Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stock Agencies to Work With - Corbis - The Business of Photography by Brad Rickerby

Hailing a Cab, NYC
Corbis (www.corbisimages.com) is the second largest player in the stock photo marketplace. As noted in the last blog post, it has been reported that when combined, Corbis and Getty Images control upwards of 85% of stock photo sales. Every one else, goes industry wisdom, is just picking up the crumbs.

Corbis was founded by Bill Gates in 1989 and continues to be privately owned by him. Based in Seattle, Corbis markets a photographic library of around 10 million images.

Corbis Images markets both Royalty Free and Rights Managed stock photographs, illustrations and CD's. On the editorial side, they market documentary, fine art, archival, news, sports, entertainment and celebrity images. Corbis is know for handling many famous image collections, such as the Ansel Adams collections, and wide ranging vintage images. 

For quite some time, Corbis was not accepting new contributors. They now have a contributor application on their website (http://contributor.corbis.com/workwithus) so it seems that are taking new material.

Seattle Public Market Dusk
While I have worked with Getty, agefotostock and Alamy (the next two agencies I will be posting about) I have not worked with Corbis. As such I have no direct knowledge of their operations, company culture or of how they treat their image suppliers. I do know, however, that they have many, many excellent photographers who work with them and an excellent reputation for quality overall. 

I can only assume, given that excellent reputation, that Corbis is at least as difficult to get to work with as is Getty. You should, by all means, reach out to them. But you might want to have a back up plan as well.

As I mentioned previously, you may want to explore niche stock photo agencies too. These might just be a better fit for your images and quite a bit easier to get to work with than are Corbis or Getty. Just sayin ... 

I will get you information on niche agencies shortly.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stock Agencies to Work With - Getty Images - The Business of Photography by Brad Rickerby

Let's face it, if you want to make money with stock photography, Getty Images (www.gettyimages.com) is the place to be. Getty is the number one stock agency in the world in both size and sales volume. When combined with Getty's closest competitor, Corbis (who is the topic of the next post) it has been reported that the two control upwards of 85% of the sales in the stock photography marketplace.

While Getty is THE place to be, it is exceptionally difficult to get Getty to represent your images. As such, I'm going to talk about Getty and three other agencies for your Rights Managed and Royalty Free images, Corbis, agefotostock and Alamy. Subsequently, I will post a blog on the microstock photo agencies that you can work with.

Getty Images is the bull in the stock photography market place china shop. They control the majority of licenses in the stock photography marketplace. Their power to make sales for you is enormous. To make the most money with your photos, they should all be placed with Getty.

This is particularly true of what is called the hero shot. You know the shot. You see it splashed across two pages of leading magazines. It is the photograph that tells the story in brilliant colors that just grab your eye and scream, "look at me". Getty loves the hero shot. The hero shot is what Getty sells best. Sure they also do the little inch square detail shot, but they love that image that tells it all. The hero shot has emotion and saturated colors and drama. It tells the story, conveys a mood and describes the human condition all in one dramatic moment, captured the instant it appears before immediately vanishing again.

The Runner
The hero shot is the one I always tried to capture. The images with this article are all hero shots created by me, that are in the Getty collection.

Every photograph represented by Getty is good, some are great. Getty licenses commercial stock images, editorial images, sports, celebrity and vintage photos too. They also have a video section and music tracks.

It would be great if you could get all of your images into the Getty collection. Sadly, this is not possible. Getty is extraordinarily selective about the photographers they will work with and the images they will represent. Further, Getty can be very difficult to work with.  A number of years ago, Getty CEO Jonathan Klein remarked that photographers were entirely replaceable. While this sentiment may be true, it is difficult to work with a company that has the attitude that you, as the supplier of its product, do not matter.

