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The Future of Stock Photography is on the Internet

When my brother John started his Stock Photography business about 35 years ago…there was no such thing as an answering machine! Nor did individuals have fax machines…He remembers being very excited about getting a fax machine…because now an Art Director could send him a layout without using a bike messenger or Fed Ex!. Now, here he is shooting without film, digitally enhancing his images on a computer and delivering them via the internet.

For twenty years he shot assignments. A huge part of the business was marketing him self to ad agencies and design firms. Thanks in large part to his foray into digital manipulation of his images; he was very successful at his marketing. He was selling stock photos through “Tony Stone”, later to become Getty Images, and through “The Stock Market” along with my line of greeting cards being sold through Portal Publications. He was shooting assignments, but he was very picky and only took assignments that really interested him.Stock Photography

If you were an advertising agency you went to Tony Stone, The Stock Market, or a tiny handful of stock photography houses. There was no internet and thus no way for small businesses to easily purchase stock photos for their advertising needs.

After the dot com bubble burst he found him self without assignments for a couple of months…but it didn’t matter because he was making plenty of money with Stock Photography. One gig ended and another took over. Of course, today that industry is in turmoil…first royalty-free stock photos impacted the business…and now micro-stock. I even see pay per click ads that cost the advertiser money…advertising free stock photos! I guess he doesn’t have much to worry about that now because the prices can’t go any lower than that free!

I remember when it took a week and buckets of money to get a good print from a photo lab! Now, if I want to print a funny animal picture I just hit command-p on my keyboard and get almost free prints that are of far better quality than anything I used to get from the lab! I can make fine art prints that are even more archival than what the labs could offer right in my own office…and these prints are in my hands in just a matter of minutes.

A few years ago my brother bought a house…a beautiful house on a hillside overlooking a valley. He was surrounded by horses, deer, wild turkeys, and even bobcats and coyotes! He planned living in that house till the end of his days. A close friend cautioned him though, that he should not count on living there forever. “One day you will sell that house” he said. My brother laughed. As I write this He is planning on selling the house in the spring.

John’s greeting card business was growing like crazy. Each quarter his royalty checks were getting larger and larger. People loved the cards…the company was thriving and he was their number one greeting card artist. Still, a business consultant friend of his suggested that he create a worst-case scenario plan for his business just in case something went wrong. John found it difficult to do because he could not possibly see any worst case scenarios on the horizon. Eventually he forgot about the backup plan for his stock photo business.

Fast forward five years…the greeting card company no longer exists. It was purchased by a venture capital firm that made some bad decisions and the business for all practical purposes died. He is now with a different greeting card company and they are slowly rebuilding the business. One thing is different this time…he no longer assumes that the greeting card business will be around forever.

Two new 35mm digital cameras have just been announced…one by Nikon and one by Canon, that both shoot, in addition to extremely high quality digital stills, HDTV motion. Videos are becoming increasing popular…as evidenced by Youtube and other internet sites for sharing video clips. There is an emerging market for stock video clips.

The stock photography business is changing rapidly. More and more small business’s are turning to the internet and purchasing their stock photos online and even getting free stock photos! Digital cameras are not only prolific, but producing better images and in some cases they produce images of higher quality than you could shoot with a film camera.

I believe the future of Stock Photography is online. Photographers need to adapt to changing times and learn to market their work on the internet.

Who was it who said the only constant is change? That is so true…but he does have a method for coping with all this change. His secret is a good attitude and continuously reminding him self of the need to stay open and flexible.


April 24, 2009 - Posted by | Stock Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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