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. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Secret Of Successful Stock Photographers

An energy saving CFL lightbulb takes the shape of a dollar sign indicating the financial benefits of
The key to earning the big bucks in stock photography lies in consistent and prolific image production...though "prolific" can mean different things to different shooters.

The Secret To Successful Stock Photography
What is the secret to successful stock photography? Create a lot of photos. Okay, maybe I should add that the stock photos need to be appropriate for the market place (meaning pictures that are needed and of a sufficiently high quality). But still, when I recently took a look at the half-dozen most successful stock photographers I personally know, the one thing they all have in common is that they are prolific. They consistently produce a lot of stock imagery.

What Kind Of Photos
Well, come to think of it, they also understand what kind of photos to make. They all vary a bit in the kind of images they produce. One of them does a lot of compositing work creating sophisticated concept photos. He actually shoots the photos himself and has a full-time in house Photoshop jockey who handles the post. Another of these successful stock photographers shoots primarily in the studio using sets, and yet another makes extensive use of her surrounding area for location lifestyle shoots. But they all study and understand what kinds of images the market wants.

Everyone Has Their Own Twist
It is interesting that everyone has their own twist on things and yet can still be very successful. Interesting and encouraging! But again, the one constant is that they all produce consistently…and produce a lot of work. When I asked one of them about how he dealt with the problem of cannibalizing his own work he responded that he’d rather cannibalize it than have someone else do it. He then went on to say that in this new stock photo paradigm where one’s work is so quickly “buried” by the unceasing flow of new imagery, it is necessary to continuously re-do ones own work.  While that seems somehow wrong to me…this guy earns a lot more than I do in stock photography.

A New Goal: Four Images A Week
We all know that guys like Yuri Arcurs produces massive amounts of imagery for microstock, but the shooters I am referring to are producing for the traditional RM and RF markets and not for micro. I might add that after giving this all a lot of thought my own reaction is to increase the number of images I produce.  Just to give you an idea, I think my new goal will be to average four images a week. Keeping in mind that I frequently spend more than one day on a given image even this seemingly modest goal could be a stretch for me.  One of the above stock shooters plans on adding a thousand images this year…what “consistent” production means to different shooters depends on the kind of images they make…and what their career goals are.

The Right Distribution Is Fine Tuning
The secret to a successful stock photo career? Do your research to understand what the market wants, then consistently produce those images. Getting those images into the right distribution channels is obviously important, but I see that more as fine-tuning. Knowing that there are many shooters who are actually doing very well in stock means that you can do it too.