Direct-to-Buyer Sales on Rise

Posted on 3/24/2010 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

As buyer budgetary pressures and competition continue to drive prices downward, production companies and solo practitioners are increasingly looking to maximize their earnings by cutting out the middleman.

The agency paradigm—the same on both traditional and micro sides of the business—has historically worked well because it allowed image producers to focus on photography, while someone else handled marketing, sales and supporting business activities. There was always some resentment toward the agency’s share of revenue, typically in the 50% to 80% range, perceived by many producers as undeservedly high. In current economic conditions, however, such resentment has given way to a more urgent consideration: survival, specifically the need to retain a larger share of licensing revenue to remain in business.

There are plenty of encouraging examples of direct licensing. Jim Erickson manages to maintain an average licensing fee of $1,800 at Erickson Stock. Todd Klassy scored a $10,000 advertising license by making his images available on Flickr. While not all direct-to-buyer licenses are as lucrative, thousands of photographers are earning respectable per-image commissions by using services such as ImageSpan’s LicenseStream and Photoshelter.

Even the most successful are hopping on the direct sales bandwagon—or, perhaps, driving it. Photo historian Joseph Sohm recently chose LicenseStream to handle sales of images from his “Photographing Democracy” series, because it allows him to keep multiple times the 20% commission he would get from an agency on the same sales, and because he is free to offer as large and unedited an image collection as he sees fit. Leading microstock producer Yuri Arcurs is about to launch a direct-to-buyer collection based on similar financial motivations.

Web site-building services and e-commerce platforms that support image-licensing transactions have become ubiquitous, making it easy and relatively inexpensive for anyone to set up a direct sales operation. Beyond such logistics, however, photographers considering direct sales should note that direct-to-buyer success depends on two inextricably intertwined factors: marketing and unique content.

Agencies bring buyers. Typically, the larger the agency, the larger the buyer pool, because buyers are not quick to give up the convenience of one-stop shopping. These days, everybody’s search goes from iStockphoto to Getty Images or another micro-to-traditional combination that offers a similar breadth of choices. Only searches that do not yield the desired image, usually of niche and specialized subject matter, progress beyond the mega portals.

Consequently, if a solo practitioner is to attract buyers, he or she needs to offer content that eclipses generic creative stock and to rigorously and systematically promote such content. While both are enormously challenging, many photographers are finding that direct sales can help augment, if not replace, declining agency commissions.

Copyright © 2010 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


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