Getty Images Changes the Stock Photo Game, Again

Getty Images is big. Getty Images has changed the game. Again.

For those who weren’t paying attention a while back, Getty changed the stock photo game when they made the number one (yep, first, primary, numero uno), behind the scenes search return criteria ‘date uploaded’. What did that mean? It meant that if you went to Getty and searched for, say, images of “Paris”, that the most recently uploaded image of Paris came up on the first page of displayed search results. Thus, if you and I both had images from Paris posted there, and yours was accepted last week and mine has sold 200 times, but was uploaded 6 months ago, yours would come up first. No quality assessment of the image, no sales history, nothing. Recency became number one in the algorithm. And, obviously, the proven assumption is that the images that come up earlier in a returned search have a greater likelihood of being licensed.

What did this change do? It turned the stock world into a race. Was that good or bad? Fine by me I guess, but harder work for sure. It would’ve been easier if I could sit back and rest on the laurels of those images that used to sell 20 times per quarter, but it’s not that way anymore. Competition became a full-fledged reality of the new stock photo market – and it certainly began to weed out the chaff. But did it begin to weed out the good image makers in favor of those who are interested in quantity over quality? I’ll wait till market forces tell the rest of the story, but early indicators have showed the beginnings of a dramatic industry polarization. WalMart or Gucci.

And that move was well over a year ago if you didn’t notice.

What’s their next move been (and the focus of this post)? Even bigger than above. They’re soon accepting images from anybody. That’s right. If you’re willing to sign their contract, pay $50 to have your image represented exclusively by them, they’ll host it and take their percentage on sales, and give you the rest. So, for all of you that have been uploading to istockphoto for two years making sales $1 a pop, hoping to someday have your images ‘represented’ legitimately by Getty Images, the world’s leading agency, your time has come. Get on board. If you’re on the opposite side of the fence and thought your ‘stock’ images were your retirement: wake up and smell the pixels. Those days are over.

This does a couple things… You’re now gambling. You wanna play? You gotta pay. (AND create great images). Now, rumor has it they’re still accepting non-placement-fee images from established contributors. So if you’re from the old guard, you’ve got that going for you…but you’re now competing with more people.

Like ‘em or hate ‘em, they’ve single-handedly defined stock photography in the last 10 years. I’ve historically done well with them. Will I continue to do so? I dunno…I think I will, but the strategies are certainly changing. Will the rest of the industry follow in the race? Do they have a choice? Where do you fit in?

If you’re new to this biz, put your money where your talent is; there’s real potential for you if you’ve got what it takes. If you’re established in this business, don’t be the guy or gal who writes in saying you’re afraid that 15-year-old what’s-his-face is taking your stock buying clients with his Nikon D80. Go out and make better pictures. And btw, you should make ‘em faster too ;) Or, go the opposite direction: make ‘em slowly and make ‘em really, really standout. Unless I’m missing something, those are your only two real options.

Read the PDN Magazine story here.

41 Responses to Getty Images Changes the Stock Photo Game, Again

  1. Finn McKenty November 25, 2006 at 11:59 am #

    Another great post, as always, Chase.

    In any case, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you’d wait to see how market forces play out before making judgement. It’s too early to say what exactly will happen, but I do have some initial concerns.

    As someone who buys stock photos pretty often (unfortunately I never have the budget to hire you!), I’m worried. I go to Getty when I want the best work. I rely on them to be my proxy photo editor. With technology what it is, the obstacle today is not finding what you want, but avoiding what you don’t want- we have a huge surplus of information and digital assets (such as images). Will this new system mean I have to sift through tons of crap to get to the good stuff? I’m willing to do this when I’m on a tight budget (which is where istockphoto comes in), but I go to Getty when I’m willing to pay more if it means a superior signal-to-noise ratio.

    Now that anybody can be “represented” by Getty, how are they any different than istockphoto, other than having a slightly higher price of entry? I’m concerned that quality control may suffer, something that I’ve always considered a core part of the Getty brand.

    This could prove to be a mistake for Getty, substantially diluting their brand in the eyes of consumers. Of course, I may be wrong- hopefully it will mean even more great images at better prices than ever (for the consumer), but I’m not so sure.

  2. Chase Jarvis November 26, 2006 at 9:32 pm #

    Great points, Finn. And I like hearing your perspective as an experienced designer, knowing that you’ll go to different sites depending on $ and signal-to-noise ratio.

