Archive for February, 2014

Quora is an interesting web site. Questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its users. And its users seem more intelligent and less abusive than the average troll one encounters online.

Here’s a good one: What are some of the reasons that stock photos look like stock photos?

This is an excellent question. Alas, so far there are only four answers, none of them particularly illuminating.

Let me have a go. First of all, let’s forget photography and look at economics — the law of supply and demand. The four basic laws of supply and demand are:

  1. Demand increases, supply remains unchanged: a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.
  2. Demand decreases, supply remains unchanged: a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  3. Demand remains unchanged, supply increases: a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  4. Demand remains unchanged, supply decreases: a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

Unfortunately in the picture library / stock agency business we have involuntarily created the fifth law of supply and demand:

  1. Demand decreases, supply increases dramatically: a massive surplus occurs, leading to a far lower equilibrium price.

That’s where we stand at the moment. Twenty years ago if you wanted a sunny photograph of a couple running happily down a beach hand-in-hand, you either commissioned a photographer at considerable expense, or you trawled through transparencies at a picture library (and paid a hefty fee for doing so). Now they’re so common you can scarcely give them away.

I went into the Spar store in Harlech yesterday, hoping to buy a packet of frozen broad beans. What they had in the freezer was:

  • Frozen oven chips
  • Frozen roast potatoes
  • Frozen potato wedges
  • Frozen hash browns
  • Frozen French fries
  • Frozen jacket potatoes
  • Frozen Smiles (??) potatoes
  • Frozen garden peas

That was the extent of their frozen vegetable range. Now I’m as anti-eating green things as any ordinary man can be (although peas and broad beans are sort of OK) but even I felt that this was an overwhelming bias in favour of potato-based products.

Potato-based products are heavily marketed, so people buy them. At first we don’t notice the broad bean chicks have been ousted from the freezer nest by these cuckoo brands.

It’s the same with microstock and rights-managed images. Microstock is heavily marketed, like supermarkets, with a loss leader — $1 for an image! And that’s all that buyers remember, until they’re suckered in to an annual deal where they’ll pay as much for their images as if they’d bought them from us without any trade agreement. They don’t notice they end up paying at least the same, and probably more.

The boon and the benefit of Microstock is that everything has been ironed down to the lowest possible common denominator. Welcome to a perfect world, where everyone lives exclusively on potato-based products and sugary drinks, yet keeps a trim figure and teeth like the grille on a Cadillac. Nothing has ever gone wrong in these people’s lives, and that’s what the client wants. So endless numbers of photographers endlessly reproduce the same image with infinitesmal variations, like this:

Happy couples running hand-in-hand down the beach

Happy couples running hand-in-hand down the beach

Oops — the last one is embarrassingly much better then the rest. Oh, it’s not a microstock image at all, it’s a fotoLibra Rights Managed image (thank you, Peter Phipp!).

When I was a kid we rebelled against conformity by growing long hair and wearing blue jeans. We all wanted long hair and blue jeans. We all looked the same. We conformed.

The point is that stock photos look like stock photos because that’s what the market wants. Conformity. And potato-based products.

You get what you pay for.


Wedding Cake Blues

February 10th, 2014
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Until fotoLibra Version 6.0 was launched in December our site didn’t actually say that we sold images — we just assumed that people would know.

It seems not everyone understands. In November we sold usage rights in a photograph of a wedding cake decorative topper  — Personal Use (One-Off) — to a lady in the mid-Western United States.

Here is a photograph of a wedding cake topper. The image rights are avaibale on fotoLibra.

A photograph of a Wedding Cake Topper, ©David Knowles / fotoLibra

Last week we had a querulous email from her. “I ordered and paid for a wedding cake decorative topper last November, and I still haven’t received it.”

We looked at each other in horror (although I could barely suppress a grin). She had bought image usage rights when she thought she was buying an actual item. I was flooded with pity, because I could put myself right in her place. I knew just how she was feeling.

But we’d already paid the photographer for the sale. We could hardly ask him to give the money back. So we tactfully explained the situation to her, that we were a picture library (US = Stock Agency) and not a fancy goods retailer, that it was clearly pointed out on the website, and that she now had the right to get this picture printed out as a huge poster and stuck on her wall. She accepted the situation.

We get regular calls from gentlemen with thick, impenetrable accents who are interested in the derelict petrol stations you can see on fotoLibra. They’re not interested in images of them — they want the actual sites, and they rumble threateningly when we try to explain we only sell pictures of the sites.

The nadir was reached when one man rang up to order some bollards. Once again we patiently tried to explain we sold images of bollards, not actual bollards. The enquirer was an Englishman, with a fluent and rapid command of the language, albeit with an extremely limited vocabulary. He informed us at length (in Neville Shute’s terminology) that we were Fugging Muggers and also, weirdly, Bunts. The invective was foul, sustained, vicious and a total waste of time. God knows what he was planning to do with the bollards once he got hold of them. We had a satisfying, if impractical, suggestion for him.

I’m really very sorry for the Mid-Western US lady and her wedding cake decorative topper. But we shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s mistakes, even a small amount. And after Chris Holifield of the Writer’s Services website pointed out that we didn’t say what we did, we rectified it. Now introduces itself with HOW TO BUY IMAGES | HOW TO SELL IMAGES.

No more confusion then. Thank you, Chris!