Diversifying Challenges Solo Stock Shooters

Posted on 10/22/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

As stock photographers face unprecedented competition in their own space, many are thinking of diversifying into other photography niches. However, earning a living as a photographer is becoming increasingly difficult in all segments of the industry.

The financial viability of specializing in stock photography alone has become highly questionable. The world’s top solo stock photographers are reporting significant decreases in revenue as small agencies fold and larger companies fight for market share by offering discounts. Payroll stock-photographer jobs, a relatively small number globally, are already held by the best in the business.

Creative-stock shooters have been most affected by new technologies and business models. While select royalty-free producers—for instance, Image Source—say they continue to thrive, an overwhelming majority has agreed that this model has been all but completely cannibalized by microstock. Rights-managed creative stock is still perceived as an opportunity by many. However, the already huge existing offering is seeing an influx of new images. In October, Selling Stock reported on the launch of five new rights-managed collections, and this week’s conference of the Picture Archive Council of America is sure to reveal several additional newcomers.

Editorial shooters are in a slightly more secure position than creative-stock producers, because news, sports and entertainment photography have not been significantly affected by the entry of the amateur. Demand for images ranges from stable to excellent, with celebrity imagery commanding particularly hefty premiums.

The segment is fiercely competitive, with large companies—including the Associated Press, Corbis and Getty Images—fighting for market share with a host of smaller agencies. Even microstock agencies are eyeing the editorial space: Dreamstime and Shutterstock accept editorial images and report growth of such business. As a result, the per-image pricing trend is down, driven by a shift toward online image use, proliferation of subscription products, and competitive and macroeconomic pressures forcing image agencies into offering discounts. While still a healthy industry, editorial photography is not exactly an easy transition for a career creative-stock shooter, even if one has the skill, desire and stamina.

In addition, news photographers of the non-celebrity kind are dealing with a crisis of their own. The Digital Journalist estimated that one-third of the photojournalist-members of the National Press Photographers Association will be out of work by the end of this year. With 8,000 newsroom jobs lost in the newspaper bloodbath of the past year, thousands of photographers are looking for work.

No such insular forces are shaping assignment photography, but it is most vulnerable to recession. As marketing and promotional budgets are slashed across multiple industries, companies and publishers will seek lowest-cost vendors and look to stock whenever possible. Wedding and portrait photographers are also likely to register the tightening of consumer purse strings and the influx of new competitors.

Microstock is the far-and-away winner among photo-industry segments; however, most of the winnings are on the agency side. For photographers, microstock has a number of challenges.

There is no empirical data on individual photographer earnings: Anecdotal information suggests a couple of dozen microstock shooters are making six-figure incomes, and another handful are earning smaller but full-time incomes. A small number of traditional photographers have made significant and long-term microstock investments that cannot be evaluated at present; for example, Ron Chapple’s iofoto has not yet turned a profit.

Some traditional shooters have determined that it would take too long to build a microstock portfolio large enough to generate full-time income. Many believe that only a handful of early adopters will ever earn six-figure income, while the remainder of microstock contributors will earn pocket change. Finally, some pro photographers will not consider diversifying into microstock on ideological grounds.

That leaves fine-art photography, the economic potential of which has never been its chief draw. Though the art segment of the profession is reportedly on the rise, most photographers concerned with making a living report earning very little from prints, even gallery-represented limited-edition prints, photo books and postcards.

Other available options involve professional metamorphosis, to a rather large degree. While some photographers have embraced expanding into video, many—particularly those less comfortable with new technologies—rightly view it as a career change with a steep financial cost and learning curve. Yet video continues taking a larger share of visual content and is the one segment that continues to experience booming growth.

The new consumer market also offers an opportunity to diversify; however, the specifics of this path remain unclear. Though the image-buying potential of the general public is clear from iStockphoto’s revenues, the only way traditional agencies and photographers have tapped into it is by testing sales of their images through microstock Web sites. Few traditional agencies—and likely no individual photographers—have left the comfort of the business-to-business environment and ventured into the consumer space on their own. On the agency side, Alamy’s novel-use scheme is an example of testing a low cost/high volume proposition. Several solo stock producers—for instance, Jack Hollingsworth—have hinted at upcoming direct-to-consumer ventures, but these have yet to materialize. Still, photographers working on them believe that the greatest opportunity of the moment is not in image production, but in its delivery to the right market.

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


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