Monday, June 20, 2011

A New Door Opens For Traditional Stock Photographers


Picture of a open bank vault with cash money pouring out: A stock photo about money, cash flow, capital investment and abundance.
Getting great images in front of potential buyers is key to making money in stock photography.

The Conundrum Of Microstock
One of the fundamental problems in the stock photo industry, as it stands now, is the conundrum of microstock. I do not want to license my images at microstock prices, but I am missing out on the vast audience that turns to microstock for their photography needs. I have heard that half of all stock images licensed are licensed through iStockphoto! That is a rather large segment of the market to be missing out on.

The Agency Collection
So here I am, a long time stock shooter with contracts from numerous agencies, including Blend Images, Corbis, Getty Images and SuperStock. But even with the distribution through all of those agencies, I am missing a huge segment of the stock photography market…until now. Getty has recently put into place a new collection, The Agency Collection (TAC for short), a collection of images that are online on both Getty Images and iStockphoto.com. These aren’t microstock images. They are RF images priced at Photodisc levels, but are available through iStockphoto.com.  

Blend Images Opens The Door
These images are provided to Getty by third party agencies. To participate in this collection you need a contract with one of those agencies. Blend Images has opened the door for me to The Agency Collection. Think about it…now I can have images that are available through both Getty and iStockphoto…and all without having to license the images at microstock prices! Is that cool or what?

A Step In The Right Direction For Stock Photography
Don’t get me wrong…I don’t see this as a panacea for all the problems faced by stock shooters, but it is a step in the right direction. In the coming years the first problem facing stock photographers is getting their work seen, getting their photos in front of the people who need them. If your images aren’t seen they aren’t going to be licensed. If your images are seen, if they fill a need, and if they stand out from the images around them, then I think you have a future in stock photography.

The Right Image, The Right Model and The Right Price
For me TAC is a step in the right direction because it gets my stock images in front of a larger audience. Of course a big part of my own work includes Rights Managed work, and those RM images are still not viewable on the microstock sites. I think eventually all images, in all models, and at all prices, will be available on most stock agency sites. The challenge for us stock shooters will not only be to produce enough images that fill needs and stand out, but also to make wise choices as to whether a given image belongs in an RM collection, an RF collection or in microstock. That is a decision I struggle with almost every time I create an image and one that I don’t think is going to get any easier in the coming years. But for now, I am happy to have one more choice to deal with.



15 comments:

Microstock Posts said...

Being such a well established photographer, the choice is quite clearly yours,I would assume that you would be refused by very few agencies. You are right, that the microstock market is huge now, however, this statement "I have heard that half of all stock images licensed are licensed through iStockphoto!" could be from days gone by. In my latest blog post you can get an idea of just how much traffic istock has lost, and how much the leading subscription based micrstock site has gained at the same time.

John Lund said...

Microstock Posts,

What intrigues me is getting traditional RF priced material in front of all those eyeballs...even if there are fewer than before...still a lot of potential licensors.

BTW, Like your blog:


John

Jan Scherders said...

John

as far as I know all images submitted to TAC must be exclusive. I am not that sure that submission to TAC is better than normal distribution to all the channels. Agencies I deal with are very hesitant and selective in submitting to TAC.

John Lund said...

Jan,

You are right...the material is limited to the iStockphoto and Getty sites. Considering Getty has 65% of the traditional stock photo market and iStockphoto has a huge (if declining) share of the microstock market...still a pretty good combination! My own early results are very impressive...now if they just hold up....

John

donfarrall said...

John, it's true that being on Istock will get your photos in front of an expanded audience, but bear in mind that the audience at any microstock site is there because they want to pay microstock prices. I can still see the advantage of the expanded exposure, but I wouldn't hold my breath. In addition, having your images found in the sea of image ( on istock )and with the constant changes made to "Best Match" search results will be a factor working against you. I agree, it's a move in the right direction and is part of Getty's efforts to maintain some support for higher priced image producers.

Sean Locke said...

Conversely, I get my Agency images from iStock ported up to Getty :). Unfortunately, while Getty Agency images come down in a fairly steady stream, we're still waiting for a second porting up to Getty.

John Lund said...

Sean,

Is having your images on Getty working for you...or is it too early to tell?

I often wonder why more microstock shooters don't participate more in "traditional" stock...

Thanks,

John

Sean Locke said...

I expected a little more growth in the third month - instead it remained stagnant. I hoped they would "catch on" more as people lightboxed them or whatever they do on Getty. It's a nice "bonus", but nothing to write home about.

John Lund said...

Sean,

On the other hand I am pretty happy with the early returns on our images in the The Agency Collection, though I don't know whether they are selling through Getty or through iStockphoto....

Thanks!

John

Rohn Engh said...

The one problem with this approach, is, guess what? Netscape learned it (Microsoft competition) ; AltaVista learned it (Google competition); The American car industry learned it (foreign car imports); Ma & Pa hardware stores learned it (Costco competition). iStock/Getty will become an also-ran by the next decade. It’s better to use the power of search/cloud computing and become an independent specialty stock photographer. Very little competition and no need to take a Wal-Mart approach to attract eyeballs. The only eyeballs you want are those that are photobuyers who MUST have your specialization photos today.lifetime-value-customers or should) of buyers by now. Your big day is coming soon thanks to cloud and search.

BackyardProductions said...

Can I ask for clarification of Rohn's comment? As I understand it, the proposition is that the way forward for success in stock is to be a specialist in a certain area and to use cloud based storage to cheaply host your stock images on your own site with shopping cart facilities to download licensed copies for a fee. The full amount of the license will stay with the photographer. Improved search (coupled with good keywording) will allow a buyer to search for the specific image they want directly from the site of the specialist. Got it right?

I've been searching for some of my own images on Smugmug (and, apart from some of my galleries being incorrectly set as "invisible" to Google), I do find my images with enough specificity of keywording - but how does the buyer get over the downside of having to pay for each image via potentially different mechanisms depending on the site it is found on?

Steve

John Lund said...

Rohn,

You may well be right and I believe every photographer should prepare for such a scenario by honing their online presence to make such a transition smooth and fast if conditions warrant it.

Thanks!

John

John Lund said...

BackyardProductions,

Rohn will probably address your question as well, but I will add my two cents.

I think as long as payment is easy it won't matter if it is "different" from other sites. The few images that I license directly I have taken checks for, had money wired, and been paid via Paypal. I think the bigger challenge is getting your images seen by potential licensors.

Thanks,

John

basti said...

Well, half of stock photos is definitely NOT licensed via IStock. At first, there are very likely much more peer-to-peer sales then agency sales. Second, IStock is definitely not the leader now. They screwed almost everything, heavily cut commisions, raised prices, completely rebuilt search algorithms several times (=absolute mess) and they heavily prefer exclusive material. Their treatment of contributors is in one word horrible. This all lead to very significant shift in microstock and IStock is slowly loosing breath now - too many angry contributors and customers at the same time.

Regarding sales and volume - for number of sales Shutterstock is the boss. For money it depends but IStock is not the number one for most. I do earn about 3x more on Shutterstock then on IStock and Dreamstime is about the same as IStock.

And to price - microstock buyers are usually looking for microstock priced pictures, not $100 or more pictures like TAC or Vetta or other "exclusive" or "extra" pictures.

John Lund said...

Basti,

Thanks for the clarifications in the microstock world. I think eventually most site will offer images at all the price ranges. Right now I am most interested in having my higher-priced images seen by as many potential licensors as possible!

Thanks,

John

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