Alexander of Adobe Discusses Stock Industry

Posted on 6/6/2005 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

    James Alexander, Director of Adobe Stock Photos, spoke at the PACA annual meeting in Seattle on the subject of "The Ever-changing Stock Photo Landscape" and explained how Adobe Stock Photos, a new service within Adobe Creative Suite 2, will make finding and working with digital images easier for creatives. After his talk I was able to put some questions to him about where he sees the industry headed and how Adobe plans to help creatives and image suppliers.

How has the stock photo landscape changed? As a result, what new opportunities exist?

One of the biggest changes -- which also represent one of the biggest potential opportunities -- is the proliferation of new devices -- and the huge need for media that can optimize the use of those devices. Communication bandwidth has exploded in the last few years. As soon as information is acquired, it's immediately replaced by still newer information. In the past 24 hours, I've received probably 150 e-mails, been out on the Internet three or four times, and checked the news at a couple of Web sites, dropped in on a blog or two. I've made probably a dozen calls on my cell phone and recorded notes in my PDA.

We're literally bombarded with multiple messages from multiple media 24/7 and it seems everything is in a state of active interplay. In the U.S. alone there are over 180 million mobile devices. Worldwide that number balloons to over a billion cell phones. In 2004 there were 22.8 billion text messages sent. Web advertising, is on the rise too. According to a study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers, U.S. Internet advertising revenue reached a record $2.37 billion in the second quarter of 2004, surpassing even dot-com era numbers.

What about cross media publishing? What types of opportunities exist in that market?

This explosion of media diversity represents an amazing opportunity for all of us -- but especially for photographers and designers. For photographers, cross-media publishing expands the whole concept of composition. An image that communicates perfectly on the printed page may not translate to a cell phone screen or a Web page.

The mobile or cell phone market has huge potential. The opportunities are growing and creative professionals and advertisers will need quick access to images that work in that unique format. It makes sense to begin shooting and compiling those collections now.

The proliferation and sophistication of mobile phones and hand-held technology will continue to drive demand for visually rich content. It also calls for a new level of creativity to deliver images, reliably, anytime, anywhere.

There is also a virtual re-invention of outdoor advertising, that leverages plasma and LCD screen technology to create Times Square-like displays on bus shelters, in elevators, sports arenas, office and hotel lobbies, and on billboards.

You've talked a lot about the opportunities in the market. What about the competition? With so many different communication methods and outlets vying for our attention, how do creative professionals make sure their message is still heard?

With so many outlets vying for our attention, most of us are on communication overload. Meanwhile, advertisers need to make sure their messages are heard above the din and designers have to find ways to break through the clutter. If you only have a nano-second to catch someone's attention, less is always more. I believe a visually rich image wins out every time. Whether it appears on the Web, on a cell phone, or in a magazine-- nothing breaks through the cacophony more effectively than vivid, high impact professional photography.

Unless of course, it's photography that's been customized and targeted-not just to a particular demographic, but to a specific person. I'm talking about variable data publishing, or VDP, and the new world of opportunities it represents.

Tell me more about VDP.

Variable Data Publishing (VDP) is using data to customize content and messages to create more relevant marketing communications. Images are a component of this --- that are customized and targeted to a specific demographic or even to a specific person. Variable Data Publishing technology is advancing in leaps and bounds and it certainly isn't just about scattering my name through the body of a letter anymore. It's about using data -relevant data - about where I live, what I'm buying, what my needs and wants are.

For example, I live in New York City and let's say I test drive a car but I leave the car dealership without buying. Well imagine my surprise when a week later I get a beautiful full color mailer from the dealer that says...."James, please give me another chance to put you in this car, and we'll give you a chance to win $5,000."

Right there on the front of the mailer is a photo of the actual model that I road tested. Now when this visually rich communication arrives in my mailbox, or for that matter, in my e-mailbox -- I have to say, that dealership has my attention.

The new business opportunities and possibilities for photographers and stock agencies are unlimited. Marketers using VDP will need targeted visual images with strong emotional appeal, images that resonate with a very specific target audience. They'll also need to deliver this graphically rich information in the customer's preferred method of communication--whether that's through the mail, on the Web or through a wireless device.

