pancakes

MicrostockGroup Sponsors


Author Topic: Are there dark clouds over the stock photography business?  (Read 2590 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

« on: May 22, 2022, 12:27 »
+20
Are there dark clouds over the stock photography business?

Over the past years, weve seen continuous changes making it harder and harder for stock photographers to survive in this competitive business. Are the stock agencies now preparing for the final death blow to separate themselves from the photographers?

If you are a stock photographer, Im sure you know that making a living from selling your photos hasnt gotten any easier over the past years. Although the need for digital content is higher than ever before, the competition between stock agencies has led content prices to drop year by year.

For those not involved in stock photography - you may be surprised to hear that most subscription sales on big agencies like Shutterstock only pay the photographer 10 cents per download. Thats not much. In fact, its so little that a photographer needs to sell a photo to a client at least 30 times to be able to afford a small Caffe Latte at Starbucks. On sales that are not coming from subscriptions, the stock agencies take roughly 70 - 90% of the commission on any sales.

There needs to be sustainability in any business for it to survive. Without sustainability, it cant exist. Sustainability in stock photography is when clients pay for content, agencies take a cut for facilitating the sales and marketing of the content, and theres a chunk left for the content creator to pay for their work and reinvest in new content production. But intensified competition and in attempts to maximize profits - the agencies are in constant search of ways to maximize their earnings, leaving less and less on the table for the content creators. And they meet little resistance; who is going to fight them? Its David vs. Goliath. Big publicly traded corporations vs. solo photographers.

Now theres a new strategy from stock agencies to increase their profits. Its hard for them to lower royalties even further - so the next obvious step? Cut out the photographers entirely from the equation. Thats what is happening now.  At least two of the biggest and most well-known stock agencies are now aggressively acquiring content ownership by buying out photographers' portfolios. But then you might ask - if they are paying for it - whats the problem?

The problem for content creators is that its like peeing your pants. Its going to feel good for a minute, and then it will feel very, very cold. The agencies will give preference to any content they own before anything else (because therell be more profit there). If they get to the point where theres a critical mass of content, they might be able to cover most basic content needs with this critical mass. This will make it even harder for photographers to get sales on their platform. Eventually, it will be impossible for photographers to find any financial incentive for shooting stock photography.

From the perspective of stock agencies, this move makes sense in the short run, but I can have my concerns about whether there are any considerations about the long-term effects of this. Is there an understanding of the long-term game it is to acquire quality content? For me, it took at least five years from I got involved in stock photography until I started to be able to produce any quality content. Stock agencies need photographers who can run a sustainable stock production business to continuously provide relevant quality content.

For the industry, this portfolio buying strategy is problematic as it can end the chain of sustainability. The fewer royalties that end with the content creators, the fewer content creators will be able to produce quality content. Then the agencies are eventually going to struggle with quality content acquisition.

Dark clouds are forming. Is this the end?
Change is inevitable in any industry. Thats a fact. The way I see these new strategies from stock agencies is a part of that inevitable change, and as photographers, the best we can do is to figure out how to adapt to this change proactively. My take is always to look at the long-term game of any of these deals and generally, I refuse offers that I find harmful to the industry. Remember that no employee at any stock agency has the same passion for your work as you do. For them, its a job. For you, its your life.


For the past year, I've also worked on figuring out ways to connect more directly with clients. Thats, in my opinion, a way more sustainable way for this industry to survive when agencies are squeezing photographers out. Ultimately most of the value for clients needing content comes from the content creators - they are literally the ones producing the content the clients are requesting. I see it a bit as a farm-to-table movement in photography, and I hope that more photographers will succeed in connecting directly with the clients out there. Thats why I also started building a Shopify app that can help more content creators create beautiful portfolio websites to sell their content. This project started more than two years ago, and we are finally getting very close to a public launch. Its obviously hard to compete with the stock agencies who are spending millions of dollars on marketing - but at least it provides an alternative. And while photographers might not have big budgets for marketing - a bit of well-thought-out SEO takes you quite a long way.

