Race to the Bottom

It’s not a secret that the online stock or “microsotck” business model is rapidly wearing out itself. This appears to be true for both buyers and sellers of downloadable arts files. The best part is the one of the agencies themselves where big automated profits can be made off however small a margin because of multiplication made possible by an intelligent business system. Even for the agencies themselves, things aren’t as rosy as they used to be though. It all burns down to the vast number of files stored in today’s agencies. With 60 million images on Shutterstock alone, you should get the picture — or not, because how on earth are buyers supposed to find something within a reasonable amount of time?

Particularly with the surge in video footage made available (and stored) online, all aspects have turned red exponentially: cost of storage, use of bandwidth on the part of the agencies, time needed to sift through the enormous amounts of content available on part of the prospective buyer, and lowered prices and profit margins mostly on the part of artists (but partially agencies themselves as well).

So even the agencies themselves increasingly appear to be hurting. Even iStock as a subsidiary of media giant Getty Images, is spinning non-stop and throwing out increasingly desperate changes to their pricing and overall business model. Mergers and acquisitions — most recently the one between Fotolia and Adobe — prove that cost-cutting is more than just the latest flavour of the day.

Further illustrating the problem is the fact that $1-or-below pictures and $2 video clips cannot possibly be very profitable for anyone, artist or agency alike. Saying just that, the banner below — while clickable for a commission sponsoring this site much more attractively than actual images themselves — is truly symbolic for the overall situation described.

video hive is an example for online video footage selling from only $2.00

In a world like that, truly new approaches are urgently needed. One could be reverse image search or “human-powered image discovery” as seen with ImageBrief. Others may be self-hosting and taking back control of one’s own content and intellectual property on individually-owned gallery websites and quality showcase locations online. Additional business models will — and have to — be developed, including the incorporation of disruptive technologies like Bitcoin and other Crypto currencies with a potential to solve crucial parts (like cost of payments transmission and general micropayments distribution) of the microstock business model.

The near future will be exciting, and we will be watching and reporting on things to come.