Image Building with Agency Catalogs

Posted on 5/6/1999 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



May 6, 1999

There is an increasing trend among stock agencies to produce print catalogs
that are designed as "image builders" rather than to sell the specific
images found therein.

Photographers need to understand the difference between these two approaches
to the market, and carefully track sales of their images.

Much of the "edgy" material chosen for catalogs is designed to catch the art
director's eye and draw him or her to the "web site", not necessarily sell
the particular image found in the catalog. This is a relatively new
departure from the traditional approach to image selection for catalogs.

Art directors end up using the generic images found online -- one agent
calls them, the "white bread" of stock. Increasingly, these images are only
available on the web, or through a general file search, not in many

Simultaneously, there is a move at some agencies to pressure photographers
to produce "edgy" material and to accept less and less of the "white bread"
images that photographers produce.

If "white bread" is what is selling then why aren't agencies accepting it?
There are two answers. First, they already have a lot of it in their files.
Second, when they want to update "white bread" images they produce the work
in-house so the agency can retain a larger percent of the fees generated
from such images. Look for these trends to continue -- more rapidly at some
agencies than others.

As one agent explained it, the problem is that the "edgy" stuff is almost
impossible to assign. For this they need a broad base of photographers with
differing creative visions. When it comes to the high demand "white bread"
images, the agent can generate statistics on their best selling subjects,
and easily shoot file material that fills a similar need.

Steps For Photographers To Take

  • Track sales of "edgy" images and whenever possible compare results
    with other photographers who have had this type of imagery in print
    catalogs. It is critical to understand how well this type of stock imagery
    is selling, and the portion of total sales it represents.

  • Recognize that it may be difficult to get straight answers from your
    agent because the agent needs to keep you producing "edgy" material.

  • Consider how much of your time and resources you should be devoting to
    producing "edgy" images, based on how well those you have produced in the
    past are selling.

  • Point out your sales results to your editor.

  • If you are going to continue to produce "edgy" work and pay to put it
    in the catalogs, insist that the agency include a liberal proportion of your
    "white bread" work in their online catalog.

  • Don't give up on producing "white bread."

  • Make sure your "white bread" is somewhere where it can be seen. When
    placement costs are compared, and as we move ahead in the next couple of
    years, it may be more to your advantage to get more images on the web and
    fewer images in the print catalogs, particularly if those catalogs focus on
    showing very "edgy" images.


    Stock Agency Insider

    One additional strategy you might want to pass along to photographers
    regarding paying for the placement of "edgy" images in catalogs is for the
    photographers to insist that repayment for the placement of those images be
    accomplished by deducting the placement fees from the sales of those specific
    images. In other words, have the agency put their money where their mouth is!

    Also - this practice has been going on for as long as catalogs have been
    produced and the eternal fight I have always seen played out evolved between
    the sales oriented people at an agency that wanted to see the catalogs loaded
    with "white bread" images that paid the bills and the creatives who want to
    agency to look slick, creative and cutting edge.

  • Copyright © 1999 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:  


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