I was in DC last week speaking to National Geographic photographers at a creative symposium, as part of a panel discussion on industry trends. The room, full of legendary photographers and powerful visual communicators, were eager to participate in a breadth of topics that covered new licensing models for the photo industry to techniques photographers can use to elevate their brand. While I felt my fellow panelists (Allen Murabayashi, Richard Kelly, Rob Haggart) were more fluent in communicating specifics for enhancing photographer branding, I found myself fixating on the collective conscious in the room, and how their needs related to the objectives of National Geographic. Sure, it’s a deeply symbiotic relationship, forged in the fires of publishing and the aspirations of human exploration and storytelling, but it’s in the midst of an identity crisis on both sides – both sides going through familiar dance steps to entirely new music…and without a dance floor.

All of the photographers present leveraged National Geographic for exposure to their work (and resultant sales), as well as affiliation to the brand and all of its residual benefits. Some were new, some were old, all with varying degrees of success, but all looked to National Geographic to generate revenue from direct and indirect licensing of their works. What became more apparent is the role of the agency as not a summation of its roster, nor a distribution/sales platform, but as one of a few business development specialists working on behalf of the photographer.

An agency has leverage from the scale of many, and can therefore engage in larger licensing prospects than a single photographer; this leverage is also used in forging and participating in new revenue models that a single person might be blocked from. Agencies, as intermediary forces between a producer and end user, realize that the current marketplace demands exploration and experimentation in new revenue models – tomorrow’s revenue will arise from strange bedfellows. Content producers want to know that their agency has their best interests at heart, something that is more critical than ever.

Intermediation, negatively viewed as being an outdated model in digital content industries, was clearly on display as a galvanizing force working on behalf of its producers. Suddenly, those dance steps became more clear, and the music more audible.

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