Tag Archives: stock


Is (Stock) Photography going Bankrupt?

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).

Entering Berlin, Germany by Dusk. Will it stay Dusk?

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.

Pondering about new projects regarding Analog Photography inside a Friedrichshain Cafe.

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!


What makes a Good Stock Photo?

A while ago I attended a meeting in Berlin, in which a Stock Photography Professional (Art Director) told us about his work. Especially about the selection proces of photographic images his company  are offered on a daily bases. Below is a brief oversight of terms, he and many of his colleagues use to determine weather or not to accept images for their database. Most professional photographers will understand these factors, so I am not going to elaborate to much on them. Just a reminder what to look for, when you’re producing, processing of offering your images for upload Or when you are confronted with a selection after you have uploaded … 

Aesthetic Attributes
  • Quality of:
    • Composition
      • Symmetry
      • Golden Spiral
      • Rule of 3rds
    • Depth of Field
    • Lighting
    • Creative Approach
Commercial Relevance
  • Subject Matter / Concept
  • Visual or Commercial Trends
  • Fills Content Gab
  • Accuracy in Details
  • Styling Trends
  • Free of IP Issues
  • Tech props – current / outdated
Scarcity / Uniqueness
  • Uncommon Topic
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Scarce in the Market
  • Exclusive Content
Difficulty / Acces
  • Location Acces (Areal, Hospital, etc.)
  • Model & Property Releases
  • Post-Production Quality
  • Quality of Models
  • Quality of Styling
  • Streetcasting / Professionals
Emotional Impact
  • Authentic / Real
  • Emotionally Moving
  • Narrative: “Tells a Story”
  • Visually Dramatic
  • Fosters Empathy
Technical Sufficiency
  • Sharpness / Focus
  • Noise
  • Color Aberrations
  • Straight Horizon Line
  • Color
Care in Processing
  • Quality of Retouching
  • Filters: seamlessness
  • Color Balance / Profiles
Usage Factors
  • Copy Space / Room for Text
  • Part of a Series / “Campaign Able”
  • Confirms to IAB Ad Formats
  • Flexible Cropping Options

An industry in trouble!

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 Krabben here. 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)

Change

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.

Portrait Woman Wearing Hoody

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!!!

 Guido Koppes – April 19, 2018.

Note: if you have any comments on this article, please send me an e-mail here! Thanks!