Friday, February 13, 2015

ImageBrief: A scourge on the photographic industry

In May of 2011, self-proclaimed "…world's first crowd-sourced image library…" launched. Since then, their speculation-based model of soliciting work has eroded the value of assignment-based photography and diminished the overall value of photography in the process.

In 2007, Photo Business News published this article "nOnRequest - This is Not Your Father's 'Agency'" where we outlined the failing idea of a "custom stock" business model. PBN wasn't alone in this perspective. Photo District News, in an article titled "Revolutions that never happened" took a similarly dim view of the model, writing "Sometimes bad ideas take care of themselves. OnRequest Images never backed down from custom stock, but the idea was hard to explain and held little appeal to art buyers...Another custom stock service,'s BuyRequest, also failed to capture much interest and was quietly discontinued last year." A few weeks later, on stage at the Microsoft Pro Photographers Summit held on the Microsoft campus in Redmond Washington, we posed the question about the problems with OnRequest and their "custom stock" model. The head of OnRequest, David Norris, said "that model was interesting, but didn't pan out." We wrote about this in a follow-up piece titled "OnRequest - Realizing the Obvious". I remain convinced that these people are following through on my anti-maxim "don't let common sense get in the way of a good idea."

ImageBrief published quotes from their clients that appeared on the website around their launch such as "We've used ImageBrief for our ad campaigns and have had great results every time" but when we followed up with this user, he responded to our inquiry saying he'd used the website twice by that time and that "it was just much easier for us to pick from a tailored selection of images from pro-photographers than have to go through stock libraries like Getty who I found to be very expensive." Another user was quoted on their website as saying "No more searching random library images." When we followed up with them, they noted "...yes I still use the 'image libraries', just depends what I'm doing."

(Continued after the Jump)
Sources in the industry have suggested that the CEO of ImageBrief, Simon Moss, cares about photographers and sustaining their craft, and that he is opposed to micro stock, and that he wants fair paying deals for photographers. Here's an example of a problem with this:

A photograph is needed that does not exist. According to one of the quoted users we contacted, "if I do a search in Corbis for "businesswoman presenting" I get over 2000 search results." He then said "If I need an image of a 'businesswomen presenting in a white suit" I get zero search results. The benefit of ImageBrief to me is that I can ask for exactly what I want". Ok, so we're not talking about a stock image marketplace of already existing images, we're talking about the appeal of ImageBrief being custom stock shot on spec by more than one photographer with maybe only one getting paid. Setting aside the earlier points by OnRequest and BuyRequest that this model does not work, consider this:
A license for an image like this could garner, let's say, $400 for a simple use. That's probably a fair licensing fee in a number of arenas. Oh, and if that's the fee via Getty, the photographer will take home about $100 (making it decidedly less reasonable). Now, let's say the businesswoman presenting in a white suit is the shoot. Someone has to produce the shoot, putting in time, getting the wardrobe, model, and doing the post production on the image. Let's say four photographers then decide to produce the job on spec, in response to the "buyer brief." ImageBrief's client then cherry picks the work of one photographer. The selected photographer gets 70% of $400, or $280 and receives exactly $0 towards reimbursing production expenses, and the other three photographers get no fee and no reimbursed expenses. Consider the law of averages - if 4 photographers repetitively produce and bid on 20 shoots, they will only get selected 5 times. In this example, that would mean there's 75% of available overhead, again, using the law of averages. I don't think there's anyone in the industry that will tell you there's even 50% overhead in the business. The numbers get worse once you realize that the prospective buyer can also choose to not use any of the images that were produced, or if more than one photographer "bids" on the project.
According to an ImageBrief FAQ, when asked "Do image buyers ever commission photographers for shoots", responded "not yet - but it's coming." I would ask - When? It's been four years. Supposedly, according to this Huffington Post article where Moss was interviewed, he states "we recently began enabling buyers to hire photographers directly through ImageBrief. When a photographer books a job through ImageBrief, they keep 100% of the fee. " But ask yourself, why would they commission a shoot when they can get multiple shoots commissioned for free with no obligation to actually buy/license a photo!
In a comment in response to criticisms that were made about this model, CEO Simon Moss wrote "One of the absolute key things I must stress is that we have definitely NOT built an ‘on-spec’ commissioning platform." Moss wrote this in a comment on the APhotoEditor blog article "ImageBrief – Crowdsourcing Image Requests" back in June of 2011 shortly after their launch. Moss also seems to misunderstand what "spec" work is, when in a later comment he writes "Crowdsourcing photography is very different to graphic design though. Graphic design is almost always spec work… ie a business needs a custom logo developed and designers must create very specific work for the buyer." Graphic design is almost always NOT "spec" work, because "spec" is short for "speculative" or on "speculation", and NOT "specific". One can only hope that since 2011 his understanding of this has been corrected.

