Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Is Stock Photography Dead?

A woman business executive is superimposed over a long road and looking ahead a clearing skies and an a sunrise indicating better times and success ahead.
A woman looks down a long road, under storm clouds and at clearing skies over a sunrise, towards better times and success in a stock photo that could well represent the stock photography industry.

Is Stock Photography Dead?
The death knell for stock photography is ringing loudly everywhere one turns, but is stock photography really dead… or dying? I don’t think so. Sure, the stock photography business is in transition with a lot of challenges for those attempting to make a living at it, but there are some good developments as well. With the advent of microstock, and the proliferation of imagery, prices have plummeted, but recently there has been some evidence of increasing prices for curated collections. Too, there are still plenty of examples of high prices being paid for stock photos. Agencies are springing up that are paying the content creators a larger percentage of the licensing fees as well. Finally, there are some more photography-friendly agencies coming along that are offering more guidance and support for photographers.

Sales That Pay The Bills
In my own experience I continue to see substantial sales from such venerable agencies as Getty and Corbis and some excellent sales from Blend Images as well. Just last month I had a $17,000.00 (gross) sale from Getty, a $6,000.00 sale and several sales in the $1,000.00 range, not to mention a plethora of lower priced sales. Last night I had a direct sale through Blend Images for $1308.00, and the week before I had a Blend Images sale for $3500.00 and another one for $1223.00. Two weeks ago a friend of mine had a $40,000.00 Blend sale! Those really big sales are kind of like hitting the lottery and while they certainly are fun, it is the hundreds of smaller repeat sales that pay the bills. There are still plenty of clients willing to pay a decent amount for the right image.

Photographer Friendly Agencies
Also good news for photographers is the trend of new photographer-friendly agencies. Blend (disclaimer…I am a part owner of Blend), for example, offers a ton of help for photographers from intimate art direction to market research to royalty rates to 50%. A big plus for Blend is the wide distribution they offer ranging from Getty & Corbis to Masterfile, SuperStock, Gallery Stock and many others. Gallery stock has caught my eye because of the consistently high sales they make for me (through Blend Images). Stocksy is another interesting agency that has a co-op approach, a high royalty rate, higher prices than microstock, and is off to a fast start.

Making A Living With Stock Photography
Don’t get me wrong, making a living with stock photography isn’t easy, but making a living, making a very good living, and having a wonderful lifestyle as part of the bargain is still possible. Success requires knowing what will sell, consistent and high-level production, and choosing the right distribution. Oh yeah, and a boat load of perseverance! ­









16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice written John! and you're right, its far from dead! all this doom/gloom is just a flash in the pan. I myself in 2104 had countless RM and RF sales, four of them were each one around five-figures.
You yourself stand way out from the crowd and thats the secret, you have to niche yourself, specialize.
All this talk about variety, shooting everything in site, etc is Micro thinking and in the long run its suicide.
The old adage, specialize still prevail.

Anonymous said...

John: I have been with Superstock with a few thousand images.....waste of time--I left. Getty Images (and Corbis to a lesser extend) are the only companies to do business with as a stock photographer. You toot Blend only because you are a business partner (so its totally biased). I don't recommend photographers join Blend Images. They should do all they can to get a contract direct with Getty. I submit my work to Getty only. They do the best for me and are the leaders in stock imagery. They do the best for you too, I am sure. Please dont tell people to waste their time with small stock companies....ive been there, done that--they are a complete waste of time.

John Lund said...

Anonymous,

Getty is still the big dog, if you will, but I believe it is a mistake to look at things in such a black and white way. I personally know one photographer who is doing much better at Stocksy than at Getty, and has been shooting for Getty for over a decade. I know another who is doing better with their work on micro sites than at Getty!

True, I am a Blend owner and biased, but Blend gets your work, both RF and RM onto Getty, AND Corbis, AND SuperStock (where, by the way, I recently had a multi-thousand dollar sale) and a ton of other sites. I make more by having my images spread out over Getty and the other sites than I would on Getty alone.

The best course of action for a stock shooter also depends on the type of work they produce.

