According to a photo editor with 20 years experience currently at a major publishing conglomerate, Getty Images doesn’t always have the best pictures, but they have the best website and that is why they succeed in this business.
“About 3/4 of my job is doing photo research on stock agency sites. After doing that for nearly 4 months, I can honestly say, although Getty does not necessarily have the best pictures or even the best variety but Getty’s search engine is head & shoulders above their competition. If Getty actually has a picture of the type you’re looking for, chances are good you may actually find it – which is not the case at Corbis or Masterfile (and Corbis is much worse than Masterfile on that score – and Corbis is twice as expensive for me to use RM than from anywhere else!). The smaller agents and the sort of alternative network-agents like IPN and PixPalace – I don’t even usually bother looking through them because the sites crash frequently, or their search engines are completely not user-friendly. THAT is a shame, because those networks are the only real hope of the stock biz re-decentralizing away from Getty and back closer into photographers’ control. I swear, some of the small agents, it’s as if they just discovered the web a year ago, and their sites are so dysfunctional, I can’t imagine how they do any meaningful business.
Another big thing I’ve learned is how surprisingly lame so much stock photography is: it’s both trying too hard and missing the point – especially for targeting higher-end uses like what I’m doing. All the esoteric, conceptual, clever, stylized work Getty used to produce just seems like, from where I’m sitting now, vanity projects. End-users who want that quality and/or style of photography are much more likely to shoot it themselves – because the amount of control those end-users want is just unbelievable, and also because it’s nearly impossible to find the needle-in-the-haystack, gem images on the big stock sites. Maybe a few of those images might sell a couple times, but if you’re going to spend money on a stock shoot, you’d get way more bang for your buck _and_ make more beautiful images if you just calm down and show positive-real life situations in candid, authentic but aspirational ways. It is really, really surprising how little of this is actually out there, even after the mid-2000′s Getty creative department yammered on and on about “authenticity” for about 5 years. The work of conceptual and humor photographers, while very cool and interesting, would have made twice as much money and had twice as long a shelf life if those photographers had shot this candid stuff along with the conceptual, dry-humor stuff. And all those beautiful shoots Getty spent money on all over the world – it’s so much money left on the table because they didn’t force photographers to get out of their comfort zones. And even the lower-end shoots–that still clog up the web sites–could so easily have been 1,000 times better with 5 minutes spent on styling details, telling models to just be themselves at least some of the time, and then an editor not limiting the selection to exclude options that the end-users want, and, finally, key-wording thoroughly enough and accurately enough so that the end-user can actually find it.”