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To Succeed, Don’t Compete With Stock

August 30th, 2008 · 3 Comments

There’s no denying that it’s a challenging time for professional photographers. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most significant is the fact that the supply of stock photography has seen explosive growth while demand has only grown slightly. The result is extreme downward pressure on the price of stock images.

The availability of stock images at rock-bottom prices affects not only the market for stock photos but other areas where stock could conceivably be used. When a credible stock image can be had for a few dollars from a microstock agency, designers, art directors and photo editors will go out of their way to find a way to use stock (or will be directed to do so by the people who manage their budgets) rather than spend hundreds or thousands of dollars hiring a photographer.

With that said, there are many areas where using stock imagery is not an option. Generally speaking, the more a photographer can establish themselves in an area that doesn’t compete with stock, the better their chances to have financial success.

There’s a long list of specialties for photographers that aren’t directly threatened by the over-supply of stock. These include event photography, sports, portraits, fashion, products, news, fine art, high-end advertising, specialty science and some feature work.

Of course being a professional photographer means more than just making a living using a camera. If you’re wildlife photographer and business is slow, that doesn’t mean you should try to get hired to shoot a fashion spread for a magazine. Not all skills transfer well from one photo specialty to another. And it take years to establish the expertise and connections needed to succeed in a specific specialty. But if you imagine that you can make a living shooting generic images of couples on a beach or business people in a conference room, you might do well to investigate other areas of photography that are at least immune to competition from stock images.

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Tags: Photo Marketing Tips

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 DJKPhoto // Aug 31, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    It’s still possible to make it with stock but you really need to have a special style that doesn’t look like everything else. The problems with stock is that too much of it looks the same.

  • 2 samman // Aug 31, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    But the bean counters who set the budgets don’t care about quality, don’t care enough, or don’t know enough to care. Who pays $500 for a rights managed image when you can get a microstock image for a few bucks?

  • 3 Tim S // Aug 31, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Who in their right mind is STUPID enough to contribute to the microstock houses in the first place? Couldn’t photographers see with the advent of digital cameras that it would flood the market? It economics 101, supply and demand.

    Jon is right to a degree, as a whole it doesn’t affect high end advertising, but what it has done is devalued it enough in the clients eyes to where they don’t budget the same. They realize that they can get by with cheap stock when they need to and by the fact that their clients are expecting to get their project done faster than is possible via shooting a job. I’ve been told face to face with some of the biggest agency art buyers in the country that their clients sit on projects so long trying to make up their minds knowing that they can get it done quickly with stock. Then their clients complain that their advertising isn’t working ( because the agency creative is lacking and because they have wrapped their concepts around a generic image that doesn’t specifically address the marketing message that is really needed to help sell the product or service.) To top it off, the client tells the agency to use stock instead because it’s cost effective. Why let the accountants of these companies dictate what is effective for their advertising when they don’t know jack? They have the money to spend! It’s difficult enough to make it in this business, how can we let someone who doesn’t understand our industry try to dictate to us what we should make? You have to account for your operating expenses don’t you? It’s all in the photographers hands to control our collective destinies. We are letting young inexperienced agency and corporate personnel destroy our industry. Ask the folks at 1 pro photo what they think is happening to our industry and how much longer it will last if something isn’t fundamentally changed?

    There needs to be a more concerted effort on the part of ASMP, APA and the schools to educate young photographers in the standard business practices that have shaped our industry over the years. But alas, photographers have bought into the stock houses propaganda, which has made the industry into a commodity rather than the intellectual property that it is. I’ve been in the advertising photography business for over 25 years and haven’t contributed to ONE stock house, and I’m still in business. A lot of photographers who have derived their income from stock used to make $10-15k a month, but now have seen their income drop to $1000 or less. There is simply too much of it. Why even accept 50% or less of $500 when you can make so much more on an assignment? For those who are unaware, agencies are taking these dollar stock images and combining them and charging their clients tens of thousands of dollars! Why continue to line the pockets of the end user?????If everyone would pull their images or at least limit what an image will sell for so that we can cripple the stock houses and force the consumers of stock to their knees, the industry would be in better shape. See what the owners of Getty did this year? They saw what was coming and took the money that was earned off of the sweet of the photographers brow’s and sold out! The only people that microstock benefits are the owners of the stock houses and the end users.

    WAKE UP PEOPLE! If you want to live in trailer that’s fine. I won’t!

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