Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Back in the 1980s I traveled down to New York City & met with THE IMAGE BANK. Although stock photography had been around a long time, this new iteration revolutionized photography forever. From what had previously been outtakes, the new idea was to combine the best photographers, the best photography & the best marketing. It treated good photography with respect & I wanted some of that. A new era was born.
I traveled the world shooting assignments & “in my spare time” I submitted pictures to Image Bank. Eventually the checks became substantial. Our relationship matured. I visited the offices of Image Bank’s subcontractors all over the world. They helped me find assistants in Brazil, Japan, Austria, Korea. In other cities, they advised me about local customs & protocol. For awhile TIB positive blood flowed through my veins. And together we split the proceeds 50/50.
The model was so successful that Image Bank was sold—twice. And then things changed. The bean counters got involved & realized they did not need photographers anymore. Photography was so abundant it became a commodity. Shrewd business managers analyzed how important photography was to communications, design & new technologies & they marginalized the creators, artist & content providers because acquiring imagery had become so much easier.
Image Bank became Getty Images. With competition from so many other companies who emerged to better fulfill the voracious appetite for photography, prices started to plummet. Then new paradigms arose to replace the original methods. Royalty free, microstock, Flickr, free crept into the lexicon & heralded a sea change in the industry.
These “new ways” to “sell” stock gave all skill levels of photographers the opportunity to enter the marketplace, which was democratic, but it destabilized that very same marketplace. Clients & end users took advantage of our lack of cohesion & unity. Divide & conquer.
The contracts from traditional stock agencies have eroded for years. What began as an even split, ie photographers handle the creative half & agencies manage the business half, now has the lion’s share going to the stock agencies & its subsidiaries. The photographer is almost irrelevant. Years ago I refused to sign that first wave of nonequal share contracts & all but my best selling images were sent back to me.
Recently the AMERICAN SOCIETY of MEDIA PHOTOGRAPHERS (Article Link) & the ADVERTISING PHOTOGRAPHERS of AMERICAN (Article Link) have both negotiated with GETTY IMAGES about these inequities to no avail. Twitter, FACEBOOK are abuzz with responses to Getty’s new efforts to control market share while sacrificing any input from the talent.
Online the controversy rages on. Likely that is as far as the argument will get. Photographers will capitulate once again. We have in two generations killed the “goose that laid the golden eggs.”