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Action, Not Anger, Is Photographers’ Best Response to Getty

Posted By Scott Baradell On May 2, 2011 @ 12:01 am In Stock Art and Photography | 13 Comments

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Stock photographers are up in arms. They’re angry — and understandably so.

But they’re not right about everything, and rage only gets you so far. As the photography industry continues to struggle with heightened competition, reduced demand and lower prices, photographers must learn to take action, both for themselves and for their industry, with the same energy with which they voice their complaints.

The latest round of fury has been triggered by Getty’s decision [2] to change its contributor agreement. Most notably, these changes allow Getty the right to include all royalty-free content in its subscription package. They also remove the right for contributors to block Getty selling any of their images on a royalty-free basis.

If you’ve submitted your images to Getty, agreeing to the new terms will mean that Getty will be able to sell your images to buyers who can do with them almost anything they want for as long as they want at a low price fixed by the company.

Photographers Lose Control

For many photographers, these changes represent a slap in the face — and the wallet.

Images bought through a subscription pay significantly lower fees than those bought off the shelf. And royalty-free licenses tend to be cheaper than rights-managed licenses. So there’s a good chance that Getty’s stock contributors will see a drop in income as their images are moved into the royalty-free inventory and sold to subscribers.

And after an image has been sold once on a royalty-free basis, it’s just about impossible to sell usage rights to it again.

The change also makes tracking usage harder. When a buyer is paying for a specific use, any other appearance of the image is a breach of copyright and a start of a legal complaint. Because royalty-free images can be used in multiple ways, contributors have to assume that those uses have been paid for.

But the biggest concern isn’t reduced income or the increased difficulty of identifying illicit use.

It’s the loss of control.

As the APA put it [3] after hiring law firm Nelson & McCulloch to discuss the changes with Getty — and after the stock company had refused to respond:

As the creator and owner of the intellectual property, the photographer has the inherent right to determine how an image is to be licensed, including whether an image should be maintained as an RM or RF image. Getty Images’ effort to leverage its position in the industry to undermine that fundamental right and force its contributors to relinquish control over the manner in which their creative works are licensed is completely improper.

This is the heart of the struggle between stock photographers and the sellers who represent them (in return for a large share of the sales price.) It’s certainly a better point than the APA’s original assertion that the changes were “unnecessary” and that “rights-managed licensing has been in existence for decades and is the preferred method of licensing high-value content,” which just made the APA seem tone-deaf to market realities.

The battle now is over how much control photographers must grant those who would sell their images. And frankly, both sides have reasons to feel indignant in their positions — and reasons to feel embarrassed about them, too.

Getty Knows Best

For Getty, forcing photographers to take or leave the new arrangement does little to encourage a relationship of trust with the stock company. It’s an expression of arrogance, a statement that Getty knows best and that photographers should stop worrying and focus on taking pictures.

Getty could have handled this better. The company might have provided financial incentives to contributors to make their images available to royalty-free subscribers. Persuasion generally makes for a better relationship than coercion. Getty’s iStockphoto, for example, uses all sorts of incentives to encourage contributors to be exclusive without ever forcing it as a condition.

But even if Getty bungled this change, the truth is that many photographers are completely unrealistic about what it takes to sell images today. Commenting on APhotoEditor.com [4], stock photographer William Huber said that he was launching his own site because:

Unique images deserve the moon and the stars.

Great images might well deserve astronomical prices in photographers’ minds, but stock companies like Getty know better than to demand them. That clearly isn’t true of every photographer. Getty exists to sell pictures, and it wants the freedom to do it in the way that it thinks is best.

And it’s hard for photographers to complain too much when the stock giant drops its considerable weight on them. One of the main benefits of using Getty is that its size has made the company the default choice for many photo buyers. Photographers contributing images to the company has given it that heft, and they’ve benefited from it. They can hardly be surprised when the giant turns on them.

Difficult Choices

So where does that leave today’s stock photographers?

Ultimately, it leaves them with some difficult choices to make. Contributors can accept that Getty understands buyers and their demands better than they do, agree to the changes and make up for the lower fees by contributing more images.

They can emulate William Huber by cutting out the middle man, selling directly themselves and swapping time behind the camera for time marketing.

Or they can look for one of the many alternative services that offer stock with more control but to a much smaller customer base.

Making that decision won’t be easy. But it will be a lot more constructive than just getting angry.

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13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Action, Not Anger, Is Photographers’ Best Response to Getty"

#1 Comment By Todd Klassy On May 2, 2011 @ 10:27 am

When are photographers going to learn that the likes of Getty are not the answer; they are the problem. Yes, there are more and more photographers out there, but good photographers can and should sell their stock images on their own. Yes, it requires more work, but it can be done. Amateurs who compete against your images can not produce the quantity AND quality; so remove your quality images from these brokers who care little about your prosperity. I personally sell only my oldest, out-of-date images via stock photography agencies and sell my newest stuff on my own and I do quite well. If every professional photographer did this, supplies would dry up, demand would increase, and prices will go up.

