Photographers Direct: Royalty Share Key Driver

Posted on 1/31/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Photographers trying to license rights to their pictures are constantly looking for ways to make contact with potential customers. Any given image is potentially marketable to buyers worldwide. Individual photographers are unlikely to ever meet most of these potential customers. Thus, photographers tend to employ a variety of middlemen operations to assist them in finding customers. One such operation is Photographers Direct (PD) which has helped more than 15,862 photographers (about 5,000 currently active) make contact with over 20,280 unique buyers worldwide.

It should be noted that the 20,280 are customers who have shown an interest in an image found through PD. Many may not have actually purchased an image. PD photographers tend to field four to five times sales requests for every actual sale made. Sometimes the buyer prices images from several sources before finding the right one. Often the price the photographer wants is more than the buyer is willing to pay. As a result of the availability of microstock many customers think that $2.00, $5.00 or $10.00 images are the norm and that all images should be available for these prices. PD photographers won’t license their images for these prices.

Direct Negotiations With Customers

One of the most appealing factors of the PD service is that once a potential customer has found an image of interest he/she negotiates directly with the photographer, pays the photographer, and the photographer then pays PD 20% of the fee received. Chris Barton, founder of Photographers Direct calls this “Fair Trade Stock Photography.”
Barton initially founded the service as “just a 'Picture Search' email request service, and purely on an annual subscription basis.” He later added a 'commission-based' version and developed a facility to upload images to lightboxes on the website. Next, because subject matter requested by one customer tends to be requested surprisingly often by others, it seemed to make sense to maintain a searchable online database of images. Currently, that database contains almost 2.3 million images.

For photographers there are two obvious advantage of this service. First the photographer sets the price so he doesn’t have to worry about his pictures being sold for less than what he thinks they are worth. Second, he gets to keep 80% of the license fee. It is common for photographers represented by other images licensing services (particularly microstock) to only receive 15% to 20% (and sometimes even less due to multiple middleman cuts) of the fee paid by the customer.

Based on conversations I’ve had with a number of PD photographers they seem to be universally happy with the service. One photographer said, “I would always support Photographers Direct since this is the fairest photographer’s website. I have photos on all major websites like Getty, Corbis, Mauritius, Superstock, Robert Harding but the treatment on Photographers Direct is simply the best.”

On the other hand it is hard to find anyone who is making many sales. Of the photographers I talked with most averaged between 2 and 3 images licensed per year. Obviously, the site is not a major source of revenue for photographers. In addition, many of these photographers have had image on the site for 7 to 8 years and uploaded several thousand images.

Image Pricing

According to information published on the site the average price of a license is around $200.00, but Barton acknowledges that “this number is out of date. Average prices have definitely come down over the past few years. Probably the majority of images do sell for somewhere around $100.00.” One photographer reported that her sales in 2006 averaged $304, but dropped to $116 in 2010. It is believed, that despite the desire of photographers to keep prices high, the availability of competing microstock priced imagery had led to an overall decline in traditional pricing.
Barton also provides a list of the 100 top selling images which is revealing in a couple ways. The best selling image sold for $5,000, but the 100th image sold for $850. This range tends to be low, even when compared to the sales made by some small and medium sized stock agencies over the past 9 years. One explanation for these low prices may be that most of the images that are selling fall into the nature/wildlife/travel categories and almost none are the people/lifestyle/business type of images that are normally the best sellers at most agencies. Barton acknowledges “we are certainly far more editorially rather than commercially focused.” As a result, the site probably only attracts editorial customers. Probably few commercial customers use it as a resource, even though there are some good commercial images on the site.

Personal Image Database

A number of photographers find Photographers Direct more useful as a hosting service for their own websites than for the direct sales they might make through the PD database. These photographers have developed their own customer lists and encourage their customers to use their own site rather than PD. When the customers go to the photographer’s site they will see and search all the images the photographer has uploaded to the PD site, and only those images. In this way the photographer does not have to compete with the images of other PD photographers.

Finding Photographers For Assignments

Photographers Direct also encourages those who need images to contact photographers directly for assignments. While Barton will not provide any specific number on the number of assignments being generated he does say, “this is our biggest growth area.”

There is also a “Pro Photographers Search” feature where customers can search for photographer from a particular country, state or with a particular specialty. This is a relatively new service and so far about 1,400 photographers from over 100 countries have created listing.

Usefulness Of Daily Requests

With the development of so many large online databases, the necessity for picture editors to submit requests for submissions has declined. I asked Barton for statistics comparing the number of sales that result from photographers responding to the daily requests submitted by art directors compared to those where the art director finds the image in the online database. He said, “I don't have recent data on this, but I would say overall that sales from the daily requests have declined while sales from online searches (and other areas) have increased.”

He added that despite the maturing of Internet searches, “there are still many 'hard to find' subjects, and more importantly, there are infinite number of 'hard to describe' subjects. A database search works purely on matching the words the searcher uses with the words a keyworder has used for the image. Here are some examples where a database search is likely to fall down, but a 'photographer search' is likely to succeed:
    Students doing unusual things to help conserve energy
    A quaint traditional English pub that has recently closed down
    A piece of engineering equipment that features fixed guards, preferably being used
    A man giving teenage boy with bike directions
As to responding to these requests, there is a very simple rule. If an image is easy to make, you are unlikely to sell it (because there is a lot of competition). If an image is hard to make, you are much more likely to sell it.”

Copyright © 2011 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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