“Stock Shock”; Big Changes In The Picture Business Page 2

SB: There is a general feeling that microstock has put extreme downward price pressure on the stock industry. If you agree, how does a photographer adapt to this new stock photo business model and still make any money?

Michal Heron: Though not easy, it’s simple—produce what clients can’t get from the cheap sources. That means starting with market research. Find out what aspects of your specialty are easily obtained from the low price sites. Then create and market sophisticated images that only someone with your special knowledge or experience can do.

Jim Pickerell:
The industry needs a new pricing strategy that is simple and easy to use with prices for images based on use, not on file size. If such a strategy were adopted everyone would make more money.

Paul H. Henning: What we are seeing now is a repeat of the situation two decades ago when royalty free licensing first came into being: cheap prices and overall lack of quality. What happened with royalty free? Over time both the quality and the prices increased dramatically. Will history repeat itself with microstock? I’m not convinced. There is an underlying philosophy to micro that may obviate any chance of it becoming “the new royalty free”: it’s based on a broad-based, democratic kind of crowdsourcing in which anybody with a camera or cell phone can suddenly get their images up online and fancy themselves a stock shooter. Microstock sales are predicated on volume, and at today’s selling prices, they need far more volume than royalty free did in order to make any serious money.

© 2009, Shannon Fagan, www.shannonfagan.com, All Rights Reserved

Shannon Fagan: The most important aspect to focus on is “how is money being made in each model?” The answer increasingly lies in the arena of volume of sales vs. individual unique high dollar sales. Adapting to shooting for volume alongside individually crafted images requires a mental shift for a stock photographer.

SB: What recommendations would you make to a photographer looking to get into (or back into!) marketing of their stock photography?

Ed Bock: My view is “do not have all your eggs in one basket.” Have more than one agency to market your various works. Produce for more than one business model—as far as that goes, produce as many styles of marketable work as you can. Just like an investment portfolio, there is stability in diversity. A basic guideline in business is making more money than you spend. Stock image production is no different. I always remember this when I plan a shoot. If it’s going to be a productive effort for rights managed distribution I might invest greater money and effort. If I’m producing images for microstock distribution I tend to be frugal in my investment. Additionally, research which images are selling and produce marketable images. I think of stock as a game of numbers, how many marketable images you can produce and how many buyers’ eyes can you get them in front of.

© 2009, Tetra Images, All Rights Reserved

There are so many opportunities and directions available for photographers today. Grow your portfolio, expand your style, research your projects, work through various agencies, build your own marketing site, and build your own brand, whatever works for you. I’m basically a one-man operation now so, although I can’t produce in huge quantities, I try to be smart and produce images that sell and make a profit on every effort.

Paul H. Henning: It is now more vital than ever to have images that are different, unique, out of the ordinary…in short, “good enough” may not be good enough. Buyers have lots of choices today, so if your stock picture company, or you as a photographer, are not offering something that’s easily identifiable (your branding) and different enough from the competition (differentiation), you may get left in the dust.

Shannon Fagan: My recommendation would be to approach marketing their imagery on their own very carefully. Buyers often say they appreciate the variety that exists in photographers’ own collections, but the numbers prove that they are not buying enough volume of imagery directly to propel these businesses into self-sustaining revenue entities that one can live off of year after year. For most, the agency model still has much validity. The exception appears to be high caliber niche photographers who are savvy and dedicated self-marketers who promote their unique offering to a receptive and needy buyer group.

© 2009, Tetra Images, All Rights Reserved

Michal Heron: When shooting, avoid the obvious and easy shots. Those are amply covered in the low price packages offered online and with royalty free. Go for complexity and innovation in concept and execution. Be digital down to your toes. In shooting use the power of imaging to enhance your work and create composites that blow others out of the water—again it’s your imagination that will drive these. In marketing make use of every aspect of technology from having a state-of-the-art website to using techniques designed to improve the ranking of your website with search engines. No matter how stiff the competition, no matter how many more photos are out there, clients always need something fresh. Your imagination and intellect is the key.

Paul H. Henning:
I think it is not going to be cost-efficient at today’s microstock prices for pros to shoot people, lifestyles, business, and other best-selling subject sectors because their production costs are too high to recoup their outlays and make a profit at a buck or two per image. This all could change, and we’ve already seen some microstock prices creeping upward. So, what the smart photographer should be doing today is testing the waters: don’t go whole hog into microstock but dump 250 or 500 images into a couple of the really good microstock sites (there are about a half dozen that are the crème de la crème) and see what happens. Monitor your sales, look at the images that are selling well by your competitors, and keep your ear to the ground. Figure out where microstock fits into your business plan, and flex as you go forward: if prices start to go up, and the types of images you create are selling well, you may put a higher percentage of your future production into microstock. If not, you will not have let the train pass you by without at least jumping on-board to get a feel for the ride.