In March we were contacted by a picture buyer who was working on a set of booklets for a health clinic. She wanted 100 pictures of various foods and people. The pictures were to be used on company brochures, their website and information booklets. She said her budget was €100, and would we like to offer her a price?
“Is that your budget per image?” enquired Yvonne innocently.
The buyer responded “You can’t be serious — April 1st is next month. I think the megabuck days are over. We have a US site giving us the deal for $175.”
So we lost the job and suffered a little humiliation into the bargain.
But is she right? Are the megabuck days over?
Yes, if there ever were megabuck days. We never experienced them.
Before digital replaced film — perhaps the most crushing disruption ever experienced by any peacetime industry — buyers would spend £1,000 on a front cover image. As regular readers will know, I am no photographer, but a magazine paid me £1,600 for four of my distinctly average photographs in the ’90s — for the simple reason that they couldn’t find them anywhere else.
That’s what all picture libraries want to be able to to do — supply images that can’t be found anywhere else.
But that’s not always what the market wants or needs. Like most markets, the lowest common denominator is king. If you’re selling insurance, houses or holidays to the over-60s, then you have to use a photograph of a smiling, handsome, healthy grey-haired couple. I believe it’s enshrined in American law.
As a result microstock sites are awash with such images: happy couples running hand-in-hand through the surf, a phalanx of ethnically correct young executives smiling at the camera. They sell over and over again. But if you need a picture of the ruins of St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross, then your average microstock agency ain’t gonna help.
The difficulty is that buyers have rapidly become accustomed to paying a dollar for any picture, so when we try to charge real money for a real image, they throw their hands up in horror. My dream conversation:
THEY: “£100? You’re havin’ a laugh. I buy me photos from fotoLia for a dollar each.”
WE: “Then may I suggest, Sir, that you purchase said image from the establishment wot you mentioned.”
THEY: “But they haven’t got one.”
WE: “That’ll be £100 then please sir, ay theng yow.”
It doesn’t often happen. Shame.
But yesterday we heard news of a fightback by photographers. fotoLia is a microstock agency with a name suspiciously reminiscent of a longer-established company (called fotoLibra). It has millions of royalty-free images, and it recently launched a new initiative called The Dollar Photo Club, where they sell ten images for $10 (it works out at $10 for the image you actually want, and they throw in nine more).
This has proved one step too far for some people. A group has been set up by Olga Kostenko, a Ukrainian photographer (I’m amazed she has the time at the moment) called Boycott fotoLia.
It first appeared in the Stock Photography Buy and Sell Images group on LinkedIn, but mysteriously it has now been taken down. Nevertheless their English language website is still active, and as of today it claimed that 432,563 images had been removed from fotoLia in the past week, and 176 photographers had removed their entire portfolios. It’s a drop in the ocean for fotoLia, but the worm, if not actually turning, is at least glancing back.
Kostenko writes: It is clear that the final target of Fotolia owners is not a new market but a takeover of the current stock market. Fotolia management tries to convince us that they are care about us, the content creators. They tell us that it is profitable not only for Dollar Photo Club and Fotolia. They tell us that it is profitable for authors as well. But it is not. DPC incomes will grow by pulling existing buyers away from other stock agencies, not by finding new buyers. DPC’s goal is get a big bite of the stock pie, cut out this market, move to a completely new arrangement with buyers and crush its competitors. And all of this is done with our unconditional support. Because at this moment we don’t have rights. We cannot refuse to allow our images to be used on DPC. All our images from Fotolia are on DPC as well. We don’t have the choice to add or delete our images from DPC.
FotoLia responded to Will Carleton’s Photo Archive News, and you can read their reply here.
If you are a contributor to fotoLia, are you happy with this development?
Have you removed your images?
*prior to The Worm Turning?