Monday, July 28, 2008

Dealing with Image Glut

It is becoming increasingly clear that the glut of images in the market place is causing downward pressure on individual sales. This does not necessarily have to bring with it the global doom that I’m hearing. A very similar industry downturn occurred when the advent of RF coincided with the stock photo universe coalescing into three large agencies. The reason was the same: Catalog marketing in an analog environment became so overly competitive that individual photographers as well as the smaller agencies could no longer compete successfully. But the end result was a shake out – a shake out of those who were simply riding on the coat tails of others. Those photographers and agencies who continued to bring a smart understanding of the marketplace continued to survive, in many cases even better that before.

The same is true now. Those photographers and agencies who can adapt to the changing landscape will be successful. The rest will fall by the wayside. The demand for stock photography is not going away. The method for fulfilling the images demands must change to meet the changing landscape of the current marketplace, namely the internet and its ability to cope with database glut.

I am seeing one substantial ray of hope out there right now, and that is Alamy. More than any other agency, the Alamy business model has forced it to come to grips with image glut. In recent years the Alamy image base has grown exponentially due to its lack of a controlling editing policy. I have enough images with Alamy to witness the impact this image glut has had on individual Alamy sales. Quite frankly, sales plummeted. Alamy was forced to come to terms with this problem or loose market share because clients would become increasingly turned off having to wade through hundreds, or even thousands, of useless photographs until the right one showed up in a search. This is an extremely damaging position for an agency to maintain. So Alamy reinvented the search with a refined search algorithm they called Alamy search. This algorithm gave precedence in a search to those contributors who consistently achieve the highest click-through coupled with the highest sell-through. Since Alamy has instituted this new search algorithm my sales have climbed steadily to where they are almost back to their previous highs.

In short, now more than ever the key to survival for a photographer will be to adopt strategies to achieve a very high sell-through rate coupled with a high RPI. This is the ONLY way to survive and be successful in the changing landscape. All others will fall by the wayside along with those agencies who cannot cope. The agencies themselves will have to adopt Alamy’s position and invent ways of dealing with their image glut. Otherwise they, too, will die – and I include Getty in this.

What can a photographer do now? First, hone skills to be sharper than ever at producing very market oriented photography in a popular and useful style. Understand the marketplace, namely, the internet and its impact on the customer image selection process. Second, keep an ear to the ground and listen for impending changes in the agency landscape. Third, realize that new images will have to be reinvented on a regular basis to keep them fresh.

New agencies and new agency models will be coming into play quickly now. Photographers must be prepared to ride the successful changes that occur. Will it be a Corbis or Jupiter supplanting Getty as number one? Will it be some agency that doesn’t even exist now? Will we witness the strong return of the boutique agency? Or will it be the micro agencies? More than likely it will be something we can’t even envision right now -- like the new Alamy search algorithm -- redefining the playing field. This policy coupled with a strong image database will be the key to success. We can count on photo buyers to seek out the best image solution at the most competitive price, as they have always done. To be successful a stock photographer will have to make certain that when that image purchase is being made, his or her images are in the forefront to the client’s view.

As always, success remains in the hands of the shooter.

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