All the research shows VDP has huge growth potential because the response rate to these personalized communications is higher than any other type of direct marketing. And that growth translates into opportunities on every front -- photo requests multiply, and photographers' business increases.

Stock agencies have a great opportunity as well. You can differentiate your service by offering smart stock - VDP-ready collections that can be served up dynamically by zip code, area code, gender and other specific criteria.

At Adobe, we've built an extended network of VDP solution providers in both software development and publishing services. Together, we're working to make a wide range of VDP solutions more accessible and affordable for companies of all sizes. For more information about the Adobe VDP Resource center visit:

How has the proliferation of digital cameras changed the photography business?

Given our current multi-media deluge, I think we can agree that there's a loud call for more, better, smarter, faster images. We're seeing a proliferation of affordable digital cameras and amateur photographers who are answering that call, almost anyone can afford to take their own photos for a design job.

How big of an impact are digital cameras really having on the stock photo marketplace?

Trendwatch did some research and the results were just published in February. They found that digital camera sales are way up across the board and planned purchases and use of stock images were also on the rise. According to Trendwatch, the percentage of creative professionals planning to purchase rights-managed images in the next 12 months rose from 26% to 38%. The percentage with plans to buy royalty-free images rose from 27% to 64%. So while camera sales are on the rise, it hasn't slowed the growth of stock image sales. The one place where digital cameras may compete with stock is on the Internet, where the volume of images is high and the resolution requirements are low. Still, according to the Trendwatch report, only 4% of publishers plan to purchase a camera primarily for Internet production work in the next year.

Royalty-free, low-end Internet services are popping up all over. What affect will this have on the photo marketplace?

Royalty-free, low-end Internet services make it easy for newcomers and amateurs to enter the market and circumvent traditional channels. They're also introducing thousands of new images into the marketplace every week, for unlimited use, for as little as $1.00 a piece. If you peruse professional photography blogs out there, you'd believe this is the worst thing that's ever happened to the stock photography industry. I have to believe even the amateurs will get tired of seeing their photographs used dozens of times to help companies make more money, when they're only earning pennies.

We've seen some consolidation among stock image distributors over the last year. What impact does this have on the landscape?

There have been several consolidations over the past year. Jupiter Images bought Comstock and Dynamic Graphics, Corbis took over Zefa Images and Getty just bought Digital Vision.

For photographers this clearly reduces potential outlets for their images and also cuts into potential income. Competition was already tough but it's estimated that more than a million new images will be added to professional royalty-free collections this year. At the same time, new models including subscriptions, flat rate and limited distribution are giving buyers new lower-cost options.

Clearly the landscape is shifting and the rules are changing. So how can we manage that change and still maximize opportunities?

No matter how dynamic our world may seem, the key to success is to remain flexible, keep moving forward and approach the future with the creative professional's needs in sight. Graphic Designers are constantly looking for unique, high quality images to bring their creative concepts to life. But we could be serving their needs a lot more effectively. There's a huge opportunity to develop a system that meets the needs of graphic designers and creates new opportunities for professional photographers and the agencies that represent them.

You touched on some of the issues facing designers. What do designers need to meet increasingly complex demands?

Earlier I talked about the noise in the marketplace and the insane competition for the customer's attention and no one feels that pressure more than graphic designers. Demanding clients and agencies are asking designers to work harder and faster to break through the din with rich, targeted messages that work on a whole range of communication devices. They're also being asked to design for multiple media, all with less turnaround time which means less time and energy to really let the creative process work.

Designers need tools that empower them so they can execute their ideas quickly across a variety of publishing media and tools and solutions that don't get in their way. This means they need rich and inspired stock images that address media complexity, with multiple media-friendly pricing. And they need to be able to access them quickly and efficiently within their design and layout applications.

You recently announced Adobe Creative Suite 2 which has a new service within it called Adobe Stock Photos. Tell us about Adobe Stock Photos. How does it address the needs of the creative professional?

Adobe Stock Photo Services invites users to buy royalty-free images instantly from multiple providers, all in one place. The new service is designed to be a gateway, not gatekeeper. With over hundreds of thousands of Adobe Creative Suite users, Adobe is truly at the hub of creativity throughout the design world. There is no better access point for royalty-free stock images. Adobe Stock Photos is not a subscription model, it is a time-saving resource for graphic designers that is seamlessly integrated and included in Adobe Creative Suite 2 applications.

