Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Getting Your Stock Images Distributed

A woman stand frozen on a road at night, a deer caught in the headlights of change.
 Trying to figure out effective stock photo distribution can make you feel like a deer in the headlights!

Distributing Stock Photography
There is no single “right” way to distribute ones’ stock photography. There are a number of photographers who distribute their own stock quite successfully. There are also photographers who run small agencies that distribute their own work and that of a few other photographers. Despite the successes of such photographers I have always preferred to let an agency handle the tasks of negotiating, collecting fees, keeping track of rights and all the other myriad of minutiae that selling stock requires.  Then there is that herculean task of getting eyeballs on one’s work…but that is a whole story in itself. 

I Just Want To Make Images
From the get-go I wanted to just make images. I recognized that, while I am pretty good at creating stock imagery, I am not particularly good at the rest of it, nor did I even want to be. But even in the early 1990’s I recognized the need for multiple agencies. Getty was taking most of my work, but rejecting images that I thought deserved representation. Back then it was standard to be agency exclusive. I approached Getty about sending my “rejects” to The Stock Market, one of the top agencies at the time. They eventually said to go ahead, but not to use my name.  Within a few years things had changed to the point where agencies became “Image exclusive” and I got to use my name again.

Getty And The 900-Pound Gorilla           
Now days Getty owns something like 65% of the traditional stock market…and as such I think it is important that anyone going the agency route tries to get at least some of their imagery with Getty.  It just makes sense. I am also a big believer in diversifying. Image Bank was once the 900-pound gorilla, but Tony Stone leap frogged it, was bought by Getty which then bought Image Bank. Now you have iStockphoto, though owned by Getty, as the premier place to begin a stock photo search. The point is, you never know what is going to happen. Corbis bought The Stock Market and within months my revenue had dropped by fifty percent…along with every other Stock Market Photographer I knew. Diversifying one’s distribution may mean slightly lower revenues over the near term, but it might also mean a lot more success in the long term.

Blend Images
I have images with Getty Images, SuperStock, Corbis and Blend Images.  Corbis is second to Getty in terms of size and distribution and is working hard to get it right. SuperStock is under new management, management that I trust. They are succeeding in growing their business in these difficult times and can also be a good choice to include in your mix. Blend Images is currently where I send most of my stock photos. This is for two reasons. First, I am a part owner there. Secondly, they are succeeding in getting my images into a vast network of distribution. Not only do the images appear on Getty, but also on Corbis, Masterfile, and hundreds of other outlets, and they are making progress in getting my images onto micro sites as well…while keeping the prices at standard RF rates.  In a strange twist, I can get images onto, as well as on Getty and it’s sub-distribution network, through “The Agency Collection” with Blend Images, when as a Getty photographer there is no way to do that!  As an aside, I remember for years Getty told me I could not participate in RF because I was art directed out of the Los Angeles office…while photographers with editors in the Seattle office could. Geez…what an industry!

“Eyeballs Are Going To Microstock First”
I don’t pretend to know which agencies are the best. There are so many factors that go into such decisions. Do the agencies have specialties that fit with your work?  Do they reach the audience best suited for your work? SuperStock, for example, has a sales staff with strong relationships in the publishing world. The world of microstock is still pretty foreign to me…though I am aware that the “eyeballs” are increasingly going to microstock first, something that makes Blend’s ability to get my traditional images on those sites important (I am sure Getty will get there eventually…but they aren’t there yet). 

Support And Attention
I know one photographer, who makes his living entirely from stock, who has all but quit submitting to Getty because he has such a good working relationship with his editor at one of the aggregator agencies (like Blend Images, OJO, Tetra etc.). That is another factor to consider. In my own case, hopefully not just because I am an owner, I love working with the staff at Blend. I get a lot more support and attention there than I do at Getty or Corbis. That too, can be worth a lot.

Supplementing The Agencies
Another part of my own strategy for distribution is to get my stock images up on my own website (…with links to the agency where they can be licensed. This makes my images more visible and supplements the agencies marketing efforts, and paves the way for selling my own stock if that ever becomes necessary. I also have a limited number of images I do license myself which reinforces in me the fact that I don’t like dealing with clients. Oh, I almost forgot. I have a very small collection of images at Photoshelter, an experiment to see the possibilities for some personal use licensing…which I don’t put enough effort in to really see if it works. Oh well….

Diversification, Microstock Sites, And Strong Relationships
So there you have it…my approach to stock photo distribution.  I still believe in agencies, I believe in diversification, and I believe in getting additional exposure through my own site.  I believe in getting my images seen on microsites at traditional rates, and I believe, when and where possible, in building a strong relationship with your stock agencies. 


Anonymous said...

Hi John: Thanks for this post. Just want to let you know I have images on Getty and other stock agencies (not Blend), some that you mentioned. They don't even come close to what Getty does for me in terms of sales. I only submit to Getty now as they are the ones that bring me consistent sales. I am disappointed in sales from other stock agencies.

Jaak Nilson said...

Getty is a leader of industry. But Corbis could be pretty good too. They are on the second position.

Photoshelter did some research work.
Just send an email them and you will get a free copy.

Where Do Buyers Get Stock Images?
We asked 500 buyers to tell us the agency webites they visit to license photography beyond the industry giants Getty & Corbis.

BackyardProductions said...

Hi John

Fascinating information as usual!

I only started in the stock industry 4 years ago, and it seemed to me at that stage that microstock agencies were the only ones that I could reasonably expect to get my images with. As a result, I have focused on those to the exclusion of any of the agencies you mention above.

What I find difficult to establish is - what is the most profitable way of selling images now? We know that licensing rates are much lower than they were in the past, that microstock agencies are gathering images at a tremendous rate and those images have much higher production values. As a result, the income per sale is low, but the number of sales is much higher. I do submit to Alamy, and get maybe one sale a month on average. On Shutterstock, I get 30 sales a day on average.

So, if you were doing a comparison now, and could put aside the feeling that you are selling your images too cheaply, what is the best way to earn money from stock?

By the way, I do buck the general trend by publishing my earnings each month on my stock photo blog