Today Photo-Journalists in The Netherlands went on strike due to the ever decreasing prices “the market” offers them for their work. About 450 professionals were supported by Union: Dutch Federation of Journalists (NVJ) in an effort to stop this decline and make the profession more sustainable.
The NVJ’s campaign has three demands: a 14 per cent increase in rates, respect for creators’ rights and the equalization of online and print tariffs. Especially since print media are predicted to disappear and will go exclusively online, equalization of prises is important.
The NVJ has asked journalists to express solidarity with photojournalists by highlighting the campaign, including the news in editorial columns or broadcasts and everyone can express support on social media using the hashtags #fotolozevrijdag #fotojournalistiekheefteenprijs … Furthermore, the Dutch union says photojournalists are no longer prepared to accept being told, “we can’t pay more” or “we don’t negotiate collectively but with the individuals”.
The Dutch Protests are supported by international organizations, the British NUJ being one of them. “Last week, the NUJ’s national executive council met in London, offered resounding support for the dispute, and issued the following statement: “The National Executive of the National Union of Journalists in Britain and Ireland welcomes the move by photographer members of the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ) to campaign for better rates of pay. This council notes that freelance photographers in the Netherlands are planning to strike on 25 January to put pressure on publishers and other media to improve rates. This council resolves to send a message of support to colleagues in the Netherlands. This council undertakes to publicise this action among photographers and other freelance journalists in the UK and Ireland and encourage them, where possible, to not supply media outlets in the Netherlands on 25 January, or for publication on 26 January.”
According to the NVJ January 25th will be the first day of protest by photographers. In the upcoming few weeks media organizations will be visited by large number of protesters and delegations of Union representatives to initiate talks.
The recent tsunami of takeovers within the Dutch market for Stock- and Press Photography continues with new developments: the take over of “Holland in Beeld“, and the merge of “Regio Stock” with “Nationale Beeldbank“, who itself was taken over by “Hollandse Hoogte” a few months back. Hollandse Hoogte was already acquired by ANP Photo during the summer of 2018, and ANP Photo itself was bough by Talpa Media, March this year. Of five agencies, which were in business last year, only three remain. And these three remaining stock photography and press-photo agencies are now entirely owned by just one owner instead of of the former five. And that one owner is Talpa Media. Will these development turn out to be a risk or a chance?
Organigram of Ownership
I wrote previously, that the Dutch market for online stockphotography had turned into a “buyers-market”, where image buyers where able to set prices for images. That’s called fierce competition. And, with declining budgets, and the bias that everything “on the internet” is free of charge, prices for photography sank to an all time low, the past three years or so. As Nationale Beeldbank itself states in his recent newsletter: “Many customers started seeking images at international microstock sites, buying for pennies and dimes.” Not quite a sustainable environment to work in, for an enterprise which has to make a profit to survive. In the proces photographers and contributors faced rapidly declining revenues, forcing them to seek an income elsewhere.
One disadvantage of large, international microstock websites is, that specialized Dutch stock images are hard to find. Collections are just to plastic and generic for most, professional images buyers. This newly formed, much larger image- and media corporation, is able to counter balance just that. Typically Dutch Collections of images, video and more can soon be found on just one (or a very few) locations. On top of that, agencies van eliminate costs by combining resources, like sales-departments and sharing infrastructure, such as servers and software (PicturePack).
There might be a downside though: contributing photographers and photo-journalists themselves will remain vulnerable. When they left one agency in the past, for another (just to mention one example), they wil now have a hard time finding a new home if assignments are slowing down and revenues fall. On top of that, some critical issues are not jet resolved. Unclear is still, how prices for licensing of photography wil develop. Terms of contracts are even so still unclear. What happens with photographers, who have images available with multiple agencies, that are now somehow merged? Many image professionals are await of answers to their questions and remarks made earlier. The Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ / NVF) is following the story as it unfolds. So are many other in the industry. Curiously and interested, but with just a but of “distance”.
