Stock Photos and Covid 19 – the future?

Stock Photos and Covid 19 – the future?

“Strange times eh?” How often have you heard that phrase over the past few months? Too often I suspect. For the stock photos industry ‘disastrous times’ might be a better description. Certainly stock photos and Covid 19 do not go together. There is no doubt that the industry has received a major kick in the groin as a result of the world lockdown, with photographers unable to shoot in studios (except alone until recently)  or travel any distance to new locations. The client side of the industry is not much better off. There is much talk of many people in the creative industries working from home, but this isn’t to everyone’s taste, and we are coming across an increasing number of people suffering from the inevitable ‘cabin fever’, with many larger companies now talking of not going back to work until the new year!

Even if you have the equipment and space to work successfully from home, the stock photos industry depends upon a steady stream of new, diverse, high quality material, and inevitably there are limitations to what can be produced domestically. Surprisingly though, some of the most obvious opportunities, lifestyle photos of family for instance, seem notable by their absence. We’ve seen almost no family or children photos coming through since lockdown.

Stock photos and Covid 19: an impossible image to shoot?
This kind of image is currently difficult, if not impossible to shoot

The recent easing of restrictions has, however, begun to show us some light at the end of the tunnel with UK photographers now being able to travel and meet with a maximum of six people providing they remain 2 metres apart. If you shoot people in interior settings you are still in trouble, but at least some things are now possible, although nobody in this office feels like getting on a plane just yet!

Most people involved in the creative industries would agree that the stock photos market was not in the best of health before Covid 19, being hopelessly over-saturated with tens of millions of images held by a small group of very large suppliers, all fighting over a declining market. Strangely, though, a quick glance at a few economic analyses seems to tell a completely different story:

“The stock images market is poised to grow by USD 1.67 billion during 2019-2023, progressing at a CAGR of about 8% during the forecast period… ” reports business

They go on to say:

“The market is fragmented, and the degree of fragmentation will accelerate during the forecast period. The demand for stock images will offer immense growth opportunities. To make the most of the opportunities, market vendors should focus more on the growth prospects in the fast-growing segments, while maintaining their positions in the slow-growing segments.”

These extracts are taken from a report by Technavio, a financial reporting organisation published in April 2020 that appears to be predicting a coming boom in the stock images industry, but a similar story is being told by several other analysts. Anyone with a spare $2500.00 on or about their person can buy this report (and let us know the details!), but for us lowly photographers at the bottom of the food chain, the message appears to be clear, good times are just around the corner.

Well, maybe.

At this point it’s worth remembering that the global stock photos market is dominated by about 30 companies, who are in turn dominated by the ‘big five’, Getty, Shutterstock, iStock, Adobe and 123RF. These organisations have hundreds of millions of images under their control and some appear to be embarking upon a streamlining process to prepare for increased profits, led by Shutterstock:

“Thousands of furious Shutterstock contributors have banded together under the umbrella of the Stock Coalition,  disabling their portfolios and removing an estimated 8 million images from the microstock agency archive…”

…reports, an industry blog. This apparently is as a result of Shutterstock slashing all contributors’ commissions and reducing their status.

It seems that the inevitable laws of supply and demand are beginning to kick in with stock photos and Covid 19, with the softest target (photographers) taking the biggest hit, as usual. Anyone who has been involved in the stock industry over the last ten years will have seen this a number of times, the large agencies maximising profits for shareholders in advance of a sell off or industry boom.

The bottom line is that any bonus to contributors from higher sales is largely swallowed up by reduced fees.

All is not doom and gloom, however, as restrictions are slowly lifted and there is a good chance that for most of us Covid 19 will be largely history by the end of the year, so here is our stock photos and Covid 19 recipe for the immediate future:

  1. Get over stock photos and Covid 19. In 12 months time nobody will be interested in shots of masks and gloves. The demand for this kind of image is short and fickle.
  2. Shoot more people-based stuff, outdoors while the weather is fine. Up to date images will soon be in short supply.
  3. Feel good lifestyle images will start to sell more as the public start getting back to something approaching normal, so get to it.
  4. Shop around for a better deal for your images. That’s not new, but always good advice.
  5. Above all, start shooting for the future and don’t get caught flat-footed when things do start to move.

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