Has the revolution in stock photography happened yet?

Some might say the internet, and digital imaging in general have caused a revolution in the business of stock photography. This might be true from the buyers’ point of view, as there’s an almost infinite range of work available online, from the exclusive rights-managed photographs for someone in the advertisement industry creating a large budget campaign, to the royalty-free microstock for a small webdesigner creating a local website.


© Pedro Pinheiro

On the other hand, from the seller’s perspective, if you’re a semi-professional photographer (meaning that you don’t live of your photography, at least not exclusively), the ratio between the work involved and the money you get for it is still not very attractive. I’m not talking about the photographic work (I’m not defending getting money for crappy work), but the time effort in promoting your work. This is due to two main reasons – the market for microstock is heavily fragmented, so to make any non-trivial amount of money from $1 sales (from which you get $0.50), you have to upload a lot of photos into lots of different services, and tag, categorize, and price-range every single photograph on every of those different services. The second reason is that at the other end, it’s very difficult to get your work into the big services like Getty or Corbis – it’s a “you don’t pitch your work to them, they’ll find you” kind of situation, that usually only works for big professional career photographers, and not for semi-pro photographers even if they have a good and relevant portfolio.

There’s a service that is trying to bridge this gap, PhotoShelter. For me personally, it hasn’t worked because it’s too complex. The idea is great, you upload your work, set the kind of rights available for each photo and the price, but I find that the whole process is just not… elegant. To be fair, you do get to keep a much higher percentage of the sale price as compared with all the other services. They’ve even created a way to import your photos from flickr, but you end up having to redo a lot of the meta-work you’ve already done previously. It works for professional or very serious semi-pro photographers with a lot of time they can devote into selling photographs, but not for everyone.

This week Getty announced they’ve struck a deal with flickr to “scout” for good photographers and photographs and invite them to make their work available on their collection for sale. This is a good step (although opinions differ, PhotoShelter had quite a strong reaction to the news), but it may only take care of the top, rights managed end of the spectrum.


© Pedro Pinheiro

What would be a real revolution for the semi-pro (or even amateur) photographer? What if flickr extended itself into (also) being a stock photography website? Their whole system is beautifully simple, to the point that a lot of creative professionals go there to seek visual inspiration. In part this is due to their system of rating photographs by what they call interestingness, an automated system that takes into account the views, comments, and other factors of each photograph, and which makes (usually) the best and more appealing photographs come to the top of every search. It’s an online social model that has really worked towards a tangible goal.

Flickr could make a killing in the mid and lower end range of the market. With the same ease that the rights of photographs can be set (from copyrighted to a creative commons license), they could have the option to set a “for sale” flag, with a simple price matrix of resolution/rights, and take care of the whole process for photographers. They have one of the broadest collections in the world, the exposure, the user base, the almost perfect rating system. If they could overcome the legal hurdles and create a “for sale” system with the simplicity they’re known for, it would be a real revolution for semi-pro photographers and the stock photography business. You’d get the ability from the same amount of work, of being able to “show off” your work, and also make some money from it.

This is a guest post by Pedro Pinheiro, a Twitter buddy and a photographer. I asked him to write a few words about the changes on digital photography and specially the whole stock business. One of my main pictorial sources of inspiration is Flickr, and was interested to know how a talented photographer (earning some online revenue from their work) felt about the recent Getty images + Flickr deal. Perhaps it was just Yahoo running away from Microsoft (Corbis CEO is Bill Gates), perhaps it was another industry adjusting to the online world. Pedro knows the best. Thanks @ppinheiro76.

2 thoughts on “Has the revolution in stock photography happened yet?

  1. Hi

    I’m not sure about inspiring but the stock world is certainly in a ferment. I’ve been a stock photographer for many years and now work with Alamy and Phototoshelter which I think are trying to innovate. My opinion is that photographers need to be very open minded and encourage multiple income streams. I like the blog and I’ll take the RSS feed.

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