Something funny happened on the Way to the Market

I was reading the recent blast of entries over at StockPhotoTalk, especially the ones that discussed Bill Gates and his initial view of where the market would go when he founded Corbis. Also, there are the considerations that have played out in the Big Agency marketplace, and the evolution of the MicroStock sales models. One thing struck a chord in my memory; Recently there was a news story about Knight Ridder selling off a bunch of it’s Newspaper assets, and the sale has made for some serious ripples within the industry. But what caught my attention was…

… remembering a talk radio show here in the Bay Area that evening, and the guest host just happened to be a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. I listened for an hour about how the newspaper industry is trying to re-figure itself out in the Internet-era, where the younger audience getting it’s news from other sources. The host described how he and other employees were ‘scared’ of the uncertainty with their jobs, and their media. He also referenced Craigslist as a source that came along and literally ate up the newspaper industries fiscal bread & butter, namely the Classified Sections.

I couldn’t help but think as to how taditional photographers and agencies must feel now that the internet has come along, and opened up whole new markets. Up surged the MicroStocks, a licensing model that can’t be ignored, and is driven by people who are looking to pay as little as possible for an image, or people who are happy as clams to get paid anything for their images, no matter how little. – It’s really amazing what a perfect fit that is for a complimentary marketplace.
Yes, the MicroStock Agencies are like Craigslist, and in that regard, photographers who sell their photos for a living should be as concerned as the folks in the newsprint industry.

Then, just today, on a newsgroup that is dedicated to the Microstock arena, a photographer said she was approached directly by a client who wanted to use her image exclusively for a huge run of packaging. By any traditional standard, that should have been worth a lot of money; in the thousands for sure. Given that the photo could be used on a big box item, sold internationally, and have the product package image used in every ad, brochure, or other marketing material for as long as the company wanted, yet this photographer was grinning from ear to ear because she got paid several hundred dollars. But as someone else on the list pointed out, she’d have to give an unlimited RF license to 1,750 customers on one microstock site to earn that much. Gee – well, that’s worth some serious congratulations, I suppose. (not)




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27 Comments on “Something funny happened on the Way to the Market”

  1. Richard Says:

    That is so stupid, what the hell is that? A few hundred for a corporate con job. I was grinning ear to ear for my little barely thumbnail size image in VIA that went for several hundred. I hope the package image was the same size or less! You know, I found a few more talented photographers on NPN who do RF as well…

  2. Carole Gomez Says:

    Well, you know what, I really was grinning from ear to ear. The shot took me 5 seconds to take. Zero cost to me, no studio fee, no model fee, no post shoot photoshopping time. I don’t understand how you guys justify more than $300 for 5 seconds work. The world is changing, smell that coffee brewing?

  3. Administrator Says:

    Hi Carole:

    Thank you so much for posting a comment here. You ask a valid question about how we justify our fees. – BTW – my favorite coffee is PEET’s Major Dickason’s Blend. Sure, Starbucks is everywhere, but I pay more for… oh, nevermind.

    Let’s address this in terms of Business…

    Do you have a real job, or are you a stay-at-home mom? (No offense btw, I was the Stay-at-home Dad for five years..) Let’s assume you have a real job; How do you justify what you earn?

    Let’s say you’re being sued. and you’re in danger of losing your house. You have the choice of two lawyers; the expensive one who has lots of referrals, and can assure you of his value, or the 1st year lawyer where you’ll be his very first case, but he’s really super affordable. Which do you choose, and why?

    You never did provide specifics of the sale, but let’s say your image helps to catch more people’s attention than other options he had available. Your photo attracts more people’s attention to his product. He makes more sales than he expected. He is able to market and advertise more than he planned, and thanks to you, in three years he’s gained an extra $746,000 in sales – rewards his sales manager with a $25k bonus, buys himself a boat, and everyone in his company gets a $1,000 bonus. Even the company that prints the packaging has a banner year with all the extra sales, and the printing company manager gives everyone a $500.00 bonus for all their hard work.

    Absolutely EVERYONE made out great cuz of your 5 seconds, and everyone shared in the profit that your photo helped bring to his product packaging and marketing. – So I’m delighted to hear that your 5 seconds worth of work had no extra value to you – cuz it sure did to them.

    Why – if feeling that we can’t justify our fees, would you have secretly hoped to make $1,000.00? – Doesn’t that sound just as absurd for 5 seconds work? What the HECK were you thinking – A GRAND! – Come’on – smell the coffee- Some photographers would have been happy to get $5.00 :)

    But Serioulsy, it’s a valid question, and the whole point of this post was about the changes taking place in all types of markets and media, and how people need to understand the forces at play. Craigslist will never be CNN or TIME, and Photographers that can’t understand the value of exclusivity will never see 4 or 5 figure sales for single uses, and photographers that charge $300.00 for any use will never sell to people who want to decorate a weblog. But decorating a weblog with photos of white-screened objects is a huge value difference from someone that wants to commercially exploit an image in a major product packaging and marketing campaign.