Breaking news from CEPIC, the Center for the Picture Industry in Europe, yesterday, on September 27, 2018. Their talks with Google resulted in another succes for the photography industry.
Quote: “On 26 September, Google launched an important change in showing images online : creator and credit of photos as filled in the IPTC fields will now be displayed next to the image in Google Images.”
“Google’s new development to show Author and Credit Line on Google Images is a very positive step forward for all visual content creators and their rights-holders. It is without a doubt a determined move showing that visual content is not an anonymous creation but the result of the creativity of an identifiable person.
This change follows a number of meetings with Google and consultations with stakeholders groups within the picture industry in Europe. As a founding member of the IPTC photo metadata group, CEPIC will work with its members toward a proper use of IPTC fields, to make picture professionals aware of best practices for using IPTC metadata to properly attribute their content with right information from the start.”
Personally I believe this is one of the best results, that CEPIC made in the past year or so … It’s becoming clear to Google and it’s audience, that images and photographs are not Public Domain, but often the result of hard work and large investments by photographers, who are often dependent on an income, generated through The Internet. This is an important step towards educating the audience, that images are often copyright protected and that the photographer has a say in whether of not an image is used for a specific purpose or on a specific location.
As many people know, I am involved in stockphotography. Have been since I’ve started out as a photographer in 2004/05 and I’ve seen a lot of industry developments since then. For good and for not so good. Most of these developments were “interesting”, causing me to learn a lot about photography in general and the industry in particular. And I always trusted that the future would be a more or less a good one. At least good enough, to stay in business and do my thing.
Lately my confidence in a good future is somewhat in decline. It’s not only diminishing revenues, photographers like me have to deal with. It’s also negative industry developments and outright bad news that stack up, the past few months. To name just of few factors, photographers and agencies alike, are dealing with;
Framing of Images
Read my previous blog article on this issue, I wrote with Tatjana van der Krabbenhere. Bottom line: image users, professional or not, can legally embed images into their websites, without paying for them, thus leaving image agencies and photographers behind without royalties or proper license fees. When image users seize to pay for the use of images, industry’s revenues will decline and future investments in production of high quality images will slow down considerably. This issue is being dealt with by industry’s organisations, like CEPIC. However, legislation on European level has to be changed. Needless to say, this may take years to accomplish. Meanwhile embedding will remain an issue.
Transition to MicroStock
Partly this is a competition issue. When high quality images are being offered for microstock prices (usually less than €1,- per image) image users and customers can’t be blamed for choosing these companies to do business with. It’s their budget. However, in the end this has serious consequences for the industry. To give you a few examples;
Blend Images is to shut down within one year. A high quality stock agency, founded in 2004 by 20 “founding partners” (photographers) who were producing high quality stock images and relying on 150 or so distribution companies world wide to keep costs low. Most of these founders are earning 10% or so, compared what they use to earn annually before 2008. This means a decrease of revenues of 90% in just a couple of years. This decline is caused by many image users and customers not willing to pay more than microstock prises for image use. Due to this decline in revenues, it’s no longer possible to invest in new productions or projects and realise a profit. Meanwhile Blend’s profits declined dramatically as well, forcing it to seize business, and layoff staff.
Masterfile has trouble paying out royalties to photographers for sold images. Especially markets USA and Canada are in decline for both RM (Rights Managed) and RF (Royalty Free) photography due to fierce pricing pressure. Again, premium images are sold by competitors for microstock prices, causing a sharp decline in revenues for Masterfile, forcing the agency to restructure it’s business. Due to this, Masterfile lost it’s ability to invest in advertising campaigns, usually costing $100 Million or so. Needless to say, this has consequences for photographers, employees (layoffs) and supplying companies who are loosing Masterfile’s business.