To my colleagues in this business, Id advise thinking twice before selling your portfolio to a stock agency. If they are willing to buy you out to earn the remaining 15-30% percent of the royalty split, its because they know they can make way more on it that theyll pay you for any buyout bid. Then think about the next step. Because when the agencies own an extensive portfolio themselves, theyll be pushing that over any new content you shoot for many years to come. And then what are you going to do for a living? Id say: Hold on to your hard-earned work and find better ways to connect directly with clients in the future.


SVH

« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2022, 12:36 »
+1
I agree.

And funny, just posted a similar future outlook but different story, just two minutes before yours, on another thread :)

« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2022, 14:40 »
+12
Are there dark clouds?

dude, there were dark clouds in 2010, we are well beyond dark clouds at this point.

farbled

« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2022, 14:52 »
+2
I think the vast majority of images in many agency libraries are overpriced and will never see the light of day. If I can get some dollars for images that have never sold, and likely will never get used even as giveaways, sign me up.

We artists (just my opinion) often fail to recognize that the value of our work (when we submit to an agency) is purely in how it sells. That's it. I decided in the very beginning that for minimal returns, I put in minimal effort. I save my "art" and what talents I have for other venues. That strategy has always worked for me. Other strategies work for others.

csm

« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2022, 15:12 »
0
I think the vast majority of images in many agency libraries are overpriced and will never see the light of day. If I can get some dollars for images that have never sold, and likely will never get used even as giveaways, sign me up.

We artists (just my opinion) often fail to recognize that the value of our work (when we submit to an agency) is purely in how it sells. That's it. I decided in the very beginning that for minimal returns, I put in minimal effort. I save my "art" and what talents I have for other venues. That strategy has always worked for me. Other strategies work for others.

"I think the vast majority of images in many agency libraries are overpriced and will never see the light of day."

This is true, and the agents shouldn't keep any imagery they don't think will sell.
Go back to the old days and have editors. I know that would cost money.
What is the point for photographers to submit images of another sunset, ducks on a pond or a brick wall, they will never sell, and you never see these images on the front page of an agents website?

There were / are many who put in a lot of effort, just in to stock in the expectation that they will be properly rewarded for their efforts.
Look at what most agents put on their front page, and look at what most people are shooting, they are two different things. I think the agents should only keep what they would be happy to put on their front page.
I had several images in the past that took a year to complete.
( I kept going back to them in between other projects.)
They sold well as Rights Managed, and I learnt well out of them.
Not, they still sell well for peanuts.
But there will be no point doing anything that takes a lot of effort now.

No matter how  hard you work, all it needs is for the agents to change their t and c's and then all of a sudden you have to work twice a hard just to stay afloat.

Stock is all I thought about for 25 years.
But I gave up a year ago. I could see that there is no future in this anymore.
I'm still trying to see it as a blessing in disguise for me.

I know nothing stays the same but royalty rates now are an absolute insult.

"Congratulations you have made a sale"
1c.
Probably costs more to send the email out.
Do the agents ever look at those sales and question it?

I sold all my camera gear a year ago, which still seems weird.

I highly admire Jacob's work, and found what he wrote here interesting.
I don't see there being much of a future for stock, even though I don't play any part of it anymore.
It just seems very unfair now, and I don't know how the agents can justify, the royalty cut and the prices that artists receive.
It is simply unsustainable, and unrewarding for the effort that artists put in to the work.



farbled

« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2022, 15:30 »
0
I think the writing is on the wall for many who spend real money to produce content specifically for micro, and the agencies may recognize that and are taking steps to ensure they keep what they have in their libraries. We're seeing a shift back to early days for many, where micro was an "extra" boost for work we did for other reasons and got paid for elsewhere.

« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2022, 16:39 »
+2
Unmentioned in this thread is the agencies on-going marketing to attract new creators.

Siren-song advertising to "Make money in your spare time with your camera!" and "create residual income that keeps on paying!" etc.   

