The Future of Advertising

Posted on 12/29/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (5)

Before reading this colloquy between Paul Melcher and myself the reader should review my story on “Authentic And Real Images” and all the comments that started our whole conversation. Paul makes some excellent points. To a large extent I agree with his entire analysis.

Paul Melcher

You make a lot of good points, but you leave behind some valuable ones.

I understand that your point is, as you say "interested in what it takes to produce images that someone will actually pay money to use". Your vision is one of the classic pro-photographer.  Nothing wrong with that.  However, because of that approach, your analysis is solely of a marketplace in decline, as you quite precisely explain here and a lot of your posts.

In other words, you are trying to apply old models upon new strategies and, of course, it doesn't work very well.

Let me explain. Companies like Foap or Scoopshot (ImageBrief is different) do not care nor do they need to care about who submits images to them and how frequently. Whether a user repeatedly submits images to every single mission or not, it is irrelevant. That is because they work with a continuous flow of shooters that are either new, sporadic, one timer or addicts. In volume, it adds up to continuous submissions, today or in 10 years. There will always be a group of people submitting images.

Remember, 1.8 billion images are uploaded every day; they only need a few hundreds per week.
The only way they will loose shooters is if they stop publishing missions or, as you rightly say, if a better competitor sucks their traffic.

Is this good for the classic pro-photographer? No. But it's a reality. And not one that is about to disappear.

What pro photographers need to understand is that the old traditional "I shoot/ I submit to photo agency/ I collect nice paycheck" is dead and will not come back. It has been canibalized by microstock for commercial stock and exsanguinated by dying press conglomerates for editorial.

How the market is growing, who are the new players and why they are growing is important to find where the next opportunity might lie. While you don't understand Instagram, you should, because it's a photo agency, a middleman as you call them. Think of it:

It collects photos from a variety of contributors and offers them for display and distribution on a single website. The only difference, is that, up to now, it wasn't collecting any money from downloads or anything else. That is about to change.
Instead of charging a fee to download and use their images, Instagram charges a fee to advertisers who want to reach people looking at those images. To the tune of $2 billion a year, much more than any photo agency has ever made. Without ever charging a license fee.

Shutterstock or Fotolia could decide to stop charging for downloads and instead turn themselves into Instagram competitors. After all, they do have 10s of millions of images. But there is one problem. Those images are neither real nor authentic. They are fabricated snapshots for sale. And people can not only see that, but have no interest in looking at them.

Advertisers are becoming very aware of this situation and more of them are looking to Instagram for images because they are authentic and real, dropping Shutterstock in the process. Shutterstock knows this and is actively working on combating it. At one point, the two will merge. Stock photography will meet Instagram-like companies and vice versa, bridging the currently existing gap.

By telling your readers to not care, ignore and dismiss this trend will forcibly throw them out of the possibility of creating a revenue stream for themselves.

Jim Pickerell

I agree with a great deal of what Paul has to say.

Clearly advertising is shifting from the traditional print philosophy to a digital one. Will print be abandoned entirely? It’s hard to imagine, but given how the world is changing, not impossible in a decade or so. However, we will certainly see a continued steady decline in the use of print as advertisers spend more and more of their budget on online options.  

It the new environment, organizations like Instagram will understand the interests of each individual who visits their site based on where they live, their friends, the web sites they visit and the images they look at.

In the digital model advertisers don’t need eye-stopping photos to catch the readers attention. With the use of “Big Data” advertisers will be able to know the types of products and services that individual cell phone or IP address users might need. There is no more privacy. All advertisers need to do is show their product and quickly explain why the reader must have it.

Advertisers will no longer need to use a shotgun approach to reach people who “might be interested” in their product. They will be able to focus with laser accuracy on exactly those individuals who really need what they have to offer.

The photos amateurs post become much more important – regardless of any quality standard – than photos professionals produce. Personal photos tell the advertiser something about who that person is. It is the person who took the photo that the advertiser is trying to reach.

Photos produced by professional photographers become confusing noise, except maybe to photographic equipment manufacturers. These don’t necessarily tell a great deal about the interests of the photographers as an individual. The photographer may have been producing lots of images that he hoped someone else would want to buy rather than images that point to his passions or what he might need in the way of services.
What does this mean for image creators who are trying to earn part of their living from the photos they produce?
    1 – There will be less need for generic, staged photos.

    2 – The more “Authentic and Real” a photo looks the better.

    3 – Advertisers will expect to pay much less for the photos they need since they have lots of choice and the photos will be used on the Internet.

