The Microstock Industry in 2011, Pt. 2: The contributor side

In the first part of this article we looked a bit at “what you see” in the microstock industry today. But what does all this mean? There are, depending on your function and position in the market, different answers. Let us have a look at the contributor side first. For them there are numerous implications.

    1. In order to “survive” Contributors will have to produce better content. “Better” here is used in a broad sense: it does not only mean the visual quality of the picture – contributors love to focus on that. It also means that the picture has to transport a concept and the description / keywords have to verbalize this in a way understood both by the search engines and ranking algorithms of the agencies and the customers looking for pictures. Contributors will have to understand not only photography but also an agency (and their IT-systems) that treats them like air, a customer they do not know and a topic (in the picture) that is not theirs. In short: they will have to become much better in solving equations with lots of unknown variables.
    2. Contributors will have to produce more content and be able to process such content down the chain. They will very carefully have to decide whether they do everything themselves or whether or not it is wise to have other people process some given task, due to quality or for economic reasons. In order to decide this they will have to become aware of the processes they use, streamline them and make them outsourceable. They will, in fact, have to become a business.
    3. As with every business, the ability to act quickly and put the resources needed into every action will become more important. Microstock is a game where the contributor puts the money on the table first without knowing whether they will profit from that investment. The more one produces the more resources are needed to put in action. This is a financial as well as a logistical issue. For most new contributors with an emphasis on the first issue, for most established ones on the second.
    4. Contributors will have to have a much closer look on the market. Today many contributors still operate without any market research or content development based on the premise “produce and then see what happens”.

  1. The cream on top may try not only to look at the market but actually try to develop it, place certain styles and fashions and promote them. They can become market leaders who will be followed and copied. That happened in the past for some (Yuri’s style of business photography, Ioannis’ “white men”). Even if that does not work for everybody it seems worth trying. On the way contributors may become trademarks in themselves and their style might be recognized and actively sought (designers may “bookmark” them). That is obviously a very good position to be. Such contributors will be the Danone among the yoghurts and thus sell more (in a market were distinction in price is hard).

There still will be the kind of contributors who simply put pictures of their pets in the agencies, and they will still make a buck or two. But they will not shape the industry or produce enough to work on a business level.

That all being said some questions remain open for me and I confess I do not have a clear answer at this point:

  1. Should one be an open or an exclusive contributor? The question is discussed exhaustively elsewhere with no clear result. I may add to the discussion one important point: Of the agencies named worth thinking of contributing to exclusively, some do all the financials in US-Dollar. For most contributors living outside the US or outside countries with currencies pegged to the US-Dollar that poses a considerable currency risk. The Dollar is very likely to decline further against most currencies in the world and has, in fact, become as volatile as the currency of a banana republic. Thus, any contributor would not only put all their eggs in one basket but would also be unsure about the size of the basket.
  2. If the choice is to submit openly, should the contributor try to submit to “any” agency or rather find a selection? While the first impulse probably is to sell content on as many channels as possible there are nevertheless two considerations here. First, it does not pay to submit everywhere. There are marginal sellers where the price of submitting does not outweigh the results that can be archived. Yet, there also is a – not so trivial – consideration of possible cannibalism and market positioning. Some agencies sell the content so cheap or look so shabby that it might tarnish the image of the contributor and hurt their portfolio and RPI if they are to be found there.

Where do all those considerations lead to? Contributors will become less photographers and more business people. This development is – this should be noted – not actively supported by the agencies; otherwise they had different contributor backends. Nevertheless it is inevitable. This task cannot be stemmed by all of them, so there will be a further differentiation in the market: a thick cluster of occasional contributors, some in the middle struggling, and a thin layer of cream on top. Now choose your segment.

In the next part of the article we shall have a look at the agency side.

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