Stockpiling Trouble

Posted on 6/29/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

In an article published in the British Journal of Photography (BJP) and entitled “Stockpiling Trouble: How The Stock Industry Ate Itself?” Betsy Reid founding executive director of Stock Artists Alliance (SAA) from 2002 through 2009 lays out some of the reasons that the SAA will be closing its doors at the end of 2011. Many in the industry will want to review this article.

She points out that in the early 2000s as the stock industry matured, competition increased and sales flattened. Distributors launched a host of reactionary tactics in an  effort to continue to grow revenue. They cut royalty rates, expanded sub-distributor relationships and offered substantial discounts to top customers in an effort to keep their business. All these actions effectively re-distributed industry revenues “with less going to the individual photographers and more to a widening web of distributors and aggregators.”

As a result photographers saw a “steady decline in their royalty revenues, commonly experiencing a 30-50 percent drop over the last few years, to as much as a 90 percent drop today.”

The Internet has made it easier for people who want images to take and use what they want without compensating creators. It has also opened the door for amateurs to flood the market with free or nearly free imagery. Picture libraries and professional photographers soon recognized “that they were no longer indispensable for creating and licensing images.”

Reid also point out, “Stock distributors also failed to establish a proper foundation for digital licenses. They often simply tacked electronic use onto printed licenses as an afterthought.” As more transactions moved online, this undervaluation of the imagery continued.

Reid went on to say, “With their [photographer’s] trust in the distributor relationships reduced, and a loss of confidence that investments in image making would be recouped, professional photographers started to drop out [of the stock photo business].”

Today, Betsy Reid works at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits as senior manager of strategic communications and is no longer directly involved in the stock photography business.

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 301-251-0720, 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:  


  • Ellen Boughn Posted Jun 29, 2011
    Yes all that and more. But dare I mention the big elephant in the room?

    That being more of a big cat than elephant? Copy Cat that is.

    In the era that Ms Reid mentions, many photographers fell over each other recreating 'best sellers." No matter where buyers went they saw the same or very similar images. And since many of those images were easily created by 'amateurs' and available for a hundredth of the price, why wouldn't a buyer spend their big bucks elsewhere than on expensive, easily duplicated rights managed stock?

    Now I see the same event happening in microstock made even easier to find 'best sellers' by their robust search sorts. No wonder buyers seek out flickr photos where they can find truly interesting and unique work, albeit in a load of what elephants produce on the street during a parade.

    Let's hear it for true creativity.

  • Dean Siracusa Posted Jun 29, 2011
    Transtock's saving grace has been the fact that our subject is relatively difficult to photograph well. Plus, each year car companies create completely new models of 30% of their vehicles. And, our advertising and editorial clients are always clamoring for images of these newest vehicles.

    The other nice thing is that the microstock and even the major stock agencies like Getty are afraid of our subject matter because of trademark concerns. But, the trademark owners (the auto manufacturers) are as desperate for positive visibility of their brands any way they can get it. So, as long as you know who to talk to, obtaining a trademark release is quite simple.

    It's for these reasons that Transtock's revenue continues to grow, even in a down economy.

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