Today I found a link on the Costco Photo Center site to an Art and Image Gallery. Hmmm..."Select from more than 20,000 images of fine art, photography, and illustrations to create wall decor" A small "images by Corbis" is in the corner. So here is the deal, for the cost of printing only, Costco allows you to select from a collection of 20,000 images from the Corbis stock collection. After browsing this collection I was impressed. A series of Brett Weston's B&W classics (125 images), a very nice set of national park images, flowers, landscapes, you name it, it's there. Knowing Corbis, the quality of the images is high so enlargements to 20x30 should not be a problem. And the cost? Costco already prints below my cost. They are running an Epson 7700 with K3 Ultrachrome inks on Fuji Luster paper. A 20x30 print is $8.99, and 8x10 is $1.49. A canvas 20x30 is $69.00. Costco quality is pretty good. It's not museum quality but for wall decor it is perfectly adequate. So if I'm an art consultant who needs to decorate a building why wouldn't I use this? I can make my selections, email images to the client for approval, submit an order, and pick it up in an hour at Costco. Now the biggest expense is the framing, which believe me is still quite expensive. Where does this leave a fine art photographer who is selling images to be used as wall decor in offices, hospitals, and people's homes? If you are shooting generic stock material, this EATS YOUR LUNCH! If I need photo of a flower, a landscape, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Milky Way, or the Eiffel Tower, why would I ever consider your photograph when I can have the whole piece for less than your printing cost?
This is the new economy my friends and this is reality. Those who cannot find their niche and specialize, those who cannot deliver a unique style or service will be replaced by a less costly, higher quality, more convenient alternatives. This is a business truth. For the most part, the general public buys very little art anyway, and when they do, it is from Wal-mart, Ikea, and now Costco. At least the quality is decent and who knows, maybe this will create an interest in photographic prints as art for the home. Right.