Stock Photography. A long-term investment?

A look at the longer term implications of stock photography

Posted 13/Dec/2008 - 2:25PM

Stock Photography is a way that Freelancers can augment their income, be they full time Photographers or Weekend Warriors, (i.e. photographers that have a full time job and work at photography in their spare time.)

Now both camps have one major problem, if we take it that their photography is of a professional standard. That problem is not taking the photographs, but selling them. This can be extremely time consuming and frustrating, and takes that available time away from the primary object of taking the images in the first place.

This image sat on one of the larger library servers for two years before selling twice within six months.


Stock libraries, in almost all of their guises,* take the problem of marketing the images away from the photographer, using their own specialised resources to do the job for them. Typically, they take 50% of the fee earned for the licence, although this figure does differ from library to library and model to model within each library.

The advantage to the photographer though, is that his/her time is freed up to get on with the business of image making. This job, done by the photographer, would take up a good 70% of their time available, so in actual fact, the 50% fee is a good return. The caveat though, is that the photographer needs to be able to produce consistently saleable images, often over a period of years, before the income stream becomes a significant factor in their annual income. Stock libraries though, are not a quick route to making a fortune!



Many would-be contributors think that all they have to do is send off their latest batch of holiday pictures then sit back and wait for the cheques to roll in. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple. When a new photographer joins a library it could take anything from a week to three months going through the acceptance procedures and longer still to start to build up a portfolio of images.



And building a portfolio of images is the key. Many traditional libraries will insist on regular contributions and minimum retention times from their accepted photographers, as the time they invest in key wording, cataloguing and marketing those images would be wasted if the photographer took them back after twelve months because they haven’t sold!

Less traditional, or more accurately online based libraries, who have you do your own key wording on upload, and don’t invest so much time in individual images, are generally less concerned about retention but still like to have regular contributions.



A Numbers Game.

So, library submissions become a numbers game, requiring a steady flow of usable images coming from the photographer. Many start off with good intentions but, seeing no immediate return, quickly loose interest. This may be for a number of reasons, not the least of which may be the subject matter of the images themselves.

Christmas images get taken at Christmas, Spring images in the spring and so on. Uploaded straight away, they are not going to sell, but will be of interest to buyers some 9-10 months later! Should they sell then, the proceeds will not hit your bank account for another couple of months, assuming you have reached a minimum payout figure. Therefore, a year is just a short time in the stock photography market.

Yes, I hear you saying that is just seasonal images and I agree that more generic images can be of use almost straight away, but it will still take time for the libraries, even the quick and efficient ones, to get your images into their search engines and in front of their clients.

Consequently, stock photography is a long term method of earning an income from your photographs and the best way to approach it is to submit the images and forget about them. Get on with taking more and submitting those, using the time you have saved by not marketing them yourself. You will see the dividends in two or three years time.



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