Speed is everything when it comes to trade and commerce. You might have the best ice cream sundae in the world, but if it takes you an hour to make it and another hour to deliver it, you’ve lost a lot of potential customers.
In our field of editorial stock photography, the same holds true. Independent stock photographers have historically been the David attempting to battle with the Goliath. The advent of large conglomerates in our industry (I can think of five of them) has sent a chill through the world of stock photo photographers.
“Will I be shouldered out into the cold?” many independents ask.
The answer might have been “Yes” if the question were asked fifteen years ago. Back then the technology to compete would have cost the average independent photography business $150,000 to $300,000. “Out of the question,” you would have said then.
Today, it’s very different. We are seeing the cost of hardware and software, and related services, dropping dramatically. The equivalent technology today is in the range of $4,000 to $10,000.
A small business today, armed with the correct hardware and software, can effectively compete with the stock agency conglomerates.
You have two areas to your advantage: speed and price.
Any traditional conglomerate is bogged down with costly dinosaur-like administration. And paradoxically, this administration adds to the price of their product. In contrast, when photobuyers deal with you, they deal directly. No middleman is involved, further reducing the per-photo fee to the buyer.
If the aggregate stock photo collections of independent individual photographers totals more than 450,000,000 photos, why don’t more photobuyers today use independent photographers rather than the large stock agencies?
Because we’re not quite there yet. Not enough photographers are knowledgeable about what’s called “eCommerce.” Photobuyers are not ready to abandon traditional shopping behavior. And without a built-in network to jump aboard, independents find themselves floating aimlessly in cyberspace.
Such a network is taking shape, however, on the Internet. Daily, more and more photo researchers are finding that by using the Web, they can eliminate costly hours of searching for “just-right” images. They can also save money by buying directly from the source (you).
Using Amazon.com, the cyber bookseller, as an example, we can draw a parallel to this situation. Amazon.com is not a book publisher, (not yet, at least) but a go-between for booksellers and people who shop via the Internet. Amazon.com fulfills orders and receives a percentage of the revenue for its work.
But Amazon.com, given the present state of the Internet, does nothing different than what book publishers could also do themselves — thus reducing delivery time and eliminating commissions to Amazon.com. This would make customers happy.
Search systems on the Internet now allow customers to find what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds. Common sense tells us, for example, there’s no need to go through a middleman to find a book, if you can find it on the Web directly through the publisher. This eliminates both the sales unit and the distributor entirely.
No doubt in the near future, publishers will set up their own cyber mall Internet service and supply customers with their products directly. The technology is there.
Can you see the parallel here?
In the near future, savvy photo researchers will not need the handholding from one of the conglomerates to find their photos. Using the increasing power of the Internet, the researchers will go swiftly to the source of the image (the photographer) and deal directly with the source (you) for delivery of the product.
Mitch Kezar, a Minneapolis-based photographer with a specialty in outdoors, especially hunting dogs, fishing, and winter sports, is one of the pioneers who are proving that this way of doing business is about to explode on the scene. He is already successful at it with a number of his clients. He’s currently busy expanding, scanning 12,000 hunting/fishing/outdoor images to put up for sale on the Internet. “Our site uses a keyword searchable data base to guide buyers through. First they can review thumbnail-size images, then by clicking on them they can see a 5×7 image they can drag to a shopping basket. Which, then, of course, can be emailed or called in to my office. We then ship the buyer the slide they want FedEx, or if they want a digitized image we scan the photo at a high res and digitally fulfill the request, or send straight digital images.
“We’ve polled about 200 customers, who have shown great interest in being able to call up exactly what they’re looking for, from someone who knows the difference between a flushing dog and a retrieving dog, or a slip sinker from spinning bait.
“Our clients have lamented to us about experiences with calling large photo agencies for such niche-market images, only to find themselves wading through 300 pulled images, all of them wrong content.”
Such efficiency as what Mitch offers will appeal to everyone in the photo buying community. And individual stock photographers will find themselves sought after.