Over the last two years, the Cincinnati Enquirer has segmented its news coverage by developing a series of Web sites tailored to various special-interest needs of the community. This example of the changes in how news and information are delivered to the general public raises some interesting questions about the future of image use.
News stories and ads are increasingly aimed at very small, specific communities. Often, the information is supplied and edited by non-professionals. If photos used to illustrate such stories are tied very specifically to a local or narrowly defined situation, it is highly unlikely they will ever be used in high volume.
On the other hand, there will be cases where the photo is generic and could be used by many publications around the country and the world in connection with related stories. Each author writing about the same general subject may want to use a generic photo, while putting a local spin on the text. But because in each case the target audience is miniscule, the author will not be prepared to spend much for such a visual.
In some cases, authors may create their own visuals—for example, by using cell phones. Still, a fair number will want to use a photo created by someone else. The problem for professional photographers is that none of these users will be able to pay much for the photos they need.
The same will hold true for advertisers trying to reach these small groups. Advertisers will not pay the same image-licensing fee to reach hundreds or thousands as they would have paid to reach millions. Advertisers are discovering that, while they thought they were reaching millions, only a few thousand were actually looking at what they had to say.
This is the way the market is shifting. There is no way to stop that shift, so the only hope is that somehow we can license a given image enough additional times to make up for the much lower price per unit.
I am not at all sure this is possible. However, let’s examine some numbers to see what might reasonably happen. In 2007, Getty Images generated about $561 million from licensing creative stills, both rights-managed and royalty-free. iStockphoto generated about $72 million. Getty and iStock licensed rights to approximately 1.5 million images and 17.5 million images, respectively. Thus, the average price for a Getty creative still was $374, and the average image price at iStockphoto was $4.10.
Looking ahead to 2012, Goldman Sachs estimated that Getty’s creative-stills revenue will be $348 million, while iStock’s will be $262 million. If there are no price changes in the next four years, Getty would license fewer than 1 million creative stills for iStock’s almost 64 million licenses.
All indications are that microstock prices will go up substantially in the next four years, reducing the total number of images licensed. Creative-still prices will probably decline, so the difference in the actual number of images licensed may not be as great.
Nevertheless, the differences are significant enough that photographers who have always licensed rights at traditional creative-stills rates need to carefully consider whether they can afford to license certain types of generic images, for blog and social network type uses, at very low prices.