How mature is this mature market?
They say the micro stock world is a maturing market. But how mature can a market be when new players seem to jump in everyday?
It is a mature market in many ways but in a lot of ways the players still act very immature. I think the most recent debate about rate changes illustrates this. And I mean this in a economic, business, 30,000 ft view point and not as a disparagement of any individual, although some players do tend to shoot their mouths of before thinking from time to time (I include myself here).
Just compare the way many contributors deal with the concept of an agent. Some are exclusive with one agency while other are free range independents who have several agencies representing their work.
Individual contributors will most likely figure out the way of working that they feel best produces the most income for themselves. But if you look at some other markets that use talent agents - performer, modeling, movie stars you'll find that an actor or model hires one agent or agency to sell their talents to the highest bidder. It is in the agents best interest to sell the clients talent in order to receive their cut and they are not competing with other agents selling the same client.
Can you imagine Brad Pitt's agent talking to a movie producer about an upcoming film and the movie producer say "Stop, no need to sell me on the box office potential of Brad Pitt. Believe me I know all about it, in fact I've already signed a contract with Brad Pitt's other agent who offered me the same Brad Pitt for half the price. Let's do lunch."
If you look at Hollywood, they started out with a studio system where the studio was in control of the actors careers. They then progressed with unions and free agent status. Along the way they figured out that an individual actor did not have perhaps the business know how or the time to analysis offers or work contracts to their advantage. Thus the Hollywood agent as their go between between the buyer and contributor was born.
Now unless a stock contributor has a very distinct style that is apparent in every image they produce, one could argue that each individual image (not similar) represents a unique item that could be represented. So the argument would be that a individual image could be exclusive but not necessarily at the same agency as all of the other images from that same contributor.
This is a different case than someone putting the exact same images on multiple sites and letting them duke it out on price with the lowest price winning.
Stock agencies on the top tier have to be looking at the big picture and ask themselves why they would want to compete on price with a death spiral to the bottom. That's the strategy for a new comer with investment capital to burn trying to gain market share. The more mature agencies want to compete on usability, exclusive images, customer service etc. Higher value components then just "mine is two cents cheaper then yours".
As a contributor I think you also have to ask yourself: what kind of company do I want to associate my work with? Are you a "Walmart" photographer? Or a "Target" photographer?
Walmart competes by selling a 10 gallon jar of pickles (and nearly bankrupts "contributor" Vlasic in the process) while Target sets it self apart by offering unique boutique, exclusive offerings.
So I guess I'm saying that I completely understand a commission model that rewards exclusive contributors and discourages non exclusive contributors. Its the best direction for the industry weather or not it works best for any individual. It takes the competition away from price and moves to a competition based on quality.
Here's another example: Apple. Apple sells overpriced products that run less software but they enjoy huge profits and sales while their competitors look to exit the market. What does Apple sell? Exclusivity, fashion, design and usability. It doesn't compete on price at all.
Photo credits: Peanutroaster.