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Stock Imagery's Shifting Landscape

(January 2008) posted on Thu Jan 10, 2008

As microstock continues its move forward, other trends also emerge

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By Clare Baker

Getty also recently created a stir in the industry with the addition of new $49 "Web-res imagery," designed to tap into the growing online market. This model sets a standard $49 rate for Web usage of any stock images, no matter the existing licensing model they fall under-royalty-free, rights-ready, and rights-managed. The license duration for rights-ready imagery was initially set at one year, but was reduced to three months after several photography trade organizations objected to the plan, citing loss of high-value digital license revenue, devaluation of rights-managed licensing, and reduced return for photographers as a few of their grievances with the new web license. In an official statement, Getty’s executive vice-president Nick Evans-Lombe maintains "that the Web license protects the value of the imagery, as well as the copyright, by making it impossible for these images to be used in any other way than online."

LeVasseur says that the program has attracted a new set of customers to Getty that the company was not previously reaching-presumably, but speculatively, microstock users. "It’s broadened the market for us, which is exactly what we’ve hoped to do-attract more customers to license high-quality Getty Images imagery."

Fotolia also has introduced more options in licensing to cater to customers looking for extended rights options, offering both a royalty-free license and an extended royalty-free license. The extended royalty-free license, Tscheltzoff explains, gives users the right to use, reproduce, and display the image in goods and services intended for sale. However, he admits that rights-managed is still a strong model for those uses. In those cases, "People will not risk getting a royalty-free image because a competitor can have the same one."

A faster search

As the market continues to move at breakneck speed, people are working at an ever faster pace, including those utilizing stock imagery. The rate then at which people need projects coupled with the influx of stock photographs creates the need for fast and efficient ways to find images.

Both Shutterstock and Fotolia recently enhanced the searching capabilities on their sites. Tscheltzoff reports that the site’s search engine has been enhanced in terms of speed, and Shutterstock now enables customers to search for an image by color through highlighting a specific color on a color wheel.

Getty recently added a whole host of features to make searching both faster and more precise, and these are designed to help people find images they wouldn’t otherwise have found, explains LeVasseur. The Catalyst search tool gives users a visual list of keywords based on the original search word. "They can then drag and drop the keywords to make combinations of different sets of images in the resulting image screen. So rather than just a flat keyword search, we’ve broadened the set of tools a customer has to interact with our large pool of content."

Similarly, Corbis is investing in greater search capabilities, says Cole: "The demand for the best and freshest imagery has never been greater than today, so the need for the best search to help customers comb through some of the clutter to find the best imagery is imperative." Cole also acknowledges the shifting ways in which people are searching for imagery. Searches are just not being performed at a desk in front of a computer anymore; people are using PDAs, mobile phones, and IPTV. Cole says Corbis is searching for new ways to distribute content to users as well as through partners.

Looking ahead

So what’s next for stock imagery? The shifting landscape makes it hard to predict, although microstock seems primed to continue its growth. It’s safe to say that future changes will closely correlate with the evolution of the Web and the growth of user-based content. It also appears that the stock companies themselves are eager to take advantage of existing and future Web-based opportunities. It is certain though, aside from the talk of trends and forecasts, that the main goal of the stock industry will remain: to expose people to new and exciting content-an image, perhaps, that is worth a thousand words, but leaves the viewer speechless.