12 Mar 2007 Microstock vs Macrostock, Art vs Commerce
This is the post I really wanted to write when I started this blog. I reading other blogs and forums on the topic I found a lot of opinions. Some I liked, some I didn’t. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t. Some made me think, some made me laugh. But the biggest comparison was that some were objective, some were not.
Stock photography is undergoing significant change. Many people are not happy. Here’s who they are:
Macrostock photographers – where they previously made a living from a portfolio of 100 images, now they cannot.
Photography artists – where they previously maintained a struggling artist lifestyle but survived by occassionally selling out to the man, now they cannot.
Let’s review in more detail:
The first group, macrostock photographers, previously earned a descent living by selling stock photos for a few hundred dollars each. They’d use agencies or deal directly with clients, but they’d only need 100 image strong portfolio with a few sales a week to get by. Now the landscape has changed. Microstock means the same images sell for a few dollars. The same portfolio of 100 images now has an earning capacity of a few thousand dollars a year, maybe more, maybe less, depending on quality and topic. Their business model has been made redundant by technology.
The second group, photographic artists, are outwardly anti-commercial. They make their living by selling artistic images. They disregard the costs of creating the images and the likely revenue they will gain from it. Their focus is the art, their expression and what the image speaks. Their landscape is changing too. Advances in camera technology and the advent of microstock is lowering the barriers to entry. Now anyone can take an artistic photograph. The quality may not be the same, the photographers may have zero talent, and it may take hundreds of photos to get a good one, but it can be done. Art is subjective. Whether the art community would approve or shun the image is no longer relevant. In microstock images have access to the entire market and sell regardless.
The situation should be starting to sound familiar. Industries are faced with structural upheaval on a constant and recurring basis. In the movie Other People’s Money, Danny DiVito’s character makes a speach to factory workers. He’s about to close down their factory, which manufactures copper cable, because fibre optics are taking over the market. He cites the example of buggy whip manufacturers outraged when they were put out of business by the advent of the automobile.
We don’t even have to look so far back to see examples of technology completely transforming an industry. Talk to music industry executives about their experience over that past decade. Talk to executives from the large movie making studios for a similar story. Technology changes things.
Stock photography is no different. The music industry had to deal with multimedia computers and audio compression, and stock photography has cheap digital cameras. The music industry had to deal with Internet file sharing, and stock photography has microstock websites.
Microstock isn’t for everyone, so macrostock photographers will never be completely replaced. Large organisations with big marketing budgets are happy to spend big dollars for commissioned or exclusive stock. Especially if it means they’re not going to have images they used seen elsewhere. Stock photography as a profession just got more difficult. Only those at the top of the game will survive. It’s natural selection, otherwise known as survival of the fittest. 99% of musicians are passionate about their music and still have a day job. Stock photographers now have the same fate.
Ok, comment time. Let me have it!