    4 – Advertisers may need photos of their product, but an amateur photo of someone using their product will probably be of greater value.

    5 – Professionally produced photos may still be needed of subjects that are difficult to photograph, but the number of such situations is limited.

    6 – There will continue to be work for some photographers in “limited access” situations like covering events that occur in the White House, or other political events. But, in most cases, the amount paid for such photos is not likely to be enough to sustain a business.
Since a high percentage of professionally produced stock photos are used in one way or another for advertising the long terms prospects of earning a living as a photographer are not great. If you are of an age where you expect to need to earn a living ten to twenty years down the road, now might be a good time to start training for, or developing some contacts in, an alternative career path. The need for people who take pictures for money will not go away instantly, but the number of such individuals needed and the amount they can earn for their efforts will steadily decline.

Instagram As Photo Agency

Instagram collects photos, but that does not make it a photo agency. There is a big difference. A photo agency makes money by licensing image uses and pays the image creator a percentage of the license fee. Instagram makes money by tracking individual image viewers, correlating that data with other available data about the viewer and then selling that information to advertisers who want to market to the Instagram viewers.

Instagram does not need to pay for its image. In fact the images they get for free are probably of greater value than any image they might purchase because user-generated images tell Instagram something about a specific image creator and that creator’s connections.

I don’t see Shutterstock, Fotolia or Getty Images being able to turn their companies into Instagrams. There are several problems.
    1 - The motivations of image suppliers are totally different. Stock agency suppliers expect to be paid something for the use of their images. Instagram suppliers are happy to make the images they post available for free.

    2 - With Instagram, Facebook or other such sites, the most important information provided is who looks at the photo, not the photo itself. The value of these sites is based on their ability to collect data from and about a huge number of people. The more they can collect and correlate with other data about specific individuals the greater its value. When it comes to stock photo sites their viewers are only interested in buying photos and these people represent a very small subset of the population at large.

    3 - The millions of images on stock agency sites are a drop in the bucket, compared to the number on advertising sites like Instagram and Facebook.

    4 - For the most part the photos found in stock agency collections don’t tell nearly as much about a creator’s interests as a photo posted by an amateur who is anxious to share with the world. On stock photo sites the creator’s name if often hidden and there is no direct connection to the creators IP address or cell phone.

    5 - Even if stock agencies are able to get some money for the use of images in online ads like Shutterstock’s deal with Facebook the revenues for individual creators will be so insignificant that producing new images will no longer be worth the trouble.

Back to “Authentic And Real Images

At the end of my first story I may have led some readers to conclude that if they just continue to do what they have been doing everything will work out OK.  That’s not what I intended. I don’t think “missions” like those posted on Foap, Scoopshot or even ImageBrief will ever take any significant share of the market for photography. There is too much competition and too little pay. Photographers looking for an economic reward won’t stick with them for long. However, it can be a successful business model for the agency.

Stock photo producers should make a greater effort to produce “more authentic” looking images and move away from the classic, generic “stock” look. Authentic is what customers are looking for, but producing usable authentic images is a lot easier said than done. In many cases the authentic looking image will still need to be staged in order to end up with something saleable, but to get one good usable image most photographers will find that their ratio of unsuccessful images to useful ones is much higher than they have experienced in the past.

Photographers should not ignore the new advertising trends. But, so far there are no indications that photographers will be able to earn any significant money by participating in this new model. Most photographers should focus on supplying existing print users as long as possible. But, at the same time, they need to recognize that this market is dying and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of viable alternatives for someone who would like to earn a living taking pictures.


If you not already, you should be reading Paul Mechler’s Kaptur Magazine at:

Copyright © 2014 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:  


  • Larry Minden Posted Dec 29, 2014
    Speaking of advertising and photography, are we all aware that Pinterest has just opened up the platform to collect ad revenues from page views of your pictures and mine:

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 29, 2014
    I can't wait to see the lawsuits coming when advertisers use photos of Joe Smith for a campaign and he sues them for using it. THAT in itself will stop advertisers to think before they jump on Instagram photos taken for fun of someone! What do you say about that, Jim??

  • Paul Melcher Posted Dec 30, 2014
    Instagram not a photo agency ? think again :

  • Paul Melcher Posted Dec 30, 2014
    Jim, to expand on our conversation :

  • Jaak Nilson Posted Dec 31, 2014
    How photographers, content creators can survive all this embedded business. How we could get a normal fee for our images.
    Instagrammers, they do not wish usually money. They have regular work.

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