While Getty Images is the best bet for generating revenue, for these two reasons, you are going to have to spread your work around. Up next I talk about Corbis. You can be sure not to miss any of my posts by subscribing to my newsletter (above right).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Royalty Free Stock Photography Model - The Business of Photography by Brad Rickerby

Joy at licensing at photo.
The Royalty Free (RF) stock photography license is much simpler than the Rights Managed license.  Under the Royalty Free model, when your image is licensed (as a reminder, we never, ever, sell our image, we just license the right to use them) the person who purchases the license can use that image anywhere they like, as often as they like, for as long as they like and in any quantity they like (just about).

In short, they can do virtually anything they want with your image, with just a couple of exceptions.

First, if the image is to be used on a product such as a t-shirt, coffee mug or something similar, they must purchase an "Extended License". The extended license is generally not much more expensive than the normal license.

Second, there are sometime, by some agents, a restriction on the maximum times a licensed image may be used. Different agents again set that upward limit at different numbers. istockphoto for example, allows for 499,999 impressions under a standard license and requires an extended license for higher numbers of impressions or for print runs of more than 500,000.

These limits are so high as to be of no concern to most of us. And again, if the buyer wants to use your image more than, in this case, 500,000 times, they can just pay a couple of dollars more.

One of my best selling microstock photos.
You would think that, given the virtually unfettered ability of the license purchaser to use your image, that a RF license would be more expensive than the previously discussed RM license. The exact opposite is, the case. RF licenses are, in theory, less expensive to purchase than are RM licenses. The cause of this pricing oddity has much to do with stock photo economics. (I will cover this topic more in another post).

The cost of an RF license can run from less than $1 USD to roughly $500 USD, depending on the image size licensed and the pricing model used by the agency. In my experience, RF licenses for more than $100 USD are extremely rare.

The lower price of the RF license would seem to make it a poorer revenue generator than its pricier cousin, the RM license. However, in theory, the lower your price point, the greater will be your sales volume. Increased sales should make up for the lower RF price point, at least against your average RM sale.

Another best selling microstock image.
There are two types of Royalty Free agencies. The first is the traditional stock agent who was forced to offer a RF license on some of its images in order to remain competitive. The second is the micro-stock agency. The microstock agency did great damage to the field of stock photography, but was inevitable given technology and the way images are used. And despite the fact that the microstock is evil, it may very well be the best way for you to make some of your money on some of your images.

I will talk about microstock pricing in my next blog post. Following that, I will discuss the actual agencies that exist for you to work with and then write about how to maximize your revenue by mixing your contributions to the various types of agencies.

And lastly, for the sake of transparency, the link to istockphoto above is an affiliate link that I will earn revenue from if you click through on it and then sign up with istockphoto. This all happens with no cost to you.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Rights Managed Stock Photography Model - The Business of Photography by Brad Rickerby

If you have just read my blog post on Stock Photography Then you are no doubt anxious to head off and look for a stock photo agent to market your images. I would urge you, however, to stick around and go over some of the options you will have in that search so that you can better maximize your revenue. A little more knowledge here is a lot more power.

It is important to know how a stock agency will license your image. Not as in how they will market or sell your image, but rather, as in what usage rights will be given and for what fee with each license model. There are basically two license models, Rights Managed (RM) and Royalty Free (RF). Today we are going to take on RM.

Please remember that when your stock photo agent makes a sale for you, they are not actually selling your image. What they are doing is licensing the use of your image. This is the way Bill Gates (of Microsoft) got rich. When you buy a Windows computer you are not actually buying the Windows software it comes with. Rather you are paying to use that software. Microsoft owns it, you pay to use it.

It is the same with your images. You retain ownership at all times (if someone wants to structure a deal with you where you give up ownership, walk away), and people pay you for the right to use the image. Which is great, because you can resell the same image over and over and over again.

The RM license model was the only license model available from the beginning of stock photography until just a few years ago.  The RM model manages the image on a license by license basis, so that in theory, you know exactly who has used the image and for what. The license for the image will specify the number of times it can be used (usually one), where it will be used, the size of use, the industry it will be used in (trucking, banking, entertainment, etc), the purpose of its use (whether editorial, advertising or something else) and a number of other particulars.

