Stock photography is a global industry, which manufactures, promotes and distributes photographic images for use in marketing, advertising, editorial purposes, and increasingly for multimedia products and digital platforms. Worth an estimated US$2 billion annually, the leading corporations of the stock photography are heavily involved in this complex media industry sector. Collectively, they own important historical photographic archives; manufacture and market stock film footage, and compete with traditional sources of photojournalism.
“With the introduction of digital technology, our sector, the markets we service, the rights we grant, and our workflow have dramatically changed.”
– BAPLA – British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies
I want to discuss about the dramatic change on this industry with the advent of digital technologies from 1990. The apparent two changes are the workflow and the product of stock photography.
First, the structural model of the stock photography business has transformed from ‘picture libraries’ to ‘visual content industry’ with the expansion into new areas of image production and supply.
Second, digital technologies have changed the overall workflow of stock photography industry. I divide this workflow in three categories: (1) production, (2) storage and (3) distribution. The major differences between the pre-digital -until 1990- and digital period clearly shows the structural transformation in stock photography industry. I made a comparison chart to picture these differences on the production, storage and distribution stages, changed with the advancement of digital technologies.
The year 1990 was a turning point for a technological infrastructure transformation: Internet browser developed leading to World Wide Web. Digital distribution systems started with CD-ROM technology and continued online via websites. This fundamental shift in the communication technologies had caused a radical reorganization stock photography industry. All the aspects of stock photography workflow moved online. In other words, digital technologies disrupted and accelerated the ‘stock photography business’ to ‘visual content industry’.
Frosh, P. (2003). The Image Factory: Consumer Culture, Photography and The Visual Content Industry. New Technologies/New Cultures Series. London: Berg.
Image Credits: I randomly picked the thumbnail images on top of my chart from Getty Images collections in order to describe the stock photography product. I used them in low resolution for educational purposes.