29 Oct 2009 Photo Week 2009 in Review

New York City was the place to be for photographers last week. Mediabistro’s Business of Microstock panel, PDN’s PhotoPlus Expo and a host of other related events took place in what is becoming known as ‘Photo Week’. Here’s some quick recaps from some of the friends of Microstock Diaries who attended the festivities.

Rahul Pathak, LookStat

It was great to connect with a bunch of great photographers and industry mavens. People like Shannon Fagan, John Lund, Trinette Reed, Chris Gramly, Cathy Yeulet, Andres Rodriguez, Kelly Cline, Jack Hollingsworth, Ellen Boughn – the list is endless. My overriding impressions were that there was a great deal of concern but also cautious excitement in the room. The tone was that it was harder to make money in pure stills in micro but that sentiment wasn’t shared by Monkey Business Images. They were still seeing strong growth and were big believers in micro. Fascinating to hear the story behind the company direct from the source – impressive stuff, Cathy. It was great to hear from Garth about how Fotolia was approaching the market and their general bullishness about the industry’s prospects.

There was a lot of excitement about video and selling stock direct among photographers. It was also interesting to see competition for contributors start to heat up in the microstock space and to hear about the use of free images as a way to drive awareness around microstock licensing. The biggest issue though remains buyers. How can you get buyers to come to your site? Another hot topic with photographers was SEO. I’m telling everyone I see to add words to their images! It’s a tough battle with visual professionals, but it’s critical for SEO. Keyword your images and get them all online – it’s crucial. (As an aside, micro photographers have a leg up on others when it comes to direct licensing & seo because their images are already IPTC-keyworded and captioned – this is a big obstacle for non-micro shooters.)

Overall, it was clear that we are in a time of great change in the industry and while that is disconcerting, it creates opportunity. I’m excited and fired up about the potential for growth in micro in particular and the evolution of stock photography and photographers, in general.

Lee: Check out LookStat’s free trial for 25 images keyworded, uploaded and submitted to up to 10 microstock agencies and some exceptionally useful analysis of the images LookStat monitors with their analytics tools.

Lanny Zeiring, John Lund and Jack Hollingsworth.  © Shannon Fagan

Lanny Ziering, John Lund and Jack Hollingsworth. ©Shannon Fagan

Hugo Angelmar, iSyndica

One of my key takeaways from Photo Plus is that people expect more out of the digital world than ever. You have direct selling through online galleries such as Zenfolio, online fulfillment for canvas, wraparounds and pocket-sized books with services like MPix and Lulu.com, and another one is the automatic creation of digital slideshows with Animoto.

Clearly, the number of services and ecommerce isn’t getting smaller and images, footage or illustrations now have to reach more destinations. The only way around this is a closer integration between services. The way iSyndica helps photographers, footage producers and illustrators distribute their content to stock agencies but also to social media sites such as Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, is representative of the idea. MPix is well integrated with Zenfolio, and Lulu.com with Fotolia. Helping media move effortlessly to various content hubs, services and social outlets will be a growing trend.

Another important aspect for me was social media. There were two panels covering that piece and photographers attending Jack Hollingsworth’s ‘Photography Makeover panel showed a genuine interest. For the mostly one-man-show business that photography can be, an individual can really create a brand around himself the way Jack has so successfully done. For that precise reason, social media can be a powerful tool for photographers. The questions answered by Jack were how and where to start, suggesting people start with Twitter. I would suggest Facebook. Facebook is 250 million users, way ahead of Twitter’s 55. And the activity level is much higher: Users spend 20 minutes per day on average on the site. Twitter on the other hand has many spammers/robots and the percentage of users who are inactive is staggering:   only 5% of Twitter accounts generate 75% of Tweets. Where does that leave the other 95%.

Lee: Hugo has more thoughts on the iSyndica blog about the Business of Microstock panel and PhotoPlus Expo. as well as a photo album of event photos on Facebook.

Andres Rodriguez, Garth Johnson, Ellen Boughn and Jack Hollingsworth.  © Mediabistro

Andres Rodriguez, Garth Johnson, Ellen Boughn and Jack Hollingsworth. Photo by Rana Faure ©Mediabistro

Ellen Boughn, Stock Photo Consultant

Jack Hollingsworth moderated the Business of Microstock panel (what didn’t OmniJack do last week”the man has more positive energy and enthusiasm than a four year old. Not to insinuate that he is immature because he is very wise¦but then there are those pink and grey Argyll patterned suits¦humm). I was privileged to be joined on that panel by Garth Johnson of Fotolia and super microstock hero, Andres Rodriguez. Being the oldest member of the group I attempted to put the image business of today and tomorrow in a context of the past.

I think that the downfall of royalty free was an oversupply of similar images, the creation of which was driven by sales reports and creative research supplied to photographers by their agencies. Microstock is more transparent: the download numbers on any image are available for the looking and the result is driving the same copying and over abundance as was seen in RF.

I think the major threat to microstock is from true UGC sites like Flickr where a huge number (over 16,000,000 million) of images are available for use via just the creative commons for attribution license. It is only a matter of time before someone (besides the limited number that Getty has harvested), figures out how to provide model releases to those CC images with people. Then the barriers to commercial use of Flickr images will be even more prevalent.