New and unwary creators eagerly sign up in droves with enticing visions and expectations of easy money to join the agency-created gravy train fairy-tale. 

They upload new material to replenish agencies with "fresh" content - some of it good some not.  Regardless it feeds the agencies libraries as they continue to attract new creators to replace the ones who've grown disillusioned with "penny stock" creator payments.

farbled

« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2022, 16:47 »
+1
Unmentioned in this thread is the agencies on-going marketing to attract new creators.

Siren-song advertising to "Make money in your spare time with your camera!" and "create residual income that keeps on paying!" etc.   

New and unwary creators eagerly sign up in droves with enticing visions and expectations of easy money to join the agency-created gravy train fairy-tale. 

They upload new material to replenish agencies with "fresh" content - some of it good some not.  Regardless it feeds the agencies libraries as they continue to attract new creators to replace the ones who've grown disillusioned with "penny stock" creator payments.

Also why some agencies are buying places like Unsplash. Many shooters on their forums say things like "why bother selling them when all you get is pennies". For people who don't do volume, there's no incentive to not give it away, and the agencies still profit. Smart business model actually, and they get some good quality stuff.

« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2022, 02:48 »
0
Really great post. Who are the big agencies buying content? I am surprised as value per image must be plummeting, surely not a great investment.

« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2022, 04:15 »
+7
Really great post. Who are the big agencies buying content? I am surprised as value per image must be plummeting, surely not a great investment.

I don't think the value per image is plummeting that much - I think the royalties ending up with content creators have been plummeting. The fact that agencies are willing to invest much money to acquire content proves that content is worth a lot. Also, I'd say after opening my online store, I'd seen professional clients are happy to pay for content. It's just that the agencies have put themselves in such a strong position between photographers and clients that we don't see the actual value of the content we provide.

« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2022, 04:50 »
+1

I don't think the value per image is plummeting that much - I think the royalties ending up with content creators have been plummeting. The fact that agencies are willing to invest much money to acquire content proves that content is worth a lot. Also, I'd say after opening my online store, I'd seen professional clients are happy to pay for content. It's just that the agencies have put themselves in such a strong position between photographers and clients that we don't see the actual value of the content we provide.

Yes you are correct. I struggled to word my comment correctly. Closer to what I meant is that agencies have been so successful shifting costs and risk onto contributors I am surprised that they feel the need to buy images and reassume some of the risk with regards to image longevity, saleability etc. I guess it is explained by the pressure to increase shareholder returns, they will try any way they can to cut us out entirely, even if it means longer term they are left holding outdated images and we have all quit the industry.


« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2022, 02:36 »
+1

I don't think the value per image is plummeting that much - I think the royalties ending up with content creators have been plummeting. The fact that agencies are willing to invest much money to acquire content proves that content is worth a lot. Also, I'd say after opening my online store, I'd seen professional clients are happy to pay for content. It's just that the agencies have put themselves in such a strong position between photographers and clients that we don't see the actual value of the content we provide.

Yes you are correct. I struggled to word my comment correctly. Closer to what I meant is that agencies have been so successful shifting costs and risk onto contributors I am surprised that they feel the need to buy images and reassume some of the risk with regards to image longevity, saleability etc. I guess it is explained by the pressure to increase shareholder returns, they will try any way they can to cut us out entirely, even if it means longer term they are left holding outdated images and we have all quit the industry.

That's a good way of putting it. The best I believe we can do is to prove our worth - to the clients. In the end, good work usually prevails.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2022, 02:58 by jacoblund »

« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2022, 02:38 »
0
Great post Jacob! Totally agree.

Uncle Pete

  • Great Place by a Great Lake - My Home Port
« Reply #13 on: May 24, 2022, 12:21 »
+3
Unmentioned in this thread is the agencies on-going marketing to attract new creators.

Siren-song advertising to "Make money in your spare time with your camera!" and "create residual income that keeps on paying!" etc.   

New and unwary creators eagerly sign up in droves with enticing visions and expectations of easy money to join the agency-created gravy train fairy-tale. 

