Adapting in 2010

Posted on 12/16/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

In looking ahead to 2010, photographers should focus on how they will adapt to the new realities of the photography business.

John Harrington recently argued that microstock has not created new markets but rather “devastates existing ones.” This played to the frustration of many professional photographers who have devoted years of education, experience and capital investment to a trade—dare I say art—where what they produce is suddenly worth a fraction of what it was worth just a couple years ago. The blog entry generated many comments, pro and con. The discussion also spilled over to Techdirt. A key underlying theme was the necessity of adapting to the new realities.

While new technologies almost always enlarge the overall market, they do not necessarily lead to markets where existing players can continue to compete. It is natural to lash out when this happens, but it will not do much good in terms of adapting.

Some photographers insist on focusing on the idea that professional designers (“and the wiser clients”) will eventually turn away from the “cheap, generic eye-candy that tends to plague corporate sites and diminish uniqueness.” These photographers should keep in mind that a huge percentage of buyers do not need great or unique images to fulfill their needs. Good enough “generic eye-candy” is more than adequate for most client needs. And money is always a problem.

Other shooters argue that there will always be a few buyers that need top-quality, professionally produced stock and focus efforts on serving these people. True, there will be a few with such needs, but photographers with this attitude should carefully examine their businesses. Most will find that only a very small percentage of total revenue comes from such high-end sales, and the vast majority of revenue comes from small uses where good enough, non-exclusive images will do the job quite nicely. The key question is whether there are enough customers willing to pay for better quality, unique and exclusive imagery to sustain a business. Most will not. Then the question becomes: “Is there some way to focus on this segment of the market and take share away from an increasing number of competitors all going after the same few customers?”

There a few things that definitely will not happen. The business will not go back to the way it was, and microstock will not go away. Microstock is at least a $400 million business and is growing. It is also unlikely that there will be any beneficial change in the copyright law, or methods of enforcing it.

What are the alternatives?

Some are putting more effort into assignments and looking to stock more as a supplement rather than a major source of revenue. There are always customers that need pictures of their people, locations and events, but there are a lot more photographers out there seeking assignments than there are assignments to go around.

Some portrait shooters give away free family portraits for church membership directories to draw customers that they can upsell. The trick is that there has to be some opportunity for upselling. For stock photographers, such an opportunity just is not there. (Agencies upsell through subscriptions and bulk deals, but such sales do not usually benefit the individual photographer.)

You might go into photojournalism, but then there all those magazines and newspapers that are either getting thinner (using less pictures) or going out of business. The bright spots in photojournalism are neighborhood magazines and newspapers, and online picture stories. But do any of these outlets pay a living wage?

There are those from the “information should be free” side who argue that photographers should give away their creative work (or sell it for very low prices) to build a reputation so they can get other paid work like photo assignments, paid lectures, photo tours, etc. Most of these people are salaried employees who are guaranteed a certain level of pay for showing up. They spend a good part of the time they are being paid for taking care of personal business and planning what the will do when they are not working. They have no concept of the revenue generated from creative work being a person’s only source of income.

In the end, it really comes down to how you deal with this problem. Do you whine and stomp your feet or do you figure out how to adapt? Economic progress does not care in the slightest how much you liked the way things used to be.

Selling Stock continuously looks for examples of ways in which individuals have been able to successfully adapt to the new realities, including strategies that have yet to bear fruit. If you’ve got a success story, let us hear from you.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Jagdish Agarwal Posted Dec 17, 2009
    You are right Jim. Crying will not help. One has to adapt. Find new avenues to market your photography. And it works.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 17, 2009
    It is more simple than that. If you want a CAREER in photography, you must charge a good price for your work.

    If you don't, you will be selling cars and shooting a few pics on the side.

    Give me the career of photography where I can feel proud that I am published and getting a fair price rather then selling pics for a few dollars and feeling cheated!

    If we leave it to clients, they would LOVE one dollar pictures. But if you value your work and don't offer it for dollars, they will have to pay more to use it. Thank God there are still many clients that see the difference!

    This is written from Northern Africa on assignment for a client that wants to pay me to shoot. I am thrilled to have had many of those clients for years.

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

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