There appeared to be fewer exhibitors at PPE. I wasn’t able to attend any seminars except the one I moderated, ‘Tools for Licensing Stock Photography Direct.   I was pleased that Creative Commons at PPE for the first time and represented by Fred Benenson, was not shouted out of the hall. I also invited representatives from PhotoShelter, License Stream and LookStat to be on the panel.

I think that we are now on a bridge¦not a large steel suspension bridge but more like a rope spanning two worlds¦the licensing model based on fees for use to a new one that will enable new heights of creativity. Hopefully it will also evolve to monetize the images of those who want to continue to make a living in stock photography.

Chris Gramly, Stock Photographer

We found the Business of Microstock Panel to be very informative as with everything Jack seems to be involved with putting together, thanks Jack!   This panel was the best part of UGCX this year and we got a lot out of it.   Our belief is that one of the most important thing you can do when riding the seas of change is to stay closely connected to peers in your industry, both those who share your perspective and those who have alternative viewpoints.   Both UGCX & Photoplus offer a great venue for connecting with our peers face to face, something that has always been invaluable to us.   There are many indicators right now that support the fact that the gap between micro and macro is shrinking.   We are starting to see agencies offering content at pricing models ranging from free to traditional RM.   This makes for an exciting time for both macro and micro shooters.   Hopefully sometime soon we can eliminate these labels and get back to being photographers/videographers who provide customers with the images they want offered at various price points.   After spending a week at UGCX & PhotoPlus we walked away feeling very excited about micro stills and video.

Lee: Check out Luxury Resort & Spa Photographers Trinette Reed and Chris Gramly, two prominent members of the stock photo community who contribute at all levels of the market.

Shannon Fagan, Stock Photographer and SAA President

Three words come to mind as I recollect my thoughts from the past two weeks of events in the photography industry: correction, stratification, and risk aversion.   Interestingly, all three of these come directly from my increasing fascination with our financial outlook of the global economy.   What Picture House, PACA, Mediabistro’s UGCX/Business of Microstock, and PDN’s PhotoPlus Expo all taught me was, that what we experience as an industry selling imagery is not insular from the outside world.

Correction.   When markets correct there is a natural state of panic in every investor’s physce and mind.   Let’s start with getting physce’d up.   Our photographic economy is in a period of severe contraction, a period unseen ever before according numerous industry veterans and ten to forty thousand hour experts (tipping to Malcolm Gladwell’s reference on outliers here).   The universe for media licensing and content retrieval, due to the Internet’s wide and efficient grasp, has changed.   Note that I did not use the present tense, nor did I use the term recessionary effect.   Our intellectual selves cannot ignore the facts of what has already unfolded in front of us: low price competition is continuing at a rapid pace.   Some 98% of all user generated digital micro photography content on the web is created by persons for whom earning a living from this content is not the sole reason for it’s creation in the first place.   Jeff Howe, author of the book ‘Crowdsourcing, addressed an audience member’s question last week by stating that ‘until this data shifts (below 98% due to natural pressures of supply and demand) the threat to photography is continued downward price pressure.   We are not seeing a decrease in the interest to provide image content online, rather, it is exponentially growing. ‘Photography is the canary in the coal mine: inexpensive cameras, easy editing, and internet access.

Stratification.   Ellen Boughn opened up the UGCX’s ‘Business of Microstock panel by reasoning that ‘Google has taught everyone in the world how to search.   Fotolia’s PhotoXpress provides certain content for free, while up-selling clientele to it’s higher priced imagery.   iStockphoto introduced it’s higher priced, higher quality Vetta collection this year.   I personally had four fantastic Rights Managed sales last month at Getty Images after seeing return per image drops each month all year long.   As more of us move into the user generated content world, one aspect about business has not changed.   Buyers must trust.   Buyers must be able to search and find content by relevance.   Buyers need brevity.   And lastly, buyers must be paid attention to first, before they will pay attention to you (as the content provider or seller) in turn.   Just for fun, do you know what the average attention span is?   2.7 seconds, or the time is takes to read 140 characters of text.   Such is Twitter.   Filtering content by stratifying it to users’ needs is the relevant search of the future.

Risk Aversion.   UGCX’s Peter Shankman said ‘learning to write is mandatory in reference to placing a value set of skills and services alongside the actual content being offered for sale.   We have become a self appointed society of micro journalists, and just like micro payments, unless you keep a wrap of trust and relevance to that which is being placed on the internet, we risk loosing control.   If everyone is generating the same content, ‘we don’t have the right to complain when we lose followers.   If an optimum crowd to be sourced is 5000 persons (ironically, this is Facebook’s ˜friend’ limit), what is the optimum crowd of content to make a living?   Ben Huh of online site ˜I Can Has Cheezburger’ said, ‘users are doing the editing for us.   They do all of the work, we just edit it, and less than 1/10th of 1% is posted online.   Clearly volume, and diversification of offering are at play in our distribution oriented world.   This is a concept of one brand, which houses multiple content offerings under sub-brands.   You must speak to the need of your marketplace.   There is aversion to this by the content providers amongst us, but we will witness by mid-2010, a re-distribution of what constitutes a professional in our respective industry.

