May 3, 2011
The parallels between the photographic industry and farming aren’t as obscure as you might think.
Imagine Getty are the Tesco/Asda/Sainsburys of the picture world, where the suppliers of the produce they sell have little control over the price they’re paid for their goods, regardless of the cost of production.
There are only so many outlets for farmer photographers, owned by some very powerful businesses that will set the selling price to wherever they think they need to in order to gain market share and make a profit.
I mention profit, but I’m not sure if Getty (who also own iStockphoto) are in profit for their stock photo portfolio of businesses, and reliable figures seem elusive, but they’re certainly good at spending whatever money they have on expansion plans.
One advantage farmers have over photographers is that they are paid for their produce by the wholesalers or retailers who then sell it on for a profit, while stock photographers give their work to the libraries for free in return for a commission, but only if a photo sells. And a photo might never sell, or might only sell for a few pence, of which the photographer might get a few pennies.
By way of leaving the farming analogy to one side, I’d like to say I have the utmost respect for farmers and I’m glad they do a job many of us couldn’t cope with.
The news that Getty have now acquired the Australian stock image library Photolibrary, close after the announcement that they’ve also acquired image-tracking firm PicScout, means Getty are still aggressively expanding and consolidating their business, but you won’t see photographers jumping for joy and I think in time neither will picture buyers be especially delighted.
Getty will want to see a return on their investments, so it may be we can expect them to switch the PicScout phaser from stun to kill as they target image infringers and recoup their money through either higher or more numerous payment demands.
As for their buying up yet another image library, what possible advantage is there to a business or a designer that they can now choose from an even larger library of the same old same old? Surely once you’ve seen one sterile business picture, you’ve seen them all. Getty can’t claim to have extended buyer’s choice any more than Heinz can claim to have extended our choice of baked beans by making more tins of the same beans.
It also appears that Getty are looking to turn the screws once again on their contributing photographers by introducing terms that mean Getty will be able to move images from Rights Managed to Royalty Free licensing, with no mechanism for contributors to opt-out of such a scheme. This leaves contributors with less control over how their images are used and the prices set. For buyers, it will mean even less exclusivity, making stock imagery even less attractive than it already is.
That final point probably explains the rise in enquiries I’m getting from businesses that are wanting to break free from the herd and be noticed (back to farming!), but I’d rather Getty used less aggressive tactics anyway because they don’t reflect well on the industry as a whole.
It’ll be interesting to see where all this activity leads. If Getty want to take a lion’s share of the market with a view to pushing up stock image prices, they may find this is a very long game indeed. I’m sure they have a plan, but in this world of over-supply and finite demand, it’ll have to be a very cunning plan or a game with infinite budget.
UPDATE: ASMP makes thinly-veiled suggestion to American photographers that if they contribute to Getty, they should consider other means of distributing their images (in other words, quitting Getty). More at PDN.
June 2, 2010
You’re shivering, but your palms sweat. You squirm on the unsympathetic chair, and squint into a spot lamp as a voice barks questions at you from the darkness beyond. That’s right, punk, you stole a photo from iStockphoto, and now they’re gonna make you sing like a canary. It’s a fair cop, and no mistake.
For some years now Getty (owners of iStockphoto) have been setting their attack lawyers on business owners and bloggers who have unwittingly (ok, let’s be honest; knowingly) stolen photos from the web to use in their own websites. Normally, a web designer or amateur site builder will trawl Google images for something appropriate to their requirements, mis-appropriate it and use it thinking “well that was easy, so maybe it’s not illegal.”
This is fine and dandy (barring the ethical question of stealing from photographers), until the perp happens to steal an image which should have been licensed through iStockphoto, because that’s when the klaxon alarm goes off at Getty HQ, and the lawyers start booking another expensive restaurant meal based on future incomes from hapless/clueless/amateur website builders.
There was the fairly spectacular case of the removals firm which ended up spending £24,000 on a photo that might have cost around £160 had they licensed it legally, and there’s been a long-running and rather overheated discussion on the Federation of Small Businesses forum which has largely concentrated on how unfair it is that anyone should defend copyright so vigorously against people who were, after all, only stealing what they wanted and couldn’t be bothered to pay for (that’s a brutal summary, but not unfair).
