Remember the microstock photography debate? Time Magazine bought a cheap photo to use as a cover image and the microstock photographer was only paid a small sum. That apparently ticked off quite a few professional photographers.

It turns out it was not a rare exception but a trend that Time Magazine will try to cut cost by using low cost photos from microstock site such as iStockphoto. The August 2009 issue again used a photo (the green cupcake) from iStockphoto. The photographer, Stacey Newman, is a well established exclusive stock image contributor to iStockphoto. Her portfolio has more than 3700 images and have been downloaded for more than 11000 times. She was quite happy about the publication even though she wasn’t paid a huge sum other professional photographers would have demanded.

The story and the discussion of the issue was published on San Francisco Chronicle. Perhaps not by coincidence, Mr. Tony Blei was also mentioned in the story. He complained about his potential clients who cut costs by going to places like iStockphoto.

In my original post, I talked about the advances of digital technology that have enabled everyday people to take good quality photos. There are more influences from the technology on the whole photography landscape.

Technology provided the Internet and online social media sites that bring hobbyist photos to world wide audience instantly. Flickr,  Picasa Web Album, Sumgmug, and others connect people with common interests and spread knowledge by promoting self-learning.

Technology also enabled low cost distribution channels like iStockphoto that are increasingly giving hobbyists the chances to sell their work and opens up more markets that were impossible with traditional channels and associated high costs.

The dark side of technology is also clear. Whoever is making a living on a given skill risks losing competitiveness as technology evolves. Technology enables more people to enter the market and to make the production of goods and services less expensive. As photo hobbyists snap up more business, pros will have to expand, move up, or risk of falling behind the curve. Bitter complaints about microstock devaluing their work and the stock photo industry are not very helpful.


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