A few months after the announcement of Yuri going exclusive with iStock/Getty, he published a new blog post with some of his thoughts on this step. The whole post seems a bit written by his oversized ego but there are also lots of interesting thoughts. You just have to search for them and cut all the crap about him turning the world into a better place.
Microstock agencies failed to raise prices
One of the interesting statements he makes is about his tries to convince other microstock agencies to raise prices. This part sounds credible and I also had mentioned that the changes especially at iStockphoto in recent weeks are likely to be a reaction to the failure of others to follow their lead in raising prices beyond the few dollars for large resolutions.
iStockphoto had taken the lead of this new market segment and year after year slowly moved up their prices, added new collections for higher priced images and achieved a far higher average sales price than all other agencies. Any market has its limits and iStockphoto successfully tested theirs.
I am quite convinced, if others had followed this lead, the industry would be in a much better shape for everyone involved now. While I believe there is a market for images priced at $1 that can not be served at higher prices, I also believe there is no need to sell print size images for $5 or $10. The web is quick, changing and huge, hosting is cheap – so there is a need to offer very cheap images to keep the cost of a new page very low. But as soon as we talk about printing, we are talking about a few hundred dollars for stationary and brochures, thousands of dollars for ads in papers, and partly millions of dollars for booking bill boards across a city or country for months. Why would we want to deliver images for $5 for these markets?
Then again, microstock agencies are competing each other, often with exactly the same images. Offering the same products to the same clients allows only two differentiators: Quicker processes or lower prices. Obviously the first is hard to achieve, to make it easy for customers to find the images they need, it takes constant refinement. Changing the price is much easier and quicker, and as agencies do not have many fixed costs it can be done quite simple.
We might see a few more agencies disappear, merged or bought by the big players in the near future as the industry will consolidate. But all players will have to make up their mind how their offer provides additional value to clients – or fight for the lowest price.
Mobile photography and stock
I am regularly amused reading posts by professional photographers about the development of technologies, the way markets are served, the complaints about editors choosing the cheap images delivered by hobbyists and smart phone shooters.
They fail to understand the change we are part of: About every second person nowadays holds a camera that delivers images good enough to be printed or shown on the web.
Will this change the stock photography industry? For sure it will. We are not talking about commercial stock requiring model releases, clean images, low noise in this case. But editorial uses is a huge part of the market for imagery as well. There are lots of magazines and newspapers using microstock images right now.
There will always be a market for clean and creative stock used in advertising which you can not achieve from a crowd sourced mobile photography platform. But a part of the market for imagery does not require clean backgrounds, clear concepts, a nice color set – they are about delivering engaging news, authentic and real because that is what readers want to see. Technical quality always comes second. Those markets will certainly see a growing number of mobile images being used and shown in the future, sourced from people who are willing to give aways their images for free.
Will Yuri be missed at the other agencies?
Reading his blog post, you could assume that removing his images from other agencies will change the market perception completely. If buyers are not able to buy his images, they will leave. Well, I’d sit back and watch that happen. My personal understanding of the market is that a huge majority of buyers (maybe 90% or more) are not even aware of Yuri Arcurs or any other microstock photographer. They do not care who is producing the images they use. They never will. So they will not move somewhere else because a photographer can not be found anymore.
So the only question is if Yuri’s images are so special and recognisable that customers will not find anything at all matching their needs at other agencies once he is gone. For that I venture the guess that Yuri’s success is his biggest problem as well: There are too many other photographers willing and able to do the same thing, they already did so in the past and they will see a good opportunity to pick up parts of the four million downloads for Arcurs images that are now available to others.
No, I do not believe that this will change the industry. It will not change any of the agencies. But the market is going to change, anyways and somehow, no matter what we do or don’t do. And I am sure Yuri will find enough reason to credit any change in the future to his moves.