The fee for the license is based on these factors. Advertising use, for example, will fetch a higher fee than will editorial. All other things being equal, the larger in size or the greater the size of the print run, the higher the fee will be. And so on for many other factors.

Keeping track of who used each image and for what purpose is important for the user of the image. Careful tracking assures that there will be no conflicts in usage from one users to the next. Thus, an image can be used for advertising, say, a bank, with confidence that no other bank has used the same image.

RM licenses almost always used to have higher fees than RF licenses. These days, with special incentives to preferred clients, RM licenses may in fact have a lower fee than an RF license.

From the start of my career in stock photography until roughly 2002, my average RM license was about $1,000 USD with frequent spikes to $5,000 and $10,000. My highest license fee was $26,000. (Please keep in mind that this is the gross license fee and I split that fee with the stock agency.)

From 2002, RM license fees have steadily dropped.

In my next blog post I will cover RF licenses. You may wish to subscribe to my blog (the box on the upper right) to be sure not to miss that and other upcoming posts on the business of photography.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What is Stock Photography - The Business of Photography by Brad Rickerby

Stock photography is a great way to make money by creating photographs.  If you are successful in stock photography you will be able to create wonderful images, travel to beautiful places and have the freedom to create your own schedule, working the hours you want to work.

The industry is extremely competitive now, much much more so than when I started back in the mid 1990's. There are many who will tell you that it is impossible to make a living through stock photo sales. To be sure, it will take drive and determination, but there are plenty of people who make very comfortable livings with their cameras in the field of stock photography.

So what is this great thing called stock photography? Very simply put, you create a beautiful, flawless image. That image gets put on file either in your own file or in the file of a stock photo agency. Buyers then come to either you or the stock photo agency looking for images that will meet their current project needs. When the image you created best meets the needs of a photo buyer, that photo buyer will license, for a fee, the use of that photograph. What could be simpler, right?

To the right are three images that I created while traveling to create images. The first is from Shanghai, China, the second, from Miami Beach, USA and the last from Beijing, China. Each of these images were put in the files of my stock agency, Getty Images, and later used by three different publishers.

Book publishers are not the only ones licensing images. Magazines use stock images all the time, as do web sites, corporations, ad agencies, newspaper, record labels and just about any one else who has a reason to use a photograph.  For example, the top image, taken on Nanjing Road in Shanghai China was also used by a retailer of Chinese language instruction programs. In fact, each of the images you see here has been licensed multiple times and I have been paid for each license.
It is the ability to have your images licensed and then re-licensed that makes stock photography so wonderful. While you sit at home with your family, images in your stock file from last week or from eight years ago can be being licensed for use over and over and over again.

In theory, so long as you continue to update your stock file, and with all other things being equal, your income will continue to grow. And keep in mind that updating your file is not work, it is fun. It is being creative and doing what you love.

Such a simplified explanation as this begs hundreds of other questions. Questions such as, Who are the different stock photo agencies, what makes them different from one another, how do I get to work with them and how much do they charge (and they all charge in one way or another)?

More, What is licensing, what types of licenses are sold, what type is best for me and the style of my work and how does the license type effect my income?

And still more, What type of image sells best, what makes a sellable stock photograph and what kinds of images are agencies more apt to accept? Along the same lines, What are the technical specifications of an acceptable photograph.

Also, How do you find models and photo locations? Do I need to use models? What is a model release?

These are all legitimate and important questions. And I can think of about a hundred more questions the answers to which, are vital to your success as a stock photographer.

I will be posting on these questions and many more. Indeed, I would love to post on your questions. Please feel free to ask questions either in the comments section or by emailing me.

You may also want to subscribe to my newsletter (where I will provide links to old posts in this series and titles of posts to come). Please use the box on the upper right of this page to subscribe.