Getty Bad Cop has earned something of a reputation for being belligerent and heavy-handed, and even I would disagree with some of their methods, even though I support the aims of protecting copyright property as I support anyone’s right to protect their own property.
However, perhaps sensing that this approach isn’t getting them much good publicity or winning any new friends, Getty have rolled out a new weapon. Stockphotorights is the cuddly face of the mass image aggregator hell-bent on cornering and dominating the stock image industry. It’s Getty Good Cop.
I have to admit, I rather approve of the aim of stockphotorights which is deigned to educate even the most casual user of images about the dos and don’ts of using photos. I’ve been trying to help people understand copyright and licensing for years, but let’s face it, I’m not Getty and don’t have anything like their resources to reach the masses. Plus where some people will just think it’s Tim spouting off about copyright AGAIN, they might take notice of the message from Getty.
Naturally, the site is aimed purely at users of stock images and only really mentions Getty-related agencies, but the same applies to any image found on the internet, so well worth a read.
So let me get you a glass of water, a more comfortable chair; perhaps turn off the interrogation lamp and offer a call to a solicitor. I’ll ask the Guv to calm down, take it easy. Better yet, take a few minutes to read the wealth of info at stockphotorights and we can all go home early.
November 6, 2009
Photography is everywhere, but nowhere is it more prolific than on the internet, where it is sprayed over web sites like candy from a smashed piñata, often with no thought to quality, relevance or placement. It’s just a way to break up text, and the general approach is that the cheaper this can be done, the better.
Of course the internet is a visual medium; nobody relishes reading acres of dense text, and the interspersion of text with pictures is more pleasing to the eye, but the over-use of low-cost stock imagery means that the images have become almost invisible, and their impact is lost.
The easy availability of this low-cost imagery on the web has caused another problem. Businesses, usually unknowingly, are using the same imagery as their competitors. This often happens because web designers will resort to using micro-stock sites such as istockphoto to source images, using the same search terms for similar clients. The result is a kind of Stepford Wives look to sites across the web and businesses look indistinguishable from their competitors.
If the imagery a business uses doesn’t set it apart from its competitors, what is the value of that imagery? What power will the images have to entice the prospective client to spend money with one business over another?
This ubiquity of imagery has diluted the power of photography on the web, but this isn’t photography’s fault, nor the fault of photographers. It’s just a stage internet design is going through. A bit like stages children go through on their way to becoming adults. Internet design is at the spotty teenager stage. It’s not pretty, not always useful around the house, and doesn’t know what it wants to be. However, this apparently ugly scenario can be made to work in favour of businesses who want to retake the initiative.
What businesses can do, and from my recent experiences are starting to do, is commission more bespoke photography and use less non-exclusive stock imagery. They’re presenting themselves as real businesses with real people, not the West Coast American-looking androids favoured by stock libraries for their blandness and interchangeability. Putting a genuine face to the public instead of hiding behind a sterilized façade means photography can be powerful again.
Designers I speak to are also starting to realise that their wonderful designs tend to lose impact once the generic stock images are plonked in, or they’re having to build the design message around whichever cheap pictures they have to hand. Designers are having to learn how to sell real photography to their clients again or face their designs simply costing their clients money, instead of bringing in sales.
So as the internet emerges from its teenage years, will business once again discover the power of genuine, bespoke photography? In the days of the printed brochure, you rarely had to suffer seeing photos taken by the boss’s nephew, and businesses paid good money to keep their identity unique from their competitors. As the internet goes from teenage to adulthood, so business web sites must mature into truly professional platforms for marketing, not just concentrating on site structure, graphics and text but the imagery too. Those that embrace exclusive imagery will find the extra investment creates a greater return.
It isn’t easy to shoehorn all these concepts into a blog, but if you would like to know more about how genuinely unique photography could help your business, drop me a line. Maybe I can help get your business through puberty relatively unscarred by acne.
Article and photos © Tim Gander. All rights reserved 2009