What Will Costco Do To The Commercial Photographer?

We’re huge Costco fans. We head over every weekend to do our weekly shopping, and buy most of our grocery items there any more. Plus we can buy the occasional television, computer, appliance, and even holiday gift there. We’ve never found anything of poor quality, and really can’t imagine not heading to Costco anymore.

So when I get my monthly The Costco Connection, the magazine put out by Costco, I love flipping through it and reading the articles. Costco caters to small businesses, and they always have a variety of articles based around this concept.

So I read with interest this month about their newest offering – Art and Image Gallery.

Simply head over to the Art and Image Gallery, and browse through over 20,000 digital images of fine art, photography and illustrations that can be chosen and used to create a photo through their 1 hour photo lab.

Costco has teamed with Corbis Images to provide this unique function, and to allow the general consumer the chance to make any type of artwork for their walls for the low price of the cost of the print at Costco. You can produce anywhere from a standard photo 8×10, to a poster print up to a 20×30, to a high quality giclee canvas print up to a 16×48. Prices are at the low price of $1.49 for the 8×10, to the high side of $99.99 for the giclee print.

Within the 20,000 images, you’ll find:

  • fine art artists ranging from Monet, van Gogh, Rembrandt and da Vinci;
  • nature, travel, animals, sports, flowers, black and white photography from some of the worlds leading photographers;
  • decorative illustrations, abstract images, floral, anime, urban art and vintage designs from the worlds top artists, designers and illustrators.

As a restaurant owner, for example, you know longer have to hire a photographer to create images for you. You can visit the Art and Image Gallery, choose artwork, and print it up. Perfect for anyone on a budget wanting to add sophistication to their small business, yet not wanting to spend a lot on artwork.

Yet for the photographer, is it a great deal? Now people don’t even have to pay the microstock price for a royalty free image. They simply hit print and pay the price of the paper its printed on.

What’s your take on this new move? How do you think this will impact photographers in the future?

8 thoughts on “What Will Costco Do To The Commercial Photographer?”

  1. I don’t like it one bit. It totally devalues photography and photographers. Might be fine for the general consumer to continue to get things cheap but sure doesn’t do anything of value for photographers.

  2. It really does devalue what photographers do. It’s hard enough showing people the amount of work that goes into photography. Interesting enough though, Many photographers already upload their original high resolution files that can be downloaded and printed – Trey Ratcliff comes to mind. For personal use, I could download his files and print them at costco to hang in my home.

    Overtime, I would hope that people would help out the photographer too and buy a print or donate though.

    Most people that will hit costco up wont even know about people like Trey or myself though.

    It’s too bad locations dont think to hook up with local artists in the area of specific costco locations. They could help promote local photographers and artists that want to be associated. Helping out more than just themselves, they would be helping photographers earn more and they would then shop at their store.

    The main thing is most people shopping at costco won’t spend a few minutes to contemplate what is actually going on. They’ll just see that photography should be dirt cheap. This is the hardest thing I have been trying to over come when people only want a DVD disc of images because they can print them somewhere cheap. And it’s why photographers are charging a large price tag for digital files.

    Raise the prices on the digital files and I think people will rather buy the art because of the high quality compared to a high priced digital file and shitty cheap prints. I’m just thinking out loud.

  3. If they want generic photography there are many resources available. I they want relevent, personal photography of their establishment, clientele or ownership they’ll need a professional photographer.
    Knock yourself out Costco. My phone will still ring.

  4. I don’t use Corbis (either as a photographer or client), but ultimately this will be up to the photographers, based on my understanding of the situation. As long as Corbis allows for a “Costco Opt-out” clause in their contracts with photographers, then it’s fine.

    Shooters will have to decide for themselves whether their work is worth more than a Costco commodity. If there’s no opt-out, then it’s a pretty awful deal for photographers who take their work seriously. I think this will end up having some parallels to the crowd-sourcing movement in the advertising industry. There’s good and bad to how it’s being done, but ultimately, now the have-nots (individual artists and kids coming out of college) are in the mix. You either have to make something that is clearly better than what they make, or you’re not getting the client.

    Here, you either make photos sufficiently more interesting or technically sound than what’s being offered in your category at Costco, or you’re going to lose those sales. But Corbis has nothing to offer until photographers (presumably) sign away the rights to their images for this purpose. So ultimately if it’s huge library of images and huge success, we have other photographers to blame, not Corbis or Costco. I haven’t read anything that suggests this is a retro-active policy where existing images can get absorbed into this Costco setup without the photographer’s specific consent to be a part of this specific program.

  5. That is the nature of today’s beast. I guess we will have to adjust to different needs or try to explore new markets. Hard to compete with the masters in the art history world and Costco’s cash flow. However, I am sure that there are still ways to make it work. Have to keep letting our customers know just how much we appreciate their business and offer good rewards for their loyalty. Still trying to figure it out myself but in business there will always be something else coming up.

  6. I don’t like how these stock agencies devalue the business of photography. Unfortunately, they’re quite good at it. I’ve worked in NYC advertising firms and noticed that these marketing and administrator types handle creative people as disposable commodities. Squeezing out the almighty dollar is all that matters to them. And there are enough complacent —so called creative types for them to exploit. So, I believe the best thing we can do as creative people is to arm ourselves with the knowledge of our worth and marketability. Thats our best defense! So give praise to VPS for holding down the fort. By the way there are photographer owned stock photo sites that are much more generous to the business of photography than Corbis or Getty. My suggest is to only sell to corporate titans, and refrain from jumping into bed with them. They’ll eventually devour you and and claim unrealistic entitlement over your intellectual property!

  7. Upon reading this, my blood pressure rose temporarily. Clicking over to the Costco site to see the offerings immediately dispelled any concerns I had. They have nothing in terms of what I’d consider competitive to my style to my target market for photography. Those seeking reproductions of famous images and artwork most likely wouldn’t be interested in my work anyhow.

    It is truly disheartening – this is another crafty way the big agencies continue to find ways to gain – leaving those who choose not to work with them fighting over the few bits that remain for stock images. The news agencies have done the same – opting for cell phone images submitted by the general public – rather than paying for trained, professional photojournalists.

    It will be very “interesting” to see what will come at us in the next 10 years. Unfortunately, we photographers must embrace whatever is thrown at us as the “flavor of the week” for technology and image usage rights, and re-invent our marketing strategies constantly.

  8. I wouldn’t be too worried about existing art pieces printed in Costco. I would be more concern about Clients getting a hold of your Hi-Res images and printing 8×10’s at under $2! Not saying that Professional Photographers are actually giving out all there hires and/or RAW images, but something to think about for the Semi-Pros. 😉


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