What Does The Image Producing CROWD Want?

Posted on 5/28/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many traditional suppliers of stock image (those that have been in business 15, 20 years or more) need to give some thought to what the image producing crowd wants. They need to consider possible ways of adjusting their business model in order to meet some of the needs of these part-time image creators.  And they need to recognize how these photographers may change the entire stock photography licensing business.

Unquestionably, more and more people are producing better and better quality images. A significant percentage of them have discovered that not only is it easy to show their image to friends and family, but they may also be able to earn a little money by making their images available for licensing.

I’ve listed in italics a few of the things these people are looking for and where they tend to go to get what they want.

What They Want

They want to be able to show their work to others and be in a community where they can share their images and thoughts with other photographers.
    The microstock sites have been doing this. As a result these sites tend to have many more active contributors than traditional sites. There is also an explosion of crowd-sourcing sites that tend to focus more on community than revenue generation. In the traditional environment there is little or no effort to help contributors make contact with, or even know, others who are represented by the same distributor.
They want affirmation. (This can be money, but also “likes.”)
    In the traditional environment the only affirmation most receive is the check. Top sellers may get a little human contact from management. In the microstock environment affirmation and answers to questions come from a broader cross-section of contributors. The crowd-sourcing sites have systems of “likes” and in some cases blogs where photographers can communicate with each other.
They want to learn how to take better images and get motivated to shoot regularly.

    Sites like Photocrowd.com are focused on this. The blogs on most microstock sites provide users with some information.
They want a system that makes uploading easy.
    The process is probably easiest on the crowd-sourced sites because for most there is no editing or vetting of the images. Editing is becoming a problem for many microstock sites mostly because they do quality and rights checks and are being inundated with so many images to review. It seems hard to keep up with the training of editors and deal with the volume.

    It is probably more difficult to get images accepted into traditional collections than anywhere else because the editing is tighter and for economic reasons many of the traditional distributors have been forced to cut back on staff.
They don’t like keywording. They prefer not to have to do much of it, but the lack of keywording makes it difficult for others to find their images.
    (On the other hand they want a system of organization for their own images that will enable them to instantly find specific images among the tens of thousands they have produced.)

    Nobody has a good solution to this problem. There are dreams of automated systems and some are being tested, but so far no one has come close to anything that will quickly find the right image for the unique needs of each customer. On the traditional side of the business, and in some limited cases with microstock, custom research is offered. However, there is less use of custom research today on the traditional side than there was 10 or 20 years ago.
They want it to be able to search the collection by their name.
    Some microstock sites make it easy, some don’t. Most traditional sites do not offer this feature. Some do make it possible for photographers to search all of the images in their personal collections, but they don’t make it easy or possible for customers to search for the collections of individual photographers.
If their images are licensed photographers want to know immediately how much their royalty share will be.
    Microstock and to some degree crowd-sourced sites offers this. Traditional sites don’t for two reasons. First, most of the images are delivered to the customer and used by the customer before any payment is made. With the newer models payment is made before anything is downloaded. Second in the traditional environment a huge percentage of the actual licensing is handled by a distributor not by the company where the image creator delivered the image. Often it may be months after the image has been used before the prime agent is made aware that an image has been licensed. Going forward this is a huge problem.
They want a system that allows them to collect their royalties owed at any time, or at least very shortly after the customer pays for the use.
    Most microstock sites make this easy. With most traditional sites there is a long time between licensing and use of the image and any payment. In the future business environment this will no longer be tolerated.
They want information about the type of imagery that is in demand and actually being licensed.
    Micostock sites supply information about best selling images. Some crowd-sourcing show images that have sold. Traditional sites seldom, if ever supply an information about which images have sold. The site may have millions of images, but there is no way to tell which have been licensed.
A small percentage of the crowd would like to find a way to make photography a career, but the vast majority will be more than happy if they can earn a little pocket money. 
    (Whatever earnings they receive they want revenue to continue to grow as they produce more work.)

    The volume of images available is growing much more rapidly than demand. Thus, customers have more choice and they can easily drive down the price. The revenue generated by the industry must not be shared by a much larger group of creators. As a result fewer and fewer will be able to earn enough to support themselves from the images they produce, but more and more will be able to earn a little money.
They want to know what the customer is paying to use their work.
    Image distributors generally refuse to supply this information, but going forward the crowd may  expect and demand it.
They would like for the compensation they receive for use of their image to have some relation to the value received by the customer.
    Traditionally, this was the rationale for rights managed licensing, but RM represents less that 1% of all the images licensed today and the percentage is declining. In addition the fees charged for use of many RM images have no relation whatsoever to the value the customer receives. They don’t want someone reaping an economic benefit from the use of their image, it they receive little or nothing.
They would like for compensation for use of an image to have some relation to the difficulty and cost of producing it.
    Also RM, but the pressure from customers to treat all images like commodities will likely make it very difficult for anyone who wants to maintain this type of control to make customers aware that his/her images exist.
They want to know who the customer is and how the work will be used.
    Images may be used in ways that imply that the photographer or his/her subjects agree and support a position that is directly opposed to what they actually believe. (See here.) Of course this kind of thing has been going on to some degree for a long time, but with more image use it may become more prevalent. People who are being paid very little for the use of their images may decide it is not worth the risk. On the other hand it is a very difficult problem to solve.
They want the ability to control how their images are used.
    Controlling rights is potentially a big problem for everyone. The rights managed sellers are the ones trying to exercise some controls, but they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

Copyright © 2015 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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