    Finally, where would you like to be with your own photography in 5 year? Would you like people to see and regard you and your work like the used car dealer on the corner lot with a trailer office, or the big-window showroom dealer that sells the newest 2011 Hydrogen fuel cell hybred mini-vans from Toyota? Two different markets, two different clients, and two different interpretations of value. – Some people still like and need to drive their 1992 nissan maxima.

  4. Jim Hunter Says:

    Carol Gomez wrote: “I don’t understand how you guys justify more than $300 for 5 seconds work.”

    Quite simply, we charge for our skills, talent and the time it took us to develope those.

    And by the way, $300 for 5 seconds work comes out to $216,000/hour. And your complaining that some of us believe you should have made several thousand dollars from that image. Sheeeeeeesh!!!!!!

  5. Richard Says:

    “I don’t understand how you guys justify more than $300 for 5 seconds work.”

    Pretty easy to justify, and most of my images were taken in a shorter amount of time than 5 seconds. Is Microsoft justified for making millions every hour for having machines do all the production work? If people are willing to buy the product, then yes.

  6. Carole Gomez Says:

    Ok, let’s try to start off on the right foot together, so I’m just going to gloss over your stay at home mum stereotyping & we shan’t mention that again ;O)
    I was glad of the opportunity to post a comment, thank you.
    In my “real” job, I justify what I earn by my value to my employer. He pays me an excellent wage because he needs my particular expertise. Some people could do it cheaper, but he prefers to pay me because he knows those offering their services cheaper aren’t as good as me. Of course, if they were just as good as me, and could do it for less, he really ought to employ them instead of me. And I would have to look at why they are able to the same work for less than me, and adjust my inflated opinion of my own self worth. I’m sure the analogy isn’t lost on you. My equipment and experience ought to make my images vastly inferior to those who have studio & model budgets, great equipment and time. Logically, then, my images should be worth less, shouldn’t they? And if they aren’t inferior, why aren’t they?
    The buyer isn’t some multi-national company, no “corporate con job”. The product he is selling will probably retail at around 50 to 60 cents, his market is very niche and is restricted to one smallish European country. If he could afford to shop at Getty and the vastly higher prices he’d be paying there were justified in terms of his end product price, I’m sure he would do. After all, he’d be getting a vastly superior image, wouldn’t he?
    Lastly, I’m not entirely sure that in 5 years time the two car dealers will still be operating seperately.
    Thanks again for the opportunity to chat.

  7. Administrator Says:

    Carole:

    Thanks again & for the right footing – BTW I praise the stay-at-homes, which is why I pointed out that I was one myself – so no need to gloss over that like it was a slight, cuz it wasn’t. I was just trying to ascertain if you worked outside the home for a living – since I know nothing of your background.

    And as for the specifics of your use – you didn’t express those parameters in your post – you used broad words like “packaging” and “Huge”.

    If all things were equal, and we got the same shot, me using a studio w/ a 700Mp camera, and crew and lights and art directors, and you with an 8mp camera, table and window, the traditionalists would say that the value of yours and mine should be equal, and the value determined by how the client wants to use the photo.

    So now I ask, why is your RF image that is every bit as good as zillions of other RF images, not worth the $499.00 RF fee, vs. where the sales price is currently.

    yes – chatting is fun without all the mean-spirited judgements. And we can still disagree about things and be civil.

    And here’s a raised glass to all the Stay-at-homes, everywhere; “Cheers”.

  8. Jim Hunter Says:

    Carol Gomez wrote: My equipment and experience ought to make my images vastly inferior to those who have studio & model budgets, great equipment and time. Logically, then, my images should be worth less, shouldn’t they? And if they aren’t inferior, why aren’t they?

    In a word, “No!”

    Cameras don’t make photographs, people make photographs. Cameras, lights and other equipment have no talent and no skills, only people have these.

    Carol Gomez also wrote:After all, he’d be getting a vastly superior image, wouldn’t he?

    Again, no! Your image apparently was exactly what he had in mind and was looking for. Therefor, your image had value to him, and man did he get value.

