Mutate or DIE
Mutate or Die. These words of wisdom were spray painted in yellow across the big blue dumpster behind the biology building at my alma mater, the University of Connecticut. I'd pass it every day on my way to class from my dorm (aptly nicknamed The Jungle), but it wasn't until I graduated did I understand the meaning of these words in a business context.
Over the past 10 years, I've been constantly reminded of my frequent encounter with the large trash receptacle thanks to our friend the Internet as well as the people who continue to resist the change it brings, most recently in the field of commercial photography.
Resistance is natural, but there is a point when it becomes destructive. A recent article in the New York Times titled "When Are Photos Like Penny Stocks? When They Sell." draws attention to the potentially big bucks more and more photographers and digital artists make from microstock photography. We're talking in the 10s to 100s of thousands of dollars a year.
At this point, most of you are familiar with microstock photography. Contributors submit their work online to sell for usually under $10.00 per image. Money is obviously made on quantity as well as quality. The reason microstock sites such as Stockxpert have thrived in such a short time is because of the quality of the images.
Of course there are still many older critics and neysayers who hold microstock responsible for ruining their photography business, but the blame is misplaced. To blame microstock, you would have to blame the Internet and digital photography, and I'm sure many of these critics already embrace one or both of these technologies.
The critics claim that because of microstock many of their images will now only fetch 1/10 - 1/100 of what they should get for them.
This is partly true only because their images are now only worth 1/10 - 1/100 of what they think they should get for them.
It's all about supply and demand and competition. Technology has made it possible to streamline the photographic workflow to the point where it is feasible for competent hobbyists from around the world to produce, upload, and sell hundreds of high-quality images per week in their spare time or full time. The price of many photographic subjects and styles has dropped considerably because of this.
There will always be a high-end market for customs, exclusive stock, and masterpieces only a handful of experts can distinguish anyway, but now the legions of mom and pops and non profits of the world have access to high quality images that look just as good to their customers at first glance.
So, what choice does the mid-level commercial professional photographer who feels threatened by microstock photography have?
If microstock is a threat to his business, he needs to embrace microstock photography, try to penetrate that high-end market, shoot weddings, or, what the hell, do all three. He just needs to figure out what sells where. And who knows? One may lead to the other.
But what he can't do is resist. He must change. He he must adapt. He must mutate or die.