"What I don't accept is the nostalgia of a golden age of stock photography that should be somehow restored to its former glory. I suppose the buggy whip makers mourned the coming of the automobile in much the same way."
Then I take it that you are saying that a Golden Age didn't exist? I know better; I was there enjoying it. As for whip makers - red herring, false analogy, call it what you will.
"Any more than that is way too long in the current stock environment."
With that statement you have just removed the legs from your own stance: in the GA that you deny, stock was used for, and priced, for some very high-value advertising; it was worth spending time and money producing a great original transparency in the camera.
By your own admission, then, today it's a load of crap in, another similar load out, and then straight into the fan and out again all over the world.
Whether anyone can get the system back to sanity I can't say; however, genies and bottles notwithstanding, I do suspect it's possible. It would take a lot of good guys resigning and just letting the cesspool overflow until sanity rules and the plumbers get called back in. Five years? Money talks, and when the sales messages are seen to fail, that money will scream.
Sorry Rob, I didn't deny a Golden Age, just the nostalgia about it. I understand that customers are still paying decent rates for high value projects. But I agree that the lower overall prices for more microstock images have dragged the rates for high value projects down somewhat as well.
An ironic feature of this whole "cheaper" discussion is that most microstock shooters would say that the overall quality of recent (last few years) microstock images is up significantly due to more picky site inspectors as well as improvements in the camera technology. Where the really crappy images are turning up is on the smaller and newer microstock sites who will take any and all images from anyone. Those are the poorest selling sites and rarely contributed to by experienced microstock photographers.
The microstock blogs are always brimming with different schemes to, as you say, "get the system back to sanity" including boycotting sites and various union pipe dreams. Those trains have left the station long ago.
So what we are left with is the reality of adapting to what is actually happening or moving on to other endeavors.
The reason Istockphoto and most of the other large sites don't want any more dog and cat pictures (and a dozen or more subjects) is that they have plenty of them and they aren't that commercially salable. Sure, they'll love to have more office scenes and office people because they sell tons more of them. Some contributors do quite well with supplying them because they gear that type of shooting to produce 50 to 100 "keepers" per shooting day. Factory shooting? Of course. Salable? You bet. Some of those images are selling 10-20 per day every day.
Graham, there are many microstock sites that allow you to set your own prices. I remember seeing many on that topic on this blog site: http://www.microstockgroup.com/forum/
If I remember correctly those sites didn't do so well for contributors. Many felt that with all the easily-accessible search engines customers could easily find similar images much cheaper on the major sites. Such is the world of competition.