They upload new material to replenish agencies with "fresh" content - some of it good some not.  Regardless it feeds the agencies libraries as they continue to attract new creators to replace the ones who've grown disillusioned with "penny stock" creator payments.

Most of the drive for new creators came from the personal referrals. Most of the promises came from the people who wrote books, the blogs, the YouTube accounts and some who ran expensive classes, promoted as Free Workshops and then they slipped in the costs of the models and more, beyond the introduction.

At this point the ones promising money for your snapshots, are not the Microstock agencies, but the free sites or unlimited subscription sites. The free sites make claims of high earnings from nothing but hypothetical numbers. After looking at the top agencies, SS, DT, AS, IS, Etc. I found none that promised how someone could make a living or high profits. All they showed was commission schedules and what you could earn in percentages, from your work.

Here's Shutterstock:

How to Make Money with Stock Photography

Learn how to add passive income by becoming a stock photographer with this comprehensive guide from Shutterstock. Easy, free, profitable.

Uploading images to a stock photography house like Shutterstock is easy, free, and can be quite profitable over time. When you contribute to Shutterstock, you still retain the copyright to your creations, and you receive a royalty whenever a subscriber downloads one of your photos. Below, we've outlined the basic licensing plans, how to distinguish yourself as a stock photographer, and how to play the numbers game.


Does anyone see big empty promises in that?

Enticing visions of easy money, most of the time, does not come from the major agencies.

Buying images? Anyone get an offer? How much are they paying. Is this true or just a rumor that someone said, they heard a friend of a friend said that someone they know...  ::) Which agencies? How much are they paying. Maybe it's better to sell some old images and move on to creating new, or finding new markets. How much? I want to sell mine and do something else.

Getty, as one easy example, pays photographers to shoot events. The people are paid for their work, they upload to Getty, and Getty owns the images. What about briefs, smart briefs and custom? SS opened a creative division to make their own images. I haven't heard much about that, but they own their own images from that.

Are there dark clouds?

dude, there were dark clouds in 2010, we are well beyond dark clouds at this point.

Yeah Dark Clouds? Holy Moley it's a thunderstorm with a tornado of nasty weather, pounding rain, high winds, dark clouds and flooding. Ten years or more of "Dark Clouds" and someone is just noticing it now? Microstock isn't just a nasty, stinking, bug infested swamp, it's and overflowing cesspool of decaying profits and rotting returns on effort.

It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end. Microstock isn't just in free fall, the market has reached maximum velocity and is just about at the point where everything goes flat, when it hits bottom.

Or another view. Just when I think things couldn't get worse, something new happens, like SS buying Pond5.  :-\

« Reply #14 on: May 24, 2022, 14:00 »
+7
There were the professional photographers. There still are. But it's now a niche.

Then came the macrostock era. That's when we picked RM photos out of printed catalogs from Mauritius Images, for example. How many of you still know that?

Then came the microstock era. In the beginning with an RPD of 8 and more. The macrostock and professional photographers rubbed their eyes and successively realized that something terrible was happening. And yet people like Yuri Arcurs or Ioannis Kounadeas were doing a huge business with it.

And now it seems that "all for free stock" is coming and the money will then be made with advertising revenue. Or in another way.

Yes, there are very dark clouds over the microstock business. It's going to run or phase out for a while - and at some point it's history. Then there will be something new. That's the way it's always been.

farbled

« Reply #15 on: May 24, 2022, 14:55 »
+4
I have always been of the opinion that a good chunk of the demise of traditional stock was done by the "pro" photographers themselves. Seeing hobbyists and amateurs make so much money hand over fist with volume gave many the incentive to put really good work up for peanuts instead of RM. So almost all of the sudden I remember we saw a massive influx of quality stock specific imagery that upped the quality game (I was working for a smaller stock photo company at the time).

Ideally IMO, micro should have stayed a place where photographers began their climb to RM as they improved. But that went out the window when there was no quality difference anymore. Agencies just took advantage of it is all. I remember the forums back in 2005-ish all pointing out this very scenario happening.

