It seems a tradition to reflect back to developments once a year comes to an end. Although positive stories always feel better during the Holidays, maybe the future will be more rewarding. In the end. Since especially the past two years, 2017 & 2018, developments in the industry of (stock)photography are not what the should have been.
Revenues for (stock) photographers and image agencies showed a very sharp decrease. Speaking for just me; 2018 I earned just over € 2.800 from stock, using four agencies. These agencies earned me over € 4.700 back in 2016, a drop down of over 40% in just two years. In the past year (2018) average prices of individual images plummeted by a staggering 60%, although the volume is sales increased. So, more of my images were used in publications and on the Internet, but revenues decreased by a double digit percentage. Not very sustainable, as it seems.
However, customers and image buyers have en masse discovered micro stock and Creative Commons as a very cheap source of images with an increasing quality. So, why should they refer to traditional, general stock-agencies and press agencies charging traditional, Rights Managed prices for single images? At the moment, the entire South-American continent is lost to the Shutterstock’s with huge advertising budgets, building up their names within the industry. Turkey seems to be following, as is the North-West European region (Belgium, Netherlands and huge parts of Scandinavia).
This resulted in a huge increase of competition, and therefor rapidly declining prices Globally, and especially in the North-West of Europe, were many, may stock-agencies were bought by press agencies, because they could not survive on their own. Norway has done it, and this year The Netherlands has showed a couple of takeovers by Talpa’s press agency ANP, buying Hollandse Hoogte, Nationale Beeldbank and Holland in Beeld, were Regiostock and Novum Photo were already taken over some years ago. Many other, European agencies have seized to exist due to bad market conditions and rapidly declining revenues. Over 300 of them plummeted out of business the past three years or so.
In the proces thousands of photographers were “asked to leave” their agencies, causing a huge influx of new uploads towards creative commons and microstock agencies, like Shutterstock, thus increasing the competition some more. And I can’t blame these image professionals, for seeking publication channels and a new source of income, since they have to pay their bills, whether they want to or not. Many more photographers decided to shut down their business and and retire or try something entirely different to earn a living.
Meanwhile image infringements are increasing by a huge, triple digit factor, annually, giving an entire new industry the time of day. The Copytrack’s, Image Rights and Permission Machines have seen an exponential crowd in revenues, pursuing not payed for image use and outdated licences, outright theft and copy paste practises by image users. Personally I’ve seen an increase in received payments for infringements from € 0,00 to € 1.400,00 in just one year! And this year isn’t even over yet. There is more to come in 2019! Personally, I would like to earn my money by selling licenses, and producing assignments, not by suing infringers. But hey, it seems to be the way to go, nowadays. And since the decline in revenues from traditional stock, I (and many colleagues with me) just need the money to stay alive to produce new photo’s.
Paralel, entire markets vanish due to political developments. Parts of Spain, the entire Middle-East and countries in Eastern Europe vanished from collection reports of many photographers and agencies due to turmoil in society, civil war, international, economic sanctions and more. I suspect this turmoil will end in some years to come, but it won’t be in the foreseeable future, I am afraid.
I believe 2019 will be an “interesting” year! I cannot predict how the industry will develop, if prices for stock-images will rise and if new assignments will pour in. I suspect more, colleague photographers wil start their search for another occupation. Jim Pickerell, a very well experienced (stock)photographer, also writing about industry developments, retired due to his age, and on the go stated (stock)photography will be merely a hobby for enthousiasts, earning their pay somewhere else. Perhaps he is right, it suddenly feels this was for me and many others.
However, things are not all that gloomy and bad; just stating what’s going on inside the industry. And there are positive developments to mention aswel. Now year’s end in nearing news came along, that Dutch photographers and photojournalists, supported by the Dutch Federation of Journalists, are preparing to make their stand. Rapidly declining prices for images, sometimes by double digit percentages, monopolies and copyright issues forced them to formulate demands towards publishers and agencies, who have time until January 11, 2019 to respond to this statement of discomfort. It’s an absolute first that photographers and photojournalists are preparing to strike, take publishers to court, and prepare other means of action to get out their message of: “No Further!”. And I am curious where this story will end up; I have “some hopes” for the best! However, they are merely “hopes” for the moment.
A little further from daily life and inside “Brussels”, the EU Commission, Parliament and Council are debating a new copyright directive. Especially article 11 & 13 in this directive are “in debate”. This should protect the creative industry some more, especially in the internet. However, new developments during negotiations suggest some measures weaken the original intention for an increased protection of photographers and agencies in favour of large technology corporations. US lobby-organisations representing these Googles, Apples and Amazons are now firing up to defend their position through federal trade negotiations with the EU. This may result in legislation damaging the industry for years to come. CEPIC, the European Organisation for the Picture Industry is just one NGO who is trying to influence these negotiations.
Dealing with all these developments should not end at measures taken by others (as in: Agencies”) though. Mostly measures take years to implement, if at all successful. Personal and professional changes have to be made aswel and by (stock) photographers themselves. These individuals need to realise, that offering their work for pennies and dimes (or even for free) is not sustainable and will compete with their own colleagues. However, I am not first, stating Creative Commons and Micro Stock is there to stay. Offering exclusive to one agency, by photographers would be a more realistic expectation, since the market now requires this. It would decrease the number of images offered at multiple outlets for various prices and through different licensing models. A decrease of these widely available images and duplicates will slow down the decline of prices eventually, besides offering other benefits for photographers, aswel as agencies.
By the way, StockPhotography should not be the bases of your business model, merely a contribution to your total revenues, I believe. If you’re a professional, that is. Entrepreneurs make their living, offering multiple products and services towards clients and customers. In this case, within the creative industry. Besides offering stockphotography to international image buyers, I am available for assignments and commissions; I sell images from my archive directly; I give workshops and courses about different aspects of (stock)photography; and sometimes I even volunteer my camera to not for profit foundations, like Roparun. On top of this all I manage an Airbnb room inside my apartment to pay for at least some of my bills and on occasion I work for Tilburg University / Fontys, doing something entirely different. I try not to be glued to past models of earning, although I realise that, by managing an Airbnb room, I myself compete with the traditional Hospitality Industry aswel. Local Mercure and Bastion Hotels won’t like it, I am sure! But it offers me revenues and contacts I wouldn’t have had, if I sad down and do nothing at all.
I sincerely believe that photographers should organise themselves. Globally. I value the uprising of colleagues in The Netherlands as a good thing, since this industry needs to be made sustainable somehow, and photographers need to make themselves heard. This will have to start with photographers themselves, stating they are highly skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, entitled to a decent pay for their efforts one way or another. However, these photographers need to learn, that it should not be all about blaming and shaming of others. They need to transform themselves aswel. Somehow. Our profession is a-change and will never return to what it has been. My advise would be: start talking with your colleagues, meet them and find solutions of issues at hand. Sit your butt down and have a beer and a meal. Then start debating and figure out strategies on how to deal with them. On a personal level and on the industry level. Since the attitude of staying inside your old fashioned, individual bubble, and hope for the best, has definitely proven not to work!