CEPIC, Center of the Picture Industry Europe, held its annual conference here in Barcelona June Tuesday 10th– Friday 14th .

Given that Barcelona is age fotostock’s home city and that age fotostock CEO Alfonso Gutierrez was elected the president of Cepic at the beginning of the week, it was an exciting and busy week for age fotostock staff. In fact, the hubbub and CEPIC aftermath has only just now started to simmer down.

Overall, the CEPIC congress is simply the best place to stay in touch with all our partners, listen to what is going on in the industry and learn about other countries experiences and ways of doing business.

More specifically, that means 30 minute meetings from 9am until 6.30pm for three days straight, dinners or lunches with business associates who have travelled across the world to attend and despite their jetlag will do all they can to take advantage of being on the Mediterranean, walking in many directions with much purpose and many pamphlets, excel sheets, laptop under the arm, intense cravings for coffees, the odd sit down to be enlightened or angered  in one of the conference sessions and a well deserved shake-it-loose party at the end of the week. In short, it’s a photography industry meeting marathon.

My personal experience as Content Manger for age fotostock was a fortification of our relationships with current providers and agents, closing business deals which include extending distribution contracts to new territories, meeting companies representing new collections, talking with current Providers about their new content available and comparing business experience and strategies with other companies. The age fotostock team also held a small meeting for the agents who use our THP network, where we were proud to demo the new age fotostock website which will be launched soon.

News from the floor is that the market is slightly decreasing in areas of economic struggle and remaining steady in others. Smaller companies tend to be retiring from the business and those who are growing are the ones who are promoting new business strategies which take advantage of the increasingly important and inescapable role that digital technology plays in our daily lives. Clients are accustomed to the microstock product and an image selling for $5,000 is a rare occurrence nowadays. Clients globally now ask for more images at a lesser price and with extended uses and extended dates, although there is a general consensus that clients are constantly returning to agents that can provide service, which doesn’t mean only personal sales care but a trustworthy product in which the releases, caption information and sales history of the item are valid and dependable.

There is also the ever present desire for those at Cepic to learn which new markets and products are developing, but although there are many companies out there taking many different approaches, no one seems to have sprung upon anything that can lift us high and dry out of the lull left in the wake of microstock pricing. Yet.


Many attendants said it was one of their favorite Cepic congresses, and although it could have been just the influence of smooth Spanish sun after a particularly bleak winter across Europe, I believe the feeling of camaraderie in the business comes from the inherent need to pull together to unite industry standards and to spread knowledge and expertise in order to make the industry stronger.


I’ll leave you with a quote from Sol, age fotostock International Accounts Manager:


“If I should define 2013 CEPIC, I would say that it made me think about one of my favourite books: Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Everyone was in the mood of gaining a victory by losing as little as possible. Everyone was keen to negotiate symbiotic synergies. There were no big parades or miracle solutions but instead, tones of persistence, resilience and the decisive goal to catch a business opportunity, wherever it is. This is the time for creative, energetic, and simple solutions – which curiously manifested in a dish included in the catering at the Cepic opening party; a culinary innovation encapsulating the famous Spanish cockle (berberechos) sauce and a lot of tasty inspiration in one shot.”


Are we ready to fight? Certainly, at age fotostock, we are.

 


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All of you should read the following post in the CEPIC Blog which debates the recent Dreamstime Microstock offer of over a million images for free use, based on the pedestrian thinking that people that get images for free will eventually pay for them sometime in the future...

CLICK to read the article in the Cepic Blog 

Our photographers' chatroom has been humming with backlash. Here's just a few of the photographers' reactions:

"I'm not allowed to talk about the "old" days but back then the bosses of the agencies cared passionately about the business and often were artists as well, now it's all about money for them and lack of it for us.It won't be too long before photographers have to pay to sell their photos that are being given away free."

"I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that shooting stock in this type of environment is rather pointless and perhaps not worth the effort for the 99%. Luckily I have other more marketable skills."

"I might be the eternal optimist, but I think there is still a decent paying place for high quality niche images. One that a micro shooter could not produce and one any jackass can't take with their iPhone. I try and produce them all the time."

"There is certainly no NEED for FREE content in today's ADVERTISING market. If you want to advertise, PAY the creator of the content you'd like to use! When one person (or business) WANTS to use free content - that doesn't mean another person has to deliver it at his own expenses."

It is clear that digital technology and the Internet has opened the door for new business models that favor the distribution process that balances the lowering of selling prices with the generation of volume. While this may initially sound logical, the ugly side is that photographers in general and the stock photography industry in particular will fall into decline because photographers cannot generate enough revenue to continue producing great images.

Cheap prices have devaluated photography to unimaginable levels in just a few years and have demoralized professional photographers. I believe that the only way to maintain the value of photography is to produce high quality content that attract clients attention because it is unique, innovative, creative and experimental and which maintains a more than decent price. age fotostock maintains the same principles, shooting the best images we can and trying to sell them for the best possible price.

We have entered into a vicious circle that we can only break out of if photographers and stock agencies demolish the fence that separates them and openly discuss certain pricing logic - otherwise the future will be uncertain for both of us.


