At the recent PACA annual meeting in New York, Roger Ressmeyer moderated a seminar on "The Web in 10 Years". The following are his remarks.
©1999 Roger Ressmeyer / Visions of Tomorrow
In the stock photo industry, internet advancements are occurring at light speed.
While many of us are trying to figure out where the web was 10 months ago,
it can be difficult to imagine it ten years from today.
However, I can offer a few basic crystal ball projections from my prior experiences at Starlight and Corbis, and from my current research at Visions of Tomorrow. Let's start with technology.
Internet bandwidth will continue to take giant leaps - the World Wide Wait is already disappearing. Cable modem and DSL services are expanding like wildfire into new regions. In my own Seattle neighborhood we just installed a cable modem which costs only $40/month for continuous 24-hour access. Using cable, changing between web sites is almost as quick as changing channels a TV set. During our first test, we downloaded a 60MB uncompressed photograph in less than 5 minutes. In 10 years data transfer bandwidth will be eons beyond even today's fastest rates. We'll think of 1999 as the beginning of the end of the digital dark ages
Computers will finally be fun to use. Huge flat-panel screens will move computers off your office desks and onto your living room walls, resembling a 30"x40" light box only inches thick. They'll turn on instantly, accurately respond to voice commands, and software won't crash. Software updates will happen automatically without any intervention. Computer/internet service will behave more like a reliable utility than a high-maintenance toy
We'll look back at the last two decades of the old millennium as a time when we wasted huge chunks of time re-booting our computers and tinkering with broken software. We'll remember clicking & waiting for the screen to fill, or for the hourglass to spin, as an annoying insult to our intelligence.
Amazon.com first recognized and began to correct the computer's annoyance factor. They built a company based on fantastic customer service, a truly user-friendly design and their popular "one click" feature - which means find a product, click on it once, and your order is complete right down to your encrypted credit card number and delivery address. Photo agency software must follow this lead with fully accurate searches, instant gratification of orders, and a warm response to customer queries
Digital image resolution won't stop growing until a photograph's grain structure is fully captured and resolved even in scans of large format images. Screen resolution "cut downs" will max out at around 2,000 by 1,200 pixels, and "dots per inch" will be meaningless except at paper printing presses.
Color depth will increase to 10 or 12 bits per channel, well beyond today's typical 8 bits per channel. "Photo In/Photo Out" file sizes, where digitalization is invisible, will max out at about 100 MB uncompressed per 35mm frame, 300MB per medium format frame, and about a gigabyte per 4"x5", or panoramic frame. Digital cameras will be hot in pursuit of film to reach these image resolutions and color depths. Since film will still have better latitude and instantaneous storage speeds, it will still be a healthy industry.
High-quality images, the best-of-the-best in each collection, will need to be re-scanned at these higher resolutions. Accurate key wording will become more and more important as a valued customer service. A standardized digital "Dewey Decimal System" of key words will be developed and adopted well before the decade passes. The best images will need to be re-catalogued to these new standards. Fortunately, today's scans and cataloguing efforts will make re-editing and upgrading a cost-effective process
I'd also like to touch on the quality of still-image content, which I believe will become much more important. High bandwidth means that motion imagery is likely to be preferred over second-grade still imagery. But the very best still images -- ones that you look at twice and then realize you'd like to stare at for a long time -- will be highly valued and profitable, especially if they are fully rights-controlled.
The biggest editorial publishers will likely succeed in their efforts to fully control re-use of almost all the content shot on assignment for them - and they will pay the photographers for those greater rights out of increased royalties from web-based licensing. As a result, the body of editorial stock imagery that traditionally went to mid-sized agencies will dry up. To compensate, independent stock agencies will become more involved than ever before in production photography.
Search engines will grow on top of search engines, and the value of controlling rights (and the URL's) to the best imagery will become increasingly apparent. Take a look at Corbis' influence on Alta Vista's "AV Photo & Media Finder" or at the equalizing effect of Arriba Vista's design, for two opposing approaches that are likely to succeed.
I am absolutely confident that despite the changing landscape of our business world, the web's future will bring tremendous new opportunities for stock agencies, photo libraries, and for photographers of all ages. The biggest agencies will buy or trade for visibility on the biggest internet portals, and innovative startups will find ways to carve out profitable niches.
The creators - and by that I mean visionary photographers, artists and independent technologists - will band together whenever the royalty/creator revenue balance gets to far out of line. At the bottom line, our industry is dependent on the suppliers of great new imagery. When a healthy living can't be made due to lessened royalties, and the sources of imagery start to dry up, creators will build start-up agencies based on supportive business models. It won't cost very much to do that in 10 years.
Hence, the web in 10 years will be more responsive to the needs of both the many and the few - responsive to the many photographers and to the few agencies that successfully market their work. The dark ages are indeed ending.
Roger Ressmeyer has worked as an award-winning assignment photographer for
National Geographic, Time, Life, People, Newsweek, and The New York Times, since 1975. He authored and/or produced several mass-market picture books including Orbit - NASA Astronaut Photograph the Earth and Space Places. In 1995 the Corbis Corporation, a digital photo library privately owned by Bill Gates, purchased Ressmeyer's collection of over a half-million images as well as his company, the Starlight Photo Agency. From 1995 until 1998, Ressmeyer worked for Corbis as strategic planner, manager of international distribution, and editor in charge of sourcing professional photographers. Today, Ressmeyer's company Visions of Tomorrow provides strategic consulting, planning, and editing.services to major companies in the photo industry.