Cutting Out The Middleman

Posted on 12/18/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (5)

As fewer and fewer stock photographers earn enough from the licensing of their photos to justify continued production, some suggest that instead of letting stock agencies pay them 20% to 30% of the small gross fees collected to use their images, they should sell their images directly to customers. In this way they would get higher prices and keep 100% of what the customer pays.

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Copyright © 2018 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:  


  • Steve Heap Posted Dec 18, 2018
    Hi Jim
    There is a wordpress plugin that helps stock photographers create their own agency and automatically deliver the image at the required resolution 24 hours a day. Mine is at The main issue is that even though the images can be found on Google, few people are willing to buy. I sell perhaps one image every three months! It has turned into a vanity project - no commercial return.

  • Bob Prior Posted Dec 22, 2018
    I have often wondered what would be the outcome if ALL stock photographers STOPPED supplying images to libraries who don’t pay appropriate fees? Or for that matter refusing to supply images to ‘buyers’ at below realistic prices. What would be left? Amateur images maybe but at lease photographers who retain their self esteem and in time ‘users’ users will see ‘amatuer’ images achieve amateur sales results not something high level professional clients wish to embrace.

  • Norm Eggert Posted Dec 22, 2018 is a good alternative. The site is relatively small, but has a nice mix of photographs. It is quick and easy to search for a particular photographer (each photographer has their own site) and to search for a particular photograph. The photographer sets the price, although usually I find that the buyer tells you how much they have to spend on a particular photograph. The good news is that the selling price is usually considerably higher than what you would have received from a stock agency.

  • Charles Cecil Posted Dec 22, 2018
    Most of what you describe in the first three paragraphs of Solving the Subscription Dilemma is offered by PhotoShelter. They currently have tens of thousands of photographers using their services to host their websites. The PS search engine will search every photographer’s images and show you the combined results. You price your own images, so that easy-to-produce images can be cheap and hard-to-produce ones can be expensive. Images can be downloaded 24/7 through the software that comes with the PS website. PS takes 9%, leaving the photographer 91%. It’s true that you have to pay a monthly fee (or an annual one, slightly discounted) pro-rated according to the number of GB of storage you want, but the fee is reasonable. I’ve never understood why PS has never marketed itself as a stock agency rather than just a website hosting service. If they were better known they could be an alternative to the mega-agencies that pay less and less to the photographer.

  • Brian Smale Posted Dec 27, 2018
    I completely agree with Charles C. Photoshelter has been a terrific service for me. It might not work for well for more generalized imagery, but if you have some very specific subject matter that can be searched for on the main search engines, it can work well. 90% of my salable stock is editorial portraits of specific people, often in business or tech. e.g.: John Smith, CEO of ABC Corporation, which is an easy search term. As long as you are careful to enter good info for SEO, your images will show up in search. Some clients complain that my rates are too high, (I generally use the default numbers from the FotoQuote plugin on Photoshelter), but most others have no problem with the rates, and there is a method on Photoshelter for a potential client to negotiate for a different price. I don't sell a huge amount of stock this way, but like Charles says, I set my own prices and keep about 90%. I feel very good about not taking part in the downward spiral of stock pricing, and it's almost completely hands-off. Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of some clients having to use a big agency like Getty because their company has a subscription.
    Years ago, my first agency (Onyx - which I loved!) got merged in to Outline, and then Corbis. I had one exceptionally good sale with Corbis, but otherwise the numbers were pretty dismal. I tried listing some with Redux for a couple of years, but the numbers were well below dismal. Nothing personal, I liked all the people I worked with at those agencies, but the numbers just didn't work.
    BTW Charles, a few years ago Photoshelter did try to set up a service that was a dedicated 'stock' agency, but it didn't work very well, so they killed it. They do have a new service called Lattice, that is a bit like a Pinterest board for photo editors. I've just started looking in to that as a way to get a bit more attention on my images.


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