Theft via Google Images
Alphabet’s search engine, with a near monopoly of 75% of the market or more (at least in most countries), offers their users a button, when searching for images. They have been doing this for years. This button enables users to very, very easily download images, sometimes even highres files from agencies, and use them any way they see fit. For free. Thus leaving agencies and photographers behind with no revenues and royalties at all. Recently Getty Images and Google made a deal, in which Google agreed to make it more difficult to download images from through their website, so there are developments. However, not in every country similar measures were taken, and some kind of downloading is still possible.
Scary thing is, this situation teaches people all over the internet, that images are free to use, where it’s actually not. This is a major reason, why a number of new companies emerge, who search the internet for all kind’s of infringements. ImageRights, Permission Machine, CopyTrack and many others, including a whole bunch of legal firms and start up enterprises, are now earning millions and millions on dealing with infringements on behalf of agencies and photographers. Many of these companies show actual double digit growth figures and can’t keep up, with the fast increase of work there are being offerend. Meanwhile Alphabet / Google is being sued and sued over and over again by European authorities, forcing them to pay over 2,42 BILLION Euro’s in damages for breaking European legislation.
Use of Watermarkt Images
Oke, I am aware, not every intern student, freshly entering the labour market and on his or her’s first job, fully know’s how things work in this industry. But professionally downloading images from agencies websites, without payments and and publishing them inside their projects WITH watermarks still visible? Really?! Obviously not all people know the drill, and know that they have to pay a most of the times modest fee for using an image. But, it keeps happening over and over again … “Funny” thing is these people will actually pay for other purchases, acquired using the Internet. Books, music, subscriptions, newspapers and so on. Why not for images? Because they believe they’re free of charge. Meanwhile they are found by companies, like CopyTrack, who will ask them to pay a license fee. Or sue for damages. Often triple the around they would have originally payed,
UGC (User Generated Content)
Professional photographers earned millions and millions, producing all kinds of travel- end event photography for a number of companies, magazines, travel corporations, websites, catalogs and so on. Not any more. Digital photography devices, like cheap camera’s and smartphones scattered this niche inside the industry, leaving photographers and their agents behind. Participating customers, amateur photographers and actually everyone with a mobile device is now able to upload their favourite pictures to websites, where they are being used for commercial purposes, disregarding the need for payment of licenses, disregarding privacy laws, besides various other issues that may present some kind of risk to image users. UGC caused a huge and exponentially increasing influx of cheap, low quality images, which are being offered to images users for free of micro stock prises. Meanwhile leaving many premium professional image users baffled, because they cannot find their single, high quality images any longer, among the hundred and hundred millions of low quality pictures offered annually. Besides this factor, assignments have fiercely decreased, causing many professional photographers to go out of business. And agencies for that matter.
Infringements through various sources
Last February CopyTrack found a case for me, of not payed images used on a website by a small business. Turned out the owner of this business went freelance, after his company went bankrupt and closed down it’s operations. After which this business owner was presented the opportunity to take along with him, some images I made some years before. Naturally he didn’t pay any royalties and this entire situation turned out to be violation of copyright law. Finally he did pay for damages, but this shows that people use any opportunity they’re presented with, to obtain and use images for free. Besides the fact, that professional use of images costs money, this “lack of experience” on how things work, damages the industry as a whole. Photographers earn less money, start spending time on searching for infringements, often with aid of specialised enterprises. Instead of using their time, money and effort to produce new, compelling photography. However, especially photographers feel they need to pursue because other channels of earning revenues are diminishing rapidly.
Smartphone (or: people doing it themselves)
Personally I believe, that “do it yourself photography” is good. It has this informal style I like to see, and it absolutely is interesting, getting a view into someones life. In a few decades this might very well be photography that’s shown as art inside galleries and musea. Just to showcase an era. Contradictory it’s the main reason I seized doing acquisition for new assignments. For a number of reasons. Far most of the times I call a company to work for them, they’ve already “hired” an employee with a smartphone to do the job I specialise in. Or I have to compete with thirty other photographers, professional or not, all aiming their camera’s on exactly the same subject at exactly the same moment. After which their work is uploaded and sold for dimes and pennies.
