Thursday, September 13, 2007

Straight From The Hard Drive

Goodbye Big Brother; Hello Peer-to-Peer... a forerunner of whats to come...

We all know that big business dictates to musicians what music they should be writing and performing. Ask Tony Bennet, Angus Young, and Fergie. Unless musicians cooperate with the big label companies, who control the purse strings, they have little chance of enduring in the mainstream of commercial music. An upstart has little chance to go to the top of the charts without an infusion of promotional dollars from big business. The overall result is the production of mediocre music that the gurus at the big label companies believe appeals to the masses, the common denominator.

Too bad for the creative, inspired music that never sees the light of day. With very rare exceptions, stifled musicians either bow out of the game, or make compromises to at least part of the time toe the line set by music company executives.


Move over, executives. Hard drive to hard drive is here. Downloading MP3 files, through todays technology, is easier than ever. No corporate executive is at the toll-gate dictating the content and style of the product.

Whats so important about all this for stock photographers?

This distribution process paves the way for the possibility of an entirely new delivery method for photographers, artists, game makers, musicians, and writers, who have historically been at the mercy of middle-men to promote and distribute their work. Its called peer-to-peer. Your hard drive to my hard drive, without going through the Web.

Heres how it would work. As a buyer, to get the creative work you are looking for, you circumvent the usual distributor (label company in this case) and download the music file youre looking for from the supplier's hard drive. In our case, as stock photographers and photobuyers, it would be an image to download.

At first glance, you might think that Napster-sparked free trading of music files would cause a serious reduction in retail sales. On the contrary, it turns out to be a catalyst. Studies show that music sales have never been better. After Napster was reduced to a common sense Internet company by the courts, it evolved to a company that promotes new artists.

Could this work in our industry? The marketing part already has. Stock photo agencies such as iStock and Shutterstock, that practically give pictures away through royalty-free distribution, have found that the system both encourages on-line purchasing plus educates buyers in image utilization and graduating to higher-ticket image purchasing. Usage, the saying goes, begets more usage.


But wait, if we give our photos away practically free, wont that discourage photographers from making images in the future? This is a natural reaction. Every time a new technology has come along, the purveyors of the former technology get up in arms, trying to prevent the new from destroying the old. Whether radio (it was going to destroy newspapers), TV (it was going to destroy radio), cable TV (it was going to destroy network TV), or DVDs (they were going to destroy movie theaters). These media have learned to live harmoniously side by side, and everyone has benefited.

The Internet has opened the window for us to cease viewing business strategies through traditional, old-think lenses, and instead see all kinds of new possibilities. The Internets peer-to-peer possibilities open new distribution doors for creators of all products.

For stock photography freelancers, the system could work like this. Software known as digital rights management systems will soon become available that will allow a photobuyer to enter your computers hard drive, search for specific pictures, download them, and purchase them. The fee may be low (like with RF photography) but the volume will be high (several visitors a day). The bottom line will be that pictures that otherwise would languish in your files gathering dust, will generate activity and sales for you. The peer-to-peer system probably wont do away with the big boys (agencies). They themselves could evolve into a pay-per-use or subscription-based model. They would share the revenue from sales with their photographers.

Both models could survive. The conglomerates could enter into general vertical markets themselves. The peer-to-peer system would open a new door where the conglomerates would continue to produce and sell their generic images. The vertical (specialized) market where most individual freelance photographers would reside, would be too spare for the big conglomerates, and not as lucrative for them as the commercial stock photo market. This would open new possibilities in specialized markets for freelancers who have deep files of keyworded content in their image databases. Internet technology today is too powerful, too ambitious, for lawmakers to regulate freedom of exchange of music, images, and graphic files. The istock phenomenon has proven this. Eventually the dust will settle, and individual freelance stock photographers are bound to come out in an even better position than was available for them in the last century.

Rohn Engh, veteran stock photographer and best-selling author of Sell & ReSell Your Photos and, has helped scores of photographers launch their careers. For access to great information on making money from pictures you like to take, and to receive this free report: 8 Steps to Becoming a Published Photographer, visit