#2 Comment By john lund On May 2, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

I think Todd has a great point...and yes it is difficult and takes a lot of time to license your own stock photos. I am using a hybrid approach of developing a web presence that draws traffic and directs those looking to license images on to the agencies that carry them, or I can license directly the growing body of my images that have not been committed to agencies. After two and a half years of hard work I see that starting to pay off as well.

John Lund

#3 Comment By David A. Larsen On May 2, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

These issues are difficult because the market is a tough place. I have been on both sides, both supplying and selling images through Africa Media Online and there are not easy answers. I feel for both sides. We have recently been working on an initiative with World Press Photo to produce a free online resource for photographers in the Majority World to understand and access markets for themselves and relate well to agencies. It launches on at the 2011 World Press Photo awards in Amsterdam this week and will be on the URL: [5].

#4 Comment By Colortrails On May 2, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

The anger is just the initial reaction and it is more than justified IMHO. The action will follow as photographers discuss how they want to handle it as a community and individuals (which is where posts like this one come into play, so thank you...). I think ultimately, the tools are available now for each photographer to become their own stock agency. The trick is for like-minded shooters who have common interests and who can speak for each other's quality, to create their own organization to extend reach and act as a clearinghouse, as well as help to avoid everyone reinventing their own wheel.

There is strength in numbers (just look at Getty). Now we need to create our own numbers. Because the quality and technology is there for us to use.

#5 Comment By Todd Klassy On May 2, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

Let's build our own site where photographers upload images (like Flickr), and where photographers can set their own prices (using standard market rates as as a guideline), can sell prints that fulfilled by an outside vendor, and where the web site or organization keeps a small cut to keep the web site running, functional, and for advertising and marketing. It really is a simple business model.

#6 Comment By Shannon Fagan On May 2, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

Business Model Shift:
Getty Images is addressing a significant shift in its business model. Non-signee’s are likely less valuable to a cause circa-2011 simply as Getty has intelligently grown its ability to source more content than circa-2000 contracts. Flickr alone is a significant source of new imagery and contractual signees for Getty. Istockphoto’s “The Agency Collection” also allows for cross-placement between the iStockphoto website and Getty Images website, and iStockphoto exclusive contributors who have quality offerings in iStock’s Vetta Collection are also placed for sale cross-platform.

The Power of E-Commerce and the Size of the Community:
As primarily an e-commerce business model, Getty Images (and other advanced tech oriented content businesses....like microstock) wants to work with those who will work with them. A shake-out because of the contract could be affordable in Getty’s eyes due to the management changes seen in these kinds of businesses. Only premium levels of contributors and the emerging contributors see much management action and continued sustained effort to be retained. This whole business model could be drag dropped into the commercial photographic industry as a whole post-2008 fallout. The middle class sector of professional photography is harder than ever to be a participant in. That’s a market shift, not specifically a Getty shift; though certainly...we do have a chicken vs. egg syndrome here given the sheer size of these content platforms now. That too has been widely documented since the recession, as analysts see the power of distribution platforms to the future of internet sharing and sales.

Getty Images Purchases PicScout:
Strategically, we have more information now this week about where Getty Images might be headed : the control of online content licensing in an unprecedented way.

Theoretically with the purchase of PicScout, not only does Getty reduce its long term costs to pay PicScout as a service provider, it can also infuse that business model with the capital needed to move it from tracking RM imagery alone online, to potentially tracking every piece of content.

Getty’s new contract seeks to clean-out the licensing channels for more stratified search, and on the back-end it can use PicScout technology (should it deem to invest) to move it towards a monopolistic position to capitalize on stolen imagery in all licensing forms online which are either house collections or 3rd Party collections on the Getty Images site...worldwide.

PicScout is not alone. There are about eight companies worldwide that have “fingerprint” technology to track stolen image or logo content. Perhaps we will see increased growth in this area of lost monetization for the industry as a whole.

...more thoughts and commentary on [6]

