Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Online Stock: The foie gras I'll never get to eat.

Stock photography used to be a way photographers could make money--and photographers don't have that many (good thing people still get married). Royalty-free online stock libraries have put an end to that. There's been much boohooing on the professional photographers' part but it won't change a thing. Today, everbody can get professional-grade pics for a buck or less. That's compared to several hundred in a traditional agency, and I'm sure today's prices have been dragged down so it might even have been a thousand dollars or so. It's not that often that something real (not stocks) gets one thousand times cheaper legally. Let's celebrate.

But I make pics, I don't use them. So it is still a hard pill to swallow that a professional looking image is worth a dollar nowadays. Stock photographers have made the switch to working on commission only but even that has suffered from the cheap online stocks. Are you going to look up a photographer and ask him to shoot a piece of foie-gras, with the chance his pictures will be of poor quality, the delay involved, and the huge price-tag, or are you going to fork out a whole dollar and get your pic within seconds? I have a friend running a TV channel and he once told me, "We're not going to go and shoot cool stuff for this channel. Why should I take risks when I can just buy existing programs that I can review based on the program itself, not its script?"

My magazine, having a subscription to photos.com for US$299.95 a year, fully agrees. Faced with illustrating a piece that mentioned foie gras, my boss did what any sensible person would do. With a single click she got a picture which is probably better than anything I can do for them (I don't have strobes, a macro lens, or a white backdrop). Since my mag has a subscription and may well download over 300 pics a year, this foie-gras pic might well have cost LESS than a dollar, or 40 baht. That's how much a round trip on the skytrain right here in Bangkok costs if you're not going more than 3 stations away. Throw in 10,000 dollars of camera equipment and you've got a serious headache. Oh and the foie-gras, which you probably can't eat in the end anyway because foie gras fairs poorly in the warm environment of a Bangkok studio.

To add insult to injury, my boss asked to actually shoot myself in the foot and look up some more stock libraries. Not only that, but she asked if I could find FREE stuff. That's right, from one grand, to one buck, to free. That seems to be the next step in online stock. The worst is, I found it! Not just a few free pics to entice you to subscribe, a whole library of free pics, some surprisingly decent. Now I can understand why people would dump their stuff in the lap of the 1 dollar agencies (with some claiming they make up to US$500 a month thanks to them) but why would anybody bother to hand them out for free?

Here's a quick look at what's out there:

You pay per picture and according to size.

price / size in pixels (approx.)
US$1 / 800x600
US$3 / 1600*1200
US$5 / 3500*2400

You subscribe for up to 250 downloads per month.

price / size in pixels (approx.)
$159/month / up to 5000*6000

As low as US$0.77 per picture with subscriptions. Otherwise:

price / size in pixels (approx.)
US$3 / 800*600
US$6 / 3000*2000

Subscription service. Unlimited download.

price / max size
US$299.95/year / 2000*2400

As the price goes down, so does the quality. The pictures on this site are free but if you look hard enough, you can find some good shots.

price / size
free / varies

Now why would I shoot myself in the foot AGAIN and actually put this in my blog? Because I've made my mind up about how I can be a paid photographer. I'll never freelance. I'll only go ahead with this photography craziness if I can get hired in a newspaper. And if I do, my job might well be looking up which pictures I can get for free, or a dollar, rather than busting my ass shooting them. Don't resent technology, use it.


Anonymous Mathieu said...

Sounds like a wise move. Having a boss is not as bad as some people make it out to be, and has some serious advantages over having a customer or worse, a client!

6:19 PM  
Blogger Ana-chan said...


8:12 PM  
Anonymous annaboule said...

don't resent your enemies, use them

3:33 AM  

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