Finally, with the constant turmoil in the industry there is something to be said for diversity. Adobe just bought Fotolia...and might make them a go to place for a ton of iCloud users....and I have images in Fotolia thanks to Blend....

Each of us needs to educate ourselves about the market and make smart personal decisions about how to proceed.

Thanks for sharing your perspective!

John

Anonymous said...

John: You are a unique stock photographer. You have amazing PS skills. There are not many like you. Yes, I am tooting your horn. So, you can make the big sales on Superstock occasionally, but most of us would not do well there. I sure did not with a few thousand images. Glad I left. The problem with Blend is that they act like a broker to photographers and take a "cut" of sales. Sure, they get your images to different agencies, but also take a significant cut. Its best for stock photographers to get contracts direct with the most successful stock agencies such as Getty and Corbis. You've peaked my curiosity about Stocksy, I just dont know much about them.

Anonymous said...

I personally know quite a few photographers being with Stocksy and Offset and I am talking quite well known names here.
No! they are not making much money. It seems its a matter of just being with them rather then making money.

Blend is a distributor and after what I have heard they are making a good job out of it.

John Lund said...

Anonymous,

I agree that being solely with SuperStock is not a good idea...my point was that your images get more visibility and that more than makes up for the portion of the fees that Blend takes. Also, Blend is getting more and more direct sales which can result in the photographer getting five times more in fees than they would with a Getty sale! Again, each photographer needs to look at all the factors carefully before making a decision upon where to place imagery.

Another advantage with having images on Blend is that you can see which sub distributors (Getty, Gallery Stock, Fotolia and so forth) are bringing in the best sales.

BTW, while the Photoshop skills are essential to what I do I still believe that the photography skills are more important and more challenging!

Thanks,

John

John Lund said...

Anonymous (Hey...why not use your names?),

Interesting that you know photographers who are NOT making money at Stocksy and Offset. Guess, like everything else, it works for some and not for others. Probably depends on what they are shooting....

Thanks,

John

Anonymous said...

Well John you sound a bit like "Oh not making money"
Sure there are some making money but then again if you launch an agency 2014, telling buyers its different, this and that only to find the same old cliches, instagram, analog, cross-processing that one saw back in the 90s ( you must remember). So the lifestyle shooters have a good time.

Using our names?? then one would have to be nice all the time or else might find an account closed. hehe!

Anonymous said...

Are you aware that Getty pays you fees often by extorting small businesses who have unwittingly used one of your pieces that has been significantly edited?

I agree that photographers should be able to earn a living from their work...but with the internet the way it is today it can be next to impossible to find the person responsible for a work that has been cropped and edited.

John Lund said...

Anonymous,

Everyday I see people stealing my images. Some claim credit for them, some even sell them! Many are harmless, but I still feel violated when people use my work, work that I put time and money into, without my permission. Stolen property is stolen property. If someone can't find the owner of an image they should NOT use it...there are plenty of images that they can find under creative commons, or heaven forbid, pay for!

Anonymous said...

THERE IS ROOM FOR TALENT CREATIVITY ALWAYS IN ALL FORMS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Anonymous said...

Stolen property?

A piece of your work was worked into a piece to promote the adoption of animals.

That image is offered by what appears to a legitimate site for free. There's no way of finding out that a "piece of one of your works" was used for that photo.

That image was used by a small business to promote ADOPTION of homeless animals for which no profit is ever realized.

It was a innocent error and a simple cease and desist letter from Getty images would have been sufficient for them to remove it.

Removing it wasn't enough for Getty - A settlement fee or risk of court was demanded.

That is "legal extortion".

If you know about these types of actions and allow this company to represent your works you partner in their practices.

John Lund said...

Anonymous,

You have some good points. Getty should go after the original infringer and perhaps they have. It also sounds like you should go after the company that sold you the stolen property as well!

John

Anonymous said...

Blend Images will ever accept vectors?

John Lund said...

Anonymous,

I think it may be a long while before Blend accepts vectors...sorry!

John

Mayer said...

Very nice piece. This is and industry that is very psyched up, depending on the quality and originality it may or may not work for you. Which means you always have to be relevant and different in a way that captures a different niche

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