June 1st, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
April 20th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
Next week I will be joining colleagues Cathy Yeulet (MonkeyBusinessImages), Shannon Fagan (photographer), Taylor Davidson (business strategies), and Kelly Thompson (iStockphoto) in Dublin, Ireland as I host a panel entitled, The Future, at the New Media Conference. This crystal ball event (not of the disco type but more the fortune teller type of thing) will examine a central issue in the working lives of professional, stock photographers now in mid-2010: What’s next?
New Media Conference June 9, Dublin Ireland
Stock photographers worldwide are ringing their hands. They are seemingly in the midst of a perfect storm of events: relatively cheap digital cameras with decent resolution; a thundering crowd rushing toward microstock and helping turn the best of them into serious pros; established microstock photographers seeing declines in revenue as traditional stock photographers jump on that bandwagon; an Internet that sucks up photos by the billions; advertising budgets in the tank and magazines dropping dead. Some say revenues are falling like birds from the sky but overheads are still flying high.
Assigning blame for shifts in the industry is as silly as blaming the Internet for the fact that our way of life has been fundamentally changed forever. We are living through a period of unprecedented change and you as a photographer may get flattened as it rolls through the industry. What will you do to adapt; to stay on your feet?
Join us at the New Media Conference for ideas. You as a photographer are going to have to think your way out of the present into a productive future and here is a chance to bounce your thoughts off others who have been spending a great deal of time pondering the issues. Will Google Image search become monetized? Will Flicker, Creative Commons and Plus get together to organize another third party to issue image licenses…bypassing the Getty gatekeepers? What’s next?
Taylor wrote about one of the events that will happen around CEPIC and the New Media Conference:
“Before the Future”, June 8th
Ellen, Shannon, Lee Torrens and I will be hosting an invite-only social mixer called “Before the Future” on the night of June 8th before the New Media Conference kicks off the next day. Our goal is to bring together a diverse set of thinkers in the photography industry and create thoughtful and valuable conversations and connections between people driving the future of the photography industry. And, well, have a good time.
Thank you to Jonathan Ross and Space Images for sponsoring the mixer.
A sad but true fact is that many photographers will leave professional photography behind and seek new challenges over the next months and years. Some will go completely broke while they wait for the business to return to previous levels. But others, and I hope you are one of them, will discover how they can use their skill and expertise in a related field. (I don’t think salvation for most lies in transitioning to video.)
What new ventures will appear? Will the time come that finally buries the stock photographer for good or will this be a time of energized regrouping and give us new businesses where the skills and talents of photographers/photoeditors/producers/stylists/etc are again valued? I hope for the latter but know that the rewards of recovery will be going to a much smaller set of photographers.
Join us at the New Media Conference next week to listen and learn while adding your voice to the discussion about what’s next. Want even more information…illustrated? Lee Torrens has it all mapped out for you.
And if you are there, stop by and say Hello and thanks to the New Media Conference sponsor JaincoTech.
April 6th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
The media often feature Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein as the founders of Getty Images, but were they truly the company founders like Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard, or Steve Jobs who started up their companies from scratch in their garages?
Mark Getty and work colleague Jonathan Klein cleverly identified the potential for huge growth in the stock photo industry, sought out Tony Stone Images as the market leader, acquired the company, and left their careers at London-based Hambro’s Bank to become Chairman and CEO of the company. It was Getty Holdings, representing a consortium of Getty family interests, which bought Tony Stone Images (Tony had previously purchased Click! Chicago and my company, After-Image).
The two re-branded the business as Getty Images, and worked with Tony and his existing management to carry the company forward. So you could say that Tony Stone (who founded his enterprise in the loft of his home decades earlier) was the true founder of Getty Images.
Tony Stone catalog from 1996 Vol 8
I was insulted by Klein’s remark in the recent NY Times article, “When we began, stock photography or licensed images, preshot images being licensed, was perceived as the armpit of the photo industry,” said Jonathan Klein, the chief executive of Getty Images who helped found the agency in 1995. “No self-respecting art director or creative director would use a preshot image, because it wasn’t original, it hadn’t been commissioned by them, it wasn’t their creativity.”
I know from direct experience as the president of Tony Stone Images/LA that the top creatives regularly bought stock photography including for high visibility, big campaigns for major advertisers prior to the invention of Getty Images. I submit that neither Getty nor Klein were responsible for elevating the creative level of the stock photo business. Those laurels go to Tony and the photographer/founders of the Image Bank (Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Larry Fried as well as businessman, James Garcia). There is no doubt of the immense achievement of Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein – they continued the acquisition of companies which Tony Stone had started, and accelerated the move into the digital world. But the very least they should do is refrain from continuously insulting those whose shoulders they stood on.
It was Tony Stone’s vision that kickstarted Getty Images’ position at top of the creative market. When I sold my company, After-Image, to Tony and became part of Tony Stone Images, we had over 400,000 photographs in the files in Los Angeles. Tony took one look at the dozens of meticulously organized file cabinets and asked me, “Why do you need all these photos?” He had recognized the highly creative nature of some of the After-Image collection but correctly realized that much was just ‘filler’.