Yet, perhaps Moss and the rest of the ImageBrief folks need to review their official marketing materials. Deborah Kolb, in the Los Angeles area, is promoted by ImageBrief as "one of the most successful photographer on ImageBrief", in a video here that was posted in January 2015, where she states in the video "sometimes I'll look at a brief and I'll say to myself 'Wow, I might as well just shoot that instead of going through my computer and finding something that might match'" then they feature her shooting on spec for a brief. Later in the video she states she's been on ImageBrief for about a year, and has "won 14 briefs." The question is - how many has she shot? She states that the total gross for all the shoots shes "won" is close to $20,000 in sales, and states she would receive $14,000 in gross income, for ads that include clients like a billboard for a Las Vegas hotel and a Costco cover. She also states, as the "most successful photographer on ImageBrief", that there's something different "about shooting for ImageBrief." So, it's unclear how Moss can state they are not promoting spec photography and then put out videos where they are holding up those that do as the most successful on ImageBrief.

On the ImageBrief blog here, they are now promoting more royalty-free buyer briefs because they are "responding to client demands and listening to the market." They characterize RF as "RF is a perpetual license, with unlimited usage, worldwide." Back in 2011 American Photographic Artists (then Advertising Photographers of America) issued an APA Alert warning photographers of ImageBrief as "a service that we recommend you avoid." APA stated "We feel that this type of business scenario where photographers shoot on "spec" in hopes of having their work used will only further erode the hiring/licensing model that APA supports." Some things never change. APA was right then, and the warning rings true still.

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Anonymous said...

ImageBrief's model is certainly a struggling one.

I have been in the licensing space for many years and believed from their outset that they would go nowhere fast with such a "spec" based model. There is so much mistrust in the image licensing business right now, I am sure their new 100% "giveaway" for commissions is going stir up a whole load of suspicions, especially as to get it one has pay for a rather expensive monthly or annual subscription, with no guarantees at all.

They need do something, this is not it

Michael Weaver said...

I just quit Imagebrief. I had been one of the “founding” member or whatever they call you.

My thoughts are that after seeing most of the briefs are wanting high production value/cost images for less than what they cost to create. It also appears that creatives are using the system to get ideas. There isn’t a comp or layout, just some random thoughts that need everything released. Really?!

It’s a great business model for the entity that is the middleman, they get paid by wishful thinkers and the image buyers get the image they want from time to time for way less than it would cost them otherwise.

When I saw that there is some woman that they say is successful at shooting the briefs on spec and she really didn’t have much revenue, it got me thinking and as time went on, I got to the point that it’s the disrespect of what we as photographers bring to the table that enable entities like Imagebrief to assist in making photography an unsustainable business model. You really want great looking people in a setting where everyone is released and exactly done as you need with lighting and huge file sizes? Hire a team to produce it for you. Why should photographers be the one that take it in the shorts because they need to spend more on online/social media placement? Let them find alternatives to Google/Facebook/Twitter/Vine or whatever the platform of the week is that is more cost effective at reaching the audience.

The people making the requests expect to be paid well, why should photographers be any different?

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