Is There a Best Way To Sell Stock?

Posted on 12/28/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Getty photographer Carlos Sanchez Pereyra recently asked on Linkedin what others thought was the “best way to sell stock.”

There is no question that Getty Images makes more gross sales than any other brand, but when royalties are divided among all the various photographers it represents—all the photographers from more than 100 third-party image partners that sell through the Getty site—the company may not be the best place for most photographers.

The Importance of Recognizing Stock Photography Is a Business

Paul Henning emphasized that stock photography is a business and pointed out that, while it is important for the stock shooter to educate himself about the business, “the goal should be to spend as little time on that side of things as possible and maximize your time spent on production.”  The bad news is that for the individual trying to do it all himself, a huge percentage of time must be spent in administrative activities, preparing images for marketing and actually doing the marketing. Very little time will be available for taking pictures.

Some small production companies may have one or two photographers who spend most of their time shooting, but a significant number of other people backstop them by handling pre-production, post-production, marketing and general administrative work. Most individuals trying to sell stock must recognize that, at best, only a small percentage of their time can be dedicated to taking pictures. They probably also need to love computer work more than what they do behind the camera.

Multiple Distributors

It is probably best for photographers to be directly represented by multiple distributors in order to test different pricing and marketing strategies. Part of the reason for this is that it takes a significant period of time (a couple years or more) to determine if a given distributor and his strategy works with the photographer’s imagery.

Some would argue that they could get a higher percentage or a better position in the search return order if they dealt with one distributor exclusively. Nevertheless, most will find that being exclusive actually limits their earning potential, and that whenever a new distributor is added, overall revenue increases while the revenue from the existing distributor does not decrease.

The downside, of course, is that more time is required in managing multiple distributors, leaving less time to actually take pictures.

Setting Up Your Own Site and Selling Directly

Dissatisfied with distributors, many photographers turn to building their own Web sites, but great images and a smoothly functioning search engine are only the first step. The biggest problem is marketing and getting customers to visit the site.

Most customers want to use sites that have images on every conceivable subject and a large selection of the particular subject matter that interests them. It is almost impossible for customers to remember a site that only has a few great images in a particular subject area, unless they need that subject frequently. It is important to have a niche, and to be the recognized expert in that niche, but if it happens to be New England covered bridges, there may not be enough demand to make shooting them worth the trouble. If your niche is Hollywood celebrities, the demand may be high, but the competition may be so fierce that it is still difficult to make sales. Finding a niche in today’s market with high demand and relatively little quality supply is almost impossible. (Hint for finding a niche: go to iStockphoto or Dreamstime and check out the number of downloads of subjects similar to what you hope to shoot.)

To make customers aware of your site, you must market through your Web site, blogs, social networks, direct mail, contacting photo editors and search engine optimization. This can be very expensive, in terms of both time and money. And there is no way to predict how effective it will be until after you have invested in it for a significant period of time.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) enables customers to use one of the major search engines to find your images. Both major and minor customers are using Google, Yahoo, Flickr, etc. more frequently to find the images they use. One of the first things to determine is whether you want search engine crawlers to just find your site, specific galleries on your site or individual image pages.

Most of the major photo databases limit the search engines to finding their sites. Customers must then go to the site to do a search. That works for those who have huge, broad-based collections and who are at the top of search engine returns, because they either pay for that position or have a huge amount of traffic. It probably will not work for the individual whose site will normally fall near the bottom of the search return.

Placing images on category pages, or making individual images easily findable can greatly increase traffic. The danger here is that you may get a lot of unauthorized uses. Limiting file size to the range of 500 to 800 pixels minimizes this problem. The advantage is that when a customer is prepared to pay, he or she deals directly with you. You build a relationship, are able to negotiate a reasonable fee—an important consideration given how much major agencies are discounting these days—and get to keep all of it.


The four important things to consider in answering the question are: (1) treat it as a business, (2) consider multiple distributors, (3) be cautious about setting up a Web site with the primary purpose of selling stock and (4) if you are going to set up your own site, learn about SEO.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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