Tony Stone catalog from the mid-1990's
Tony Stone has joined the executive team at Vivozoom
Tony’s theory then and now, reinterated on Microstock Diaries, is that there is no point in wasting time and resources on anything except the best photos in a genre. He once told me that all the world needed was a dozen of the best photos of Paris as those were the images that would run as covers, chapter openers or full page spreads. Why have photos of every little burg in Provence when those images will usually only run small. Of course this was before the Internet and the decline of print. And prior to microstock’s long tail circling the globe.
In addition to the big news last week that Tony Stone has joined former colleague, Lawrence Gould, at Vivozoom, I noticed news about a new microstock company specializing in images from Israel, with what seems to be an emphasis on religion. Is there a new era in the lifecycle of the microstock business, signaled by these two unrelated events? What do you think? Stay tuned.
February 16th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
Is video going to save stock photographers’ income from collapse? (Not that I think collapse is eminent, keeping in mind that millions and millions of dollars are still being made in stock photography…it’s that so many more fingers are in the pie).
Last week I saw video presentations made using the Canon 5D MK II by Vicent LaForet and ASC Directory of Photography, Shane Hurlbut at the Blend Images creative meeting. LaForet, coming from still photography and Hurlbut from the most complex of cinematographic productions arrived at similar destinations in the use of the Canon. Both have easily and successfully translated their skills sets into making wonderful videos for advertising and even for a feature film.
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Vicent LaForet, is creating terrific videos with the Canon 5D MK II
The videos were stunning and exciting. Anyone who has ever been on the set of a motion picture will be amazed at the simplicity of the gear involved. Hurlbut has posted his camera configurations. He explained that a $160 million dollar budget for a feature film was reduced by 2/3s using the Canon instead of traditional equipment. LaForet is a natural film maker and produced his first short vid in two days of shooting the day after he first had a pre-production Canon MK II put into his hands at Canon Headquarters.
ASC Director of Photography Shane Hurlbut spoke at the Blend Images creative meeting 3/26/10
Many photographers in the Blend meeting, although deeply impressed by the presentations, later expressed doubt that they would go the route of these complex productions. One said to me, “I’m not about to go out and make a feature film just because my camera can!” The question is then what do you want to do with your camera with video capabilities and why?
Some stock still libraries have offered motion for many years but the business was never more than 3 to 5 % of total licensing fees. Today a stock photo buyer is able to purchase coordinated images from the same shoot to meet the needs for both print and web, still and motion. A good example of a company filling this need with an innovative product is the Image Source Cross Media Pack . Image Source Founder and CEO, Christina Vaughn, says, “Customers often aren’t satisfied with static images – they want flash, or video, or linear photography. We’ve done a lot of research into how our customers buy images, and we found increasingly that their campaigns needed to work across media – web, TV, and handheld devices as well as print.”
What vids to shoot? Generally the same subjects, concepts and themes that work well in still stock photography with the exception of the very simple shot of a model isolated against white. All a single person in a video can do is talk…well ok they could jump up and down, dance, or other activities…and without sound talking heads don’t have anything to say. Keep it simple though…the video show above has short segments that would work as stock clips but a full blown story becomes too specific for stock motion.
My advice: unless you have a burning desire to make videos, don’t. But play around with the camera and you may discover that you like what you see.
Think about this too as you decide whether to jump into motion or not: Clay Shirky writes: “The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)” Read the entire post about how complexity harms business. The last few paragraphs are especially pertinent to the business of photography.
Finally congratulations to the founding photographer members of Blend with Sarah Fix and Rick Becker-Leckrone for treating photographers with respect and offering them the opportunity to gather together in a community of friends, supporters and colleagues.
February 8th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
It is too limiting a characterization to call David Sanger simply a travel photographer. Yes, he travels a great deal and the majority of his photos fall into that genre. Even though travel photography can be one of the most conservative genres within stock, his work often displays unique points of view and his ideas about the future are positive and innovative. Even in a brief conversation with David, it is clear that his creativity isn’t limited to photography. He expresses wide-ranging and imaginative ideas in response to questions about the changing stock photo marketplace, copyright issues and the future of the business.
He has said, “Old markets are drying up but new opportunities are emerging, communicating with communities of consumers, photo aficionados, travel readers, citizens. The economics are completely different, but the possibilities tremendous. The key is providing something of value”.
David recognizes that stock photography ‘doesn’t say anything’ in the same way that photojournalism or editorial photos do. He speaks of disintermediation (elimination of the stock distribution company) as a road to more personal communication between photographers and the audience for the work:
“When images are distributed via middlemen, it is usually someone else’s message that is communicated. Disintermediation opens up the possibility, the responsibility, for a more personal communication. The focus then shifts to the personality, trustworthiness, authority, point of view and voice of the photographer, whether fine artist or journalist. …Those who are successful will be those who are the most compelling, engaging or insightful.”