Adobe Stock Photos offers designers stock content search, management and automated licensing capabilities when and where they need them, whether they're working in Adobe Creative Suite 2, Photoshop® CS2, Illustrator® CS2, InDesign® CS2, or GoLive® CS2.

What about Adobe Bridge? How does it integrate with the Adobe Stock Photos?

Adobe Bridge makes finding and working with digital photos and images easier than ever. Adobe Bridge functions as a hub for productivity, imagery and creativity, providing designers with multi-view file browsing and smooth cross-product integration. It's through Adobe Bridge that creative pros can access Adobe Stock Photos --over 230,000 high-quality, royalty-free images from a variety of sources. And we'll be continually adding new images to that library.

What functions or features in Adobe Stock Photos benefit creative professionals the most?

At the end of the day the most important thing that Adobe Stock Photos does for the user is to simplify the workflow so they can focus on creativity. Our keyword search capability makes it easy and fast to find images, or to simply browse through our libraries for inspiration. Adobe Stock Photos also invites designers to download un-watermarked comps for easy editing and review in Photoshop CS2 or for direct import into InDesign CS2. Once designers have selected a comp and are in the final production stage, we've made it easy to license high-res images. The various brands establish their own prices depending on the image used, but the terms and conditions are consistent across our whole library of photos.

Adobe Stock Photos has a built-in image management system. Metadata keeps track of searches, suppliers, copyright info so designers can recall a search quickly and conveniently, which eliminates the use of those sticky notes. When you add it all up, Adobe Stock Photos offers designers an integrated, comprehensive, design environment that eliminates steps in the workflow and promotes enhanced productivity and quality.

There seems to be some concerns over royalty-free vs. managed-royalty stock photography. How are you addressing these concerns with Adobe Stock Photos?

The initial offering of Adobe Stock Photos is only for royalty-free images. Royalty-free does nothing to protect your intellectual property because of the perpetual copyright license. On the other hand, right-managed protects the photographer's interests but creative professionals find it hard to navigate through the licensing details. There isn't an easy answer, but at least we're all asking the right questions.

Does the popularity of royalty free mean you're committed to that model long term?

Not necessarily. Adobe is definitely looking at the rights managed opportunity and the possibility of automating that process. We are committed to sorting it out with the stock community, professional photographers and graphic designers who license content. We are already working with the PLUS Coalition to develop and implement licensing standards and systems that will bring photo licensing into the 21st century. In addition to offering the ability to purchase royalty free images via Adobe Stock Photos, creative professionals can access several partners' rights managed libraries or connect with individual assignment photographers via the Adobe Photographers Directory. To search the directory visit:*

One thing we haven't covered is how smaller RF suppliers can show their collections through Adobe Stock Photos. Right now you've got the giants -- Getty, Zefa (Corbis), Comstock (Jupiter) and Amana. You seem to be helping the big guys to further dominate the industry and are probably forcing further consolidation. There are a lot of middle level and smaller RF suppliers that would like to find some way to participate. How can they get involved?

Long range, it is not our intention to just deal with the larger suppliers. We want to bring suppliers of all sizes and with all types of specialist imagery into Adobe Stock Photos, but we are still putting our plans together as to how to do this. We understand the problem and will have a solution in the next couple of months. We look forward to the time when we can announce our strategy.

So are there more challenges than opportunities ahead for the stock image industry?

The creative professional is at the heart of everything we all do and their world has gone through monumental change in the past decade. Designers count on content and they count on Adobe for the tools to integrate that content into their designs. By working together I believe we can provide those creative pros with the best possible experience. And then everyone wins. For more information about Adobe Stock Photos, please visit:

    * Adobe's goal is to develop a comprehensive and international directory of top professional photographers and provide a conduit to connect professional photographers to its creative professional customers. In order to be listed in the photographer's directory, photographers must be members of a professional organization as this insures creatives who use the directory of the photographer's professional qualifications. Currently, the rights managed stock agency directory only includes companies (4 of them) that supply RF images to the site and which license both RM and RF images to their customers. However, Adobe is exploring the possibility of including listings of other rights managed stock agencies.


Copyright © 2005 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:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff