Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Bad Old Days of Shooting Stock Revisited...Again.

Based on what I witnessed here's my take on the business of shooting stock

There is certainly nothing truly "bad" about shooting images for stock.

Back in the days when we (we being me and the small group of photographers I hung out with) were trying to build up editorial clients shooting for our stock files was often a distraction or at the least additional work, of a different mind set than the focus of the job.

We were scrambling in a dramatically changing industry. In the late 1980s - 90s editors and art directors were having their budgets slashed, many photo editors were having to work on multiple publications at a time. Publishers were consolidating their staffs so individual magazines no longer had dedicated editors and directors, as a result the demand for stock images greatly increased.

Some editorial photographers saw this as a bad thing because assignments paid more and stock was cutting into assignment work. Some photographers jumped right in and started building their stock files by actually shooting stock images while on assignment. Others invested in a strategy of self-assignments to generate large numbers of stock images that anticipated the trends and needs of editorial and advertising clients. Shooting stock became a business in itself. Other photographers maintained the mindset that stock was nothing more that the seconds left over from their assignments and that if anyone wanted a look they could call.

As soon as stock became an accepted business practice, ie: as ADs and PEs began relying on it, the few stock agencies that existed at the time started aggressive campaigns to expand their representation of photographers. Agencies started getting the majority of the calls making it tougher for the independent photographer to market his/her own work.

At this point we saw the rise of the broker. Brokers served as the "middle man" between ADs and the stock agencies and independent photographers. As a result photographers would have little or no contact with the "client," the company or publication actually using the images. The broker was the new client.

Then agencies started buying up each other, anticipating a tremendous growth in the demand for stock imagery. They supported the shooters who were making a business out of shooting stock images and created teams to analyze markets, anticipate trends and tell the photographers what to shoot.

And then...a couple of billionaires took notice. Getty and Corbis gobbled up the stock business like a couple of great white sharks at an all-you-can-eat sea lion buffet. They totally gutted the business. They climbed into their own coffin when they introduced the royalty free model. When photographers aren't paid they don't shoot. Many went out of business. Amateurs love seeing their images in print and will give away images and be totally thrilled when they are offered $30 for a magazine cover. Kodak figured there were so many Kodak Moments floating around out there they would suck them all in and sell them for $0.10 each. But they lacked infrastructure so they bought The Image Bank, and in typical fashion totally ran it into the ground.

Enter the Web and the .com boom. The big boys watch as their six figure MBAs try to figure out what an FTP is and how to charge for it, the whole while publishers and Web designers were grabbing images off the internet. Lawyers were hired, they were stumped, they were fired. Sonny Bono started hacking away at the Copyright laws and poof...the stock business goes up in smoke.

It was an exciting time, full of potential and a great many creative people were working hard to create a viable industry. But ultimately those efforts were totally undermined by the short sighted greedmisters of " big business."

So when I say "The Bad Old Days of Shooting Stock," I don't mean that creating stock images, or making a business out of shooting stock is at all bad. I simply mean there was a time when it was like the "Wild West" all over again. We even had a real life Billy the Kid.

Photo: ©1990 David W. Sumner

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