in Interviews, Stock Performer

How did your forecast turn out? We ask Elnur Amikishiyev!

Back in October, 2015, we had a chance to interview Elnur Amikishiyev, a successful and busy contributor from Azerbaijan. It has been almost 5 years since and we are very interesting in finding out how Elnur’s future forecast back then actually turned out.

In 2015, when asked where he saw the stock photography business going, Elnur said:

“I don’t expect drastic changes in the market, i.e. different trends to what we see today. Video will continue to grow, more buyers will switch to microstock, photographers margins will continue to erode, smaller agencies will find it difficult to compete, more traditional photographers will be coming to microstock. However, the concept of microstock is not going to dissapear, and those who can quickly adapt and change their strategies will continue to succeed.”

We had a chance to talk to him again and ask him about his forecast! Here the follow up interview:

How you feel your forecast back then turned out?

I think my forecast was pretty accurate on all measures.

How have you experienced the industry in these past years?

As I anticipated, the return per download has been dropping by 5-10% every year for most photographers. My drop is about 6% in past 2-3 years.

Have you been able to adapt to the changes and maintain a sustainable business?

I would probably say, yes. What helped tremendously in my case was the double devaluation of the local currency “Manat” in 2015, which made my local costs more competitive. Economic downturn led to more affordable rent rates and reduced other local costs in terms of dollars. So I jumped on this opportunity by moving from my own studio to a much larger rented studio and expanded my team.

The new studio has space for various interiors. I also reassembled the team, added more creative content, and managed to grow revenue in 2016 once I got all workflows up and running.

Having said that, the revenue peaked in 2018, and 2019 will be a drop compared to 2018 despite a significant increase in the size of portfolio. And there is no reason to believe that 2020 will improve unless I do something different.

There is no hope of organic growth in the market. All growth is eaten by increasing competition among photographers and price competition by agencies.

Did your forecast help you out?

It did in the sense that I felt I needed to do something different, but the real opportunity came from something which was beyond my control. This was the Manat devaluation I referred to earlier.

If it wasn’t for that, I would have still done something materially different, but hard to say exactly what. For example, I was considering to move my production to a lower cost country at some point. One thing is for sure: that my business model in 2014-2015 wasn’t sustainable in the long run.

How has the current coronavirus crisis affected your stock photography business? And how and when do you think things will get back to “normal”?

Apart from some revenue reduction, which I would explain by overall lower business activity, mainly the impact was on our studio activity. With intermittent lockdowns, we had to suspend shooting in the studio, and do double volumes when we were allowed to work. Most of the team works from home, so they weren’t impacted.

It is hard to say when things will go back to normal – it is all about balancing between saving more lives and supporting the economy, every country chooses their own path. I will pin my hopes on weakening of the virus, quick testing to isolate the sick and eventually the vaccine.

I don’t want to think about the scenario, where we just give up and let the virus takes its toll – this is, however, possible, given the impact it has. No country in the world can survive the current impact on the economy for too long.

So far, despite suffering economic losses, I have been a strong proponent of quarantine and lockdown measures – I strongly believe we should give ourselves a chance to either find a cure, develop a vaccine or smooth out the infection peak to allow the system to cope. But I do appreciate, not everyone is in the same position, and for some, stricter measures are having disproportionately high impact on their economic situation.

Where do you think the industry is moving next?

I think some of the trends from the previous years will continue – return per download will continue falling and there will be further consolidation in the market. With so many images online, agencies will develop more sophisticated search features.

The big risk I see is from the unlimited subscription model. The model is dominant in other markets (e.g. Netflix) so it is possible that the stock photography market may move to that model eventually.

While it would bring additional customers to the market, I don’t think that would be good for photographers. And it would drive out the most inefficient producers of stock content from the market.

In the growth years, the margins in the stock business have been quite healthy, but that couldn’t continue forever, so photographers would have to learn how to be more cost effective.

This is no different than any other industry – with decreasing margins the focus moves from the revenue growth to cost management.

Thank you very much!

You enjoyed this interview? Then read more here: Interview Series

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