Best of 2007: A Look Back at the Year in Stock Photography

When we at Stock Asylum looked back at the highlights of 2007, we found a couple surprises. For one thing, we were not able to award the honor of “best image collection” to a single distributor. We had to split the category between Getty and Corbis. Yes, Corbis is catching up.

Additionally, we decided that no company really deserved a mention for publishing an exceptional marketing piece. Marketing this year seemed to be based on price alone, which is a shame when you work with a product that offers so many selling opportunities. Frightened by micropayment stock, the traditional side of the industry apparently got a bad inferiority complex and failed to look at and promote all the positive benefits of quality photography. Let’s hope the traditional side does better in 2008.

There were, however, many high points in 2007, as you will see when you read on. Our picks for the best of 2007 are below.

The best new Web site: Getty Images.

Getty’s new Web site for creative stock photography certainly has all the bells and whistles that an image buyer could want –– many more than any individual customer will ever use. Probably the most useful features are those that let users customize how the site looks and works in their individual browsers. However, the race for ever more Web site functionality does raise some important questions. Has the industry surpassed the functionality needs of its customers? Are the sites becoming too complex? Is the industry spending too much time and money on technology, but not enough on improving the product? Whatever the answers, Getty’s Web site is certainly very sophisticated and a lot of fun to play with.

The most interesting new Web site: BrightQube.

For plain, old fashioned thinking outside the box (or outside the qube?) no one comes close to the new BrightQube Web site. There are some difficulties with this Web site, but it seems clear that some of BrightQube’s functionality will eventually be adopted elsewhere. For this reason alone, we give these folks an “A+” for ingenuity. BrightQube’s search engine returns an image grid that is much larger than the browser window. Users navigate back and forth or up and down to see all the images. Users also can zoom in for larger previews, or out to see more small thumbnails. However, the approach has several problems that must be worked out before is ready for prime time. Better organization of images within the grid and digital “road signs” pointing searchers in the right direction would be incredibly helpful. For example, a search of the keyword “dogs” might return images of breeds in one area and people with their canines in another. Additionally, BrightQube needs to place the search and navigation palettes in the margins. Currently, the palettes float over the thumbnails, obscuring some images, which is a nuisance.

Most socially conscious distributor: Alamy.

Everybody in stock photography wants to make money shooting images for the so-called “Green Movement.” But, how many stock photo companies are contributing to the global effort in a meaningful way? Alamy is trying to become “greenhouse gas neutral” with a number of initiatives, including carbon offsets, reduced travel, wind turbine construction and more efficient use of power.

Best marketing effort: no award.

Someone probably published a great marketing piece in 2007, but we didn’t see it. What we saw was a lot of advertising based on price alone. Money is important to clients. But, if commercial image buyers really believe that cheap, mundane pictures sell products and services as well as targeted professional photos, then our industry has done an abysmal job of selling its product. So let’s be clear. Many of today’s buyers do not understand the value of a good image. We have indeed done an poor marketing job. Selling price is a lazy marketers last resort. Let’s do better in 2008.

The best non-profit organization: Stock Artists Alliance.

Through no fault of their own, stock photographers have during the last decade lost a voice in stock industry affairs. Technological and other changes essentially placed all meaningful decision-making power into the hands of a few executives. In the long run, this has been good for no one, including the privileged distributors for whom these executive work. Sapped of its vitality, the traditional stock photo industry has stagnated. It enters 2008 in a position that is so weak the top executive at a leading company suggests he is “realistic” about growth in his company’s core product. For a small organization with modest funding, Stock Artists Alliance (SAA) was a significant force in the stock industry this year. The organization of stock photographers was able to muster a number of photographers’ trade groups to collectively exert meaningful pressure on stock distributors. Because of SAA, photographers again had a modest voice in industry affairs. And the entire industry will be better for it.

The best boutique distributor: Science Faction.

Few Web sites of niche distributors are such a joy to browse. Science Faction’s large thumbnails of images related to science are a welcome break from collections (large and small) that seem aimed at the average buyer. Owner Roger Ressmeyer and his staff clearly know the specialty they have chosen and they understand exactly what makes an image appealing or interesting.

The best book for professional photographers: The Professional Photographer’s Legal Handbook by Nancy Wolff.