Just my 2 cents. We allowed this to happen to ourselves.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2022, 15:36 by farbled »

« Reply #16 on: May 24, 2022, 15:54 »
+3
I have always been of the opinion that a good chunk of the demise of macro was done by the "pro" photographers themselves. Seeing hobbyists and amateurs make so much money hand over fist with volume gave many the incentive to put really good work up for peanuts instead of RM. So almost all of the sudden I remember we saw a massive influx of quality stock specific imagery that upped the quality game (I was working for a smaller stock photo company at the time).

Ideally IMO, micro should have stayed a place where photographers began their climb to RM as they improved. But that went out the window when there was no quality difference anymore. Agencies just took advantage of it is all. I remember the forums back in 2005-ish all pointing out this very scenario happening.

Just my 2 cents. We allowed this to happen to ourselves.

Remember though that it didn't take long for the relatively new stock model to quickly start eroding the mid tier and lower end commercial photography market. Leaving those that weren't interested in wedding photography or studio portrait photography watching demand for their services dwindle away to a shadow of what it once was. As an example, I recall the first time I realized fully just how much the microstock market was going to change commercial photography forever. It was around 2009-2010 and the publication of a local regulation booklet that went along with the purchase of a provincial fishing license. I'm sure you remember it Terry! Anyway, inside there was a photograph promoting a wholesome outdoor lifestyle with a father and daughter bonding while fishing for trout. The problem was that the photo wasn't taken locally at all. In fact it had nothing to do with trout or anything remotely related to our region. It was a stock shot taken somewhere on the flats in the Caribbean complete with mangrove swamps and flamingos. Cheap filler yes, but filler that before that time would have required hiring a pro. Not only had the market changed obviously, but more importantly buyers attitudes had changed along with it. The savings were just too tempting and there was no turning back. So I don't think it was so much that pros were cashing in on a goldmine per se, rather more like they understood that technology along with the market was changing and that they reluctantly needed to adapt. Microstock was actually a necessary evil for many.

Totally agree though that we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. Still are in fact.

« Last Edit: May 24, 2022, 16:01 by DavidK »


farbled

« Reply #17 on: May 24, 2022, 17:05 »
+1
Remember though that it didn't take long for the relatively new stock model to quickly start eroding the mid tier and lower end commercial photography market. Leaving those that weren't interested in wedding photography or studio portrait photography watching demand for their services dwindle away to a shadow of what it once was. As an example, I recall the first time I realized fully just how much the microstock market was going to change commercial photography forever. It was around 2009-2010 and the publication of a local regulation booklet that went along with the purchase of a provincial fishing license. I'm sure you remember it Terry! Anyway, inside there was a photograph promoting a wholesome outdoor lifestyle with a father and daughter bonding while fishing for trout. The problem was that the photo wasn't taken locally at all. In fact it had nothing to do with trout or anything remotely related to our region. It was a stock shot taken somewhere on the flats in the Caribbean complete with mangrove swamps and flamingos. Cheap filler yes, but filler that before that time would have required hiring a pro. Not only had the market changed obviously, but more importantly buyers attitudes had changed along with it. The savings were just too tempting and there was no turning back. So I don't think it was so much that pros were cashing in on a goldmine per se, rather more like they understood that technology along with the market was changing and that they reluctantly needed to adapt. Microstock was actually a necessary evil for many.

Totally agree though that we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. Still are in fact.

Good points and yes of course I remember that pamphlet! I think we even discussed it ad nauseum here or on other forums too. :) You make some very good points. For me, shooting those weddings and events during that time (2008 and on) as my main source of income and I remember thinking that micro created an entirely new market in many ways, all those small shops, blogs, and the like who'd never use traditional stock or hire a shooter due to expense. I think that was when I decided to get into food, tailoring my work to those places that would never go high end. :) P

Digital cameras and the internet changed it all. Forever. Unlimited supply and no barriers to compete except for sale-ability. And here we are.

