The commercial photography industry is suppoted by a number of Industry associations. For instance, the U.S. stock photography industry, is served by the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA). This long-lived (started I think in the 1980s) and well-respected organization has more than 100 members, including almost all of the major stock agencies that operate in the U.S. One of the first things I did upon entering this business (in 1991) was to join PACA. Over the years, I and other members of our Index Stock staff have volunteered for roles that included President of the organization (from 1999 through 2001), the head of various committees, and stuffing envelopes.
We have also supported the European equivalent to PACA, the Coordination of European Picture Agencies (CEPIC), the American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP), and the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). We are a member of the an association that is trying to set standards for reporting licenses, Picture Licensing Universal System (PLUS), and support other more general industry standards such as the Joint Picture Experts Group (JPEG) and the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Cascading Style Sheet (CSS). We are a Microsoft Certified Partner and conform to both the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) and Adobe's Extensible Media Platform (XMP).
As you can imagine, it is hard work keeping track of all of these organizations (and remembering which letters go with what group!). The promise of joining and supporting a trade group, is that its activities will add value to our mission (making money for our artists). While we have had some benefits from our memberships, there are several areas that seem to me, to have been neglected.
I doubt that many (any?) of the folks in these organizations read my blog. So, I am unlikely to effect much change, through these ideas. However, here are a few things I'd like SOMEBODY to take on, to help independent stock agencies, like ours:
1. Web advertising standards. Many of the companies in our industry are buying pay per click ads. We are also buying banners, running affiliate programs, and generally taking advantage of the power of Internet advertising to drive traffic to our sites. A number of my peers have complained publicly about having their brands and product names hijacked by one or more competitors. (For instance, someone could buy the keyword "Index Stock" and then put his or her ad at the top of search results page. Try this search on Google, and you may see as I did, one of our competitors--and distribution partners--Inmagine, at the top of the page!) Why not promulgate some standards of decency and restraint? It would benefit us all, and prevent confusing our customers. By the way, this should include conforming to standards such as those set by the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC) and the Can-Spam Act of 2003.
2. "Small model" standards. We distribute our images into consumer markets, such as those for postcard printing, cell phone wallpapers, and various kinds of personal web use. The fees in these "small model" markets can be quite low on a per image basis (e.g., as little as a penny per use), but turn out to be good when you factor in the size of image used, duration of use, and type of use. It woudl be great for our industry if there was a recommended set of small use market terms. Instead, each time we talk to a potential distributor, we have to negotiate from scratch about things like copyright notice and retention, percentage split on fees, reporting requirements, etc. Other media-related industries such as music and television have done a much better job of making it easy to license bits and pieces of their stuff, without a lot of hassle.
3. Create a safety net. Over the past fifteen years, I have seen several photo agencies go out of business. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it can leave the artists who were part of the agency in a real mess. Instead of hoping that some altruistic third party will step in to collect outstanding payments, sort and return images, and clean things up, our industry should establish a "rainy day fund," that would pay for helping failed agencies wind up smoothly. This fund would only be tapped once in a while, but its presence would reduce the perceived risk of working with any agency.
4. An infringement clearinghouse. If we find that someone has misused our images, we vigorously pursue them, and get the fees our artists deserve. But, there is no easy way for us to notify the rest of the industry about the problem. The software industry set up an excellent example in the Business Software Alliance (BSA). This organization pursues infringements on behalf of all of BSA members at once. Why can't we do the same?
5. Training and certification. The financial industry uses the Series 7 exam to make sure its brokers know the rules and the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation to improve the quality of its financial research. Automobile companies certify mechanics; airlines certify their pilots. Why can't our industry train and certify its editors, retouchers, stylists, and salespeople? Artists get a type of certification, by joining a major stock agency or those artist groups that require a portfolio review, before they accept a new member. But, wouldn't it be good to have more independently vetted and widely recognized standards--especially for specialized areas like table-top work, sports photography, or wedding photography?
Our industry's organizations probably feel they have enough problems already--enough different projects, needs, and ideas--and sadly limited resources to deal with them. However, the members of these organizations might contribute more, if they got more in return. I believe that the things I have suggested would not interfere with competition or stifle creativity and change. Instead, they would improve the quality of the services we provide and reduce the risk from working together for both providers of images, distributiors of images, and users of images. Higher quality and lower risk shoudl mean more profit and stability for everyone--a goal that I hope all of the organizations I have mentioned, would support.