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For those who work in the stock industry in France, Pixday is one of the highlights of the year. Organized every year by Pixways, the company who created Pixpalace, a distribution portal for agencies in France, it is the only event in Paris where stock photo and video buyers and photography agencies can meet together.

Along with 30 other press, stock and specialized agencies, the age fotostock Paris team attended Pixday on the 11th of April. The day was extremely busy and rewarding, filled with meetings with clients both old and new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few words from Magali Tribalet, our Head of Sales at age fotostock France;

"Our visitors were mainly from the editorial and publishing market but a nice surprise this year was the growing number of visits from the advertising and communication industry.

We can confirm that microstock is very powerful in the market but buyers are also increasingly committed to agencies that offer alternatives - a different look, legal insurance and more variety.

The overall impression was that in spite of a very tough market, the vibe was positive, and clients were pleased to notice that traditional agencies such as age fotostock are offering new and high quality images."


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When times are confusing and neither the image market, nor the providers of the images, have any clear idea besides "Hey! Look how cheap I can sell my images!" it becomes tempting to add a few words here and then to the existing chaos. So let’s establish a position.

Many people say that the present situation of image prices in stock photography is the result of crazy big corporations (we will call them Kings and Queen´s from now on) trying to monopolize the business. Their supposed strategy is to offer binding agreements for important clients who get to use their images at subscription model prices, which are very low indeed (for those not yet initiated in the game). Other people believe that microstock outlets are vandalizing the market by offering fairly good quality images at even lower prices than those of the Kings and Queens.

Photographers, who produce the images everybody sells (at whatever price) are separated in groups.  There are some who say that selling low is criminal for the present stability of stock photography as we all have known it since Matthew B. Brady started taking images in the 19th century American Civil War.  Maybe old friend Brady here is new for many people who just picked up a camera yesterday, but more can be read about him at www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathew_Brady.  There you´ll read of the dramatic end of our friend Brady, alone, poor, and living in a charity ward which might resemble, god forbid, the end of stock photography.

Some photographers, even good photographers, have taken a much more eclectic approach. "If we have to sell cheap, let's sell cheap," they say, and considering that clients don't mind buying good images at peanut prices, success is guaranteed.  It goes without saying that in recession times everybody is trying to save coins, so if clients find cheap images, you can imagine the results. Other less pragmatic photographers despise the situation, so they abandon stock photography, bye-bye friend, and dedicate their time to assignment photography, while whispering bitter things on secret or not-so-secret public forums.

The fundamentals of marketing say that “differentiation” and “positioning” are important when selling your products, ie. images.  Therefore, accumulating “exclusive images” may differentiate you from the shooter beside you and may position your collection in front of discerning clients who are looking for the best they can buy. Is this the approach that Kings and Queen´s are desperately trying to play as their last card? To produce photographically good ideas, you need creative people and good photographers, but how long are those good "photo-ideas" going to be exclusive? Those that have been around a while in this industry -not many actually- might remember that in a remote past, good "photo-ideas" were copied as fast as they were created. Therefore, the term "exclusivity" isn´t enough to maintain big organizations with huge overheads once the rich people who sustain them get tired of always losing money.

Everyone seems to forget that digital technology allows all this to happen. You need a website to do business in stock photography and once digital, you can administer millions of images and strive for success. Selling single images, Rights Managed, Royalty Free, Low Budget, Microstock and even Microscopic stock (renamed as Subscription model), what´s the common denominator? Just this.  Every model needs a technical or digital infrastructure or ideally, an IT supported, software-driven structure to sell images. Without it you won't sell a penny. Are photographers managing these IT infrastructures? They've tried, but if you listen carefully, the sites that are making noise in the market aren't those managed by photographers. I´m more inclined to say that IT people, not photographers, are running this show.

However, is everything as chaotic as it sounds? Are King´s and Queen´s monopolizing anything? In my opinion, King´s and Queens are both part of the problem and suffering the problem, but certainly not the cause of it. Prices and revenue in stock photography are going down for everybody because the combination of a monstrous recession and the possibilities of digital technology reward those who can offer images at lower prices. This is bad indeed for many, but it's good for stock photography because it´ll have to profoundly regenerate itself. This implies reducing the structures, innovating the offer, and putting some order to the way licensing is conducted. One result is that Royalty Free price rigidity has largely disappeared and prices are basically negotiated like they always have been with Rights Managed imagery, cheaper or more expensive, according to the project. Allow me to call it "licensing plasticine". 

Naturally “negotiating” does not seem like the best way to go when dozens of places offer good images, especially in their first pages, at 14 cents a piece, and you only need to advance some cash and get them. It's an interesting approach, but yet there are still many traditional stock photography agencies “negotiating.”  Although they might need to update their internal structures and cope with the present recession, the real fact is that they are selling images into a market which is not completely rigid yet. Allow me to introduce another term that describes why there is still space for many: "market elasticity".

So if we can admit that there is no evil confabulation of bad King´s and Queen´s and other suspicious looking guys behind what is happening in stock photography today, we have found some light in this digital cavern. Let's talk about that light in the days to come...



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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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