« Reply #18 on: May 24, 2022, 17:20 »
+3
You need a bus to get back to dark clouds - haven't submitted anything anywhere since sine SS awarded the 75% pay cut.

« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2022, 01:45 »
+1
There is another example of dark clouds.

The inflation.

If you were a contributor in Turkey, for example, you would currently have to contend with an inflation rate of 70%.
The food sellers or supermarkets, furniture stores or construction companies can (have to) increase their prices. But a microstock contributor cannot. And I haven't heard from any agency yet that they want to compensate for inflation for the contributors.

For contributors like me, who do this only as a hobby, this is not an existential problem. But those who have to make a living from it will have to rethink in certain countries.

« Reply #20 on: May 25, 2022, 01:57 »
+3
Being paid in dollars should actually be a bonus against inflation: I'd just keep a dollar balance on PayPal and only convert to local currency as needed.

« Reply #21 on: May 25, 2022, 03:16 »
0
Being paid in dollars should actually be a bonus against inflation: I'd just keep a dollar balance on PayPal and only convert to local currency as needed.
Yes, Turkish Lira more than halved against the dollar since 2021 and inflation at 70% so exporters that get paid in USD (like us) actually have more purchasing power now than a year ago if they are making the same amount in USD.

I am in the UK and in a similar position, inflation somewhere under ten percent, increase thanks to drop in value of the pound against dollar much larger so actually making more in both numerical and real terms.

Shout out to Ergodan and BoJo for f**king up our countries this badly I guess?

« Reply #22 on: May 27, 2022, 08:48 »
+1
At least two of the biggest and most well-known stock agencies are now aggressively acquiring content ownership by buying out photographers' portfolios.
Shutterstock buys Pond5. That's the one agency.
And what other agency is also buying portfolios?

OM

« Reply #23 on: May 27, 2022, 19:04 »
+6
When SS was paying me to provide good content (2012-2016), I was providing with pleasure. After 2018, I noticed that my content was getting swamped under a deluge of other content and I reduced my 'providing'. By 2020 the effort of providing content was no longer worth the effort and I stopped providing completely. Maybe they can provide the content that today's buyers want by whatever means and without cost...good luck with that.. but I'm no longer a participant in 'feed the machine'. I'm sure their quarterly figures (massaged by financial trickery and smartass accountants) can keep the Wall Street punters buying stock but I'm out....corporate kleptocracy never did appeal to this little guy.

« Reply #24 on: May 29, 2022, 04:34 »
+4
I started supplying SS in 2019. Revenue went steadily up or sideways. But the start of this year was a gigantic drop. I started seriously thinking about what I was doing and came to the conclusion that I shouldn't be doing this anymore.
That being said, SS rejects 90% of all uploaded media. Even if I were as stupid as I was a few months ago, even then I wouldn't be able to supply SS because they reject almost all media, signaling that they don't want any more media.

AS is quite bad. Video revenue is down to 1/10. From 28,- to 2,80 for footage.

It was very very stupid of me to get involved with this business of stock photos and stock videos.
And I'm glad that SS rejects so many media, because it made it easier for me to jump off.


Uncle Pete

  • Great Place by a Great Lake - My Home Port
« Reply #25 on: May 31, 2022, 13:15 »
0

Yes, there are very dark clouds over the microstock business. It's going to run or phase out for a while - and at some point it's history. Then there will be something new. That's the way it's always been.

And the fact is, sometimes there is not something new, just another extinction. That's the way it's always been.


 

Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
0 Replies
2192 Views
Last post April 18, 2008, 19:44
by melastmohican
0 Replies
3109 Views
Last post June 27, 2016, 20:24
by gridengine
15 Replies
6327 Views
Last post August 06, 2016, 08:54
by old crow
6 Replies
2165 Views
Last post October 27, 2016, 21:36
by PaulieWalnuts
2 Replies
2510 Views
Last post January 20, 2020, 13:35
by christiano

Sponsors

Mega Bundle of 5,900+ Professional Lightroom Presets

Microstock Poll Results

Sponsors

3100 Posing Cards Bundle