    I could be mistaken, but I think that a general strategy coming on board with the new web is that searching is getting so much better. In THEORY, for example, new impending seach technology will allow user to search for an image that looks “like this one” or “that one” based on pixel orientation thru content based image retrieval (CBIR)…see… or basically by what the image LOOKs like. That said, I think these new biz models are banking on reducing signal to noise problems, despite there being more images “out there”.

    I’d add that as far as Getty once being your photo editor by proxy, now you’ve got a $50 photo editor by proxy ;) How many noisemakers are willing to shell out the duckets?

    Will this bet on Getty’s part pay off? I’m neutral. Brand dillution? I think they’re walking close to that edge… Pull up captain, pull up!!….

  3. Carson Blume November 27, 2006 at 8:00 pm #

    Hi guys,

    As a younger photographer I see the change in getty is two fold. First I completely agree with Fin, but also hope for the better searching. The second is that it will be really nice to be able to actually get into Getty, they have been so hard to get into. I think that if Getty does it right it will be better for everyone, photographers will be able to feature their work and people looking for work will be able to find what they want. In the end the photographer with the better work will sell.

  4. Chase Jarvis November 29, 2006 at 11:19 am #

    Indeed, Carson. But have you thought about the “fastest” photographer winning (see main paragraph 1 original post ? Or what about the $50 per image upload fee. Will that truly enable the free flow of images, or will it keep the newbies (who might be of good talent) out?

  5. Carson Blume December 2, 2006 at 8:12 am #

    Ah! I figured it was $50 per month. I am not so sure what to think about the fastest photographer, go photography takes time and if it comes to a race I will lose, lol.

  6. Chase Jarvis December 4, 2006 at 10:24 pm #

    Ya, but you’ll get far with that sweet self portrait sitting in that big-ass chair!! Saweeet!

  7. Finn McKenty December 5, 2006 at 1:22 pm #

    i was just re-reading this and saw that it was $50 *per image* not a $50 flat fee… that definitely makes a huge difference. good call on their part- they can always adjust that figure as need be in the future, but a per-image fee seems to be a great solution.

  8. ljupco June 3, 2007 at 8:15 am #

    As a contributor to Istockphoto (’d like to present my point of view which differs from yours guys.

    First having images sorted out in the search function by newest uploads shouldn’t in theory affect sales cause If I wanted to buy an image from Paris and if I had to pay that much money to Getty, I sure won’t be buying the newest ones just for being newest, but will look for something that satisfies my taste.That means that real good images will continue to sell well. That’s what’s going on on istockphoto too. Also it’s a good business move for Getty to do that as every day they present new products daily to their customers and the good stuff is there too.

    Second now they let everyone in cause everyone get on Istockphoto , IMO there’s some great imagery there that’ s not lagging a lot behind Getty, and it’s proved that if you value something on its sole merit instead of reputation is the only way to stay competitive these days, so they’ll review the image, if it satisfies their criteria they’ll include it in its library and even make 50$.Smart move.

    So when the competition is heating up the only thing to do is try to make same images that would stand out from the rest.At least that’s what I trying to do.

    Regards from Macedonia


    Chase man you rock, spent the whole day at the site and still can’t close the browser. Already bookmarked. Videos are awesome too and the music just perfect. Ur a real inspiration. Take care

  9. Chase Jarvis June 3, 2007 at 12:19 pm #

    ljupico: thanks for the kind words, but more importantly your thoughts on how photo buyers search. The unfortunate reality of returned search results that your argument misses is that the images which come up on the front page of a search returned at Getty have an absolutely HUGE statistical advantage for sales. Several times (yes, that’s multiple hundreds of percents) larger than those on later pages… It’ s not like you’re wanting it to be where clients search for their special one image at all and will go to page 29 to find it… The slots returned in a Getty search are the most closely guarded and precious commodity that Getty has going outside of their images. Companies that they partner with in distrubuting PAY HUGE SUMS OF MONEY thru tightly controlled contracts to be a part of top tier search results. Each brand gets a certain number of slots in a certain position (eg. Stone+ gets slots one and three, Stone gets 2 and 7 and 8, Taxi gets slot 2, Digital Vision gets 4, 5, PHotodisc gets 6, etc). It really is THAT controlled. Which underscores my point.

    As an aside, I predict that we’ll see ‘sales history’ return to a higher criteria soon…

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