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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

Tinervin says the process is still relatively streamlined at Digital Railroad, which is similar to PhotoShelter, even though photo buyers often deal with individual photographers. “Each member has his or her own personal archive, with all the tools to independently represent themselves, from marketing to sales to delivery. They also have the option of participating in the marketplace, where we do it for them, but they keep 80 percent of the revenue.

“We've added the Research Network, where they have another opportunity to connect with buyers,” adds Tinervin. “It isn't necessarily true that photo buyers don't want to deal with individual photographers.”

In his experience, photo buyers, especially art directors, often are looking for inspiration. They can go into the Research Network and post what they need, or what they think they need, and photographers respond to those requests. This often starts a creative dialogue that ultimately makes someone's project better than it would have been otherwise.

“There's always a point of contact with us if the photographer isn't available, and we'll pretty much go to the ends of the earth to make sure a client is taken care of,” says Tinervin. “We're on five different instant-messenger programs, and everyone is totally dialed in. So we do everything we can to help out our members. Then in the marketplace, it becomes our responsibility to take on the buyer request personally.”

The Food Chain
As a note of caution, Rovtar of Stock Asylum says you must be careful and scrutinize how contracts are written when you sign up with a distributor. He says many of them seem to make most of their money from subdistribution, which tends to keep a lot of money in the system and not return much to the photographer if you're not careful.

“A sale can end up being three or four distributors or agencies out,” says Rovtar. “And when a check finally filters back to a photographer a year later, it's a pittance. That part of a contract about subdistribution goes back to the 1980s and 1990s when the only way to sell an image in Italy or Australia, for example, was through subdistribution, and that worked out pretty well for a lot of photographers. But what has happened is some distributors have abused that now, and they're not going to like the fact that I say this, but it's true. They have gone into this deal where their subdistributors subdistribute, and then those subdistributors subdistribute again. That many people in the food chain isn't at all fair to photographers. So that's something that needs to be addressed and brought under control.”

Money, Money, Money
While the stock trade is immense and highly competitive, it's possible to make money. Compelling, fresh imagery is paramount. Finding the right distributors to help you market and sell that imagery around the world is the next step. That could mean finding a home with a large full-service agency or a number of other image portals and stock sites—or all of the above. The key is to diversify, experiment and be diligent. Although the market is saturated with imagery, it isn't saturated with brilliant imagery. And with the number of options available to sell images, you should be able to create and implement a strategy that's both ideal for you and ideally suited to the current marketplace.

Digital Railroad
Getty Images
Stock Asylum


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