Going Pro: Are Great Images Enough?

Posted on 8/6/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The "Going Pro" series
Demand by the Numbers
Image Oversupply
State of the Internet Market
State of the Print Market
Photography as a Career
When you are a freelance self-employed photographer, getting to the level of earning enough to support yourself and your family is difficult. But you know you can do it, because you are willing to work hard and you produce great, unique images that are better than anything offered by the competition. Here are a few basic principles of the photography business to remember.

Customers always want the best image they can find, at a price they can afford.

The price they can afford is always a major deciding factor.

If the image you are selling is a stock image, the price the customer is willing to pay has absolutely no relation to what it cost to produce the image or what you had to go through to get it.

A stock picture has to be exactly what the customer needs—including the right price. Prepare to be constantly surprised at what the customer thinks is the right picture. Customers seldom pick the images you like best.

If you are doing an assignment, you can establish a fee upfront to cover your costs and profit, but many potential customers may be unwilling to pay what you ask. The value of any image is based entirely on the customer’s perception.

No matter how great you think your image is, how many awards it has won or what your colleagues tell you, it is the customer who determines value by saying “yes” or “no” to your price.

What makes an image great—that is, one a customer wants to buy—is based entirely on the customer’s needs at the moment and the customer’s perception of the image. A great image from the customer’s point of view has absolutely nothing to do with the photographer’s perception of the image. Customers do not pay more for great images.

The amount customers pay is based entirely on the value they will receive from using the images and what they feel they can afford at the moment. Since the end of 2007—roughly two and a half years—the average price Getty Images receives for the images it licenses has dropped 30% to 40%. That is not because the images are of poorer quality than they used to be, but rather because the prices agreed on are all the customers feel they can afford to pay in these difficult economic times, and because there are other easily available options that satisfy customers’ needs.

The price a photographer decides to charge for his work limits the number of potential users.

If the photographer sets a high price, fewer customers will consider the image. If the photographer sets a low price, more customers may consider it, but that is no guarantee there will be enough buyers at the lower price to equal what one might have paid at a higher price.

There are plenty of people out there who will tell you that all you have to do to be a success is “make great (or better and better) images that fill a specific need. Here is what Marco Oonk of Fast Media Magazine recently said: “I firmly believe that despite the ‘democratization’ and ‘commoditization’ of the stock photo industry, there will always be more reward for great images. By ‘great’ I mean images that fill a need and do it superbly… There is still, and always will be, plenty of money to be made.”

I totally disagree. Certainly, every photographer should always try to produce the best images he knows how to produce, and he should always be striving to improve quality of his images, to be more creative and work more efficiently. But just because an image is judged to be “great” and more “creative” by some, or because it wins awards, does not mean customers will pay more for it. Photographers may spend more time in pre-planning, use better models and more expensive sets, and generally spend more money to produce a set of images, but that does not mean customers will pay more to use the resulting images.

Most stock agents want you to produce more images so they will have more product variety to offer their customers. They will constantly ask for “more and more” and “better and better.” They continue to do this because it does not cost them a thing. They have no investment in the production costs.
Some people will tell you that to be a success you must produce better, more creative images. Just producing more creative images will not necessarily result in selling more, or at higher prices. Most stock agents want you to produce more images so they will have more product variety to offer their customers. They will constantly ask for “more and more” and “better and better.” They continue to do this because it does not cost them a thing. They have no investment in the production costs. Following this advice may not increase your sales, it may only increase your costs and reduce your profit.

Despite growing demand for images, still photography as a profession is taking a serious hit—and not just because of the current recession. Those considering entering the profession need to carefully weigh their options. The pictures you produce have to be good, but that alone is not enough. Carefully track trends of your business and measure them against industry trends. Beware of the temptation to spend more and more and work harder and harder without a corresponding result in compensation.

Copyright © 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.  


  • Valentin Alscher Posted Aug 9, 2010
    One more reason why the average price of getty or corbis and some more agency has dropped to 40 % is the fact, that they used to offer flats rates: pay less and get more...

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