  9. Carole Gomez Says:

    Blimey Jim, I do wish you’d at least take the trouble to spell my name correctly if you continue to “quote” me – (twice so far)
    My comment about the equipment came in small part from the endless discussions I’ve witnessed between “micro” & “trad” photographers. The reasoning I have usually seen is that “trad” photographers are doing this as their sole source of income, have large overheads and costs due to their equipment etc, and so bemoan the fact that those of us seen as “hobbiest” photographers have none of these associated costs to factor into our prices. And the major part came from sarcasm, the lowest form of wit I must admit, but one that was apparently completely lost here.

    Gary, thank you for your continued civility and well expressed points of view. The reason I glossed over the stay at home Mum comment wasn’t because I thought you meant it to be detrimental to the value of stay at home Mums, but because you thought it relevant at all to the discussion. Perhaps we are just used to a more “politically correct” society here in Europe?!

    My original post in the Microstock forum used broad terms because I was in negotiation with my client. As you’re very aware, the internet is a small place! It wouldn’t do for my client to come accross my posts asking for advice on how to price the shot I was selling to him. The term “huge” is, of course, entirely subjective. As I have previously sold only on microstock sites, this contract was huge within my experience. I’m sure it’s small beer to many “trad” photographers. But, as I say, the term is subjective.

    The “micro” Vs “trad” argument will continue ad nauseum until the market forces a settlement of the divide, one way or another. I think it unlikely that the two can continue to exist in their current form for many years to come, but who knows which will emerge the victor?

  10. Jim Hunter Says:

    Carole Gomez wrote: “Blimey Jim, I do wish you’d at least take the trouble to spell my name correctly if you continue to “quote” me – (twice so far)”

    I’m very sorry about that Carole. I know at least four Carol’s, all without the “e”. I should be more careful.

    Carole Gomez wrote: “My comment about the equipment came in small part from the endless discussions I’ve witnessed between “micro” & “trad” photographers. The reasoning I have usually seen is that “trad” photographers are doing this as their sole source of income, have large overheads and costs due to their equipment etc, and so bemoan the fact that those of us seen as “hobbiest” photographers have none of these associated costs to factor into our prices.”

    Yet you do have costs to consider. Yes, those of us who photograph for a living do usually have higher overhead costs to. It’s part of our cost of doing business (CODB) which must be factored into pricing. While your CODB is most likely lower than for those whose business is photography, whether stock or commercial, have you ever calculated your CODB?

    For instance, have you taken into consideration, the cost of purchasing your cameras, other photo equipment, repairs, computer (including hardware, software and upgrades), etc. In short, anything and everything that has cost you money in order to for you to be able to make that photography is part of your CODB. This could also include, books, magazine subscriptions, photo classes and much more including the time it has taken you to learn how to make that photograph. Time is money.

    To get an idea of what is involved in calculating your CODB take a look at the calculator at nppa.org/prof...b/index.html. Also, here is an article you might find useful photofocus.co...5&cid=7.

    To one degree or another we all have cost involved in creating photographs. What the vast majority of people who are trying to make money at it these days fail to understand is that even though they are not professionals, or own studios full of lots of expensive equipment, there are still costs involved which they never consider.

  11. JJ Gutierrez Says:

    Last year I made 279000 bucks from my day job as a Radiologist and Manager. I made around 350 dollars from microstock… Guess what… The 350 made me happier than the 279K. Hope you sell a lot of photos, I will, for sure, keep selling mine…

  12. Ruben Says:

    Everyone knows that most microsite photographers are imbeciles when it comes to business. For a few bucks and a pat on the head they hand over creative work to companies with millions of dollars in their marketing budget.

    Craigslist, as an example, charges companies a competitive fee of $75 per post for job listings. That’s because Craigslist is smart enough to understand that they can underwrite their entire operations (including the do-gooder part of it) using money from companies who are willing to spend to improve their business.

    Here, companies with large marketing budgets are saving money on the backs of hobbyists photographers who don’t really know any better. Giving stuff away is nice if it’s going to a nonprofit. But when you’re feeding your work to the likes of publicly-traded corporations like IBM, Microsoft, insurance companies, defense contractors, etc., you’re just being silly.

    Ruben

  13. Ruben Says:

    JJ – A decent photographer (assuming you are one) can make that much money from a single sale through Alamy. Just about anyone can get an Alamy contract. What’s stopping you?

    Seriously?

    R

  14. Administrator Says:

    Ruben:

    Thanks for chiming in – and I do appreciate your comments. But since this is my sandbox, no name calling please – even if not directed at anyone specifically.

    And notice – Craigslist charges more for it’s job postings in SF and other high value markets than it does for the same ad in other areas. Why? More value to the employers, by reaching prospects within that more competitive and costly market.

