Stock Photo Agencies
To start this blog off the right way, let’s take on one of the most popular photo business topics of them all – stock photo agencies.
Quick background info: Stock photo agencies are a source where art buyers (advertising agencies, publishers, corporations, small businesses, etc…) can license pictures for publication. A stock photo agency can range in size from large corporations like Getty Images to a family-owned business such as Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Photography. Getty is considered to be a general photo agency that has every type of photo imagineable while Rowell’s is a niche agency consisting of his own outdoor adventure and landscape photos primarily.
Getty is the industry leader by far, but not too popular with many professional photographers at the moment due to questionable business decisions and unfavorable contract terms for their contributors. In recent years, photographers have flocked to competitors like Alamy Images and start-ups such as Digital Railroad Marketplace and the Photoshelter Collection.
– Reach markets that you currently aren’t
– Let someone else handle the day-to-day licensing of your images
– Earn $$$ for your photos
– Some agency contracts take more than 50% commission ie. Getty.
– Some agencies require image exclusivity, meaning that you can’t license those images anywhere else for the duration of your contract. ie. Getty, Corbis, Age Fotostock, Lonely Planet Images
– Time consuming to produce and supply a large quantity of digital files on a regular basis
– The market is over-saturated with images
– The need to keyword and caption your images
– Most do not tell you the exact source of your photo credits, some will give you basic info about the type of publication
– Competition with other agency photographers for a share of the pie
Legit stock photo agencies:
The Big Ones- Getty, Corbis, Alamy, Jupiter, Age Fotostock
For a more comprehensive list of agencies check out A Photo Editor’s Stock Photo Agencies list. Be sure to avoid the agencies under the “Crap” category…
(I have images with Alamy, PSC and DRR (distributed via a niche photo agency) and will discuss my own experiences with them in a future blog post.)
Exclusive or non-exclusive?: The idea behind signing an exclusive contract is a matter of maintaining higher prices by limiting the amount of photos available in the market. Getty Images for example makes contributors agree to not market their images elsewhere during the duration of the contract. The goal is to maintain a higher licensing fee because those same images cannot be licensed anywhere else but through Getty. Before the onslaught of high-resolution digital cameras the past few years, Getty routinely licensed images for $500+ so this made sense. Those rates are a thing of the past now partially due to an over-supply of images in the market and some naive photographers giving away rights to their images for pennies. I have read that Getty’s average licensing fee is around $250 now.
So if non-exclusive agencies tend to go for a slightly lower rate, why would the photographer choose to do so? Because you can submit the same images to multiple agencies in addition to marketing them yourself.
Photo agencies that ask for exclusive terms are usually established enough so that can back it up with numerous sales of your images. So the question is can you make an equal amount of sales if not more through your four non-exclusive agencies? Either way, it is pretty hard to get by with only licensing images through stock photo agencies these days whether or not you decide to go with Getty’s 30 / 70% commission split or Alamy’s 65/35% commission. There are a number of photographers out there that have had a fair amount of success using a combination of non-exclusive photo agents as well as running their own licensing business. Much like investing in the stock market, diversification is a smart strategy.