A Rose, is a Rose, is a Rose...
TRADITIONAL STOCK - Is It Still Alive?
The battle cry among commercial stock photo agencies
these days is that in order to combat the menace of RF
("Royalty Free" stock photos), single-use stock agencies
should figure out a way to create a differential between
themselves and the RF companies.
The aim of the stock agencies would be to make a
distinction between royalty-free clip art and single-use
commercial stock photography.
Is that possible? How can you differentiate commercial
stock photos? Have you seen a commercial stock photography
catalog lately? They all contain the same standard subject
matter as Royalty Free discs. There's so much inbred
cloning among stock catalogs and RF discs that the photos
appear to be manufactured from the same assembly line.
"...these changes bode well for the individual stock
An objective viewer would find it difficult to
differentiate between what could be called clip art on a
"Royalty Free" disc, and what is called single-use
commercial stock photography in print catalogs.
In the future, the difference between an RF company
and a commercial stock photography agency will be in the
label. Nike knows this. Pepsi knows this. Nordstrum's
knows this. You can charge three, even ten times the value
of a product, if the buyer perceives an exclusive value in
the merchandise. It's called clever merchandising.
If an art director can convince his/her boss that it's
better to go with a single-use stock photo (and pay ten
times the RF fee), rather than risk a possible model
release problem or the chance that a competitor may have
previously used the same image - all parties are happy.
A clever merchandiser of traditional stock photos will
emphasize that they can guarantee the exclusivity of the
photo, and provide uniqueness, trend-setting value, the
name-recognition of the photographer, image history, usage
information, caption text, and special rights. The
merchandiser will also guarantee that the buyer will have
a face and a name at the agency who is accountable and
accessible. An Email address just doesn't cut it when
you're 5 hours before production and a problem comes up.
In the history of stock photography, up to this point,
there's been no such thing as bare-bones royalty-free
photography. All art buyers went single-use
"pampered-class." This is much like the early days of the
airlines when every customer went First Class, which
included home-cooked meals and attentive stewardesses.
Commercial stock agencies are beginning to ask themselves,
"Do we want to offer all of these frills, or just sell
images?" They see an opportunity to jump on the RF
bandwagon, but face the dilemma of deciding which of their
photos they want to offer as RF and which to continue to
sell in the traditional mode.
PRECURSOR FOR PHOTO CLIP ART?
Used-car salesmen and Madison Avenue hucksters are
familiar with the sales pitch we recently received in the
Don't be fooled by inferior images, cheap clip art, or
the high cost of stock libraries. Order a $19.95
Starter Kit, product catalog, or purchase any Master
Series CD volume - all for less than you'd pay for a
MASTER SERIES ROYALTY-FREE LIBRARY
15 North 100 East, Suite 202
Provo, UT 84606 USA
Phone: 1 801 377 3954
For a limited time pay $249 per CD and save $50!
1 800 641-1803
The commercial stock agencies would like to have it
both ways. But they can't. Pepsi-Cola can't sell a
full-priced Pepsi and a half-priced Pepsi from the same
store shelf unless they label it differently. As major
stock agencies like Corbis and Getty begin to move into
the royalty-free field, the differentiation won't come
based on the esthetic quality or content of the picture,
but on whether Getty and Corbis want to become discounters
and offer creative labeling to their clients.
Can you differentiate between yourself and the
discounters by offering "pampered class" to your clients?
TEXACO faced competition with discounters a decade ago and
figured the general public would elect "service" over the
new discount self-serve gasoline stations they saw
competing against them. TEXACO dressed their attendants in
clean uniforms and smiling faces and rewarded customers
with bonus gallons if "we don't clean your windshield." It
didn't work. Gasoline is gasoline, and if customers can
get the same product cheaper, they'll take it. A rose, is
a rose, is a rose...
A LESSON IN ECONOMICS
Traditional single-use commercial stock photography,
in my estimation, is doomed. And not because Getty,
Corbis, et al will engage in price wars - but because of a
more important tenet in retailing that says, "If you want
to live with the masses, appeal to the classes. If you
want to live with the classes, appeal to the masses."
RF appeals to the masses.
Anyone attempting to sell photos based on clever label
merchandising that appeals only to the "classes," can
expect to live where Mark Getty and Bill Gates don't.
A second reason traditional single-use commercial
stock photography is doomed is that history shows that the
company that achieves the classic economics formula,
m = c + v + t
will prevail over its competition and control prices. [ m
(market share) = c (cash flow) + v (volume, inventory,
product line selection) + t (technology, automation,
speed, service). Put them all together and you have
Ten, twenty years ago, small stock photo agencies
could survive if they had only parts of that formula in
place. In the first edition (1981) of my book, "Sell &
ReSell Your Photos," I advised photographers to avoid
setting up a stock photo agency that did not specialize in
a particular subject area. By specializing, you can better
define your customers and survive. Those stock agencies
that did not heed my advice now find themselves in
competition with Corbis, Getty, Kodak, The Image Bank,
Visual Comm Group, Comstock, and other giants.
EDITORIAL STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY
Editorial stock photography is a different ball game.
All of these changes bode well for the individual
editorial stock photographer. The situation takes a
different tack, since editorial stock photographers work
in a vertical market (selling single-use, content-specific
images and working in volume with close-knit
special-interest clients), not broadly across the board as
with RF or traditional stock. So editorial stock
photographers are spectators in the battle now roiling in
the commercial stock photography field, where royalty-free
will soon become the source of choice for commercial
images among art directors who don't mind using
manufactured photos. -RE
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