  15. Richard Says:

    I didn’t know Craigslist charged for job postings, have had little luck with them in the past. Gotten 2 jobs out of probably hundreds of cover letters. At least it’s free to post for general stuff.

    The gratification from receving a $350 check disappears pretty quick in my book, though 275k would allow me to finance some very nice big game photography trips. I found it interesting that you used the term “sell photos”. I can’t think of a more accurate description for microstock. I’d never sell mine, I’ll loan them though.

  16. Ruben Says:

    Richard said:

    “found it interesting that you used the term “sell photos”. I can’t think of a more accurate description for microstock. I’d never sell mine, I’ll loan them though.”

    I used “sale”, which is what retailers do for a living.

    Whatever, dude. I guess your point is that using the word “sell” somehow is more commercializing than “loan”. You can pretend if you want that you’re somehow like a public library, doing a public good. But the plain truth is that you are charging people money, you’re marketing, and your selling. Call it what you want. Actually, not understanding how to sell is probably the reason your Craiglist job hunting scorecard has been so abysmal, eh?

    Whether you’re selling through istockphoto and getting peanut returns or Alamy and getting returns that reflect the work more appropriately, you’re still selling.

    And note that I’m not talking about selling copyright. That’s a whole other topic, that’ll probably go right past the heads of most microstockers.

    R

  17. Administrator Says:

    Ruben:

    I think Richard was using SALE referring to someone else’s post. I’m pretty sure Richard doesn’t do MicroSales – He’s been my most regular commenter in the short lifespan of my blog. – I think Richards Sale comment was regarding the good raidiologists comments about his $350.00. Also, he may also be getting influence from other lists where they talk heavily about NOT using the word SELL – but rather use the word LICENSE. – in that regard, I think you two are on the same side of the fence.

    Hope I added clarification and not confusion.

  18. Richard Says:

    Correct, I was referring to the radiologist. But in any case, no, what I’ve done on Craigslist has nothing to do with my selling ability. FWIW, I just returned from an all expense paid for trip to Kentucky. People who can’t market their skills don’t get to do things like that. And anyone who knows anything about selling knows they can’t control what someone else is going to do. One of the those two jobs I did get thru Craigslist mentioned that over 400 people applied, so it’s not exactly a cakewalk. How about you try applying for a legitimate job in the San Francisco Bay section other than for illicit activities and see if you can do significantly better than what I’ve done in the past.

  19. Richard Says:

    I apologize for hijacking your blog Gary, I’ve said my piece for this entry.

  20. Administrator Says:

    Richard:

    I hardly consider this a hijack. In fact it’s encouraged; as long as it’s civil. I fully envisioned this blog to be more than a one-sided journal or diary.

    Besides, didn’t you just recently ask why you seemed t… oh, nevermind.

    :)

  21. Ruben Says:

    The last thing I’ll point out on the microstock issue…. and another reason the viewpoint of the amateurs is so self-destructive… in many cases, those $1 photos go to advertise companies that are getting invoiced by their advertising agencies and marketing agencies $400-$1000 per image.

    So while it’s true that microstock is opening up a new market of buyers who would have never afforded traditional stock, it’s also true that agencies LOVE the money they can pocket from buying microstock with tradition stock budgets.

    Again, it’s a situation where middlemen and large corporations with deep pockets are profiting off hobbyists who think it’s great to be making a couple of bucks. The irony is that the microshooters seem PROUD of this situation.

    Look at this radiologist here… no matter how much he’s helping people with his medical training, he’s not willing to give THAT away. So why give away his creative work – work which will arguably be used now for the cynical purposes of promoting companies he’s knows nothing about?

    I don’t get it. The only thing I can think is that these folks were never properly educated on the history of copyright, trademark, and intellectual property. Well, you can bet that many of their larger buyers are.

    R

  22. JJ Gutierrez Says:

    When I first started my business I found a niche market for my product (services) and I took the rather unusual path of providing first class service for what very bad service charges. The results speak for themselves.

    I see this as the same. I am used to sell by volume (you may not like the word sell, but that is what we all do, wheter it’s rights, wether it’s licenses, we actually sell something, you may choose the words you find more fit). The world is changing and there is a paradigm shift in stock photography. I have been following for just under a year all possibilities, Alamy, traditional agencies, etc, etc. You may say whatever you want but:

    1. There is market for everyone.
    2. The most upset group usually is the one refusing to shift to the new times.
    3. There is actually money to be made from this.
    4. Not all photography is suited for microstock.
    5. Not all photography is suited for traditional agencies.
    6. Not all people are willing to pay top bucks for a fork over a white background.
    7. Microstock is not going away.
    8. Microstock is not a race to the bottom (actually all sites have new extended licenses that offer more money, and actually almost all are beginning new pricing plans with more money for the photographer).
    9. Not all photographer want to make a living out of this.
    10. Not all amateurs really care for what pros have to say or even think.

