Innovation is somewhat synonymous with originality. But when it comes to content creation, individuals and businesses apparently are more than happy to cut themselves some slack and rely on online platforms and stock media for projects. That's the finding from a new Storyblocks survey of 1,000 content creators.

Why not start from scratch instead?

On one hand, companies' reliance on stock media is a matter of simple economy. Why hire a videographer or photographer, for example, when you can get something for a cheap license or even free? And while there certainly bad stock images and videos out there, stock often means you get high-quality content with just a few clicks, even if no one on your team has media experience.

But according to Storyblocks' CEO, TJ Leonard, the issue is more about trying to accommodate the demands of the new business reality--if we want to produce more in less time with fewer resources, we can't always start straight from the drawing board 100 percent of the time.

"The creative process is a lot like cooking. Some nights you have time and resouces to walk down to your local market and then spend an hour cooking an entire meal from scratch before sitting down to a meal. Other nights you order take out. If we all had infinite time and money, would we go out and shoot original material? Maybe, but that's not the world we live in."

But doesn't stock stop creative juices from flowing?

Not at all, according to Leonard.

"We believe stock allows artists to focus on the most important ingredients, and to stretch budgets even further in pursuit of a vision. If you are crashing on a deadline for an investigative piece, every minute you save on building an intro from scratch is a minute you can devote to the critical evidence that drives your narrative forward.  If you want to conjure an international thriller, but have a one-city budget, why should you have to sacrifice your creative ambition? In that way, stock helps to level the playing field regardless of your budget or background. We think that's a great thing for our collective creativity, and something that encourages us all to dream a little bigger when starting a new project."

And people don't just pull and plug stock, either. They often look at what's already available as a jumping off point, letting what they see inspire them. Among millennials, for example, the biggest content inspiration sources are Youtube (23 percent) and Pinterest (21 percent). Some of this has to do with the basic mobile availability of the platforms. But Leonard says that the use of Youtube and newer venues also appeals to millennials specifically because those channels don't pitch a glossy, airbrushed ideal to a generation burdened by factors like the housing crisis and school debt.

"The imagery [on Youtube] is often imperfect, authentic and personal. The platform engenders a feeling that the personalities are talking directly to us, even if there are millions of us at any given time. It's the perfect antidote to the print-driven imagery of an old ideal that younger Americans have abandoned. [...] Demand for authentic, diverse content that mirrors our social feeds has been skyrocketing and shows no sign of slowing."

Leonard further asserts that the future of content will see a big change in editing tools. Because today's creators need to create a higher volume of short projects, content professionals are stressing integration and speed, favoring simpler, browser-based tools that put editing, content libraries and publishing capabilities into a single workflow. The distinct steps that previously went into the creative process thus are disappearing.

The one big caveat

Looking to content that's already available isn't the end of the world. Heck, even the image for this article is stock (thank you, Getty). But there is one caution to heed: Even if an image or slice of footage perfectly embodies what you are trying to say, you still have to think about how much the audience has been exposed to that content. Don't insert what amounts to a meme. It's worth it to dig deeper into a library to find something that's not in the first 5 to 10 results if it means your audience can avoid the feelings of déjà vu and lack of effort. The content doesn't have to be original. But the impression that it's original still matters. Pay attention to the number of views or licenses on content you're considering using, and add the content only when it actually enhances your message.

Published on: Apr 11, 2018