#7 Comment By ChrisLJones On May 7, 2011 @ 4:43 am

I have been with Photolibrary since they started and seen them grow big. Now they have been gobbled up by Getty who knows what will happen to our work. We are seeing technology erode the traditional models of running a photo business right across the board and not only in stock. Publishers have been making a grab for rights bringing in new contracts that demand the signing away of rights. That leaves a large number of photographers disenfranchised and disconnected from the desire to produce high quality work for them as they become effectively employees without benefits. All these changes are as inevitable as when airbrushing went out with the advent of electronic retouching in the form of the aptly named Paintbox. We are going through a paradigm shift in many areas of creativity and there are new opportunities opening up which will employ visual artists, including photographers. However it requires a new diversification of skills (that might be hard for some diehard older photographers) to be able to bring our own unique vision and preoccupations into the limelight, and what better time to do it than now with the possibility of networking our work out there at unprecedented levels of ease and opportunity. It requires that we take our creativity to another level (and that's great) and the subject areas we choose to exploit to a fertile new ground that is now emerging. Technology and its enormous palette is giving creative people with a good kitbag of skills (often developed cheaply in the online environment) new ways of mining new seams if their ideas and execution are up to it. We have a traditional image of practically everything under the sun now (as I found out whilst researching locations in India on Flickr recently) so to try and sell any of those types of pictures is going to be tricky and not bring in much return (check out what Yuri Arcurs is up to and there is your competition!). However if you put a beautiful body of work together that adds value even in an already saturated visual world and know how to make it visible using the available networks and new age marketing tools then you can forge a new life as a visual content provider (photographer if you like!)...and you definitely won't need to be represented by the big stock players...you will be able to do what they do yourself. In fact they are in the process of self destruction (as are the above mentioned publishers) because photographers can no longer make decent money (unless you are Yuri or the like) from stock and are therefore looking elsewhere to do that. Stock agencies relied in the past on the efforts of independent and reasonably well heeled photographers to provide material which they could market. With so many now unable or unwilling to invest time and money to do that for so little return the agencies have been looking for new content outside the pro sources, and that has really diminished the quality to the point that buyers are constantly complaining of the dross they have to sift through to get to premium images. Dinosaurs they will be unless they learn to develop a win win relationship with professional visual content creators...something the publishers are also not fully getting. Work co-creatively with photographers and give them opportunities to thrive (eg respect their rights) and all can succeed, but the suits that have moved into most big publishing enterprises have no understanding of what that means and have to report back to their shareholders with ever new ways to cut or exploit to eke out profit. Big mistake and not sustainable. Many disaffected creators are now working out ways of making a living that keeps their lives creative and independent, and opportunities in the online environment are allowing them to fulfil this. This is another way that the bigger less flexible enterprises will have their market share cut as smaller more creative entities are able to produce and market more cutting edge content. It is a bit like what is happening in the middle east where people are using powerful networking tools to bring down repressive governments. In future the more you repress or try and exploit at the expense of others the more likely it will come back and bite you....the big companies that have tried to call the shots will find that out soon enough. So exceptional creativity is the key to being a success in the new world of photography, and the more diversified your skillset is, and that includes the areas of marketing, networking and building relationships, the more likely you will survive and thrive. I guess that is how it has always been, but now it has gone onto another level altogether. We are entering a new world and consciousness and it is time for change. Bring it on I say and action IS the key.

#8 Comment By Rohn Engh On May 13, 2011 @ 7:13 am

A Fable. Gulliver is gulping his children and soon he won’t have many left to chew on. Where did they all go? It’s tomorrow or 2012. The tide has reversed. These picture-takers escaped to the Internet corridor that has long been blossoming behind the screen, beckoning them to the new freedom. The time has come. Gulliver’s castle is crumbling and integration of labels like rights-managed, crowd-sourcing, microstock, macrostock, royalty free, are floating downstream, flowing into the Internet stream to be separated into distinct branches of their liking. These are individual, independent photographers each opening their own specialty shops, big and small, each gathering their own faithful followers. These photosuppliers use their own personal marketing giant, the Internet, who broadcasts photowares to be delivered with speed, far and wide, to awaiting clients. And yes, these emerging picture artists are enjoying this new dawn of photomarketing, free from the bonds of Gulliver. -RE

#9 Comment By Rohn Engh On May 13, 2011 @ 7:18 am

TAKEAWAY: A Fable. Gulliver is gulping his children and soon he won’t have many left to chew on. Where did they all go? It’s tomorrow or 2012. The tide has reversed. These picture-takers escaped to the Internet corridor that has long been blossoming behind the screen, beckoning them to the new freedom. The time has come. Gulliver’s castle is crumbling and integration of labels like rights-managed, crowd-sourcing, microstock, macrostock, and royalty free, are floating downstream, flowing into the Internet stream to be separated into distinct branches of their liking. These are individual, independent photographers each opening their own specialty shops, big and small, each gathering their own faithful followers. These photosuppliers use their own personal marketing giant, the Internet, who broadcasts photowares to be delivered with speed, far and wide, to awaiting clients. And yes, these emerging picture artists are enjoying this new dawn of photomarketing, free from the bonds of Gulliver. -RE

#10 Comment By v2 On May 13, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

Unionize.

#11 Comment By bryan On May 17, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

its amazing to me that anyone can make a living with stock photography

#12 Comment By Jargon Rules On June 7, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

As I see it a niche company needs to be formed and when it does it will grow and Getty will just buy them out. They buy out every competitor they can and that is how they stay on top. They lock customers into contracts and clients also don't have the budget to pay so now they can buy volume from Getty for a cheap price. Welcome to the Walmart of Photography!

#13 Comment By JeffGreenberg On June 15, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

Getty will keep getting concessions.
Most stock shooters, especially
the "big guns," are unable to say no
because they haven't saved for a
rainy day.


Article printed from Black Star Rising: http://rising.blackstar.com

URL to article: http://rising.blackstar.com/getty-photographers.html

URLs in this post:

[1] Tweet: https://twitter.com/share

[2] Getty’s decision: http://prophotocoalition.com/index.php/tdonaldsonppc/story/getty_really_makes_me_mad/

[3] the APA put it: http://www.apanational.com/files/APA_4_29_11_Getty_Statement.pdf

[4] APhotoEditor.com: http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2011/04/05/new-getty-contract-met-with-apathy/

[5] : http://www.shutha.org

[6] : http://www.asmpstock.org

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