One member was so incensed by my last posting — about a potentially dangerous scam which could ensnare any of us — that he quit fotoLibra. “Your blog post wasn’t about photography!” he thundered. He was right, and I promised him that the next posting would be about photography.
I’m sorry to disappoint, because this still isn’t about photography — it’s about commerce, and ownership, and copyright, and images, and sales, and royalty free. I really shouldn’t write prescriptive pieces about photography because I am possibly the least skilled photographer who will read these words (though I will confess I’m a dab hand at Photoshop) but I do know what the picture market wants, needs and expects.
It’s hard enough selling images at the best of times, so my heart sank a little further in this worst of times when I saw an announcement from a microstock agency that they had nearly a million images to give away for free. We haven’t got a million images yet, and we don’t want to give them away. We’re asking money for ours.
For a large sector of the market, Price is the only consideration. I met an illustrated book publisher a few years ago who’d been to China and had picked up a set of DVDs of hundreds of thousands of free-to-use hi-res photographs. “We don’t need you any more,” he said crushingly. “We’se making books from dese images what we got.” (There’s a lot of class in publishing). Sadly, he isn’t in business any more, because the public stopped buying his repetitive titles.
All the same, a million free images? That’s absurd. So I signed up to the site to have a nosey around. To sign in, you create a username, supply an email address and a password, and click on the verification email. Then you choose your picture. Then the interrogation starts. Full name? Full address? City? Zip? Phone? Grandmother’s eyes? I dutifully complied — it’s rather more strenuous than registering on fotoLibra as a buyer — and selected an image to download.
Those of you with long memories may recall a little run-in fotoLibra had with English Heritage a couple of years ago when they told us to take down images of Stonehenge we were selling. You can read about it here and here. So I looked on Stock Free Images for photographs of Stonehenge. I got 34 results, not all of Stonehenge, of course.
© Galleria | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
Here’s one I downloaded for free. It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, with visible signs of compression at full size, but it’s good enough for perhaps 70% of usages. Of course when the search results come up, the first images you see are the pictures that Dreamstime wants to sell you. Dreamstime is a microstock agency which owns Stock Free Images. So Free Pictures! is the bait to attract buyers to Dreamstime. Underneath their premium images you see the lesser ones which SFI are offering for free. I wonder if English Heritage will be chasing them?
I’d also like to know why the photographer J. Wallace (for much of the metadata remains with the image) allowed his or her photograph, taken on June 28th 2008 with a Canon EOS 400D, to be given away for free. We have three photographers named J. Wallace. I hope it’s not one of them.
Harking back to my illustrated book publisher friend, there’s enough content here to satisfy the least demanding critic. There are 645 free photographs of Golden Retrievers, for example. If I was in the business of publishing doggy calendars, why not start here? I only need 12 adequate images, after all.
Is it any wonder that buyers on a budget will look at sites like these first? This is a world where Adequate is good enough. On the other hand, to be tempted to sites like fotoLibra, buyers have to be able to
a) find images they can’t find elsewhere
b) be assured that the image quality is absolutely top of the range
c) ask our photographers for pictures they can’t find
We can’t compete on price. We haven’t got a million murky pictures to give away. So we have to offer a service which corporations like Dreamstime can’t dream of.
And we do. We’ll bend over backwards to accommodate our clients’ wishes, which is why fotoLibra sends out regular little notes from Jacqui with her impossible demands for our photographers.
But when the actual content is deemed so trivial and unimportant by companies like Dreamstime that they can simply give it away, I just think it’s a sad world for photographers and the picture business.
Don’t you? And what can / should we do about it?