    The list go on… You can, either change your mind and start a revision of your business model to, at least, sell your unsellable stuff thru micros (yes, I used “sell” again)(think of it as an outlet…), or stay in negation (as some are) and hoping that this is a bad dream and it will go away.

    And yes, I actually do pro-bono work, social work, for free.

  23. Richard Says:

    Since we’re on the subject of $1 photos and not really caring for the value of photography, I was just emailed a slideshow presentation from my uncle that he received from someone else. In it were these amazing winter landscape photos, of National Geographic quality from all over the world that look as if it were distributed by a less than reputable source. The resolution was higher than what typically is capable of being stolen from the web and were captioned, so that’s why I’m assuming the images weren’t “stolen”. Somehow I don’t think the photographer/photographers were fairly compensated for me receiving their photography in this manner.

    Whoever gave up their images in this manner, I’d say they have a blatant disregard for the professional photography market. If I were to put up my images on a microstock site or some other similar deal and receive my own images back to me through email from a stranger I’d be furious at myself. But could I sue anybody? By that point my rights would have been long gone for a buck or two.

  24. kem Says:

    Ruben said: Everyone knows that most microsite photographers are imbeciles when it comes to business.

    How do you know?
    How do you know we have not done the math? why do you assume we are in it for a “pat on the back”. While certainly not all, many of us do it because it makes financial sense, YES after taking into account all CODB, depreciation of equipment, etc.

    Sweeping, unsupported judgements like that just help perpetuate stereotypes- not only of the micro-photographers as naive amateurs, but of the “traditional” photographers as change-scared, turf-protecting intolerants.

  25. Ruben Says:

    kem,

    “How do you know we have not done the math?”

    Could be, but I bet your math is wrong :)

    Again, I stand by my point that amateurs who crow about making a couple of hundred bucks a month selling for $1 or $2 per image could EASILY make 10 times that by simply distributing through a site like Alamy. Alamy takes 25%-35% of each sale, and sales average between $100-400 each for royalty-free imagery.

    Take your 8MB camera, trade it in for an 11MB camera (you can get em for less than $2K), and off you go.

    Listen, I’m no pro photographer, but I do have a couple of decent natural light shots that I slipping into some major stock collections via another photographer’s contract. The 4 shots that I “contributed” since summer 2005 have already made me $1200. I’ve also seen several of these photos in use at major lifestyle magazines here in the Bay Area – very nice.

    I just don’t understand why a photographer would give a shot away for pennies when they can make real dollars instead – and instead of having crappy local advertisers buy your shots for bagels you could instead see your work used in prominent advertising by companies that can not only afford to pay your reasonably but also afford to pay a decent designer to make your shot look even better.

    JJ said above “Not all people are willing to pay top bucks for a fork over a white background.” Fine, I agree. But who the hell is proud of that kind of shooting anyhow? That can’t be what he’s talking about when he says, “Last year I made 279000 bucks from my day job as a Radiologist and Manager. I made around 350 dollars from microstock… Guess what… The 350 made me happier than the 279K.”

    So shooting admittedly crappy work is ALSO making him happy? I don’t get it. Again, the arguments I hear from the microstock camp rarely make much sense to me. Can someone please explain their arguments in a coherent fashion?

    R

  26. Richard Says:

    “Sweeping, unsupported judgements like that just help perpetuate stereotypes- not only of the micro-photographers as naive amateurs, but of the “traditional” photographers as change-scared, turf-protecting intolerants.”

    In general stereotypes are bad, but in this case it’s true so I see no reason anyone to think otherwise. When you have a family to feed and kids to put through school from this profession like Gary does, there’s nothing wrong with being a “change-scared, turf-protecting” intolerant. Name one photographer who can provide for their family for ten, twenty, thirty years doing micro-stock while having any sort of quality of life.

  27. Administrator Says:

    File this in the Last Word column:

    Per the previous posters request and accompanied apology, I have edited the previous comment.

    Discussion is encouraged.

    Name calling in any direction here is not appreciated or welcome.

    It is OK to say “I believe that many people new to the industry may not be aware of certain things, or that they might benefit from learning about other aspects of the industry. It’s not OK on this site to describe or label an individual or an entire group of people with broad negative generalizations.

    I’ll add more thoughts later – but if this goes out of bounds again I’ll close the commenting for this post.

    Thank you all for your tolerance, respect, courtesy, thoughts, and comments.



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