Surprisingly, Sanger hasn’t found that eliminating the middleman from his own licensing model to be as successful as he first expected three or four years ago. In addition to his primary outlet at Getty Images, he licenses his images direct to buyers using the PhotoShelter platform. For now, though, Sanger suggests that the major buyers of rights managed still rely mainly on account people at the large stock agencies to provide images to them. Of course, buyers come directly to David Sanger because they like to work with him … and they do … or for unique destinations and images.
He has used the experience gained from direct licensing and his past life in corporate computer systems to analyze user behavior on his personal stock site. He found over 10,000 (mainly blogger) domains linking to his photos. These users weren’t likely to pay for Sanger’s rights managed images. In light of the fact that copyright is not reasonably enforceable against a blogger, Sanger takes the high road, “It is not how to stop them but how to turn them into revenue paying customers. There is a huge appetite for images. Providing people with what they want has to be a good thing … but we have to find how to monetize it.”
“The Internet of people, social media, is a natural outlet for images. The sheer energy of Flickr conversations, the abundance of images that decorate MySpace and Tumblr pages, reveal people’s fascination with and devotion to images. Rather than fight the people who are interested in their images, photographers would do well to embrace them, engage them and discover how to transform that interest into viable economic support.”
While the industry attempts to solve the revenue conundrum, David, is bullish about photographers creating value by ‘saying something.’ “Stock photography itself doesn’t really say anything on its own. We provide images to serve someone else’s message. No one is interested in my message [when I’m shooting stock].” Sanger suggests that photographers enter the creative conversation on a more personal level. “Find your voice,” is his closing advice.
About David Sanger: Sanger has traveled to over 100 countries. In addition to the travel work he shoots for corporate, shipping and non-profit clients including Bank of America, Exxon, the National Park Service, Clorox and Interorient. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Stock Artists Alliance and a former president of the organization. “I’m fascinated by technology, web design, data, communications and social media, especially how these offer photographers’ new opportunities for expression and for business”.
More about David and some of the best advice I’ve seen for travel photographers can be found at Photomedia Online.
David’s blog and website are at www.davidsanger.com
February 3rd, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
The photo below is an almost perfect stock photo. It’s not cutting edge; it’s not trendy. It’s not hip or cool. What it IS is a photo that will license again and again for years…extending its revenue stream long after its production costs have been recouped even with today’s lower fees. This is a photo with a very long tail.
I first analyzed the image for my blog on Dreamstime when it showed up as one of the best sellers two years ago this month. I have also discussed it in my upcoming book. Initially the image seemed a very simple and easy photo to plan and take. But once I deconstructed it, I understood the amount of thought, research, experience and planning that went into the creation of this clean and versatile photo and its variations. I’m reminded of what the IT guys always say when a seemingly trivial request is made for a programming change, “Simple doesn’t mean easy.”
A 'perfect' stock photo. ©Iofoto
The image is a subject-based winner. Among the most consistently popular stock photo subjects are family related. When photos with these themes also spell “happiness/love/caring”, the image has a lead over all others. Images of families are used for financial services, vacation and hotel packages, for religious publications and a myriad of editorial uses on websites on a zillion topics.
A beach location is a great choice. Stock photo buyers often want ‘aspirational’ images that show an idealized place or situation. The beach is such a place in all societies. It is a place we vacation; go for weekend relaxation, education and fun. The exact geographical location is not identifiable. The location is non-specific geographically and yet still shows a top vacation spot: the beach.
Seasonality. Because of wardrobe choices and the quality of the light, the photo could have been shot in spring, summer or early fall adding to the versatility of the image.
Style. Both the photographic style and the models/wardrobe/scene are relatively timeless. There is no skyline to go out of date; the clothing is non-specific and not tied to any fashion.
Palette/Wardrobe: The model’s clothing compliments the colors in the scene. Because there are blues, pinks, tans and yellows in the palette almost any color typeface could coordinate with the image. Shirts lack logos and the fabrics are all solid colors.
Casting: The models form the perfect, idealized family and yet they aren’t so beautiful as to look unauthentic. Their pose is relaxed and happy. (Just the way we all imagine the perfect family vacation.) Even the preteen girl appears to be pleased to be with her parents. (Anyone who has attempted to take a daughter of this age on a family vacation knows that IS really an idealized image.) The image depicts the vacation every family aspires to have.
Similars of popular photos can also be top sellers. ©Iofoto
Composition: Dad is at the top of a pyramid, representing a conservative (and thus good for middle of the road adverts) family relationships and the models are posed off center to leave lots of space for type. The background is clean and simple. In both photos, the photographer for Iofoto, Ron Chapple, has left ample space for insertion of a product shot, headline or copy. He has also offered the stock photo user several formats. Here we show the vertical and the image that he has prepared as a square.
Good keywording has also contributed to the success of these two images. Look up the keywords by clicking on the photos and you’ll see what I mean.
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:
Social Media Expert/Photography Geek Taylor Davidson
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.”
Santa Cruz Fog©Taylor Davidson
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).
Taylor Davidson is a Business Designer and a photography geek who lives in New Orleans, LA. He focuses on evaluating and structuring business and financial plans to help launch new products, services and companies. He creates on the web at http://www.taylordavidson.com/writing