If two photographers get together, how long does it take them to start complaining about the stock photo industry?
Yea, I know. Trick question. Happened again the other day, in fact, and it didn’t take long at all. Four, maybe five minutes. We have a mutual agency representation, so we started there. Then we quickly moved to bashing Getty. I don’t need to repeat the conversation, you know just how it goes.
We’ve all taken huge hits. This morning, I received my monthly commission statement from an agency that used to bring me at least $1,000-2,000 every month. This month totaled $160. Last month was $90. The month before was $61. And that’s small potatoes compared to some of the really prolific shooters shooters who used to earn $10-50,000/month through their agencies. They’re down too. WAY down.
I’ve had this conversation over and over again with so many photographers during the past few years that it got me thinking. We all pine for the “good old days of stock,” but the reality is that those good old days didn’t last very long, pretty much the 80’s and early 90’s. That was nearly fifteen years ago, and I have to be honest with you, I remember complaining about it even back then when Royalty Free started to take hold.
Essentially, we’ve been complaining about how bad the stock industry is for longer than it was “good.” And, we don’t just complain about stock, it’s the entire photo industry that we seem to have a problem with.
To me, this is pretty sobering, but in some ways, it’s just simple economics. As a relatively young industry, a small number of people did really well for a brief period before everyone else wanted in, just like with any seemingly successful business model, whether it revolves around cars, coffee or photographs. (Think it’s any easier to sell coffee?) Now, with fierce competition, market oversaturation, a trend of massive acquisitions, and a virtual race to the bottom for sales, photographers are left with the short end of the stick. The very short end.
Like I said above, though, it’s not going to magically get better. We’re not going back, so it’s time to quit complaining and move on.
What does that mean for you, the photographer? Oh, I don’t know, how about whatever your own creativity and marketing ingenuity can come up with in this very exciting time of digital imaging, social media, retina displays and a enormous world of possible, clients, customers and opportunities.
Many photographers, me included, now make more from writing, blogging, teaching, publishing and other “social” outlets than they do with stock. Some have turned outward with their business models, while others have turned inward towards their own local community. Many do both. Some people team up with fellow photographers. Assignment work is still out there to be had, as are many other types of money making prospects that may or may not have existed ten years ago.
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