Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rights Managed, Royalty Free, or Micro Stock?

The Choice Between Rights Managed, Royalty Free, and Micro Stock

Recently a friend of mine, Greg, a man who owns a house painting business in my town, requested that I create photograph for him to run in a direct mail piece. Greg was familiar with my Animal Antics® series of images in which I anthropomorphize cats and dogs putting them in funny human-like poses. He asked that I photograph his own two dogs and utilize them in a similar way…put paint brushes in their hands, and have them
appear to be actually painting a house.

Greg told me that it was the first direct mailing he ever did in which not a single person requested to be removed from his mailing list. He was ecstatic with the results. Why do I bring this up? Because it is an example of how the right picture can make a huge difference for small and large businesses alike.

Are people willing to pay for quality?

As a stock photographer this is a huge issue. I know the right picture can indeed make a significant impact. But perhaps a bigger question is, are people willing to pay the premium for such pictures? I suspect that the answer is that knowledgeable people will recognize the value, and those who do not realize the cost benefits of quality imagery will opt for the less expensive options.

I firmly believe that as time moves on more and more images will be searched for and found on the web outside of the traditional channels of the stock industry. I want to be prepared for that. As I plan for the future I run into the question of whether to put my images into the Rights Managed category, the Royalty Free category, or the Micro Stock category (which seems to me to just be a lower priced Royalty Free model). I believe that the Rights Managed category is most appropriate for the bulk of my stock photos. Yet if I stick to that category I might be shooting myself in the foot. If it does come to pass that eventually the majority of picture sales come from individuals outside of the traditional stock industry, I don’t see them calling up Getty and negotiating rights for an RM image. The most compelling reason to put images in Micro Stock, for me, is the sheer number of people who are looking at those images. But, if people are searching and finding my images via Google (or some yet-to-appear search mechanism), then the appeal of Micro Stock simply becomes one of lower price.

At this point I am counting on creating stock photos that are strong enough that a potential buyer who sees them is willing to either pay Royalty Free rates, or to pick up the phone and negotiate for an RM image. I am not yet ready to put material into the Micro Stock business model. The recently abandoned (modified?) Rights Ready model championed by Getty seemed interesting to me in that it created a higher-priced category that also seemed reasonably simple to license. There still seems to me to be merit in that strategy so perhaps we will eventually see it evolve to the point where it truly works. I would love that!

Where to put stock images?

At least one industry pundit has suggested to me that the migration of sales outside of the normal stock industry channels means that it would behoove me to quit submitting my images to the agencies and license them all myself over my web site. Maybe someday that would be a good strategy, but I think that day, if it ever comes, is still a long, long way off. Despite the industry problems, my stock sales remain strong. Buyers within the stock agency channels are still willing to pay for a quality image. Every month I have multiple sales in the $1,000.00 and up range (and yes, Getty sales in the 40 cent range too). Hey, apparently one of the great things about RM is that it can actually undercut RF and Micro prices! However, for now I am going to concentrate my web site stock efforts on increasing the exposure that my “agency” images have and directing potential buyers to the appropriate agency where they can license the image without my having to get involved.

If any photographers who might happen to read this have any stories of images that have made a difference I would love to hear about them. It might help us all if we help educate the market place and the consumer to the true value that a great image can provide.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Time to Be Shooting!

It seems that a lot of photographers have cut way back, or have stopped shooting stock altogether. I can understand that. Every time I turn around I hear bad news for the economy and threatening news on the stock photo front. Today I happened across a micro stock blogger who was pretty pumped up that after six months of dedicated work, he had just earned a new monthly high of over seven dollars. Is that depressing or what? BTW, no offense intended to all you micro stockers. I encourage micro stockers to learn as much as they can about the other areas of stock. The market embraces all the forms of stock and all of us need to know as much as we can.

In my opinion though, now is a great time to be shooting micro or macro. I can’t help but feel the weight of all the bad news and it makes me want to conserve my money. But I haven’t lost sight of the fact that almost every stock shoot I have attempted has turned a profit. Seriously. And in this economic environment there are deals to be had; it isn’t hard to find people willing to work at bargain rates.

Great images rise to the top

My approach is to put extra effort into coming up with shoots that either cost me little to nothing, or that I am super excited about both in terms of the shots themselves and in what yield I believe they will return. Of course, I pretty much believe that if I am really excited about creating a stock image it will naturally end up turning a nice profit. Great images rise to the top. I have a number of images that to this day I can’t figure out how people use, but I was excited about creating them, and I still love to look at them (one of my big vices is staring endlessly at images I have created). And many of these ideas have brought in thousands of dollars. A quick example of an image that cost nothing but has returned thousands: a close-up image (RM) of an airplane lavatory sign indicating, “occupied”. Now don’t go and copy it…it still sells!

Creativity is the answer, again

Creativity is the answer, as it usually seems to be. Creativity not just in creating the shot, but also in coming up with photographic ideas, and in coming up with ways to create images that don’t require a lot of money. I keep a list of hundreds of ideas. I am constantly adding to this list. I can now go through that list and filter out the ones that can be executed with little to no expense and bring those to the front. It is a creative challenge. I am actually having fun with it!

One great benefit from these times is that I am fine-tuning my process; becoming more efficient and less wasteful. These processes not only serve me well now, but also will serve me well in the future. Already I have benefited from relying less on employees. When an assistant recently moved on I resisted replacing her. Not only does that save me some overhead, but also as a result of it I have learned to use programs myself that I used to relegate to others. Ultimately I not only save money, but I am also in more control of my business. It’s all good!¬

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Social Networking – Perhaps a useful tool after all

When I first started out in the photography business the formula for success seemed very simple. Make great pictures and get them in front of potential buyers. That hasn't changed. Of course, back then we didn't have fax machines, answering machines, or personal computers. We didn't e-mail, Facebook, blog or twitter.

As I scramble madly to keep up with all this new technology, and the resulting screens all demanding my attention, it occurs to me that even though everything has changed, nothing has changed! It is still about creating great work and getting it in front of the appropriate people. We have different tools and a lot more choices now. For those of us in stock photography we have a whole lot of new business models too. Should I "micro" as well as "twitter"?

By at least getting involved in these tools I can see which ones don't seem to work for me and which do. By actually participating I can determine which ones I find onerous and which ones actually contribute to my life and wellbeing. At this, admittedly early point in the game, I have my doubts about the fit between Facebook and me. However, I am finding twitter kind of fun and perhaps even useful. The jury is still out, but at least I am starting to get a sense of things, something that certainly wouldn't happen if I hadn't made the decision to get my feet wet.

Also important for me, by getting involved I can at least let go of the angst of not knowing. I can make informed decisions. And I am, slowly but surely, becoming informed. I am becoming more informed in two different ways. Obviously, by trying out these tools I am learning, but also the tools are actually getting me more involved with my peers--- increasing even more the information sharing that leads to greater understanding.

What lead to this post was my realization this morning that, as I looked at the "tweets" from my fellow "twitters" I was feeling closer to them, communicating more, and learning. Imagine that!