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Monday, April 28, 2008

The Stock Trade

A look behind the turbulence and uncertainties of today's stock photography marketplace to help you find the best way to make a profit

This Article Features Photo Zoom

stock tradeThe potential market for stock image sales is estimated at $2 billion a year. On every continent, there are photo buyers who need images and search for them online every day. The only question is how do you get their eyeballs on your images and get the wheels of commerce turning?

In a market saturated with images and thousands of stock photography sites, all with different services, price structures and payout percentages, the key is diversification. While it's a nice fantasy to think a single mega-agency will represent you and make you lots of money while you go out and just take pictures, the reality is very different for most mere mortals.

Making decent money at this is possible, but unless you're especially blessed or really lucky, this means putting images with a variety of distributors and exploring different ways to access the market. Ron Rovtar, photographer and Managing Editor of Stock Asylum, says, “A lot of photographers are going to multiple image portals now and managing their own collections and keeping a much higher percentage of their sales. And I think that's what has to happen.”

After 16 years in the stock industry, Rovtar says times have changed: “It's not a matter of saying, ‘I'm an Alamy photographer or a Digital Railroad photographer or a PhotoShelter photographer.' It can be all three, or even more, and should be. They're all going to have some of the same clients, but probably more different than the same.”

Tom Tinervin, Senior Director of Sales and Support for Digital Railroad, says the problem is that many photographers are, by nature, not interested in the promotional process. “They want to go out there and just take the image,” says Tinervin. “Of course, I'm speaking generally, but most of them want to let someone else do the marketing.”

Only they can't always count on a big agency to be looking out for their best interest. “So there are the Chase Jarvises of the world, who are incredibly savvy with their promotion,” says Tinervin. “There's a new breed of photographers who are willing to take it upon themselves because there really isn't any middle ground between successful and unsuccessful. You either have success or you don't. And the successful ones are those who have figured out, hey, I need to take control of my career here. And that means being diligent about a monthly marketing campaign, diligent about taking some risks by forming partnerships with agencies or subagents around the world, and then, after giving it time to mature, making a decision to cut what's not working and keep what is working.”

Understanding The Marketplace
Patrick Donehue, Vice President and Chief Photographer of Corbis, says, “Photographers also need to understand that of the potential $2 billion annually, probably about 70 to 75 percent is the commercial market, and the top three stock agencies represent at least half of it. That isn't to say there isn't room for people to play, because the market is pretty fragmented. So there are lots of smaller players and distributors who actually are really good and plugging along on a global basis. And since well over half of the potential marketplace resides outside of the United States, it's in a photographer's best interest to get distribution on a global basis as much as possible.”

If Corbis is looking at the work of a new photographer, says Donehue, they want to see that the photographer understands the industry they're selling to, both domestically and globally. A strong sense of vision and a unique approach to image capture that resonates with viewers is critical because there's so much imagery out there right now.

“Then on the commercial side of things,” says Donehue, “we like to see that the work is conceptually driven. Like a shot of a lion running directly at the camera, in many parts of the world, isn't a shot of a lion running at the camera at all. It's a shot that illustrates power, strength, agility, beauty, competition—that sort of thing.”


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