Sunday, November 25, 2007

The BBC & The 'Infinite monkey theorem'

It's nice to see that the venerable old BBC can write an article about how Shutterstock/et al are changing the landscape, and revealing the damage it's doing to photographers like Shannon Fagan, which is reporting that "his livelihood is under attack thanks to a proliferation of websites dedicated to amateur and semi-pro stock photography called "microstock".

Their ilk (the microstock sites) defend their model, suggesting "...'We're targeting a different market,' says Stephen Kapsinow from Stockxpert, another stock photography website." IF that were the case - the notion that the images would be used just for school reports, or even a mom-and-pop startup who's never even thought of licensing images, it might be more palatable. However, that's not altogether the case. Designers are procuring images for commercial and corporate clients with a budget and billing those budgeted fees of hundreds of dollars, and instead, paying pennies on the dollar.

And what do the iStalkers have to say?

(Continued after the Jump)

Over in their forums, here, some are suggesting the article "...it's well-balanced and informative...", but that's a minority opinion. Instead, they take offense at snippets of the article which report that " quality is no longer a priority", and "amateur snappers do not have to be very skilled." It stands to reason that the "Infinite monkey theorem" here might just well apply. When an organization of 80,000+ photographers worldwide are snapping thousands of photos a year, this comes strikingly close to the theorem's parameters.

They then try to align themselves with Ghandi, citing him - "First they ignore you. Then they make fun of you. Then they fight you, Then you win." The problem is, as another iStocker suggested, "Oceans of mediocrity wouldn't matter at all if the search results were sorted in such a way that the cream rose to the top..." and this may well be the problem - photo buyers will want a controlled, filtered, and sorted solution, like PhotoShelter's Collection, or through Digital Railroad's Marketplace.

The article reports "Shutterstock.com was set up after founder Jon Oringer became frustrated with his lack of opportunities as a semi-pro photographer....'I went looking for a place to sell them. The top agencies didn't return my phone calls.'" So, I guess, if you can't be them, screw them? If he'd have set up an agency with market pricing, no one would have blinked. Sound familiar?

The founder of iStockphoto, during an interview with DesignSessions, is noted that he "...started his design career in 1994, as a clerk in the mail room of Image Club Graphics, a Calgary company credited with being the first to put RF images on CD-ROMs. After a piece of software essentially eliminated his job..." he then moved to and fro, and then "...During these years, Bruce sharpened his skills as a photographer...He calls iStockphoto a "true example of success born from failure." After deciding he was not going to make it in the traditional stock photography business, Bruce created a free Web site to share his images...and iStockphoto was born."

Could it be that these "frustrated" and "born from failure" photographers are living out their retribution?

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

8 comments:

David said...

"iStalkers..."

(heh heh heh...)

Anonymous said...

It makes me laugh that the BBC has the cheek to write such an article - it's very hypocritical... but that's something that 'Aunty Beeb' is very good at! Check out their standard rights grab for 'reader' image 'submissions'...

Mark Scheuern said...

I think "balance" is something you tend not to find on the iStock forum. I note that one of their head cheerleaders has singled me out for his "hate", as he puts it, because I've been known to express the opinion that getting 25 cents for an RF license might not be such a great idea.

I'm guessing you're not on his Christmas card list this year, either, John.

Excellent point on one of their top excuses, which is that the micros are in a different market. While that might be true to some extent, there clearly is a lot of overlap with traditional stock and they do nothing to selectively target only genuinely micro uses. And I note that some of the posters in that thread find it ridiculous that Alamy and other agencies charge hundreds of dollars for a license. So, which is it? They say they're no threat to traditional agencies but yet happily talk about selling their stuff for 1% or less the going rate.

Ian Murray said...

"Could it be that these "frustrated" and "born from failure" photographers are living out their retribution?"

Is that why Bruce Livingstone goes by the name of Bitter?

If the micros serve a new, community market why does iStock offer a 500,000 print run licence that community groups don't need.

Change this and the micros could be forces for good. Don't change it and they purposefully undercut the rst of the stock business.

Ian Murray

Anonymous said...

the saddest part of it... Proclaimed their flagship technology show... they used a couple crappy non credited video grabs as an excuse for photographs

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