How to stay competitve with Stock Photography?
Stock photography is really important for my company. I believe the stock photography market has become very competitive I would be interested in knowing what people have done to remain competitive?
Discussion started by nathan , on 1388 days ago
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Thanks for the great information amfoto1! I'm investigating stock photography as a souce of supplemental income to my event/portrait business. Please excuse the dumb question but can you list traditional vs micro stock photography firms? It seems like places such as istock would be micro, correct? What would be traditional firms? Photographers Marker? Thanks for the info!
@ontheedgephoto Ana, Stock photography is especially important in web design. Like for example this website. Most web developers often have to remain competitive and can't hire their own personal photographer. When good portion of a successful website is good graphics you need to find affordable resources.
So my question is meant to figure out how you plan on competing with $1 stock images or is that something you even want to consider. Also, are you using your Printroom store for stock photography?
Great topic Nathan...
If you ever get a chance to do so, attend a seminar by one or more of the top stock shooters.
I spent $80 to go to a seminar with Bill Bachmann a little over a year ago. Came away with a ton of ideas and a new perspective about stock.
You may not know Bill's name, but I bet you recognize some of his images. He's been at it for about 30 years and employs two people full time handling his stock editing, keywording and uploading. At that time, he had images at six different stock agencies.
Actually Bill considers stock a sideline to his "real" business as a travel, lifestyle and assignment photographer. But, he says he always keeps stock in mind where ever he is in the world, and looks for or creates opportunities to add to his collections of images.
www.billbachmann.com is his website if you want to check it out.
Are you buying and using "Photographers Market" each year? It's full of stock sales opportunities.
Another thing, an all too common rooky mistake is stepping into the microstock "trap". I think anyone wanting to sell stock should explore all the other options thoroughly before even considering selling microstock. It just makes sense... It's the same work to take the photos, edit and keyword them, then upload them for sale. Why accept pennies for your work when you could be making dollars. Microstock is like taking a job at a local restaurant flipping burgers for 5 cents an hour, when there is a joint right next door that pays $5 an hour for the exact same work. (Actually, over time you'll probably find you have to work a whole lot harder at micro than traditional stock... more on why that is the case in a moment.)
A lot of amateurs jump into microstock because "I'm new at this and just learning". They never even try to get in with a more traditional stock agency initially, assuming their work just isn't good enough yet. Major mistake. New eyes are what more traditional stock agencies need, too. So, please don't sell yourself cheap before absolutely and completely exhausting other, far better paying opportunities first.
Another very likely reason people go to microstock is a fear of rejection. No one likes to hear "no thanks", but it's not personal. An agency that turns you down is often just saying your work isn't a good fit for what they sell, or they have similar work already from another agency. There are no barriers to putting your stuff out on micro, no selectivity, just upload and hope you make some sales. But that's not necessarily a good thing!
Nor is it necessarily a bad thing. I really am not saying to avoid microstock entirely, either. In fact I bet all of us have some work that would sell well there and we should take advantage of the opportunity.
But, you have to be very, very careful. For one, after an image has been sold as microstock, particularly if sold royalty free as is common with micro, it likely can never again be sold as more traditionally priced stock. And, if one ever wanted to "step up" to the big leagues, they might find traditional agencies turn them away immediately as soon as they discover the photographer has been selling microstock. This isn't to be nasty. The reason is simply that the agency doesn't want to risk their good relationships with their buyers. Think about it... How ballistic do you think their buyer would go if they found out the image they just paid $400 or $4000 or whatever to use had previously been sold for $4? Hey, it's happened!
You might also hear from people who sell microstock that they make up for the ridiculously low commission per image with really high sales volume. That's true, but not all the story... Sure, selling and image 70 times in a year and getting $1 per sale is going to work out exactly the same as selling that image only one time and collecting $70 from the sale.
The important difference this argument overlooks is that all images "burn out" after a certain number of sales. So, unless it's something truly exceptional, that 70x image may be done after a year... the market for it has been saturated in short order.
On the other hand, that 1X a year sale might be repeatable for 5 or 10 or even 20 years or more. Heck, your heirs might be able to continue selling it long after you're gone! (This depends upon the subject matter, of course.) So, think of stock as gradually building up a consistent and sustainable residual income from a growing library of your work, rather than a quick, cheap, high frequency sales that - in order to make any reasonable level of income - will force you to go out and shoot thousands upon thousands of new shots every year to keep your microstock library replenished.
Understand that in traditional stock, an image might have variable value, depending upon how it's used. George Lepp cited a great example, a nice image of his that Kodak paid him $25,000 to use in a worldwide ad campaign. The exact same image also sold for $250 for use in a text book. It's possible, too, that it could have sold for even less for an even more minor use. But, the point is that if he'd offered it as microstock, and especially royalty free, he'd have gotten perhaps $5 from each of those sales, no matter how it was used!
So, why wouldn't all image buyers head straight to microstock sites to save money? Some do, certainly. But many simply don't find what they are looking for, or the quality is poor, or the images aren't properly released... Or they are overused already and, even if fresh, there might be no exclusivity to keep their chief competitor from buying use of the exact same image (it's happened!). As a result, many buyers still are willing to pay significant amounts for an important image, for exclusivity and for quality.
Don't let the big numbers scare you. It's not unusual for a national ad campaign might have a budget of many millions of dollars to buy media time and space. The creative side of it often has a significant budget, too. They won't blink at paying many thousands of dollars for just the right image to use in their campaign. Their only alternative might be to hire a photographer and crew to get the perfect shot made, which is likely to run into the tens of thousands of dollars by the time the job is done.
Bachmann cited his single most expensive assignment as one he billed $125,000 for the photography, which included about 15 support people, equipment rentals, travel, etc.... all to get one shot. That price didn't include the cost of grounding 8 or 9 jets for use in the photo shoot for what ended up being two full days, at a loss of revenue of $2400 per hour, per jet! All to get one shot.
Best of all, Bill kept the rights to all the photos, Photoshopped out the logos and, after the client's campaign was well over, has sold the images from that shoot for stock. Residual income with minor additional work! Now, if a client insists, one might consider selling them all rights to the images from an assignment, but the price for it should go up dramatically, reflecting your loss of potential, future stock sales of those images. Think in terms of six figures, per image.
Probably the biggest "new thing" among stock is direct selling through one's own website. Internet search tools and a new breed of stock agency that simply acts to refer the client are making this more and more possible. But, we'd all better very thoroughly educate ourselves about pricing, negotiation and the various legalities, before jumping into that!
A couple final things I picked up from the Bachmann seminar...
90% of all stock image sales are photos of people... Not sunsets, or polar bears, or landscapes, or flowers, or puppies... People.
Hand-in-hand with that key fact, a model-released image is worth probably at least 10X more selling for commercial usage, than the same image could be expected to bring in editorial sales where a release isn't necessarily required. Do you get proper releases for all your images? Is it worth the few minutes of extra hassle getting one if you can make 10X or more off the images you sell for stock?
I'm looking forward to reading some more ideas here from other folks. Please pitch in!
Yes, I strongly agree. Also sometimes, especially when starting out, you could bargain with local businesses so they can promote your business in return you can do the same for them online. Works great for mom and pop stores.
I always recommend stock photographers enter into a relationship with a corporate interior designer. The real money in stock images for Printroom photographers seem to be "business to business." I say find someone who will refer business to you.