The Future of Picture Buying

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The Future of Picture Buying

As smartphone cameras and photo apps become more sophisticated, what will this mean for the picture licensing industry? Art Buyer & Production Manager, Jenny McQueen, shares her thoughts on the value of images.

I recently headed up to town to attend BAPLAs (British Association of Photographic Libraries and Agencies) first ever Picture Industry Event, hosted at the Wellcome Trust and attended by BAPLA members, picture buyers and other interested parties. The event aimed to cover a variety of topics, over four moderated sessions throughout the day, in which a selection of panellists discussed key industry issues.

Invited as a panellist for the buyers session, I was representing the advertising and marketing industry and alongside me were buyers from editorial and education sectors. A mixed bunch, with differing needs and expectations, but between us we offered some quite varying insights during the discussion.

From an agency point of view, we need to licence images for our clients on increasingly demanding budgets and turnaround. Royalty Free images are pretty much the only non-commissioned images that we use these days. And with the growing need for real-time online and social media content, which by its nature is both immediate and transitory, the microstock libraries offer the best solution. They give immediate image download, at minimum cost (often on subscription or with pre-purchased credits) the trade-off being that the variety and occasionally quality of imagery is sometimes more limited.

Its the stack em high and sell em cheap approach for sure and naturally threatens, or at least challenges, the traditional photo library format - a less useful and seemingly less approved of by the editorial buyers, who still largely negotiate Rights Managed fees directly with their contacts at picture syndicators for all imagery.

This raised an interesting question on the value of an image. As more microstock libraries spring up, offering ever cheaper images, how many professional photographers will be able to continue to make a living? And how many libraries can still exist to licence them? Indeed there are now websites appearing that offer high quality, but unsearchable, free images to download and use pretty much as they wish, with no payment - just an acceptance of their T&Cs from a mouse click.

Where this is leading for the picture licensing industry is yet to be discovered, but with smartphone cameras and free photo apps becoming more sophisticated with each upgrade, we can all now take a pretty decent picture ourselves. Maybe not for a 96 sheet poster, but certainly good enough for an online post. It may not be death to the stock library as we know it just yet, but watch this space and have your smart phone ready to capture it.

Jenny McQueen
Raving Reporter

Southpaw Communications Ltd


Southpaw Communications Limited
Creative Advertising Agency
The Warehouse, Hill Street,
Tunbridge Wells,