Lee: Big thankyou to Shannon for live-tweeting all the stock photo events of the past two weeks. Follow @shannonfagan and @stockartists on Twitter, and check Shannon’s Facebook wall for more event photos and commentary.

Jack Hollingsworth, Stock Photographer

I may be biased but i thought the best UGCX session panel was our own – “The Business of Microstock”. The crowd, as you would expect was generally optimistic, futuristic, even realistic about where we are as a creative business today.   There was lots of buzz, coffee talks and water cooler debates – arguably where the real dialogue took place.   Personally i like the San Jose venue more where participant had luxury of pick and choosing a particular tract/session to attend.   I took plenty of notes and was most excited hearing how individuals and companies are creatively using the web to build social capital and brand awareness.   I would attend again. 🙂

At PhotoPlus Expo, session and trade show attendance seemed clearly down from previous years.   This year in particular, i didnt sense the same sort of interest or passion for stock photography, either macro or micro.   Stock, as   a career option, seemed much lower on the totem poll of priorities for most.   Overall there was an awkward nervousness about where the stock industry is heading.   Some, as you would expect, were bullish at all costs. Others were pessimistic and more vocal about exit strategies.   I still very much strongly believe that there is money to be made in stock.   It’s just that you have to fixate on the opportunities and not the obstacles (which are in abundance).

In contrast, the biggest rush and buzz for me personally was hanging out and highly engaged with my new social media buddies.   Talk about energy, excitement, enthusiasm.   Our PPE sponsored Tweetup, the largest of it’s kind, was a smashing success.   Standing room only to a packed house of Tweeple and Manufacturers.   Both my new sessions, Twitter Revolution and Photographer Makeover were equally well attended and highly engaging.   Lots of buzz going on here.

While stock photography is licking it’s bruises, trying to make sense of the landscape …there is nothing but blue skies ahead for photographers (stock and/or assignment) who are using the awesome power of web 2.0 tools and technologies to redefine their photo business and brands.   This weeklong trip for me was a definite lesson in contrasts- “A Tale of Two Cities”.

Lee: Jack has posted his presentations from Photo Week online: Business of Microstock; Twitter Revolution; and, Photographer Makeover. Don’t forget to follow @photojack on Twitter.

Others Already Published

Tyler Olson has some interesting insights and quotes in his summary on Microstock Group.

John Lund to inspiration from the Business of Microstock panel creating some thoughts about the road ahead for the industry.

Mediabistro has some photos of the Business of Microstock panel and a video of the event will be available via their On Demand Video subscription service shortly.

  • Rahul Pathak
    Posted at 00:08h, 30 October Reply

    Great post Lee. Thanks for doing the hard work of pulling together everyone’s thoughts! You were sorely missed!

  • Tyler Olson
    Posted at 04:09h, 30 October Reply

    Yeah, thanks for getting this all together Lee. It sure seems stock has quite a few changes coming up in the next 1-2 years. I am looking forward to seeing what they are!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 16:18h, 30 October Reply

      Agree. Spades of opportunity in the marketplace, though I’m not sure how much of it is for photographers.

      • Sean Locke
        Posted at 17:40h, 01 November Reply

        Agreed, it’s obvious from the overwhelming promotion and marketing of various support services (upload services, seminars, etc.) that people think the money is to be made now from ‘teaching’ and ‘assisting’ those looking to make a living from their content creation.

  • john lund
    Posted at 12:29h, 30 October Reply


    Excellent job at pulling together an overview! My biggest disappointment of the week was in not getting to see you!


    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 16:20h, 30 October Reply

      Thanks John, I don’t plan to miss too many more of these events! See you next time.

  • mystockphoto
    Posted at 13:26h, 30 October Reply

    Thanks very much Lee for doing this comprehensive summary of the events for those like me that was not there, unfortunately… I’d like to say hello to all the band: Jack, Rahul, Hugo, Tyler, Ellen, John, Andres, Garth.

  • peepo
    Posted at 16:44h, 30 October Reply

    Great article Lee – thanks for reporting back to us that could not make it – lots of reasons to be excited! I’m looking forward to watching it on Media Bistro

    Thanks buddy!

  • Billy Bob
    Posted at 13:28h, 07 November Reply

    Great article! I get a lot of good information from your blog posts.

    As an aside, after I read the fourth paragraph of the overview of Shannon Fagan’s presentation I started on a quixotic mission to tell people not to use “loose” when they mean to use “lose”.You can loosen a knot, but you can’t lose a knot unless you’re a knot collector and somebody steals your knots. You can’t loose a basketball unless it’s trapped in a basketball net, but you can lose your basketball if it rolls into a sewer drain. It’s now my mission in life to correct this error when I see it. It seems to be pervasive on the internet. I know I should get a life but there are some causes worth dying for. I only point this out because you’re a good writer, seriously.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 19:25h, 09 November Reply

      I’ve corrected the error for you Billy Bob. Your mission is off to a positive start. 😉

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