The industry as a whole is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. Traditional channels of selling and obtaining professional, premium photographic work are being closed down, leaving agencies and especially photographers out of business. As a result, highly specialised and professional employees lose their jobs. The market for freelance models and modelling agencies must have a hard time, since the are usually hired by these professionals. Former professional photographers, who took a side job to pay their bills are getting more depressed than ever and have a hard time making a hobby from their former profession. Most of the industry seems to be in decline, these years.
However, I think there are (tiny) signs of possible recovery, somewhere in the future. First of all, the huge increase of pursuing illegal image use is there to stay, teaching image users that there is always some kind of fee involved. In combination with emerging Blockchain Technology, multiple efforts to deal with Google (on several levels) I believe this alone will set new standards.
I am not sure, if the microstock industry is sustainable in the end. Somehow it seems impossible to me, that customers stay happy with millions of images as a search result, due to the exponentially increasing number of images uploaded to agencies, when they are seeking just one, specific picture. Needle in a whole bunch of haystacks?? Besides this, dimes and pennies can’t pay for the more complex or time consuming premium photography, so these will eventually seize if revenues don’t change for the better. So, there must be an end to this madness somehow, hopefully in the not so distant future.
I believe (actually: I hope) in the end customers, as well as agencies will value premium photography for wat it is: a product that costs money and effort to produce. This needs proper royalties and income for image producers one way or the other. Although interest between customers, agencies and image creators differ a lot, image buyers and agencies alike need to understand that, without revenues, the profession will vanish and new premium images, series and photo reports will not longer be produced. This will be another issue for agencies. Because without the influx of new photography, image buyers will have no reason to return, and will seek their business elsewhere. Added to that, agencies to, suffer from declining revenues. Like newspapers and magazines, agencies need to transform somehow, and invent new concepts, to stay in business. What remains in a few years, can’t be all low quality photography sold at microstock prises, but pursuing present practises will absolutely not guarantee long term survival.
Important issue is also, that the production of premium imagery and photojournalism are crafts, that take some years to fully develop. So, photographers themselves must adapt as well. One way or another. They have to stay on the case. Ilvy Njiokiktjien said in Digifoto Pro: “I cannot imagine that images as a medium will lose their impact. However, it’s also possible to tell (visual) stories in new ways; with smartphones; interactive online environments and virtual reality.” Photographers (and photojournalists) have to develop a much, much broader perspective to their work. Start collaborating with nearby media and audiovisual professionals. Start collaborating with writers. With other visual artists. Don’t just rely on old, now pre historic structures of an industry in decline, but find a ways to reinvent yourself!! And then tell us about it!!!
Since about a month or so, I am working with CopyTrack, a Berlin based company that searches the World Wide Web for infringements on my behalf. At the moment CPY is working on € 9.659,- worth of cases for me. That is: websites that actually received a letter, in which they are offered a license, for which they have to pay. That is Excluding websites, of which they couldn’t find an address; Excluding websites showing user generated content; Excluding photo’s used in printed media, etcetera, etcetera. This is what has been found after just one month of scanning and spidering.
Besides the payout’s I’m going to receive, always nice by the way, I naturally hope to find a bit more awareness with image users in the future, when using photographs made by others for publication. Not everything is free on the internet. Moreover, if you search for, and buy a drilling machine for home improvement or work, than it’s absolutely normal to pay for that machine. Why not do the exact same thing, when you purchase a photograph, to be used in your own advantage? Besides this, I rather go out and shoot new images to offer you, instead of being busy with hits and claims all day. That’s not why I am in the business of photography. CopyTrack is, though. And they seems to be quite effective in finding infringements.
My advise to all of you would be: if you want to use a photograph in one of your publications, and you can’t find a: “Pay-Here-For-The-License-Button”, don’t use it! Because that image is nevertheless copyright protected. Which means: use only if a proper license is obtained! So, rather search for an image, that has a: “Pay-Here-For-The-License-Button” right beside or underneath it. If you like the picture, and want to use it, press that button and pay the proper fee. Saves me (us) a lot of work afterwards. And saves you a lot of stress afterwards. Not mentioned that properly purchased licenses are often cheaper than the alternative … Right?
