Uploading Images To Multiple Agencies: Good Or Bad Strategy

Posted on 3/21/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Recently, a photographer ask the following questions:
    Is stock photography a growing industry. I have read some analysis that say it is growing significantly, but others argue that free stock photography and microstock photography are leading photographers to leave the market. What is your opinion on that argument?

    Secondly, since the main advantage in licensing stock images as royalty-free is non-exclusivity shouldn’t a photographer upload the same pictures to as many other agencies as possible. My friends say it is too time-consuming and of little value to upload images to infamous agency websites. I think this strategy will still result in bigger profits, if the photographer can use software or tools like Microstock analystics, Microstockr Pro, Prostock master, and Picworkflow which make it possible to upload images to a number of agencies simultaneously and analyze daily sales. Is this, or is it not a valuable strategy?
The short answer to your question is that the stock photo industry is not growing. It may be at a relatively stable level in terms of gross revenue generated worldwide, but more likely it is in decline.

There may be some growth in the number of people who are willing to pay something for the images they use, but the average price per image used is falling much more rapidly than any growth in usage. And prices will continue to decline.

Some companies, particularly larger ones that can justify spending huge amounts on marketing, are seeing growth. On the other hand the largest one, Getty Images, has seen a steady decline in revenue over the last three years.

Where there is growth it comes from taking market share from other companies. Most of the smaller companies are seeing declining revenue. (For more information on market size see the story links at the bottom of this article.)

Very few photographers are able to earn enough from stock photo sales to support themselves. Many experienced stock photographers are no longer producing stock images and have turned to other ways to earn a living. Increasingly, the images coming into the market are from part-timers and amateurs who look at stock income as a supplement to some other primary means of support.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that these images are of lower quality. Some of the images produced by amateurs are excellent. Most part-timers are now worried about profit. They will often spend much more in revenue, and certainly time, to get just the right shot than the images produced will ever generate in revenue. Unfortunately, many of these great images get buried among the flood of average and mediocre.

Royalty-Free vs. Rights Managed

Royalty free can usually be uploaded to multiple agencies. However, some agencies only accept RF images if they can be the exclusive representatives of those images. They may give customers unlimited rights to use the images they purchase, but no other agency can license that same image.

On the rights managed side, most agencies that license images based on use have placed the same RM images with many other distributors around the world. So just like RF these RM images are being offered by many agencies/distributors to a wide range of customers around the world.

Thus, whether an image is RF or RM has little to do with how widely it might be distributed around the world. It is important to note that about 99% of the images licensed annually are licensed using an RF license. Today, most customers need the flexibility to use the images they purchase in a variety of different ways without having to re-negotiate a license. That is the reason for the popularity of RF compared to RM. In addition, many RM images are licensed at prices that are lower than RF and the RM sellers often give the customer wide ranging flexibility in the way they can use the images they purchase.

Uploading To Infamous Agencies

Now we get to the question of uploading image to multiple agencies. In my opinion the majority of photographers who earn the most from stock today do so by having their images represented by multiple agencies. But, just adding images to more and more collections without any knowledge or understanding of the agencies sales history is not a good idea.

Even if we assume that technology can totally automate the distribution of images to multiple distributors that doesn’t solve all the problems. Often metadata needs to be customized to each agency given the variety of search algorithms that are being used. Arrangements with each agency have to be negotiated. If a small “infamous” agency is making few sales for a contributor, it is hard to be sure that agency is honestly reporting all sales. The time involved in dealing with a second agency, let alone a 10th or 15th is not insignificant.

Increasingly, infamous agencies are raising the level of royalties owed a contributor before payout is made. Most, are at $100. Some are at $250. I recently heard of one that has raised the level to $500. Now a contributor to that agency could be owed $499 and unable to get that money.

More and more photographers who have their images with multiple distributors are cutting back on the number of companies to whom they submit new work.

Check out the following stories with regard to industry growth.
Survey Results: Global Stock Image Revenue

Global Market Size For Stock Images

Where The Stock Photo Industry Is Headed

What Investors Want To Know About Stock Photography

Copyright © 2016 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Tibor Bognar Posted Mar 26, 2016
    Of course everything Jim says about the state of the stock photo industry is true, but I believe that it's absolutely essential to work with multiple agencies. The old saying is that don't put all your eggs in one basket. I've heard of photographers who signed exclusively with one agency and when the agency's fortunes declined they were unable to get out and were ruined. All agencies are suffering, but if you get a bit of money from here, a bit from there, it adds up. Once you have your digital images prepared for submission, it's very little work and no expense to send them to multiple places. Most agencies have similar or identical submission criteria. If you were manufacturing widgets, you'd like them to be available in as many stores as possible, not just one! As most sales are for small uses and - unfortunately - very small fees, clients very rarely ask for exclusive rights.

  • Stan Rohrer Posted Mar 26, 2016
    I would like to see an analysis of agency Exclusivity vs non-exclusivity. In my case iStock (35% payout) for RF and Alamy for RM editorial vs. multiple agencies for RF and taking some of my RM and making it RF editorial. Per the MicroStockGroup.com monthly poll, it appears iStock Exclusive rank of 170 vs. non-Ex rank of 33 seems to indicate iS exclusivity (at least in the upper percentages) to be a good thing.

    Compared to contributing non-Ex to the top 4 sites (76 + 58 + 33 + 26 = 193), with the recent rise of Alamy in the poll, perhaps non-Ex across multiple sites is now the better choice. Of course, we don’t have any clue of the accuracy of these self reported MicroStockGroup.com numbers nor the income percentage level of the supposed iS reported income. Perhaps Jim has some numbers for support of the calculations.

    Yes, I’m trying to determine when to break Ex with iS or if it is better to stay with my 35% for now. Managing a portfolio across multiple sites is not appealing form a time consideration. I am also concerned that some of my better selling 2003-2010 images are not of acceptable quality for new submissions.

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