Is The Customer Always Right?

Posted on 9/27/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

In a speech at PhotoPlus Expo in 1998 Jonathan Klein told the stock photography community, “We also know that the stock photography industry has not historically focused on the needs of customers and, frankly, needs to in order to SURVIVE!, That is where we are now.” Getty Images developed a strategy that was totally focuses on "the customer," but it hasn't necessarily worked out.

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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:  


  • Peter Dazeley Posted Sep 28, 2017
    Are we being told that historically Getty has not been focusing on the needs of customers? AN UNBELIEVABLE STATEMENT. What were all those senior VPs , who have come and gone, been doing?

  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Oct 1, 2017
    The crux of the question, Is the customer is always right? depends on how one defines "customer."

    With two sides to a marketplace, sellers and buyers, some marketplaces benefit from a middleman, a distributor. The incumbent distributors (e.g., Getty) — who, shrewdly, literally bought their market position many years ago, recognize only buyers as customers. They abrogated the role middlemen used to have in the Commercial Photo marketplace: acting as agents for the sellers. But in a sui generis marketplace like Commercial Photo, the sellers (photographers) still own the intellectual property rights (i.e., copyright) — for the most part — to what they "sell." The incumbents took to paying out so-called "royalties", also early on, instead of accepting commissions FROM sellers. At least, that's the way it's accounted for in their bookkeeping. That started the ball rolling—downhill.

    After so many years of revenue consolidation in the distribution channel, the incumbents are, now, feeling the inevitable pain of ignoring the seller/supplier side of a dynamic marketplace. The best sellers — i.e., 80% of commercial photographers worldwide, defined as those trusted and hired by Enterprise clients to shoot jobs —simply do not contribute to the stock photo pipeline. Stock photo revenue is stagnant because content is both stale and overused. That's what the buyers say. If a good photo gets found, floating in a sea of crowd-sourced content, it's pounced on by lots of different buyers. That's as bad for buyers with a brand identity to protect, as it is for photographers trying to earn a living. There's no economic incentive for pro shooters to join the crowd, so to speak. That means buyers get what they pay for.

    So, who's paying? Well, 70% of stock photo revenue comes from shopkeepers, plumbers, dentists, bloggers, Web designers, and startups, all looking for cheap pictures to enhance their landing pages. Enterprise — i.e., advertising, corporate, and editorial media — have been increasingly underserved by the distributors. Consequently, stock photo revenue (including what dribbles down to be split between too many contributors who don't work directly with buyers by shooting jobs) has been static, if not declining, for the past decade. The incumbents can't raise prices because, of course, the quality of content is already stale and overused; but they can't increase quality because prices are too low to attract better content contributors. They're circling the drain.

    So, yes, the customer is always right. The point is, photographers are customers too.

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