Melcher on Future of [Stock] Photography: Exclusive Content

Posted on 8/21/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

In his blog Thoughts of a Bohemian, Paul Melcher argues that “the future of photography is exclusive content.”

My first thought was that Melcher was talking about selling exclusive rights to stock images, which I have long argued is exactly the wrong direction for the stock photo industry to be headed. But no, he is arguing that, if your aim is to earn a living from photography, you should pretty much forget about shooting specifically for stock. On this point, I reluctantly have to agree.

Melcher argues that, “The market [for stock images] is not there anymore; well, not for pros. Shoot commission work only, and put that in stock. That is how the whole market started anyway and how it will survive. Why? Because commissions will give you access to places or people that are not available to the common mortal. They will also create images that are specific to a need that no one else has thought about… because if they had, they would have used stock instead of hiring you.”

If you are trying to build a career as a photographer, memorize this. Melcher has a lot of other things to say about what photographers should and should not do. Although I do not agree with all his points, his article is well worth reading.

There are many customers who have unique photo needs that can never be fulfilled with a generic stock image. These needs range from photos of manufacturing plants, hotels, company executives, events, products, new fashions or even weddings. Some of these images, once created, will also have life as stock. But the important thing is to look for work which will pay you a upfront fee that will cover most of your cost of doing business.

Some of this work may not be as exciting, challenging, artistic or creative as you would like. And certainly it may not be as interesting as when you have the freedom of a stock photographer to go out and do your own thing, whatever that is. But it does have one redeeming value: it enables you to earn enough to pay your bills.

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:  


  • Jonathan Ross Posted Aug 19, 2009
    I believe diversification is a great idea and adding direct commercial clients can be a great way to do this. I do not agree with a lot of what is said in Melcher's viewpoint. The stock industry I believe is very much alive and capable of making it's image providers a great deal of income at least as long as I have been involved, and continues to do so for myself. I agree the returns in stock have dropped, we use to make 1500% returns now they are 300-400%, a big drop but how many companies can make 300% returns on their investments these days.
    We have had to make many changes to see our income stay strong from stock but I believe it is very possible to still make your living directly from stock today. Especially compared to other options available in our industry and their shrinking markets as well. It also allows for the greatest creative freedom if that is what you are looking for.
    I heard this same perspective on stock when RF Macro was introduced. It didn't stop stock then either, quite the contrary.

    Jonathan Ross

  • Bob Prior Posted Aug 22, 2009
    I totally agree with Paul Melcher.

    I started publishing Stock Index UK/Europe and Stock Index USA nearly thirty years ago and that was exactly the way the stock industry was run.

    Leading professional photographers, having finished their commissioned shoot would fill their pockets with film – remember film – and go off and shoot a load of images. On their return to the studio they would process and file the best with their stock agency. In short you got the best images from the best photographers.

    I once asked David Bailey how he defined the difference between amateur shooters and professional. He replied the amateur may one day produce an impact image but it is by luck whereas the professional can do it the next day and the next.

    The world is now full of amateurs but often the standards are appalling low. At the end of the day it is not about filling holes in a designed page – it is about constant impact and for that you need a flow of images from a consistent source .

    As I have said before the focus of the industry should be not be on selling stock but how stock sells and then you can price your images in accordance with what benefits they bring to the client - for that you need the best PROFESSIONAL photographers who supply the best agencies.

    Robert Prior

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