Some thoughts on the stock photo business
This is a post I submitted to the MicroStockPix forums. Seemed worthwhile to replay it here.
Have you ever asked yourself “What is a stock site?”. Let’s break it down to the basics. It’s a website that sells stuff. It has no supply chain issues and pays simple, minimal commission to its suppliers. What does it do for the money it makes? It provides infrastructure and marketing and a pricing mechanism that is attractive to the end customers. Stock sites would argue, for the sake of their own valuation as a company, that they have a massive asset of, in a few cases, over 1 million high quality images. They achieve this massive asset through the assent of several thousand high quality photographers who benefit from the easy-access market place to sell their skills in. This is simply a big numbers games. No one photographer could attract enough traffic on their own to sell enough of their own stuff independently. The many serve the needs of the few.Imagine, if you will, an alternative model. A stock site owned and run by the photographers themselves. If you took the top, say, 100, 500 (more?) stock photographers and got them to collaborate you could take a huge number of high quality images into the birth of a new site. (now, I know that this is starting to sound fanciful but bear with me, it’ll be fun at least). Assuming you could get all these prima-donnas to agree, the costs of setting up the necessary web infrastructure is not prohibitive at all, storage and bandwidth and getting cheaper by the minute. Marketing is easy. The exodus of photographers and images from all the other sites would sell itself.
First of all, there would be no reviewing, if you’re in, you’re in, it could self-police quite well.OK, so how do you share the wealth? Well, first of all, you could probably make the prices a little higher. One exclusive archive means that all the individual sites no longer need to compete on price (of course, you won’t get all the photographers so you’d have to make sure you get all the good ones!). But, here’s the thing, rather than get paid a mere commission per image, each photographer would get paid a pro rata share of profit based on their contribution to sales. Its that simple. OK, before you say “hang on, but I make commission from 8 different sites, how can that be the same”, you miss the point. An exclusive archive is worth a lot of money, look how much stock sites are going for and they don’t even own the images! The idea is that you sell the whole lot as quick as possible to another competitor, again the money going pro rata to the photographers. 500 photographers, sell the lot for $10M?Then you just do it all again! OK, its maybe a little silly, but the fact is that stock sites do very little for what they get and what they are worth. You could never organise such a collaboration but if you would it would be very powerful. Never think that stock sites do us a favour, without us they have nothing. Literally, nothing.