335 LOOKING FOR MARKETING OPTIONS
August 24, 2000
Many photographers believe that Getty Images and Corbis have such a commanding hold on
the market that a photographer must be represented by one of these two organizations,
or he or she will be unable to sell stock images.
I would remind photographers of a few facts. At best Getty and Corbis control 45% of
the world market. That means that at least 55%, and probably more, of the stock photo
revenue generated worldwide comes from sales made by other organizations.
In the Selling Stock annual survey this spring 62% of the photographers responding
were represented by more than one agency. In a recent PACA survey of photographers
66% of those responding were represented by more than one agency.
In the Selling Stock survey 37% of the photographers earned more from direct stock
sales to clients than from any single agency that represented them. Of the total
income reported by all photographers, 29% came from direct sales to buyers. This
figure was up from 24% in the 1999 survey.
There are still opportunities for stock photographers. But in the changed environment
photographers must reevaluate their options for marketing. Strategies that worked in
the past may no longer be the surest road to success.
Product and Service
There are two elements in the stock photo business -- production of the product and
the service factors involved in getting that product to a willing buyer. Even Getty
and Corbis don't control much of the production side of their businesses. That is
still in the hands of thousands of small suppliers. Those suppliers still have
G&C have set in place systems to centrally control all the service factors needed to
place images produced by freelance suppliers into the hands of buyers. While this is
one approach to the stock photography business, it is not the only approach that will
work. It is an approach that doesn't necessarily benefit ALL the photographers these
It is clear from the on-line forum discussions that photographers are in a
reevaluation mode. Strategies that are more focused on benefiting photographers are
likely to develop. Such strategies may include putting some images with Getty or
Corbis, or be totally separate from their operations. It is likely that the marketing
strategies most photographers will employ two years from now will be radically
different from the strategies they employed two years ago.
Here are some of the issues I believe photographers need to consider as they look for
new ways of marketing. There is no priority order to this list.
Centralized search. Clients will not search 10,000 individual
photographer sites to find images. If they know the photographer; have learned of his
or her URL through some means other than Internet advertising; and know that the
photographer is likely to have what they need then they may go to the site. Otherwise
they will go to sites that bring togethers a broad cross section of material from many
photographers with many styles. This allows them to find what they need in a much
more efficient way.
By definition this probably means some type of Stock Agency site. Individual
photographer sites are most useful for generating assignments from buyer who learn of
the URL through some other type of promotion. They are unlikely to be of much use for
A system of worldwide distribution. There are lots of good small to
medium sized agencies around the world still operating very effectively in their local
markets. If these agencies find a way to consolidated resources they could be a very
powerful third force.
An opportunity to get more images seen. Photographers need some way to
get a larger percentage of their production into venues where the images can be seen
by potential buyers. All indications are that both Getty Images and Corbis will only
scan a very small percentage of all the images they currently have in their files.
They will be extremely selective in picking new material from future productions.
This does not mean that images not selected for scanning are unsalable. It simply
means that they will not be shown by G&C to potential buyers.
Pricing. Photographers need a system that will maintain good prices for
as much of the work as possible. Royalty free is a fact of life. I estimate that in
the U.S. more than 50% of the uses of stock photography are of RF images. Even if we
accept that a lot of these are new uses that weren't available in the early 90's, it
means that a huge percentage of uses that were formerly available at negotiated rates
no longer exist. This does not mean that in order to make sales you have to match RF
prices. Now, when someone comes to you looking for a negotiated use of a Rights
Protected image, for one reason or another, they have not been able to find what they
needed in RF. They will be very happy if you will give them use of your image for RF
prices -- but they will pay more. Two stories.
In the first six months of 2000 Stock Connection had average license fees that were
$925 per image. This was up from $705 per image in the same period in 1999, a 31%
increase. (By way of comparison Getty Images says Stone's average price is around
One might suspect that if we are keeping our prices that high, we would be making many
fewer sales. In fact, the number of units licensed was off 12% when 2000 was compared
with the same period in 1999. However, there was no indication that the number of
sales made, relative to the number of calls received, was changing in any significant
manner. We believe the number of calls are down because more people a choosing to buy
Royalty Free before they even consider a rights protected option -- a fact over which
we have little control.
Nevertheless, gross revenue is up 15% in 2000 over 1999. This certainly points out
that even in today's competitive environment a strategy of holding the line on pricing
can result in higher average prices per unit sold, and overall revenue growth.
On the other hand a photographer in Europe, represented by one of the Getty Images
companies, reports that he recently received a call from a client who wanted to
license rights to two of his images for the same basic use. As it turns out the
photographer had rights to license one of the images directly, but rights for the
other image were controlled by the Getty Images company. The photographer negotiated
a fee of approximately $400 for the image he controlled and then gave the client his
agent's telephone number.
A while later the client called the photographer. He told him that the agent had
licensed rights to the other image for about $20 (that's twenty, not two hundred).
