1. Stock agencies have been pretty much a waste of my time, especially in the last few years. I get much more income in a year (not that I can retire or anything... ) from buyers finding my website than from 20 years with stock agencies.
2. Supply & demand. The camera features that made it so much easier for established photographers to make marketable images also - surprise! - made it easier for everone else too. The market is swamped with technically acceptable images. To get any income from stock photography, either specialize in a unique niche or go for volume. Adapt or perish.
1. Thanks for sharing some reports of experience of then and now. I found stock was not too bad up until the mid-late 80s and then the ever-growing supply of material from more photographers seemed to affect not prices, but frequency of sales, which is a quite different matter. In other words, the value of the sales were still maintained, only there were more people chasing the same market which wasnít, apparently, growing, but value held. But, in time, not only frequency of sales fell away, but also the value of each.
2. New cameras. I donít think that the then established stock shooters had any problems with their camera equipment that digital would have resolved Ė they were mostly pretty experienced guys who knew not only how to shoot but, most importantly, what to shoot and how to shoot it.
The first problem that digital introduced wasnít cameras: it was those CDs with a hundred or whatever images sold, all rights relinqished, for a few bucks. That was just the result of more finacial greed, and not on the part of the photographers. It never is on the part of the photographers. The net result of the introduction of those CDs was to devalue photographic images and reduce them to Ďpurchase by the toní commodities.
That amateurs were given an easier technical ride with digital cameras is actually another red herring: amateurs have always had those amongst them who are as good if not better photographers than many professionals Ė thatís not in dispute at all. In the areas where they can compete, such as scenics, travel, close-ups of flowers etc. etc. there was seldom any reason for them to find themselves held back and they were not. Where they have helped destroy the professional side of stock is in supplying imagery at the stupid (for the creator) prices with which agencies were eventually able to fob off suppliers, and in such bulk as never seen before.
The other half of supplier responsibility lies squarely on the heads of the pros who, rather than face the agents, continued to supply and only complained to one another. A total boycott would have made some agencies think again: they could not have continued without fresh material, and if their top-of-the-line stuff was left to go stale or even withdrawnÖ
Non-pros do not usually compete with pros in quality lifestyle, glamour, sport, showbiz portraiture and similar specialist areas Therefore, shooters in those areas might have been forgiven for feeling safe. But the flaw is the much lower prices that the agenciesí attempts to outsell one another allowed to take root, and you canít go back to better levels. (Thatís why I always told any young guy starting out in this business who asked me, that you have to price yourself pretty much where you reasonably want to end up; you canít charge your client a hundred bucks a day today and expect him to happily stump up a grand next year for the same thing: It wonít fly.)
Why did it go this way at agency level? Just think who owns or owned the two mega agencies: one was an oil baron and the other a computer software billionaire. Neither of these two probably knew or cared anything about the life of the photographer: they represented the biggest of big business and all that mattered was making money by buying up the competition. The final round is inevitably going to be the gobble up of one by the other, leaving a single monopolistic survivor: the perfect deal in any venture.
So yes, I agree with wildlight that doing your own selling is going to be the only reasonable way left to make anything at all out of stock. It will be up to the individual to decide if the hours spent runnng such a business (if as a business), as well as the choice of genre, will be worth what it brings in. My solution? When I saw that it wasnít paying off anymore I stopped throwing away my pennies.
Bitter? Bet your ass! Iíd imagined my trannies represented the greater part of my pension!