Taylor Davidson finds himself at the intersection of photography, social media, business development and economics. His thoughts on where the stock photography business might be going and how to stay around for the ride:
Taylor began our recent conversation, “All businesses have a life cycle, including creative businesses. There is the building or construction of the business, growth and what I like to call ‘creative reconstruction’ rather than deconstruction. Companies go from cottage businesses to being consumed by large companies (aggregators of content, in our case). The latest changes in stock photography are merely the latest cycle of industry upheaval. The technology required to create, distribute, promote and use stock images (like all creative content) changed everything”.
“The bigger question is what happens from here?”
“The economics of new technologies gave anyone the tools to create, but didn’t guarantee that they would profit from creating. While the activity is in the long tail, profits flow to the aggregators in the tail.” (Taylor refers to the
aggregator as the ‘hub’. Getty Images is the big wheel around the stock photo hub.)
Taylor points out that the economics of the hub have been changed by many factors, one of which is social media. He explains that electronic word of mouth has given power to smaller hubs. By being a specialty destination, your website/blog can become the hub for that subject or story. You can operate in smaller niches but you MUST be the hub in the niche. You must be really good at (your niche). You must be the top choice in the subject.
He says, “Be a hub. Find a niche, and be the hub in that niche. This advice applies to broader issues: how can you expand your scope? How can you create ancillary products; do other types of photography? How can you be a different kind of hub? Be a hub for information, for knowledge. Teach other people how to be a hub for their own niches. Bring other photographers together to create a hub.
I asked Taylor if he had suggestions for how a photographer could become a sought after hub of information/activity/engagement. After humbly explaining that he was very good at asking questions but not so great at coming up with answers (I disagree), Taylor added:
“I have a strong belief that successful businesses need to be more like people. Individuals want to connect to the people behind a business.” He suggests that a photographer that only shows photos on his/her website is missing opportunities to connect with their audience. People want to see more than a series of images. Photographers should use all the tools available to them to tell a story. Be a hub of information about not just yourself and your work but about a story that you have created.”
I asked Taylor what I should say to the photographer that is already overwhelmed with keeping a business going, faced with the need to post to a blog, create another story, learn FinalCutPro, or build a movement. Taylor is an optimist…but even so he and I agree:
“If you are blind to change, you aren’t going to make it in today’s market [for stock or assignment photography].” The photographer has to DO THE WORK. One task at a time, keep learning.
Davidson suggests, “One secret to continued growth in creative endeavors is to retain or recapture youthful curiosity. Young and emerging photographers are free to try all manner of things; part of the excitement is not knowing what the long-term impact of the experiment will be. Could be a career changer or a dud. The cost of failure when you are young is much less than at mid-career.”
“Even in mid-career, you must be willing to open yourself to serendipity. Don’t put yourself in a situation where the only experiments you try
are the ones that could wipe you out.” Try little experiments. Try one a day, one a week even if the burden of mid-career responsibilities keep you focused on getting through the demands of running an established business. These small experiences will sometimes create opportunities. (But don’t expect them all to.)”
(In a continuation of my conversation with Taylor in a future post, I discuss how photographers can embed humanity into their businesses and to break down the barriers between the message and the person. Taylor then discusses ‘the story’ and authentic marketing for photographers).