|Front Page News
TRADITIONAL STOCK - Is It Still Alive?A Rose, is a Rose, is a Rose...
The battle cry among commercial stock photo agencies these days is that in order to combat the threat of microstock photos (RF), 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 microstock 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 photographer."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
An objective viewer would find it difficult to differentiate between microstock on a "Royalty Free" disc, and what is called single-use commercial stock photography in print catalogs
In the future, the difference between a microstock company and a commercial stock photography agency will be in the label. Nike knows this. Pepsi knows this. target 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, there didn’t used to be any such thing as bare-bones microstock 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 microstock bandwagon, but face the dilemma of deciding which of their photos they want to offer as microstock and which to continue to sell in the traditional mode.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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 Alamy, Corbis and Getty have moved into the royalty-free field, the differentiation hasn’t come based on the esthetic quality or "content" of the picture, but on Alamy, Getty and Corbis becoming discounters and offering 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 Three decades 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." microstock 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 commercial success.] Ten, twenty years ago, small stock photo agencies could survive if they had only parts of that formula in place. In the first edition 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 outgunned by Corbis, Alamy, Getty, 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 microstock 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
Rohn Engh is the best-selling author of “Sell & ReSell Your Photos” and “sellphotos.com.” He has produced an eBook, “How To Make the Marketable Photo,” and an eCourse, “How To Market Your Photos.” For more information and to receive a free eReport: “8 Steps to Becoming Published Photographer,” visit http://www.sellphotos.com 800 624-0266.