitors to a visually rich and compelling website.

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