457 SUPERSTOCK CLOSES PRODUCTION FACILITY
January 22, 2002
SuperStock has changed their production strategy and closed the three studios at their
Jacksonville, FL facility.
In the past the company employed between four and six full-time photographers working on
staff and three full-time producers working with these photographers to arrange shoots.
In addition, from time to time they would bring various ones of their contract
photographers to Jacksonville to use their studio facilities and work with their
production team. These shoots lasted for periods of from a few days to a month or more.
While the arrangements varied from project to project, usually SuperStock would pay all
production expenses for these shoots, and the photographer would received a lesser than
normal percentage on sales.
SuperStock has spent as much as $2 million a year on their production operation, but in
future they intend to rely entirely on photographers who have standard agency/photographer
contracts to provide the new images they need. They will also move away from funding
CEO Jim Ong says, "there is no longer a need to do in house production. There is more good
material available to us now than there was 20 years ago." He points out that when they
started there were very few photographers making their living shooting stock. Few were
prepared to produce quality people and lifestyle images for stock.
One of the big advantages in using an eclectic group of photographers, rather than a small
in house staff, is that the agency's offering benefits from a variety of shooting styles,
models and approaches to the subject matter. "The basic subjects that are needed in stock
don't change," Ong said. "Currently there is an oversupply of images in the market in
every stock subject area. What is still needed are images that are more unique and
creative in their approaches to all the basic subjects."
Cutting back on inhouse production doesn't mean SuperStock will be accepting fewer images.
In fact, with their new low-res online file strategy (See story
456 ) they expect to be
accepting many more.
Despite the oversupply of images in the market as a whole, there is still a need to
constantly refresh the file with new images. If a customer who uses the same type of
subjects over and over, year after year, doesn't see new imagery every time they come back
they may stop using the agency and go to other sources. At the same time spending too much
on new imagery, either as a producer, or as a marketer of the work, can increase costs to
the point where there is little potential for profit.
Ong is focused on operating a profitable business. He points out that his company made its
first profit in 1976, three years after they opened, and they have been profitable every
year since then, except one. By contrast, we have companies like Getty and Corbis who are
still not profitable based on the total capital invested to build these companies.
Ong is also very sensitive to the photographer's need to make a profit. He points out that
photographers who produce stock images for a living not only need to produce images that
are unique, creative and of high quality, but they must produce efficiently. Stock
photographers need to generate a variety of marketable images from every shooting day, not
just one or two. Many very good photographers have difficulty doing this. Part of the
reason that SuperStock did so much production in the early years was that Ong found he
needed to help train photographers in this way of thinking. Now, based on the imagery that
is being offered to SuperStock, Ong believes the company can get all the creative imagery
they need without running a production operation.
Nevertheless he emphasized that stock photographers need to do their homework, look at
magazines, look at what is available online, and talk to agency sales people. They need to
recognize that stock photography is commercial, not art.
When SuperStock moved from New York in 1993 to their Jacksonville location they built a
huge studio as part of their facilities. To give you an idea of the size of this studio,
at one point they did a large party shoot in this studio that had over 160 models in one
shot. They also did many other large production shoots with lots of models and it was
their practice to bring together large groups of models, twice a year for three years,
until they generated all the large crowd situations they needed.
The production department has two vans, specially equipped, to do location shoots. They
have a huge wardrobe with hundreds of outfits for male and female models. There are
several rooms in the building filled with props.
Some of the contract photographers who were offered the opportunity to use the facilities
in Jacksonville and work under the guidance of the SuperStock production team say they
received too much direction from the production team and that there was too much decision
committee. These photographers found that when they produced on their own they tended to
get more images accepted (a higher hit rate) for the time and energy expended. Other
photographers were very happy with the results of their SuperStock directed shoots.
In 1997 SuperStock set up two additonal studios to do royalty free production for Adobe.
They produced approximately 50 discs that are still selling well 4 years later. Revenue
from these products has dropped only slightly year-to-year. This division of Adobe was
later sold to Eyewire and then to Getty Images.
Currently SuperStock represents about 200 active, producing photographers and the work of
approximately 800 others who currently submit little or nothing in the way of new work.