Photography dinosaur Kodak steps into a hype with a new, crypto currency: the KokakCoin … It gets around in the industry, raising all kinds of questions …
Kodak will create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they can then license within the platform. With KodakCoin, participating photographers are invited to take part in a new economy for photography, receive payment for licensing their work immediately upon sale, and for both professional and amateur photographers, sell their work confidently on a secure blockchain platform. KODAKOne platform provides continual web crawling in order to monitor and protect the IP of the images registered in the KODAKOne system. Where unlicensed usage of images is detected, the KODAKOne platform can efficiently manage the post-licensing process in order to reward photographers. Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke stated: “For many in the tech industry, ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who’ve long struggled to assert control over their work and how it’s used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem.”
Kodak claims, that the platform will offer:
Image Registration. Provides immutable proof of ownership and enables member to take advantage of the platforms wider services.
Rights Management. Every license is documented by a smart contract on the blockchain which confirms the copyrights and licensing terms and conditions of the associated images.
Transparent Accounting. Receive royalty payments instantly via a smart accounting and reporting system. Community members don’t need a separate accounting system as all payments and accounting information is saved on the blockchain.
Community Marketplace. Our marketplace enables coin holders to buy, sell and book products and services such as flights, hotels, models, venues and studios with their coins. The marketplace will also create kickstarter opportunities for startups and service companies.
Distribution Platform. KodakOne is building a distribution platform for rights cleared images. On this distribution platform buyers (licensee) and licensors can buy/sell trade images based on the licensors licensing terms and conditions.
Post Licensing (Legal Enforcement). KodakOne provides continual web crawling in order to protect the IP of its members. Where unlicensed usage of images is detected, KodakOne can efficiently manage the post-licensing process.
Image Tracking. Community members can track usage of their photos and use these insights for more efficient and effective marketing of their assets.
Instant Payment. smart contracting payments are executed instantly as all payments will be made in Kodak Coin.
Still a lot has to be explained about this initiative. What is a Kodak Coin worth in terms or Euro’s? Will it be continually fluctuating? Will the value change between the time the customer makes a payment and the time the photographer uses it to actually buy something? How does the photographer buy groceries with a Kodak Coin? Will photographers only be able to transact business with others who are willing to accept Kodak Coins for the products and services they provide? How will usage fees be established? Will there be a schedule of fees for certain uses? Will photographers have to accept those fees or not participate? Will the licensing be RF or RM? Will each photographer be able to set his own fees? Will there need to be direct communication between the photographer and the buyer for most sales and, if so, how will that inhibit sales given the current ways image licensing is conducted?
And a few more questions: what percentage will KodakOne take of sales? They will have to get something for the service they are providing and presumably a lot considering how hot investors think this investment is. (Kodak shares rocketed up more than 120 per cent on news of the KodakCoin’s release.) How will KodakOne get a significant, diverse collection of the images that are in demand? Why would any photographer give their images to KodakOne exclusively? Big risk. If they put their images with KodakOne non-exclusively then the only sales KodakOne will record are the sales made through KodakOne. Potentially, there will be a huge number of other legal uses out there that Kodak can’t track including all the uses made worldwide prior to actually launching KodakOne. In order to do any legal enforcement, they will have to come back to the photographer to determine if the use was authorized or not. How will this marketplace get instant credibility and attention from image buyers? Getty Images, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock currently control 65% to 70% of the worldwide market. Why will customer suddenly switch to Kodak?
My personal and favorite question: “Do I need to switch from my present agencies, and license all of my images (made in the past ten years or so) through Kodak Coin? Thing is: we’re all going to have to learn about cryptocurrencies and blockchains. And it’s worth to stay on top of this new development. However, it’s way to soon to make final decisions. For now I am curious on how Kodak implements this idea, and how existing industry adapts to this new development.