The client said that while he was happy to get the image for $20, he wasn't
complaining at all about the photographer's price because he thought $400 was
reasonable and fair for the usage involved. He just wanted the photographer know what
his agent was doing.
Negotiated Prices. Fixed pricing only work well at Royalty Free rates.
If you want the benefits of negotiated rates based on usage then there must be some
provisions to handle complex negotiations as needed. This becomes particularly
complex when you want to sell outside your home country. When dealing in a foreign
country you may have little information about local use rates, and where you may have
to negotiate in another language and deal with collection problems.
Supporting Analog File. One of the critical issues with Getty and Corbis
is that, long term, neither expect to be managing an analog file. Their plans are to
edit the cream, aggressively market the cream, and return the rest to the
photographers. One of the intangibles, of course, is how they define cream.
The best way I know is to talk to photographers who have been with these companies for
a long time and learn from the experience they have had in the recent past. Those
experiences would indicate that a lot of good pictures that would sell if they were
available for clients to look at will not be put into G&C's files. The question is
where to put these pictures so they can be seen. This may require some new ways of
Local Sales and Marketing. The world may be getting smaller through
communications, but people in different parts of the world still have widely diverging
ideas about the kind of images they want to buy and how they want to do business.
Local marketing and service will be important to effectively sell to these people.
Local Editing. System need to be in place where local sellers
participate in the editing of the file. Photographers who submit directly to
mid-sized foreign agencies, or to specialist niche agencies, often find that the
images selection these agents make is markedly different from the selection made by
big agency editors in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle or London. Photographers tend to
make more sales when multiple editors, coming from different perspectives, review
their work, than when there is one single central arbitrator determining what is a
The more G&C focus their editing to one, or a few locations, the more opportunities
the 55% have to expand their markets by making available to their customers images
that G&C would reject.
Experienced Researchers. Many buyers will continue to want and need
picture research. Often it is impossible to fulfill their needs from the limited
number of on-line digital files. The images they want are only available in analog
form. Research needs to extend beyond the digital files. Experience with particular
analog files and experience in a specialty is invaluable.
In the process of acquisition and consolidation it is likely that much of the
"experience" at some of the major companies will be lost. This will put some of the
smaller companies that have avoided acquisition in a better position to serve the
Selling Direct To Clients. All photographers need to develop better
systems for making direct sales to clients. The principle benefits of direct selling
are that you retain 100% of any fees negotiated and you retain control. This works
well if you are a specialist and can easily identify the majority of people who would
be interested in your type of imagery. The downside is that in addition to the
marketing you have to personally handle all the negotiating, delivery and collection
tasks that an agent would normally take care of for you. If you have an easily
prime customer base then dealing directly can be the most efficient way to market
Some agents are willing to handle some of these services for you, for a lesser
percentage, and still allow you a lot of say in how the images are marketed and
More Control. Some of the factors are: pricing; whether the image will
licensed at bulk rates, or not; length of the contract; ease of moving to a different
agency when your not satisfied; return of work when necessary. There are lots of
Return of Images. There are two issues here. First, images that are
offered to the agent on an image-exclusive basis should be edited promptly and quickly
returned to the photographer so he or she can attempt to market them somewhere else.
Secondly, if images have been accepted into the general file, but are not being
marketed aggressively through a print of digital catalog then the photographers needs
to be able to get these images back so he or she can attempt to market them elsewhere.
This should be possible without the necessity of the photographer terminating the
agency agreement for those other images which the agency is marketing aggressively.
The trick here, if you are represented by one of the many agencies that have been
recently acquired, is determining that point when only newly produced images are being
considered for the on-line catalog and the agent has stopped mining the older files
for possible on-line images. As long as there is a possibility of getting file images
into the on-line catalog it is probably wise to leave them with the agency for
It should also be recognized that the agent has two incentives not to go to the
trouble of pulling images from their files and returning them to the photographer.
First there is the expense. In addition, if the photographer has an opportunity to
place the images elsewhere they could end up competing against some of the images the
agency has spent so much money promoting. It is better from the agency's point of
view to keep these images out of circulation and the best way to do that is to keep
them in their files.
Embrace the efficiencies of the web without ignoring the efficiencies of
older existing systems.
The web efficiencies include:
1 - Production and distribution of a catalog of images.
2 - Updating of the catalog.
3 - Developing specialist catalogs within a larger catalog.
4 - Delivering images to the buyer.
5 - Reducing the need for dupes (if large file is available on the web)
Web inefficiencies and limitations include:
1 - Scanning and keywording are too costly to make all images available on the web,
particularly since this is an up front investment.
2 - The cost of generating high-res scans of ALL images makes the continued use of
original film and dupes more efficient in certain cases.
3 - On-line search does not solve the problem of finding images that only exist in and
4 - Fixed pricing has its limitations as discussed above.