It's a jungle out there when searching for a new stock photo agency!
Choosing A Stock Photo Agency
There are hundreds of stock photo agencies out there, and more seem to spring up every day. In the volatile and every changing stock photo industry it can be important to diversify. You never know when an agency may fold or undergo a dramatic turn for the worse, or when some upstart agency (remember iStockphoto) will come along and upset the apple cart. Even a gradual shift in the client base of agencies can sneak up on you and leave you scrambling. Whether you are looking for your first agency, or an ancillary one, or perhaps one that offers penetration into a new market segment, here are thirteen important points to keep in mind (I have to give credit to Rick Becker-Leckrone, CEO of BlendImages, for bringing these points to my attention).
1. How will the agency ensure that your work is viewed by the maximum number of potential customers? How extensive is their sales network? Does it include the highest producing agencies like Getty, Corbis, Shutterstock, and Masterfile? If the agency is not relying on distribution, how much are they prepared to invest in marketing?
2. If the agency offers direct sales opportunities, how does their search / retrieval system and e-commerce platform function? Be a secret shopper.
3. What new licensing models and innovative ways does the agency have for getting non-traditional buyers to explore and license your work?
4. Who else’s work does the agency represent? Any shooters you know and admire? Call them and get their perspective on the agency.
5. What kind of systems do they have for editing and ingesting content? Can you upload edits from anywhere in the world 24/7? Can you upload high-res and model releases?
6. Will you have an editor to work with in generating shoot ideas and to provide sales statistics and feedback on how different types of imagery are performing?
7. Will they represent both your stills and motion stock?
8. What kind of experience does the agency personnel have in delivering results in the stock photo industry? Look for at least 15 years industry experience in an editor and even more from senior management.
9. How well placed in search will the content be on sales partner sites?
10. How big is their overall library? If too large, your work will get lost. Look to see how much work exists in their collection that is similar to yours.
11. How long will your images take to get to market?
12. Will the agency have face-to-face photographer meetings and provide creative research reports on a regular basis? What does the agency provide in terms of support outside of basic editing? What is the overall level of transparency of the agency? Do you have any idea what their gross revenue is? How many images in the collection? What the goals of the agency are? Who the owners are? Good to know all of these things.
13. Does the agency understand the legal requirements of stock and carry a robust E&O policy? If there are legal complications, do they have the knowledge, legal counsel, and wherewithal to defend the agency from lawsuits arising from models / clients? Do they carefully vet model / property releases?
Getty And Blend
My own agencies of choice are Getty Images and Blend Images. Getty, being the largest of the traditional agencies, is an obvious choice. But Blend is a very interesting one as well (Disclaimer: I am a co-founder and owner of Blend Images). With Blend my images not only get a wider audience with both RF and RM content on Getty, Corbis, Masterfile, Superstock and God knows how many other distributors, but I also get my images up on Microstock sites at macro prices. How cool is that? The eyeballs appear to be migrating to places like Shutterstock, Fotolia and others. With Blend Images, without any additional work, I get representation on Shutterstock, Fotolia, iStockphoto and others. In addition, I can actually call Blend and get a person on the phone! I might add that I know other Blend non-owner contributors who have the same experience…and not just with art directors and creative directors, but with all of the staff right on up to the CEO, Rick Becker-Leckrone. Finally, Blend gives me art direction, research reports, and creative meetings as well. As a matter of fact, I head off Thursday to a two-day Blend meeting and workshop focusing on motion stock.
A Word About Royalty Splits
If your goal is to make as much revenue as possible then it is important to look beyond just your royalty split. Running an agency is expensive. Shutterstock, for example, is reported to have spent $40,000,000.00 on advertising last year. An agency that gives photographers an unrealistic share of the royalties won’t have the funds to run effectively, and it is important to remember that 50 or more percent of nothing is…well…nothing! What is a fair royalty split? I don’t have an answer to that question. But that may not be the best question to be asking.
Consistent Production The Key To Success
Once you have signed with an agency the key to success is producing your best work consistently. It is consistent production more than anything else that will eventually lead to success. It is a universal truth with stock photographers that big royalty checks motivate us, and small royalty checks tend to sap our creativity and motivation. You have to be aware of that and move beyond it.
One final note. In my own experience (and I don’t have experience with micro agencies) it takes time to see results. Give it a good year of consistent production before judging the success or failure of the agency.