PACA 2009 "Best Practices" Symposium: Sea Change

Posted on 5/7/2009 by Shannon Fagan | Printable Version | Comments (0)

My first impression was, “Where is everyone?” At the spring symposium of the Picture Archive Council of America, attendance was reportedly down from other years. Some 80 agency representatives, owners, photographers, industry advocates and trade-organization heads attended the two-day Chicago event, and many pointed to the recession bringing out fewer people than years past as travel budgets have been slashed. There was also a general consensus that stock sales are slow, down and, on the traditional side, of the stock-image marketplace, very concerning. Compared to three years ago, when agencies sent entire teams from Europe, attendance was indeed half—a sign of the times.

PACA president Maria Kessler, formerly of Jupiterimages, opened up the seminar with a call to arms and an announcement requesting all attendees to discuss the impending Google Books settlement. In 2004, Google began the process of scanning of some 7 million books to date to provide access to these works digitally, without regard to licensing the material. An estimated 1 million of these are orphan works, 1 million are in the public domain, and 5 million are copyrighted. PACA agreed in action to object and, in late April, to intervene on a legal proceeding that included authors but not include visual artists at the bargaining table. Orphan works or not, there is some confusion as to who is responsible for tracking down these orphaned rights—Google or the artists who created them.

Kessler said: “It is clear that the settlement needs some serious review.” This review comes at a time when our industry is falling increasingly upon the volunteered arms of trade organizations, who themselves are feeling the pinch of reductions in memberships at a time when advocacy is needed more than ever.

The proposed U.S. orphan works bill was an obvious candidate for the PACA seminar discussion. There was an audience sigh of relief when director of the Copyright Alliance Patrick Ross predicted no further action in the short term: “We are not expecting significant developments in orphan works this year. But expect it for 2010.”

Still, 2009 seems to be a turning-point year for image licensing. Image-agency owner and vetted pragmatist Robert Harding said: “Do I have anything encouraging to say to someone wanting to start a photo agency? No, I don’t. I was making more on pictures in 1980 than I am now, and that is without adjusting for inflation.” Smiles hit the audience, and there was certainly a group-hug effect from all agencies and contributors.

This year is unlike any other to date in the history of stock photography. The words “sea change” come to mind. The Copyright Registry’s Randy Taylor summed up the situation with: “What is fair use in an age of micro-pricing?”

On the second day of the symposium, the art-buyers panel highlighted that the current authentic, slice-of-life image aesthetic shows no signs of fading in popularity. In addition, the recession has brought new interest to the concepts of consumer spending, home-based vacations and the broader theme of doing more with less.

There was also a general agreement that customer service from agencies was on the decline. In an ironic contrast, the level of sales support from agencies did not appear to make much makes a big difference in where a particular buyer chose to shop for imagery.

Will there be an increase in motion use in the near future? Yes, but buyers all agreed the explosion is not in the rights managed side of the footage industry, but rather micro for the web.

The symposium also presented an opportunity to explore new paths.

Jonathan Ross took members down memory lane, spanning from the beginning of his 20-year stock-licensing career to now. He shared core earnings data, shoot methodology and the results of his microstock tests. Heads spun when he suggested that his goal when shooting micro is to produce 250 selects per day. Ross also offered that he is no longer interested in this shoot methodology. He feels that “micro’s biggest mistake was starting prices at $1. If it had started at $10, we would all be buying property in Hawaii.” And yet, Ross, a realist, suggested that it is not an equation of macro vs. micro. Rather, it is macro and micro together that could be the future of career-oriented photographers who wish to earn their entire living from stock licensing.

PACA panelist Sally Russell, from K12’s tech-based education company, smartly pitched that those who the recession “will be establishing relationships now, providing good customer service, being flexible and engaging trust.” Aaron Booth from Corbis/Veer added that Veer is now assigning six people to blogging and social networking for 30 minutes per day. Incoming president of the American Society of Media Photographers Richard Kelly also noted that “blogs are the new portfolio review, the new interview. They are the story behind the story.”

Jack Hollingsworth expects content creators and sellers to use Facebook and Twitter to reach customers. “You gotta get into Facebook. Forget MySpace—I mean, just forget it!” joked Hollingsworth, and the audience roared in laughter. Why? Because it seems that even social media and evolutions in keeping up with the Jones’ is… well, simply having trouble keeping up with itself. That perplexity was the synopsis of the symposiums, and a weekend where many walked away curious with what might be next. It was a groupthink similar to the 2008 PhotoPlus Expo, which took place six months ago, when the Dow’s slide began.

• • •

Shannon Fagan is a New York City-based commercial and stock photographer. With his stock represented by Getty Images and Corbis, Fagan is also the president of the Stock Artists Alliance, the only trade organization devoted exclusively to stock licensing. Fagan’s commercial client list spans well-known publishing titles, companies and organizations, including Business Week, Nikon, People and United Way. His work has won a number of awards.

• • •

Copyright © 2009 Shannon Fagan. 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


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