The Sky is Falling Deja Vu

Picture: Dark storm clouds over Balanced Rock at sunset, Arches National Park, Utah

Dark storm clouds over Balanced Rock at sunset, Arches National Park, Utah

Chicken Little said, “The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!”

I just saw that stock photo industy guru, Jim Pickerell wrote in his newsletter, “Selling Stock”:

“The stock photo industry is in turmoil. Never in more than 30 years I have been involved in stock has there been so much uncertainty among photographers about their future. … Shifts and changes are occurring at dizzying speeds.”

This followed my recent reading of a superb weblog-based interview with Jim Pickerell, by the extremely creative concept photographer John Lund. In the interview, “The End of Photography As A Career…”, Pickerell paints a fairly dismal picture. When asked at point blank range if photographers can still make a living at stock photography, his answer was a resounding “NO” in all caps, albiet quickly qualified “…with a few exceptions.”

But wait! The quote taken from his newsletter was written in the September 1999 issue of Selling Stock. It fell out of a binder I was getting ready to throw away while cleaning out one of the deep dark corners of my office. September 1999; more than 10 years ago. I didn’t know whether to crack a wry smile, cry, or simply roll my eyes. I think I did numbers one and three simultaneously.

Was the sky falling in 1999? Is the sky is falling now? Will it fall in 10 years? Will it always be falling, or has it already fallen?

Looking at the industry now, I simply have to wonder what someone might write 10 years from now. Jim’s quote from 1999 certainly remains a very valid observation today.

The industry is not what it was a decade ago. I’m not going to predict what it will be like for photographers 10 years from now. I do believe that change will continue to happen. There is one area of change that I feel strongly about, but I’ll save that for another time. Right now, I’m going to grab an umbrella. The sky could fall at any moment.

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6 Comments on “The Sky is Falling Deja Vu”

  1. Richard Wong Says:

    I read that interview on John Lund’s blog also. A good one.

    What I’m curious about is what turmoil in 1999 that Mr. Pickerell was referring to? RF pricing?

  2. Charlie Borland Says:


    I wonder the same thing. And we also know that today’s pricing, assignments, and volume of sales are related to the wrotten economy. I hate sounding old but I have been on the roller coaster a long time and the photo economy stunk many times and especially during the first Gulf War. That followed with some of the largest econmic growth in our countrys history. Business boomed for photographers I know including myself.

    The RF model was also launched around then and clients flocked to it. The same voices hollered that it was over then as well. Jim is right that you cannot make a living now from stock, or at least its very difficult. But as the economy improves so will all aspects of photography. Clients will have budgets again and be looking for innovative work from the photographers themselves rather than what many say is the same stuff on all agency sites.

    At the same time, things have changed, again, and for good. Photographers now need to look at other revenue options such as packaged photo essays, videos, and self publishing.

    We should all cross our fingers that this economy keeps rebounding and quickly and when it does things will improve across the board.

    Charlie Borland

  3. enlightphoto Says:

    Charlie: Thanks for the great comment.

    Richard: royalty free, agency consolidation, over supply, pricing, potential for growth, volume production, wholly-owned content.

  4. Patrick Smith Says:

    Chicken little was just early. In the same way that the www boom of 2000 was a precursor to today’s very real and profitable advances in technology, 1999 problems in the photo industry were a precursor to advances in photo technology. When you get 800,000+ uploads to Flickr every day, a buyer looking for stock images would be a fool to pay high prices when there is such a huge supply of ‘good enough’ images. We live in the era of ‘good enough’ where Time magazine can pay $30 for a perfectly good photo of a jar of coins.

    It does not take as much skill as it used to, to produce a decent stock photo of anything these days. The photo editor could have told his/her assistant to bring in a jar of pennies and take a few shots. The photo might have been just as good.

    Of course, quality stock images are still difficult to produce but when you have thousands of photos (out of millions made) that are 90% as good, why bother paying a premium price?


  5. Stuff You’ll Like | Chuqui 3.0 Says:

    […] Gary Crabbe: The Sky is Falling Deja Vu […]

  6. Jacques Jangoux Says:


    I believe niche subjects will always sell, but the niches are getting narrower. And niche specialists now have the competition of Flickr photographers who may have discovered the same niche, as a hobby, as scientists, as out-of-the tourist landmarks travelers. One thing is sure: if a client really needs a picture that cannot be found on Google (or Bing) Images, they will still pay a decent price.

    Jacques Jangoux

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