The legalities of professional photography are getting more complicated every day, making Nancy Wolff’s 249-page book a must. Published by Allworth Press and the Picture Archive Council of America, The Professional Photographer’s Legal Handbook covers subjects like copyright law, trademarks, and the right to privacy and publicity. It is required reading for all photographers and distributors.

The best acquisition of an existing stock distributor: Corbis’ purchase of Veer.

Stock industry observers may never know just how this one got by Getty Images. But it did. And Corbis is likely to benefit for years to come. The owners of Veer have systematically built a major distribution channel in just five years. As such, they bring a growing brand and invaluable industry expertise to Corbis, which, like its major competitors, had seen growth taper off during 2007.

The best overall collection: A tie between Corbis and Getty Images.

Getty Images is no longer the default winner of this category. Though Getty’s collection improved during 2007, the Corbis library improved more. It now is impossible to award this category exclusively to either company. Getty probably still has a slight edge in lifestyle and business images, but Corbis clearly wins in categories involving nature and science. Additionally, Corbis offers more images with interesting and intense colors, while Getty still has a lot of the desaturated images that have been popular until recently, but seem to be losing their appeal. A tie is the only fair way to handle this situation.

7 Responses to “Best of 2007: A Look Back at the Year in Stock Photography”

  1. Excellent article, Ron.

    I wish you had mentioned the new star rising. is drawing a large number of photographers to the Rights Managed photography world, and trying to educate microstock submitters in the process.

    The Photoshelter Collection (PSC) is growing very quickly, and there is a lot of enthusiasm within the photographer community over submitting to it.

    Most of the larger agencies have refused to deal with less experienced photographers, even though they may be turning out excellent work. That, and the open arms of the microstock agencies, along with sites that accept images under the Creative Commons license, has damaged this industry. accepts images from both high-end professionals, and regular photographers that previously would only submit to micros. They carefully control the quality of the images, with very tight editing. Since PSC is primarily a Rights Managed style agency, with standard traditional image pricing and licensing, it is one of the first traditional agencies to realistically embrace everyday photographers.

    What does this mean? In my opinion, it means that PSC has a chance to do something profound. By building an agency along the Getty and Corbis lines, and welcoming excellent, well-edited, high-quality stock from regular people, they may well grow very rapidly and even change the flow of this industry.

    I am a submitter to PSC, but am not affiliated with them in any other way. I hope to see them succeed, and succeed well!

    - Darrell Young

  2. Hi Darrell:

    A fully agree that the launch of PhotoShelter is an important development for photographers. And I think all photographers, myself included, want to see this company succeed along with other portals like Alamy and Digital Railroad. Photographers can be more successful if they have appropriate options for bringing their images to market.

    We did not include a category for portals this year because there are so few and because this option is still so new. Had we included portals, we almost certainly would have given the award to Alamy, which is far and away the most successful portal to date. PhotoShelter would have been too new, having launched in the fall season.

    For the last few years we have simply picked our own favorites for these awards, but maybe next year we should open this up for nominations in early December. I would be interested in what you and others think.

    Warm regards,
    Ron Rovtar
    The Stock Asylum

  3. Ron,

    Thanks for your reply. I also submit images to Alamy, and find them a great company to work with.

    In my own mind I had made no separations between companies like Getty and Alamy, as to one being a portal, and the other not.

    I know from personal experience that Getty is not all that interested in unknown photographers, while Alamy and Photoshelter is. I have considered Digital Railroad, but object to paying them a fee. I think a company should make enough commission from sales of work that they did not create, and refrain from charging fees of their photographers. I may not fully understand why DR does this though.

    In any case, I am unclear why you call Alamy, PhotoShelter, and DR "portals." Please explain what you mean by this. I'm sure there are many others, besides myself, who are unclear of why this term is used for Alamy and not Getty, for instance.

    Thanks for your fine work!

    Warm regards,
    Darrell Young

  4. Hi Darrell:

    I’m sure there probably are several slightly different definitions of the word “portal,” but essentially a portal is a web-based stock distributor that provides contributors with a different kind of access to the stock photography marketplace. Portals do not require portfolio reviews. Editing is minimal, usually focusing on the technical quality. Photographers keyword and caption their own images. In other words, contributors do much of the work handled by traditional distributors. In theory (and probably in fact), portals are more efficient than traditional image suppliers and pay contributors a greater share of sales revenue.

    I hope this answers your question.


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