Aug 28 2008

“is stock photography the canary in the coal mine?”

Published by at 9:26 am under healthcare,marketing,press

That is one of the questions posed by the Crowdsourcing author Jeff Howe. His recent book is an expansion of his original Wired Magazine feature that included me in the role of a coalmine canary.

crowdsourcing is stock photography the canary in the coal mine?

I was the first known example of a professional, commercial photographer losing out on licensing a group of photos to the National Health Museum (NHM)  in Washington, DC. to the world of microstock photography. The project manager on an interactive kiosk called and first tried to impress me with the prime D.C. Mall Location, the building designed by a famous architect and the style of the interactive display by a leading Australian design firm. She then proceeded to inform me that their budget had been spent on all of these other impressive features and perhaps I would be honored to be included in their inaugural displays at two science museums.

I’m always happy to be involved with worthy projects when everyone else if donating their time. But when I’m the only one doing the donating I’m less inclined. In this case a new source was available and now cheap stock photos were available from amateur photographers to fill up the custom designed displays.

The microstock crowd love to talk about how their cheap source of photography simply opens up a new market for images. They talk about uses that could be right for the low $1-3 fee for using the photo like a school report or a church bulletin. But with no restrictions on the use for only those small projects any normal commercial user could also pull from the same pool of images. The NHM experience was an example that someone more concerned about their marketing budget then their return would go for the cheap fix instead of meaningful communications.

As a member of an international group of professional stock photographers that I helped form, called the Stock Artist Alliance (SAA). I posted my experience our email group seeing if this was becoming a trend or simple an odd customer interaction.

Months later when Jeff Howe called the SAA’s Executive Director Betsy Reid about what he saw as an example of the new trend of Crowdsourcing she recalled my post and I became the poster boy for the feature.

The original phone call from the NHM occurred almost four years ago, since that time the NHM is still a dream looking for a reality – now in Atlanta instead of the Washington Mall. There is still talk of a famous architect and interactive designer and they still use bad and perhaps cheap photography.

The major stock photo outlets, led by Getty Images decided that it was better to join the emerging trend instead of fighting for their market. They bought the main supplier of cheap photos and watched their stock price collapse along with the fees that can be charged now for a stock photograph.

20070627 stk 8666 is stock photography the canary in the coal mine?

Medical researcher in an islet cell lab. 

I still create and send a number of my photos out to my stock photo outlets, but I now wonder if it even worth the investment of my time to even caption and keyword the images for distribution. More of my time is now spent connecting with clients directly that share my vision in the assignment world instead of relying on an agent that believe that photographs are a mere widget in their investment banking inspired business plan.

No responses yet