The Future of Stock Photography

Digital imaging changed everything. The darkroom turned into a Mac, rolls of film capable of holding no more than 36 pictures became plastic rectangles capable of holding  hundreds of shots, image selection began to take place immediately after the shoot, photographs could be delivered to clients at the click of a button, and deadlines became tighter than ever.

And of course, new sales channels opened up, allowing anyone with a camera and talent to put their work in front of buyers, revolutionizing the world of commercial photography.

So what happens now?

It would be nice to believe that after the upheavals of recent years, we can all take a breather, get used to the new ways of working and spend our time figuring out how to make the most of them. But life doesn’t work that way. The photography world is still changing. Smaller microstock sites like DigitalRailroad and LuckyOliver have found that selling images at a buck a piece isn’t as easy as it looks. Larger firms like PhotoShelter have discovered that buyers don’t always know what they want – or don’t buy what they say they like. And there’s still plenty of room for improvement in image searching, display and purchasing.

Consolidating Three Million Images

One new trend then might be seen in BrightQube. Launched in 2007 and headed by Lee Corkran, a former professional photographer who has also worked for Digital Railroad, the service has few images of its own. Instead, it consolidates more than three million stock photos from more than 40 different companies, including Corbis, Jupiter Image’s Comstock and Getty’s Stockbyte as well as many independent niched firms such as GoGo Images and Photo India.

For buyers who don’t want to flip from site to site while looking for images, that already makes BrightQube a useful portal. But the service also stands out in the way that it displays search results. Instead of offering page after page of images, ordered usually according to a secret recipe of keyword relevance, views and downloads, BrightQube presents what it calls a “Dynamic Mosaic” interface – a giant, automatic-loading, animated wall of thumbnails which buyers can navigate with their arrow keys or a navigational grid, zooming in on the images that look the most promising. According to Lee, the system, which looks like a two-dimensional version of PicLens, allows customers to search “hundreds of times faster than on other sites.”

Images are initially ordered by keywords, with the most relevant photographs placed in the middle of the mosaic, but buyers can then choose to order the images by price or size.

[P]hotographers working with collections large and small can be assured their images will appear on a single, equitable page of search results, in front of buyers’ eyes, giving every picture a fighting chance to be found, seen and sold,” Lee told us.

But first, photographers have to get their images onto the wall, and that’s where things can get a little tricky. In a May interview with SocalTech, Lee indicated that the company was experimenting with adding user-generated content and that a private beta would be available in early fall. When we asked him in mid-November whether independent photographers could submit their images to the site though, Lee merely said:

“Not at the moment, but we are looking into this feature in the future.”

The Back Door to the Mosaic Wall

In the  meantime, photographers will have to use some indirect routes. While some of the companies from which BrightQube sources its images have the kind of acceptance standards that could block non-professionals, BrightQube does divide its inventory into two collections. “Everyday” images are microstock photos sourced from Dreamstime; “professional” images come from everyone else. The lack of exclusivity in microstock means that the service offers photos from just one low-cost royalty-free site: buyers looking for “everyday” photos would likely end up looking at a wall made up of identical photos.

The easiest way for a photographer to get their photos onto BrightQube’s wall then will be to submit them to Dreamstime, giving the company an important advantage if the service takes off. It would also help to make sure that the photos show the right subjects. According to Lee, the  most popular keywords currently being sought by buyers are “woman,” “couple,” “young,” “business” and “wildlife” – broad enough categories to suit most photographers.

The remaining question then is whether the service will take off. One of the reasons put forward by Allen Murabayashi, CEO of PhotoShelter, to explain the collapse of his company’s stock division was the subscription model that locked buyers into companies that they’ve used in the past; changing sources in the middle of a month risked a financial penalty. That’s still a challenge that BrightQube will have to overcome. At the moment, they’re not sharing their sales figures though so it’s impossible to gauge how well they’re doing that.

Even if BrightQube itself doesn’t turn out to be the future of stock photography though, it’s likely that future will include faster searching, a neater display… and the consolidation of stock libraries.

One comment for this post.

  1. Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images Said:

    Wow~! Did you really just call Digital Railroad a microstock? Really?!?! Your industry credibility just dropped about 8 points.

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