View From Australia

Posted on 11/8/2000 by Colin Burke | Printable Version | Comments (0)



November 8, 2000

At the PACA International Conference in New York Colin Burke of Stock Photos agency in

Australia gave the following view of the south-west Pacific market for stock

photography, and challenge to the stock agents in attendance. Representatives from

more than 221 agencies from 36 countries were in attendance at this conference. This

annual event has become the premier place for stock agents to meet and network with one


by: Colin Burke

As far as the stock industry is concerned, the south-west Pacific region essentially

means Australia and New Zealand. For those of you who do not know this part of the world

and did not watch the recent Olympic Games, if I was to drill a hole from this podium

through the core of the earth, it would come out about two blocks from my office in

Melbourne. We are about as far away from New York as one could possibly be.

Both countries have small populations. New Zealand with 3.5 million people while

Australia has 18.5 million. Both have mature markets. New Zealand has principally two

major stock agencies while Australia has six representing overseas stock agencies as

well as local photographers. There are very small minor agencies directed towards

niche markets such as indigenous nature.

Our market is small, but a weird one, probably because it is inhabited by weird people.

Rights controlled stock and royalty free compete for the clients' dollar. This has

resulted in a segmented market for images. We no longer deal with some small designers

who have mostly switched to royalty free. Australians cannot resist the chance of a

perceived bargain. At the same time major corporate advertisers are buying more rights

controlled images and indeed are now purchasing exclusive rights, something that never

happened before the advent of royalty free.

The New Zealand economy has encountered some difficulty with the last quarter being one

of negative growth. The fundamentals of the Australian economy are sound with growth

rates of greater than 3% being experienced consistently since 1993. Since July the

general consensus suggests sales have been disappointing with the advertising industry.

This is certainly my finding. There are three possible explanations for this.

Since July 1st Australia became the next victim to impose a GST or VAT (value added

tax). I now understand why it is so detested around the world. The GST was introduced

by the government as an election pledge some 18 months ago. Many business people, to

put it mildly, are experiencing a degree of difficulty both in the implementation of

the GST and the amount of time devoted to bookkeeping and adapting to the new role of

tax collector. It is truly amazing that since the tax was introduced I have not found

one person who voted for the current government.

Secondly the Olympic Games and what a party it was. Many businesses in Sydney

including advertising agencies simply closed down for the two weeks duration. We are

not known as the land of the long weekend for nothing. Many companies redirected

advertising budgets to hosting hospitality events during that period. Others simply

believed that it was not worth advertising given the almost religious focus on sport.

Retailers battened down the hatches in anticipation of record low sales with the

exception of those selling large screen televisions.

The third negatively impacting variable is the ever appreciating U.S. dollar. In the

last five months our currency has depreciated some 20% to 25%. This was driven home to

me in a very realistic way when my travel agent presented me with the invoice for

traveling to and staying in New York. I would like to take the opportunity, and I am

sure some of you who have travelled here from overseas would like to join me in

thanking the boys down on Wall Street for that little effort. I am gratified to see

they are gainfully employed in obviously rewarding careers causing grief and mayhem in

the economies of smaller countries. Many importers are not advertising their products

due to difficulties in pricing and seeking alternative goods from countries with non

U.S. dollar prices. Advertising budgets are being squeezed as importers attempt to

recover their margins. This distortion in the currency exchange rate has been sudden,

extensive and the negative affects are starting to be felt.

The world around us is changing and sometimes in bizarre and amusing ways. Recently a

fax crossed my desk. Buried in the text was the term "digital fulfillment." I found

this an intriguing term. I may be wrong here but I thought fulfillment best suited the

context of an emotional high, an uplifting of the psyche, a spiritual enrichment if you

like. How a computer file could achieve the same end is a little bewildering. One

could almost be forgiven in thinking a computer manual has somehow been crossed with

the Kamasutra. It certainly does put a whole new slant on that old English nursery

rhyme, little Jack Horner who sat in the corner and where he stuck his thumb. Could we

relegate that term to the lexiconic waste bin.

Like most of you we also represent photographers in our region. Lately many have

voiced their concerns to me in regard to the state of the stock industry. In my

experience I am aware that at times photographers have been known to be a tad paranoid

about any and every issue. Perhaps this is symptomatic of creative people who work in

independent isolation. But in recent times we have seen the emergence of new

developments such as globalization, acquisition, corporatization, digitization and


Indeed we are witnessing today the convergence of all these trends as the stock

industry undergoes a maturation process -- indeed a metamorphosis. What sort of beast

will arise from this industrial pupa? Personally I hope it is a butterfly and not a

moth but only time will tell. Under these circumstances who could not blame

photographers for being so rightly concerned. Would any of us react any differently if

we were to trade places.

Perhaps, if this were so, the voices of concern would be louder than they are now.

There are people, namely Richard Steedman from The Stock Market and Jim Pickerell who

have championed the cause of photographers over the years and their comments are a

matter of public record. Their understanding and appreciation of photographers may be

an outcome of having been professional photographers, and thus gaining a keen insight

into the thoughts of their colleagues. I am sure there are others, both individuals

and agencies who also are sensitive and responsive to the needs of photographers. I

apologize for overlooking you, but Australia is a long way away.

The stock industry is a very unique one since stock agencies do not, in the majority of

cases, own the images we sell. We as stock agents market the work of photographers,

our creative partners, who entrust us with their images to edit, label, market and

advertise -- and to obtain the best price in the marketplace. It is a fairly simple

concept. How often is this concept compromised with the headlong rush to gain sales at

any price? In today's climate of mass marketing, web site dominated global push for

growth, are we not in danger of ostracizing our collective responsibility to the very

people we purport to represent? Yes we do have to market hard and to utilize the

latest advances in telecommunications and technology to reach our clients. Price is

not the only variable in competition.

The emerging stock industry will confront photographers with many challenges and

decision as the past is swept away. As the number of stock agencies decreases so will

the number of displaced and unrepresented photographers. Old relationships between

agencies and photographers will cease but new opportunities will arise. This may be a

deeply worrying time for photographers as they confront the future. Indeed it is for

all of us. Any industry that undergoes a maturation process will experience profound

change. Change can be a painful process especially when you have little or no control

over its extent or speed. It is our collective responsibility to listen to our

photographers, to hear their concerns, to assist them to manage this process of change

and secure for them a fair reward for their creativity.

Photographers are the most important elements of our businesses. Sometimes we need to

stop and consider this for without them we would not be here today. This is the

message I bring you from my photographers and if your experiences are similar, I ask

that you address their concerns with the seriousness and sensitivity the situation


Copyright © 2000 Colin Burke. 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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